In 2008, Drs. Keith Yandell and Tom McCall debated Drs. Wayne Grudem and Bruce Ware at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School regarding the question, “Do relations of authority and submission exist eternally among the Persons of the Godhead?” All four men spoke with appropriate respect and decorum.
In referencing this event on his 1517 blog, however, Todd Pruitt created a false narrative so he could attack Grudem and Ware and charged them with “a display of rather sharp polemic” and “the lack of gentlemanly behavior.” Pruitt also claimed Grudem “dismissed as heresy” “the historic Nicene viewpoint” during the debate. The very opposite was in fact the case.
Pruitt was reacting to an excellent article by Dr. James Deusing on “Where are the Gentleman Theologians?” that criticized him though not by name. This post exposes Pruitt’s false witness and baseless accusations against Grudem, Ware and Deusing.
The Evangelical Theological Society began its three-day conference today in San Antonio, Texas. This afternoon Bruce Ware will be speaking on “The Nature of the Priority of the Father within the Trinity: Biblical Basis and Importance” and Wayne Grudem will be speaking on “Why a Denial of the Son’s Eternal Submission Threatens both the Trinity and the Bible.”
In this regard, Ware and Grudem have been unjustly accused of teaching heresy by Liam Goligher, Carl Trueman, and Todd Pruitt from the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. These three men need to ask forgiveness for their theological slander and the ungodly division they have brought to the Body of Christ. I may write more about this in the future.
For now, however, I want to focus on Todd Pruitt’s recent response to an article written by Jason Duesing titled Where are the Gentlemen Theologians? In his response, Pruitt creates a fictional account of the debate held at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in 2008 and uses it to slander Ware and Grudem and accuse Duesing. This false narrative by Pruitt was baseless but you would not know unless you researched it.
I’ve come to know Pruitt over the last six months through considerable correspondence. He is not a man to be trusted. This is just one illustration of many I could put forward exposing his pattern of deceit and false accusations. I have appealed to Pruitt many times in private with no success. Therefore, this open letter. I will write more about Pruitt in the future.
AN OPEN LETTER TO TODD PRUITT
The paragraph below by you in What is a gentleman to do? OR I agree with Wayne Grudem is full of very serious errors you need to publicly correct. Why do you continue to act in such a divisive, deceptive and irresponsible manner? I use the word “deceptive” assuming you actually listened to the debate. No one listening to the debate would ever say the following unless they were intending to deceive.
“Is Dr. Duesing aware of the debate held at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School on October 9, 2008? The question under debate was “Do relations of authority and submission exist eternally among the Persons of the Godhead?” Four scholars were involved. Wayne Grudem and Bruce Ware debated in the affirmative against Drs. Keith Yandell and Tom McCall. In a display of rather sharp polemic Dr. Grudem called the view of Drs. Yandell and McCall “modalism” a bona fide heresy. Do not skip over this point. The historic Nicene viewpoint represented in the debate was dismissed as a heresy by Wayne Grudem. Is this then an intramural debate among equally orthodox brothers or a battle against heresy? Dr. Grudem in contrast to Mohler and Duesing seems to view it as the later. Incidentally, at no point did Drs. Yandell and McCall accuse Ware and Grudem of heresy. I wonder if Dr. Duesing will now write an article lamenting the lack of gentlemanly behavior which has issued forth from the proponents of ESS?”
Let me correct your outrageous accusations and add the vital information you left out. I’ll quote you and then provide a factual response.
1. “Is Dr. Duesing aware of the debate held at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School on October 9, 2008?”
If Dr. Duesing is aware of the debate he could certainly use it against you. The question is, “Are you aware?” In other words, did you actually listen to the debate? It is 2 hours and 16 minutes long. You can watch the video here. If you listened to the debate, then you are guilty of several false accusations.
Furthermore, why do you provide a link to the notes taken by Andy Neselli at the TEDS debate and not to the debate itself? Andy’s notes are helpful but they are limited and leave out important statements. Moreover, they do not convey tone and attitude which are vital in a debate format. If people want to know all that was said, and how it was said, they must listen to the debate. Why didn’t you link to the actual debate?
2. “In a display of rather sharp polemic Dr. Grudem called the view of Drs. Yandell and McCall “modalism” a bona fide heresy. Do not skip over this point.”
Polemic means “strong verbal attack.” There was no such display by Dr. Grudem or the other participants for that matter. That is clear from the audio video. Both sides presented their arguments with conviction in the context of a debate but there were no attacks. There was certainly no “display of rather sharp polemic by Dr. Grudem.” That is a slanderous charge. Sharp polemical attacks are what you and you colleagues have continuously used at the Mortification of Spin.
Here are the facts. Grudem gently asked two questions of Dr. Yandell with regard to modalism. He did not call Yandell or McCall modalists or conclude they were modalists. The same is true of Ware. Rather, they asked very legitimate questions of Yandell and McCall about their teaching and how it was not “implicit modalism.” That is all. These are actual quotes from the debate with recording time noted.
Grudem: “As far as Sabellianism and modalism, no we do not want to accuse of that if that is not what you hold but here is a way you could answer it. Please tell us some eternal difference between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit? You look like you can. I’ll wait.” [1:36:29-1:36:55]
Grudem: “And finally, Dr. Yandell, what are the properties that distinguish Father, Son and Holy Spirit? In theory, you say there might have been some properties. We have the ones that are in Scripture, that are testified in Scripture, but if you cannot specify properties, you say there might be differences, it seems to me we are back not to Father, Son and Holy Spirit but to Person A, Person A, and Person A. No eternal differences among the persons. And that surely is at variance with the doctrine of the Trinity as it has been taught throughout the history of the church.” [1:48:35-1:49:14]
These kinds of questions are perfectly acceptable in a debate. They were not asked with anger or arrogance. Grudem genuinely wanted to know if Yandell believed there were any eternal differences between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Yandell never cited any differences because he doesn’t believe there are any differences between the persons. He refers to this metaphysical as “the indiscernibility of identicals” with “perfectly resembling…properties.”
I agree with Grudem and Ware. If there are no differences between the persons of the Godhead, then they are the same. From my perspective, such a position entails modalism. Nevertheless, Grudem did not “in a display of rather sharp polemic” call “the view of Drs. Yandell and McCall ‘modalism’ a bona fide heresy.”
Personally, I think Yandell fails to see the inconsistency of his argument. He said in the debate that he sincerely holds to one God in three persons but he does not believe there are any eternal differences between them. Not even the self-evident differences that exist in a father-son relationship. I don’t question his sincerity but that is clearly contrary to the teaching of Scripture. Therefore, with good reason Grudem and Ware questioned his position and that of Dr. McCall.
Yandell: “I really don’t know what more I can do to explain a basic issue in metaphysics. But it seems to be pretty clear, if I may say this gently, that my colleagues to my right [Grudem & Ware] have not followed or understood anything of what I have said about the indiscernibility of identicals. My claim, one more time, is not that the Father and the Son are twins or triplets. My claim is that each of them is a distinct person. What makes them distinct in a proper Christian metaphysic is that each is his own bearer of [the same identical] properties. Each is his own bearer of properties. That’s the bottom line in terms of individuation. And you can have perfectly resembling distinct bearers of properties. The assumption that Dr. Ware keeps making is that if you don’t have [personal] property differences then you don’t have difference.” [2:20:16-2:21:21]
But here is the thing Todd. Yandell and McCall did the same thing. In no uncertain terms, they called the teaching of Grudem and Ware, Arianism, a far more serious error than modalism. You can be a modalist and be a Christian. You cannot be an Arian and be a Christian. You left this out of your description above regarding the debate. That is pure bias and prejudice. Dr. Duesing did not skip over anything because the point you are making is baseless. That will be evident to anyone who listens to the debate.
3. “The historic Nicene viewpoint represented in the debate was dismissed as a heresy by Wayne Grudem. Is this then an intramural debate among equally orthodox brothers or a battle against heresy? Dr. Grudem in contrast to Mohler and Duesing seems to view it as the later.”
Todd, this is manifestly untrue! An altogether straw man argument. Grudem did no such thing. Not even remotely. Grudem and Ware both upheld Nicene orthodoxy during the debate. In fact, Yandell used their references to begetting and proceeding in the Nicene Creed against them by claiming their arguments were based in philosophy and not the Bible. First a quote from Grudem, then one from Yandell.
Grudem: “But the point is the church never denied there was a difference in relationship. It is in all the Creeds. And they used begetting and only begotten language to talk about it. What Dr. McCall and Dr. Yandell has given us is nothing to define the eternal difference in relationships. And that I think doesn’t take account of the Scriptural data.” [2:26:18-2:16:39]
Yandell: “There are two ways of reading the doctrine of the Trinity, at least. One, you take a metaphysical line that Jesus was begotten of the Father and the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father, or from the Father and the Son, depending on whether you are East or West. The Bible says, “Thou are my Son. This day I have begotten thee.” That sounds like a reference to Bethlehem to me. One way of reading the Scriptures on this matter is to do so through the lens of Greek philosophy. “Begetting,” “proceeding,” these are metaphysical terms, and we read through the lens of those metaphysical terms, the doctrines that have been discussed and the passages that have been quoted tonight.” [1:56:07-1:57:08]
In other words, Yandell believes the doctrines of eternal generation and eternal procession teach the Son and the Holy Spirit are subordinate to the Father in their roles. From his perspective, that cannot be the case. For him there can be no subordination in roles except as it pertains to Christ’s humanity. Therefore, he repudiates these aspects of the Nicene Creed while confessing his belief in the Trinity; but a Trinity without distinguishing properties between the three persons.
It was not Grudem or Ware who “dismissed as a heresy” “the historic Nicene viewpoint.” It was Yandell. He denied eternal filiation (i.e., “begotten from the Father before all time”) and eternal spiration (i.e., “who proceeds from the Father”). Here is further evidence.
Yandell: “The other line for lack of a better term is the plain line, my temptation of course is to call it the biblical line, but I’ll just call it the plan line. The plan line is that all this stuff about begetting…ought to be interpreted in terms of Bethlehem and the proceeding interpreted in terms of Pentecost. That’s when the Son was begotten, when Jesus was born or when Jesus was conceived. That’s when the Holy Spirit was sent. That is when he proceeded on Pentecost.” [1:57:09-1:57:50]
Yandell: “If you want to know what I would take the right approach to generation, begetting, be, you ought to look at a book you are familiar with. No One Like Him. John S. Feinberg. Pages 487-492. I have never seen an explanation of that notion of generation, and a correction of the wrong notions of it, written more clearly, more forcefully, and more carefully. That’s my position and I can’t put it better than he does and I haven’t got time to read it.” [1:58:39-1:59:17]
There is no question Yandell rejects the eternal generation of the Son and the procession of the Holy Spirit as stated in the Nicene Creed (AD 381). Your attack on Grudem is not only contrary to the facts, it is the exact opposite of the facts. That is outrageous. Given your commitment to every jot and title of the Nicene Creed, you should be going after Yandell for his heresy (as you define it). That is, his denial of Jesus as eternally begotten and the Spirit as eternally proceeding.
4. “Incidentally, at no point did Drs. Yandell and McCall accuse Ware and Grudem of heresy.”
That is not true. They explicitly state that Ware and Grudem are teaching the heresy of Arianism and denying ὁμοούσιον τώ Πατρί (“of the same essence as the Father”) in the Nicene Creed since they believe the Son is necessarily subordinate in role.
Yandell: “If RS [role subordination] is offered as a necessary truth, then it strictly entails that the Father has an essential property that the Son lacks, and the Son has an essential property that the Father lacks; the same holds of course for the Father and the Holy Spirit and the Son and the Holy Spirit; hence, if RS is presented as a necessary truth, then the three Trinitarian Persons do not have the same nature.” (debate outline)
Yandell: “Let me put once more the argument. If the Son is necessarily subordinate [in role], then he is essentially subordinate [in being]. If the Son is essentially subordinate and the Father is not, the Son is of a different essence than the Father. If the Father and the Son are different essences, then the Son has a different essence than the Father, and that denies the equal divinity of the members of the Trinity. RS [role subordination] entails ontological subordinationism [the heresy of Arianism].” [1:52:25- 1:53:02]
McCall: “The question is this. Is the Son subordinate necessarily, and on any tolerable account of essence, if the Son is subordinate necessarily, then the Son is subordinate essentially. If the Son is subordinate essentially and the Father is not, then they just aren’t of the same essence.” [2:01:02-2:01:17]
I totally disagree with Yandell and McCall logically, biblically, historically, and theologically. Jesus is God the Son. Therefore, he is equal to Father with respect to his deity. He is subordinate to the Father with respect to his person. He is both eternal God and eternal Son. Therefore, “role subordination” [RS] does not “strictly entail” ontological subordination.
Here is the position of Grudem and Ware as stated in their debate outline.
Grudem/Ware: “We deny altogether as entirely misleading and fallacious the assertion that the Son’s eternal submission to the Father (i.e., the Son’s eternal functional subordination to the Father) entails a denial of the complete and eternal essential equality of the Son and the Father. Eternal functional subordination is fully compatible with and in no way contradicts the full equality of essence of the Trinitarian Persons and the homoousios of the Son with the Father. Therefore, we affirm that relations of authority and submission exist eternally among the essentially equal Persons of the Godhead.” (debate outline)
Given this statement, and many others like it during the debate, Yandell and McCall are in a quandary. They believe Grudem and Ware are teaching ontological subordinationism but they know Grudem and Ware have condemned ontological subordinationism in the strongest terms. Therefore, Yandell and McCall decided to condemn their teaching without condemning them. They were forced to say Grudem and Ware reject ontological subordinationism while teaching ontological subordinationism.
Yandell: “If the Trinitarian Persons do not have the same nature, then we no longer have simply RS; RS, viewed as a necessary truth, entails ontological subordinationism, and all four of us agree that ontological subordinationism is false.” (debate outline)
Yandell: “If RS is necessarily true, then it follows that ontological subordination is true and that both of my colleagues reject.” [1:11:48-1:11:58]
Here is what happen during the debate as a matter of fact, not fiction. Yandell and McCall accuse Grudem and Ware of teaching the Son’s deity is less than the Father’s deity. As such, this “strictly entails” that the Father and Son do not share the same essence or being. You can’t make a more serious accusation. At the same time, Yandell claims Grudem and Ware reject ontological subordinationism.
How do we make sense of this dichotomy? Yandell charges them with being “flatly contradictory.”
Yandell: “Taken as a necessary truth, it [role subordinationism] is flatly contradictory. It claims both that ontological subordinationism is false and then entails that ontological subordinationism is true.” (debate outline)
So in the view of Yandell, their teaching is both heretical and nonsensical. This is not lost upon Grudem and Ware. Ware responds.
Ware: “The magnitude of the charge here, nothing short of Arian heresy, is only matched by the magnitude of the oversight. From the beginning, properties of the one and undivided divine essence were distinguished from properties of each Person’s unique and distinct personhood. Otherwise, how might we distinguish Father from Son and Son from Spirit. If the Father does not have at least one property that distinguishes him from the Son, a property of his personhood, since he does not and cannot have any property of his essence that is not also designated by the Son. Then how is he the Father and how is his Son the Son. Is this not implicit modalism?” [1:21:25-1:22:15]
Ware fully realizes he is being accused of teaching “nothing short of Arian heresy.” He also addresses “the magnitude of the oversight.” That is, the charge that his teaching is “flatly contradictory.” I agree with Ware. There is nothing contradictory about his position. He graciously calls it an “oversight.”
That is not true of Yandell’s position, however. It is contradictory for him to say there are three distinct persons but no distinctions between them. “Is this not implicit modalism?”
Ware: “Why does an eternal function require an ontological difference? E.g., a janitor under the authority of a President: both are ontologically equal as human beings. The equality in the Trinity is a full equality of identify; you can’t get stronger than that. We don’t wish to diminish the equality of the Father, Son, and Spirit. But there is an eternal role difference between the Father and the Son; the Father is the Father eternally, and the Son is the Son eternally (and this involves authority and submission).” (debate outline)
Here’s the point Todd. You said, “Incidentally, at no point did Drs. Yandell and McCall accuse Ware and Grudem of heresy.” That is false. They repeatedly accused them of teaching heresy but refrained from calling them heretics given their “flatly contradictory” denial of Arianism (i.e. ontological subordinationism).
I think Yandell and McCall are wrong on both counts. The teaching of Grudem and Ware is neither heretical nor contradictory. That aside, it was fine for them to make these points. It was a debate between gentlemen theologians. That stands in stark contrast to the approach you, Carl, Liam and Aimee have taken.
Furthermore, the closest thing to a “sharp polemic” or verbal attack took place during the opening statements. It did not come from Grudem or Ware. It came from McCall and Yandell. Here’s what happened.
Grudem and Ware went first and said nothing critical about Yandell and McCall in their opening statements. They simply presented their case from Scripture and church history respectively in answer to the debate question, “Do relations of authority and submission exist eternally among the Persons of the Godhead?”
McCall and Yandell, on the other hand, immediately and aggressively sought to discredit their presentations. McCall said there were “no good reasons” to believe Jesus was eternally submissive to the Father but “very good reasons” for all “orthodox Christians to “reject” Grudem and Ware’s unorthodox arguments.
Yandell asserted that role subordination or submission “is plainly a philosophical doctrine, that cannot without any plausibility be viewed as the exegesis of any biblical text.”
McCall: “We are going to make two main arguments here tonight. First, that there are no good reasons, contrary to the impressive statements [by Grudem & Ware] we just heard, on closer examination, there are no good reasons to hold to the position advocated by Drs. Ware and Grudem. Second, there are very good reasons for orthodox Christians to reject their account.” [40:20-40:42]
Yandell: “My colleagues hold that RS [role subordination], the Son is permanently subordinate to the Father. … Now among the reasons why my colleagues hold this, is plainly a philosophical doctrine, that cannot without any plausibility be viewed as the exegesis of any biblical text.” [52:58-53:30]
Yandell: “There is no claim that this [role subordination] is part of a biblical passage or an exegesis of a passage, and it plainly isn’t.” [55:29-55:35]
If anything, these comments constitute “a display of rather sharp polemic.” Per McCall, there is not one good reason to take Grudem and Ware’s position. Furthermore, the position is unorthodox (i.e. heretical) and should therefore be rejected by orthodox Christians for supposed “very good reasons.”
Per Yandell, the eternal subordination of the Son “is plainly a philosophical doctrine.” Furthermore, there is not a single passage in all of the Bible that can possibly be used to support their position. For instance, not even Ephesians 1:3-5 or 1:9-11 which were cited by Grudem and Ware during the debate.
Eph 1:3-5  Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ,  just as He [the Father] chose us in Him [the Son] before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him [the Father]. In love  He [the Father] predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His [the Father’s] will.
Here is what Dr. S. M. Baugh, Professor of New Testament at Westminster Seminary California, says about verse Ephesians 1:4 in the ESV Study Bible. It is a typical and proper exegesis of the passage.
“1:4 He chose us in him means that the Father chose Christians in the Son (Christ) and this took place in eternity past, before the foundation of the world. This indicates that for all eternity the Father has had the role of leading and directing among the persons of the Trinity, even though Father, Son and Holy Spirit are equal in deity and attributes.” (S.M. Baugh, Study Note Contributor, ESV Study Bible on Eph. 1:4)
The same point is reiterated a few verses later.
Eph 3:9-11  He [the Father] made known to us the mystery of His [the Father’s] will, according to His [the Father’s] kind intention which He [the Father] purposed in Him [the Son]  with a view to an administration suitable to the fullness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth. In Him [the Son]  also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His [the Father’s] purpose who works all things after the counsel of His [the Father’s] will,
Ware correctly points out the following.
Ware: “Let me just make one quick comment to that question. And it is simply this. I think we are not paying attention often to the pronouns that are used in the New Testament in particular that specify one member of the Trinity over the other. We tend to think generically of God. So in Ephesians 1:9, “He made know to us the mystery of his will.” Who are the pronouns? God? It is the Father because listen, “He made known to us the mystery of his will according to the kind intention which he purposed in him.” “In him,” the Son. So all the hes that precede [“in him”] are the Father. The Father is the one who planned, who purposed, who willed, who decreed, who sent; all of these things in eternity past done specifically by the Father. That’s what the Bible says. So I just find it an astonishing thing to think that we have the right to go contrary to what Scripture says of what the Father has done. And not affirm that to be the case.” [2:09:49-2:10:50]
Here is what amazing Todd. You leave out all these charges by McCall and Yandell but then have the audacity to make up false charges against Grudem and Ware.
5. “I wonder if Dr. Duesing will now write an article lamenting the lack of gentlemanly behavior which has issued forth from the proponents of ESS?”
One only needs to read what Liam, Carl and you have written and then compare it to what Wayne and Bruce have written in response to readily see who the gentlemen have been. Clearly, it is not you or your associates. Here is the evidence in chronological order.
Is it Okay to Teach a Complementarianism Based on Eternal Subordination?
June 3, 2016
June 6, 2016
June 7, 2016
God the Son--at once eternally God with His Father, and eternally Son of the Father
June 9, 2016
Whose Position on the Trinity is Really New?
June 9, 2016
Let’s all be Nicene
July 7, 2016
An Open Letter to Liam Goligher, Carl Trueman, and Todd Pruitt on Trinitarian Equality and Distinctions
July 8, 2016
You, Liam, Carl, and Aimee should be asking forgiveness for theological slander and the unnecessary division you have bought to the Body of Christ. You are welcome to debate whether the Son’s eternal relationship to the Father involves submission but to believe it does, does not involve heresy and it certainly does not imply or teach a subordination of ontos or being!
As Ware says, “Now, we may disagree on this proposal of eternal relations of authority and submission, but this disagreement should not be placed in the categories you have suggested [i.e., egregious heresy].” You wrongly accused Grudem and Ware of heresy without rightly understanding or fairly presenting their position and without talking to them first. They were both blindsided by your attacks.
Even after the godly responses provided by Ware and Grudem above, Carl went on the radio show, Janet Mefferd Today on July 13 and accused them of teaching ontological subordinationism or the 4th Century heresy of Arianism. That is so wrong!
Duesing provided you some excellent counsel in his October 3 blog post, Where are the Gentlemen Theologians?, which you did not receive. You merely gave it some lip service on your way to pointing out his many supposed errors. Then you ended your criticism by challenging him to “now write an article lamenting the lack of gentlemanly behavior which has issued forth from the proponents of ESS” at the Trinity debate. The problem is, there was no lack of gentlemanly behavior by Grudem or Ware! You made up a fictional account of the debate and then proceeded to be a false witness. That is manifestly clear to anyone who listens to the debate.
Todd, you learned nothing from Duesing’s article. Instead, you began to attack him. My goodness, you even twisted the meaning of his article in the title of your post, “What is a gentleman to do? OR I agree with Wayne Grudem.” That is a false dichotomy and not one Duesing posited. This is just another piece of nasty fiction by you. Duesing is NOT saying the only way you can be a gentleman is to agree with Grudem. That is a complete distortion of his article.
Moreover, there was no “lack of gentlemanly behavior” by Grudem or Ware during the TEDS debate. People need only listen to the debate in order to see your outlandish attempt to vilify them.
There is a time and place for godly division (Matt 10:34-36; 1 Cor 11:19) but not division that is fomented by deceptive reporting or grossly inaccurate information. We are called to expose deeds of darkness (Eph 5:11), correct error (2 Tim 2:25) and contend for the faith (Jude 3) but not by being false witnesses (Prov 1:15).
You are a false witness not only in respect to the TEDS debate but in general concerning the charge of heresy against Grudem and Ware and all who believe the Scripture teaches the Son is submissive to the Father given their differing but complementary roles and responsibilities. Such a view is orthodox, not heterodox.
I recently wrote an update on our personal circumstances. Would you please read it here and consider a gift or donation? The work I do is not fun or easy but it is necessary. In the coming weeks and months, I’ll be covering some stories of national importance. I need your help to make that possible. Please keep me in your prayers. Thank you.