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Retrieving Eternal Generation

, 2017
ISBN: 9780310537908

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Although the doctrine of eternal generation has been affirmed by theologians of nearly every ecclesiastical tradition since the fourth century, it has fallen on hard times among evangelical theologians since the nineteenth century. The doctrine has been a structural element in two larger doctrinal complexes: Christology and the Trinity. The neglect of the doctrine of eternal generation represents a great loss for constructive evangelical Trinitarian theology.

Retrieving the doctrine of eternal generation for contemporary evangelical theology calls for a multifaceted approach. Retrieving Eternal Generation addresses (1) the hermeneutical logic and biblical bases of the doctrine of eternal generation; (2) key historical figures and moments in the development of the doctrine of eternal generation; and (3) the broad dogmatic significance of the doctrine of eternal generation for theology. The book addresses both the common modern objections to the doctrine of eternal generation and presents the productive import of the doctrine for 21st century evangelical theology. Contributors include Michael Allen, Lewis Ayres, D.A. Carson, Oliver Crisp, and more.

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Key Features

  • Examines the doctrine of eternal generation through hermeneutical and biblical bases
  • Discusses the history and context of eternal generation theology


  • Part I: Biblical Reasoning
    • “The Radiance of the Father’s Glory: Eternal Generation, the Divine Names, and Biblical Interpretation,” by Scott R. Swain
    • “The Role of Proverbs 8: Eternal Generation and Hermeneutics Ancient and Modern,” by Matthew Y. Emerson
    • “Eternal Generation and the Old Testament: Micah 5:2 as a Test Case,” by Mark S. Gignilliat
    • “John 5:26: Crux Interpretum for Eternal Generation,” by D.A. Carson
    • “A Lexical Defense of the Johannine ‘Only Begotten,’” by Charles Lee Irons
    • “Hebrews 1 and the Son Begotten ‘Today,’” by Madison N. Pierce
    • Generatio, Processio Verbi, Donum Nominis: Mapping the Vocabulary of Eternal Generation,” by R. Kendall Soulen
  • Part II: Historical Witnesses
    • “At the Origins of Eternal Generation: Scriptural Foundations and Theological Purpose in Origen of Alexandria,” by Lewis Ayres
    • “Eternal Generation in the Trinitarian Theology of Augustine,” by Keith E. Johnson
    • “Post-Reformation Trinitarian Perspectives,” by Chad Van Dixhoorn
    • “Jonathan Edwards and Eternal Generation,” by Christina N. Larsen
    • “Eternal Generation after Barth,” by Michael Allen
  • Part III: Contemporary Statements
    • “Philosophical Models of Eternal Generation,” by Mark Makin
    • “Eternal Generation and Soteriology,” by Fred Sanders
    • “Eternal Generation: Pro-Nicene Pattern, Dogmatic Function, and Created Effects,” by Josh Malone

Top Highlights

“First, probably a majority of biblical scholars today deny that ‘life in himself’ has anything to do with divine self-existence.” (Page 80)

“In short, Jesus both repudiates and accepts the charge that he makes himself equal with God (5:18): he repudiates it in that he strenuously avoids any suggestion that he is an independent God, a second God, or an alternative God, since all that he does is utterly dependent on the Father; and he accepts the charge that he makes himself equal with God in that whatever the Father does he also does, to the end that he should receive the same glory as the Father.” (Pages 84–85)

“When a father begets a son, the son is always of the same nature as the father, and so to call the Logos ‘Son’ and the First Person of the Trinity ‘Father’ is to imply a unity of essence. Additionally, the names assigned to the Son, especially Wisdom and Power (cf. 1 Cor 1:24), were crucial in arguing that the Father is never without his word, wisdom, or power and therefore that there never was a time that the Son, who is the Wisdom, Word, and Power of God, was not. Names again demonstrate the unity of essence in Father and Son.” (Page 52)

“At the very least we must conclude that the immanent Trinity does not abolish or contradict itself in the outworking of the economic Trinity. ‘I believe that there is something about the persons of the Father, Son, and Spirit that made it appropriate for them to take on the economic roles they did. This does not involve ontological subordination.’” (Page 94)

“In other words, even if someone holds that, on balance of probabilities, μονογενής in John means ‘only begotten,’ one must recognize that the expression itself is an exceedingly weak reed to support the eternal generation of the Son. It needs the support of John 5:26 and other passages.” (Page 89)


Praise for the Print Edition

In contemporary Trinitarian theology, conservative Christians have all too often been moving in one of two directions: either inadvertently undermining the full divinity of the Son—thereby turning Christianity into a unitarianism—or inadvertently distinguishing the divine persons in ways that are logically tritheistic. In response, Swain and Sanders have put together an important and profound volume whose timing simply could not be better.

—Matthew Levering, James N. and Mary D. Perry Jr. Chair of Theology, Mundelein Seminary

The creedal doctrine that the Son of God was ‘begotten of the Father before all worlds’ is a notion that is often misunderstood or else maligned by many contemporary theologians. In this context, Swain and Sanders have brought together an impressive collection of essays from across the theological disciplines in order to elucidate and defend this linchpin Trinitarian doctrine. The book’s coherence lies not only in the sum of its parts but also in the synthetic nature of its individual chapters. This is retrieval theology at its best—careful in its treatment of the historical sources and relevant in its theological import.

—R. Lucas Stamps, assistant professor of Christian studies, Anderson University

Retrieval is an important part of the task systematic theology faces today. In Retrieving Eternal Generation, Scott Swain and Fred Sanders, along with their fellow contributors, render a great service to the church and theology. In the midst of a fierce and sometimes confused debate over the doctrine of the Trinity, this excellent collection of essays provides a careful biblical, historical, and conceptual analysis that helps uncover the profound richness of the classic understanding of the Son’s eternal generation from the Father. Retrieving Eternal Generation brings together some of the best of biblical, patristic, and doctrinal theology in a convincing case for a doctrine that is unjustly accused of being overly metaphysical or Greek, among other deprecating terms. It shows that, to the contrary, this doctrine is vital for proper confession of the triune God.

—Dolf te Velde, assistant professor of systematic theology, Theological University Kampen

About the Editors

Fred Sanders (PhD, Graduate Theological Union) is professor of theology in the Torrey Honors Institute at Biola University in La Mirada, California. He is author of numerous books including The Triune God in the New Studies in Dogmatics series; >o?The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything; and Dr. Doctrines’ Christian Comix. He is coeditor of Jesus in Trinitarian Perspective: An Introductory Christology and Retrieving Eternal Generation. Fred is a core participant in the Theological Engagement with California’s Culture Project and a popular blogger at The Scriptorium Daily.

Scott Swain is professor of systematic theology at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida. He is author of several books, including The God of the Gospel: The Trinitarian Theology of Robert Jenson and Trinity, Revelation, and Reading: A Theological Introduction to the Bible and its Interpretation. He serves as general editor (with Michael Allen) for T&T Clark’s International Theological Commentary and Zondervan’s New Studies in Dogmatics series. He is a regular blogger at Reformation21.

Sample Pages from the Print Edition


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