The Trinity: there’s a danger in trying to explain things that are beyond our pay grade (wise words from Liam Goligher)
In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said:
“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory!”
And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”
Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”
Dr Liam Goligher was recently interviewed by Dr Jonathan Master. Click here to listen to the podcast. I have transcribed what I believe are the most vital things Dr Goligher said about God, the Trinity and the dangerous nonsense of ERAS (that’s what Goligher’s calls it). ERAS is the idea that there are Eternal Relations of Authority and Submission in the Trinity. It is being taught by Wayne Grudem, Bruce Ware, Owen Strachan and others. I wrote about ERAS some weeks ago (see links at the end of this post).
Below is my transcription of the interview; I’ve transcribed the parts that I believe are most important.
Dr Goligher talks about how ERAS is kind of projection. He says:
Once I start to try and thinking about God from my perspective, and I start projecting onto God my human experience — such as is done when you take parent and child relations and you try to project them onto God — you’re doing something that is way beyond our human right or authority to do.
This is of interest to us as we recently published a post on this blog clarifying the difference between projection and false accusation. So is ERAS a projection? Or is it a false accusation? It’s hard to say. I don’t think that those who teach ERAS are falsely accusing God in the malicious or brutal way that abusers falsely accuse their victims. But by projecting a concept of human authority/submission relations in the Eternal Trinity, are not the proponents of ERAS ascribing to God something which is not true of Him? And isn’t that a kind of false accusation? Isn’t it some kind of idolatry? And all idolatry is an offence against God. It blasphemes God.
Goligher goes on to point out that ERAS particularly diminishes women. So, at the risk of attributing motives to the proponents of ERAS, the dots are there to be joined…
If ERAS is a projection (or if it is a false accusation about God) and if it particularly diminishes women, who stands the most to gain from ERAS? Men. Husbands and fathers and male leaders in the church who like having authority over others.
I believe Dr Goligher is right: once you start taking parent and child relations and you try to project them onto God, you’re doing something that is way beyond your human right or authority to do.
The proponents of ERAS commend authority; but the irony is, they go beyond the bounds of what humans are authorised to do.
Here is the transcript. The subheadings are mine, but they are paraphrases of Goligher’s words.
ERAS is arrant nonsense and blasphemy.
It brings God down to our level where there is no contemplation of the mystery and glory of God.
Liam Goligher (6:10):
There is danger in trying to explain things that are beyond our pay grade. The church has languished to protect us from misunderstanding God. And we need to teach the people, “Look, I can go his far, but I have to draw a line there and say, if I go any further I’m liable to be teaching error, or you’re liable to pick up error from what I’m teaching even though I may not be wanting to do so.”
This modern preoccupation with having to explain and give analogies and examples of the Being of God has robbed our worship of a sense of awe and wonder of the magnificence and the majesty and that sense of the awesomeness of God. I do think there is a reason why our worship has been impoverished and therefore our Christian lives have been impoverished. [The reason] is that we’ve lost that sense of the highness and glory of God.
In Isaiah 6 [quoted at the top of this post] when it talks about the holiness of God, what that means is that God is above us and apart from us. He is not like us. There are no points of contact between God and me. I am made His image, but He is nothing like me.
Once I start to try thinking about God from my perspective, and I start projecting onto God my human experience — such as is done when you take parent and child relations and you try to project them onto God — you’re doing something that is way beyond our human right or authority to do. And that’s dangerous for the church. It’s dangerous for people. Because invariably what that does is it brings God down to our level and we flatten everything out — and our whole Christian lives are flattened out as a consequence of that.
I think the new approach to God [ERAS] where God the Father becomes the husband, God the Son becomes a wife in submission to her husband, and God the Holy Spirit becomes the offspring of that mutual love is arrant nonsense and actually blasphemy in my view.
I think that [the ERAS] idea has taken hold. It’s taken hold among certain evangelical Anglican groups in different parts of the world. And it’s taken hold in general evangelicalism. And the effect of it has been that those people have then taken the next step: worship is not about contemplating God, worship is what we do in our everyday life and it’s to do with obedience, doing this that and the other thing in obedience to God and that’s a result of knowing God. But there is no contemplation of the mystery and glory of God. So, in those circles, corporate worship has gone out the door and it’s all about evangelism, it’s all about building up our teaching, and it’s not about the awe and worship of God. So these wrong doctrines have implications for the life of the church.
That’s a very sobering connection to draw, between the downgrade in public worship and the general confusion about the doctrine of God. But that connection makes all the sense in the world. So in other words, it matters a great deal to you as a pastor that you do say to people, “Look there are mysteries that we can’t comprehend. And to attempt to explain those things would be not only to mislead people, but also to denigrate their worship.”
Yes; it takes the heart and soul out of worship. There is nothing to lift us up beyond where we are. So our gatherings are simply to get something that we can take away with us — a kind of moral impulse or even a gospel thought (which is a good thing to take away with us). But it’s all about us — we’re not left with open-mouthed wonder at this God who transcends every category we have, who doesn’t fit into any categories we have, who is above our pay grade in terms of our thought and our reason, and that we may come as far as we can get into a knowledge of Him, and there we have to stop and wonder at the sheer glory and splendour of who He is. But that doesn’t happen. It doesn’t happen because we’ve already reduced Him down to our size. So He’s already one of us, really.
And this among people who would protest that it’s not! This among people who would like to feel they are good Bible believing Bible teaching people. … But their view of God has been degraded by the insinuation of these errors in the understanding of who God is.
This nonsense of ERAS is the most serious thing of all
Liam Goligher (16:32):
This latest controversy is the most serious thing of all. If we were to fight for justification by faith alone, or for penal substitutionary atonement alone, this [ERAS] is a bigger thing. We are talking abut the God that we worship. The God that we adore. The God in whose presence we live. Whose fellowship we long for. The God who made us. The God who is meant to be our great preoccupation. I want to think about Him; I want His thoughts to fill my thoughts; I want to have greater knowledge of him. And the thought that people would take away from His glory, the thought that people would add in to what we know about the Trinity stuff which is nonsense — by all accounts just nonsense [— it’s a horrible thought].
Our knowledge is God is meant to enhance human life, not diminish it. And the implications of some of this false [ERAS] teaching is to diminish human beings — in his case women particularly but by extension men as well. So I think we have an obligation to speak up [against ERAS].