Dr. Liam Goligher Responds to Dr. Mike Ovey

Dr. Liam Goligher's first guest post on Housewife Theologian has generated a lot of discussion and reaction from around the world. I'm pleased to share this follow-up by Liam, one that particularly addresses a question raised by Dr. Mike Ovey

“There is implicit in the subordinationist view a denial of the unity of God defined in terms of singularity and simplicity. Jesus echoes the language of singularity when He says ‘I, I am;’ we find that self-designation particularly in Isaiah in setting God apart from the idols of the nations.”


It has been my privilege, over some years, to know Dr. Mike Ovey of Oak Hill Theological College. At a time when there was a full on assault against penal substitutionary atonement within the evangelical camp in the United Kingdom, he and colleagues wrote the decisive academic book on the subject and were kind enough to reference my attempt at a popular defense of the doctrine. We were in the same corner then and no one (except Mike I imagine) knows how upsetting it is to now find ourselves in opposite corners in this debate. In fact I had written privately to Mike asking advice on how to reply to those who would attack my post! I say this to confirm what he says at the beginning of his post that we have had nothing but friendly relations over the years and that there is no prior animosity behind our differences. That being said, it appears our differences are great, and that on the doctrine of the Trinity.

It is the believer’s privilege and passion to meditate on and delight in the Divine Three in One; contemplating their majesty, admiring their beauty, confessing their unity. I’m sure Mike would agree that we can think of no greater joy than to join in the worship of this great and glorious Lord. Speaking for myself, it is a particular joy to contemplate the mystery of the eternal life and love of the Eternal Trinity; their mutual delight in each other; the eternal love of the Father for the Son and of the Son for the Father in the Holy Spirit. In that eternal repose there was one mind, one will, one love, one power shared equally by the divine persons in perfect unity and identity of being. It is in this contemplation of God that I need both the Bible and the language of the church. I need the carefully crafted words of the church’s creeds to keep me from misunderstanding God or misrepresenting Him. In this regard what one or two theologians said about God in the 350’s AD while debates were going on, is not as important as what is found in the ecumenical creeds like the Nicene-Constantinople Creed of 381 AD.

This God taught Israel to say ‘The Lord our God is One.’ There are distinctions of course. The NT writers, and Christ Himself, noted that OT prophets like David and Isaiah, when ‘in the Spirit,’ were party to conversations within the Godhead from the deepest past of pre-temporal ‘time’ (anthropomorphism if ever there was one). The fathers referred to this as prosopological exegesis, in which the prophet, using language scripted by the Holy Spirit, speaks in the prosopon, the character, the persona of a divine participant in the drama of redemption (See Matthew Bates, The Birth of the Trinity). The prophet could, in the Spirit, hear conversations before and after his own location in history. In Psalm 2 David hears the Father say to the Son at from eternity, ‘Today I have begotten you.’ As the church meditated on this and other texts, it realized that the Father (as the principle) generates, the Son is generated and the Father and the Son spirate the Holy Spirit. These actions are not understood to be distinct in themselves, but with respect of the persons they are distinct; the action by which the Father generates the Son, and the action by which the Father and Son spirate the Holy Spirit is nothing other than the pure act of God (actus purus). Within the Trinity the Father and the Son are ontologically related to one another in that the Father is only the Father in relation to the Son and the Son is only the Son in relation to the Father. Aquinas was building on the Greek fathers and Augustine’s teaching when he conceived of the persons of the Trinity as subsistent relations, that is, they subsist or exist as who they are only in relation to one another. The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father as the One in whom the Father begets the Son in love, and He proceeds from the Son as the One in whom the Son loves the Father who has begotten Him. The Holy Spirit is the product of the Father’s love for the Son, and the Son’s love for the Father.

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