Retrieving eternal generation

Fred Sanders and Scott R. Swain’s “Retrieving Eternal Generation”

Fred Sanders and Scott R. Swain’s Retrieving Eternal Generation is an important book for the church. It’s a theologically conservative voice of reason in a modern debate against new theological arguments: social trinitarianism and egalitarianism on one side and eternal functional subordination (a.k.a. eternal relations of authority and submission) (EFS/ERAS) on the other hand. Sanders and Swain and their excellent panel of authors enter into the fray with a clarion call to reaffirm the universal historical position of the church on the relations of origin between the trinitarian persons and the eternal generation of the Son in particular.

I’ll cut right to the chase: the book is worth the price for Charles Lee Irons’s chapter alone. He argues very convincingly for the historical translation of the Greek μονογενής (monogenēs) as “only begotten” over and against the more recent scholarly consensus “only one of its/his kind”. While this doesn’t by itself prove eternal generation, it sets our minds greatly at ease that “generation” is at least an appropriate Bible word to use for the eternal “from-ness” or “of-ness” of the Son.

Though Irons’s chapter is arguably the most important contribution, I was pleased to find something valuable and convincing in every single chapter. I can’t mention them all here, but I particularly enjoyed Swain’s chapter on divine names, D.A. Carson’s chapter on John 5:26, Lewis Ayres’s chapter on the writings of Origen, Keith E. Johnson’s chapter on the writings of Augustine, Mark Makin’s chapter on philosophical models of eternal generation, and Sanders’s chapter on eternal generation and soteriology.

I commend the book to anyone looking to deepen and sharpen their understanding of trinitarian theology, and especially those who aren’t sure whether to hold onto or ditch the traditional relations of origin in light of some new idea like social trinitarianism, egalitarianism, or EFS/ERAS. I was more or less persuaded by the EFS/ERAS view but I’m happy to report reading this book has brought me squarely back into the classical eternal generation camp. And that it changed one’s mind is, perhaps, the highest praise one can give to any book.