Review: Retrieving Eternal Generation

34460448The doctrine of eternal generation has been affirmed by thinking Christians and theologians of nearly every ecclesiastical tradition since the fourth century. Eternal generation is a foundational component of two vital convictions of the Christian faith concerning Christology and the Trinity. Still, the doctrine of eternal generation has fallen upon difficult times among many evangelical theologians since the nineteenth century. The need for a retrieval is both immanent and timely in contemporary evangelicalism and few theological minds are more capable of facilitating a rescue mission than Fred Sanders and Scott R. Swain.

Retrieving Eternal Generation presents the multifaceted approach needed to establish the biblical necessity of the doctrine of eternal generation for contemporary evangelical theology. Retrieving Eternal Generation is separated into three parts: (1) Biblical Reasoning, (2) Historical Witnesses, and (3) Contemporary Statements. The contributors include D. A. Carson, Charles Lee Irons, R. Kendall Soulen, Michael Allen, and more. Following a brief introduction by Sanders and Swain, there are seven essays focused on building a biblical basis for the doctrine of eternal generation. In this section, the reader discovers three essays that explore aspects eternal generation in the Old Testament and four in the New Testament. The following five essays are historically motivated and trace the conviction of eternal generation from Origen to Karl Barth. The final segment has three theologically oriented essays that bridge the gap between the Bible and history to theological reflection. The volume closes with a number of indexes to help for further reference.

The importance of Retrieving Eternal Generation cannot be overstated. As Sanders and Swain articulate in the introduction, “it is not enough to say that the Son is God; we must see that he is God the Son, not just God in general. Sonship, or eternal generation, is what gives both form and content to the relation between the Father and the Son: the relation has the form of fromness and the content of filiality” (p. 17). The weight of this reality is demonstrated in the initial section of the book and then carried through with clarity into the subsequent sections. The initial section is also the highpoint in the book, in my opinion. Each essay in this initial section transmits its own importance. Nevertheless, the essay on John 5:26 as the interpretive crux of eternal generation by D. A. Carson and the essay on the “only begotten” in the Fourth Gospel by Charles Lee Irons are among the finest in the volume. The shortcomings of the volume are discovered in the variegated nature of the essays and the narrowness of content that occasionally overlooks a fuller portrait of the importance of the doctrine of eternal generation. This is trivial in contrast to the tremendous value the readers will find in Retrieving Eternal Generation.

Retrieving Eternal Generation edited by Fred Sanders and Scott R. Swain is a fascinating set of essays that is both immanent and timely in the context of contemporary evangelicalism. Eternal generation is an inseparable reality of the core convictions of the Christian faith. The thought of eternal generation somehow becoming divorced from the life and wellbeing of the identity of the Christian confession is unimaginable and Retrieving Eternal Generation is a clear example of the need that exists—a need for a doctrinal conviction that is rooted in the Christian Scriptures and expressed in the history of God’s people. If you’re looking for a book that will ignite your heart with a passion for biblical truth that matters, then Retrieving Eternal Generation comes highly recommended.

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