Eternal Generation and Preaching the Biblical Gospel

Every Sunday I have the astoundingly gracious and mercifully miraculous privilege to preach God’s written word to some of God’s precious covenant people. But why does God require that his word is not merely read but preached? Put another way, wherein lies the difference between preaching and reading God’s word? Specifically, it has to do with God as Triune, and the capacity he gave us to reason and enter into the meaning of his word. As we hear the gospel faithfully preached, we are “entering more thoroughly into the meaning of Scripture” not merely reading the Scripture, and this moves us into all the doctrines of the Christian faith.[1] Central to all Christian doctrines is the doctrine of the Trinity.            

Definitions of preaching abound but a biblically faithful definition goes something like this: Christian preaching is the Triune God’s ordained means by which he uses men filled with his Spirit to reveal the meaning of his written word to a particular congregation of the bride of Christ Jesus for the glory of the Father. Truly, more could be said. After all, I just defined preaching the gospel in relation to the infinite and eternal Triune God (it is the eternal gospel, Rev. 14:6)! Of course, more could be said! Let’s try.

The Christian doctrine of the Trinity affirms, among other things, that God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit are the source of, and means, to all meaning. Put another way, we cannot understand the significance or importance (this is what is meant by meaning) of anything apart from understanding it in relation to something other than itself. This all reflects who God is as Trinity. God is real, true personal unity and real, true personal diversity simultaneously. Note that based on how I have described meaning and affirmed the doctrine of the Trinity that God is inherently meaningful, or we might say he is meaning-filled. In order for any of us to truly know, there must be true unity and true diversity simultaneously at the very essence of Reality and all realities. Realities can be distinguished from each other, yet they are also inherently united to each other. This dynamic marks what we call knowledge and meaning.

Do you realize that this dynamic of relating one thing to another is what human language both in its written and spoken forms is based upon? One word as subject related to another that is the verb and then another that is the object of the verb. Communicating in verbal and written languages happens because one word is related to another in a particular way and eventually something through these word relationships is affirmed. The very affirmation has to be meaningful in some way or there is nothing actually communicated. I recall a few years ago hearing a Christian apologist deny the affirmation a young man made regarding the meaninglessness of life. “Life is meaningless,” the young man stated. “You don’t believe that,” responded the apologist. Of course, the point was that the young man had made a grammatical statement that he believed carried meaning. The apologist eventually helped the young man see that his struggle was over the fact that he did not know the meaning of his life and life in general.

The gospel that Christian ministers are called to preach that reveals Jesus Christ and him crucified (1Cor. 1:23; 2:2) is about the Triune God. God’s word written and made flesh (God’s Son) reveals and glorifies God the Father (John 14:9; Heb. 1:1-4) by the power of God’s Spirit. God accomplishes this purpose because the Father not only sent the Son who reveals him (John 5:19-47; 12:44-5) but he, along with the Son, sent his Spirit so that sinners like you and me would know, believe, love and serve him (John 14:1-31; 15:26-27; 16:5-15; 1Cor. 2:1-16). Indeed, we would not know how to rightly reason about, or accurately assess the meaning of anything we experience in God’s creation apart from his word written, his word made flesh (Jesus), and his Spirit.

All this is to say that if anyone attributes anything to any one of the three persons of the Trinity that denies that particular divine person’s equality or unity with the other two persons of the Trinity, they have, at least in principle, failed to affirm the biblical doctrine of the Trinity. This means they have, in principle, failed to uphold the biblical gospel. How can one faithfully preach the gospel when one fails to reason in accord with the meaning of the text that reveals the equality or full divinity of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit? They cannot. You see, in the end, the debate about the eternal generation of the Son has to do with the equality of God the Son with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit. This means it is a matter of the gospel and faithful preaching of it.   

David P. Smith (Ph.D.) is the author of B. B. Warfield's Scientifically Constructive Theological Scholarship (Wipf & Stock) and co author with Ronald Hoch of Old School, New Clothes: The Cultural Blindness of Christian Education Wipf & Stock). David is Pastor of Covenant Fellowship A.R.P. Church in Greensboro, North Carolina.  

[1]B. B. Warfield, “The Biblical Doctrine of the Trinity,” in Collected Works 2:133.


David Smith