Retrieving Eternal Generation edited by Fred Sanders & Scott R. Swain. Grand Rapid: Zondervan, 2017.
One of the most beneficial pursuits is the pursuit of the past. In recent days, Christians have particularly benefited from retrieving the spirituality of the past, the wisdom that earlier generations have left for them. And rightly so. Accessing the past’s wisdom is vital to spiritual growth.
Over the centuries, believers struggled to understand their scripture and the life of faith. But the Spirit has not been inactive among the faithful. And so learning from earlier Christian exegetes and from earlier Christian theologians offers great benefit for today. After all, Christianity didn’t appear suddenly in the late second millennium within North America. We have a heritage, a spiritual ancestry.
And this is why Retrieving Eternal Generation is so important. It offers the wisdom of two thousand years of meditation on Scripture and God.
What Is Eternal Generation?
According to Scott Swain, “The doctrine of eternal generation is an interpretation of the personal names that characterize the Father-Son relationship” (37). So, for example, Christ is the radiance of the Father’s image according to Hebrews 1:3. By interpreting these names (radiance and Father), Swain and others come to understand eternal generation.
Put simply, eternal generation describes how the Father relates to the Son. The Father generates the Son like the sun generates its radiance. The Father is the source, the Son is spring. They relate to one another in this way, and theologians call this eternal generation.
What Does It Matter?
Eternal generation matters because it is at the heart of the Christian faith—it helps us conceive of the God whom we worship who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And it doesn’t just tell us something about how the Son is is different than the Father. It also gives insight into the nature of God.
Lewis Ayres retrieves Origen of Alexandria’s theology of eternal generation, and in so doing he provides a theological reflection on God’s nature. Ayres explains, “The same logic that asserts the Father must eternally beget also begins to suggest that the Father’s begetting of Wisdom is a constitutive feature of what it is to be God” (153). Eternal begetting (generation) shows us who God is. And this means that “God is eternally generative” (153).
In other words, “Origen attempts to show us that the Son’s mode of generation reveals the divine nature to be eternally communicative and benevolent even as the Father is the one principle of all” (162). Ayres retrieves more than this in his reading of Origen, but this particular point helpfully shows why eternal generation is so important.
The doctrine teaches us who God is. It teaches us that God is “eternally communicative and benevolent.” The next time trouble comes and you doubt God’s goodness, what will your next thought be? If you know God to be eternally benevolent, it can only be one thing: trust in God who will also share his goodness with you.
And that’s where the rubber meets the road. The doctrine of eternal generation drives the reality of God’s nature deep into our bones, so that it becomes a reflex when tragedy hits.
Should I Buy It?
Yes, although it won’t answer every question that readers have. For example, I wish the chapter on Proverbs 8 spent time exegeting the text (although it was admittedly not the author’s goal in writing). But overall, the chapters succeed in retrieving the doctrine of eternal generation from the past to give life to the church today.
Buy Retrieving Eternal Generation. It will not disappoint.
Disclosure: I received the book as a review copy from Zondervan without an obligation to give it a positive review.
On May 31st 2018, I edited my conclusion because I unfairly critiqued the chapter on Proverbs (and the author).
Matthew Emerson says
Hi Wyatt, a quick note – the point of my chapter was to provide a comparison of hermeneutical approaches to Proverbs 8, not to write an exegesis of it. So while I’m sure an exegesis of Proverbs 8 would’ve been beneficial in the book, it wasn’t what I was doing with my particular chapter.
That’s fair. I felt that the other chapters on texts did spend time interpreting the passage (e.g., Carson’s chapter on John 5). And I think for a passage like Proverbs 8, which many see as having nothing to do with the Son, it would have helped to show what it looks like to interpret it.