Retrieving Eternal Generation

Edited by Fred Sanders and Scott R. Swain

Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2017. 304 pages. Softcover. $34.99.

Reviewed by Rev. Christopher J. Neuendorf, Pastor, Holy Cross Evangelical Lutheran Church, Davenport, Iowa on 07/31/2018

It is perhaps an indictment of my own unfamiliarity with current Evangelical theology that I did not realize that the doctrine of eternal generation was in need of retrieval. The doctrine has, in fact, been challenged not only by liberal scholarship, for whom even traditional theism is up for grabs, but also by conscientious and serious theologians who view it as an unscriptural innovation, an invasion of heathen philosophy that compromises the perfect equality and full divinity of the persons of the Godhead. It is therefore in need of a careful defense that builds upon clear scriptures and gives a coherent account of the relations between the persons of the Trinity. This need is met, and then some, by the essays collected in the present volume.

Retrieving Eternal Generation is divided into three parts: biblical reasoning (pp. 27–146), historical witnesses (pp. 147–240), and contemporary statements (pp. 241–285). The first section is the strongest, employing sound exegetical techniques to demonstrate the scriptural warrant for the traditional teaching on eternal generation. Particularly valuable is Charles Lee Irons’ essay, “A Lexical Defense of the Johannine ‘Only Begotten’” (pp. 98–116), which should put to rest the longstanding claims that the term μονογενής means simply “unique” without reference to any relation of origin. The historical section displays a deep reverence for the patristic tradition, while maintaining steadfast fidelity to the scriptures first and foremost. The final section deals less with current objections to eternal generation than one might hope, but nevertheless aims successfully to provide a way of thinking about the Trinity that faithfully incorporates the scriptural data and integrates with the wider system of theology, particularly soteriology. Overall, Retrieving Eternal Generation is an informative, engaging read that encourages the contemplation of God in himself, a sort of proleptic beatific vision.