Responding to Wayne Grudem on the Filioque

A dear and learned friend of mine gave me some advice while I am on my theological journey:  given my background in theology, and the various positions of which I am aware, I might have to spend extra time thinking through a lot of issues.   Practically, this means I have to do a lot of extra reading from Evangelical and Reformed sources.

Given that Triadology is a “deal-breaker” for me, I started reading Reformed and Evangelical accounts of the Trinity.   I’ve already discussed Ferguson and MacLeod, and I am about to discuss Grudem; I probably won’t do too many more on this topic since they tend to use the same arguments.

Wayne Grudem

Ten years ago his Systematic Theology was the second one I had read.  I haven’t read all of the evangelical systematic theologies (since a new one comes out every month), but I have read a lot and I still think Grudem’s remains the best, and it is officially used by dozens of evangelical and baptist seminaries.  Unlike other systematic theologies, Grudem’s doesn’t feel like one is reading a theological dictionary.  He can actually write (most academics can’t).   While Grudem’s arguments are not the most erudite, they are nonetheless representative of the Evangelical position.

The Filioque Footnote

That being said, there isn’t too much of an argument, and Grudem thinks the Filioque discussion is largely a waste of time.  He calls it a “insignificant doctrinal point” (246) and “an obscure point of doctrine” (247).

He argues, similarly to Ferguson and Macleod (though interestingly, Louis Berkhof does not make this argument), that what happens in the economy is necessarily an analogy to what happens in the ontological Trinity.  In other words, if the Son sends (Gk. pempso) the Spirit in time, this necessarily means the Spirit proceeds (Gk. ekpourei) from the Son in eternity.


1.  It is by no means self-evident that there is a 1:1 connection between the actions of the Godhead in time and in eternity.   Was the Logos literally crucified in the Godhead before the creation of the world?   Was the Logos eternally incarnated before the Incarnation?   On Grudem’s reading, one has to answer “yes.”

2.  Grudem’s entire argument rests on collapsing ekpourei (to proceed) back into pempso (to send).  But one is not allowed simply to start changing the definitions of words when it suits them!  The words do not mean the same thing and only deliberately reading 9th century Trinitarian controversies back into Christ’s saying can warrant such a move.

3.  Grudem accuses the Eastern Church of distancing the Logos from the Holy Spirit (247).  I’m not entirely sure what he means by this.  What he is probably trying to say is that without the Holy Spirit as the bond of love between Father and Son (but only in the manner of proceeding from both) is that there is no eternal relation between Son and Holy Spirit. If the Eastern Church opted for a strictly and only Photian reading of the Trinity, then Grudem might have a point.  However, that’s not all the East says on the matter.   The East says the Spirit is eternally manifested by the Son.  He exists from the Father but has existence from the Son.  The former denotes mode of origin and the latter eternal manifestation.

Turning it Around

While we are engaging in logical sleight of hands, does anyone find it curious that Spanish adoptionist heresies happened roughly the same time the Council of Toledo inserted Filioque into the creed? (cf.  Pelikan, 52-58).

Works Cited

Grudem, Wayne.   Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine.  Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994.

Papadakis, Aristidies.  Crisis in Byzantium: The Filioque Controversy in the Patriarchate of Gregory II of Cyrpus (1283-1289).  Yonkers, NY: St. Vladimir Seminary Press, 1997.

Pelikan, Jaroslav.  The Growth of Medieval Theology (600-1300).  Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978.


One comment on “Responding to Wayne Grudem on the Filioque

  1. I don’t understand why so many westerners say “the filioque isn’t a major point…so even though it would effect nothing, we will not go back to the original Nicene Creed…we will however, criticize the Orthodox for not switching their creed.”

    If it isn’t a big deal, drop it from the Creed.

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