Robert L. Reymond


I got to know Bob Reymond when I worked as his youth director at a small Baptist Church in Georgia during the fall of 1967, just prior to my leaving Bob Jones for having sold copies of the Westminster Confession of Faith.  About twenty-five years ago, before he went to work for Jim Kennedy’s Knox Theological Seminary, while he was still at Covenant Theological Seminary, I had him as a conference speaker here at Grace, and he stayed in our home.  His most memorable messages were out of Habakkuk and modeled after Dr. Lloyd-Jones’ From Fear to Faith.  We have both served on the Presbyterian Church in America’s General Assembly’s Theological Examining Committee, but at different times.

Those fortnightly drives from BJU were about five hours round trip, and we often rode alone.  It was a profound time of learning for me.  Curiously, I found him to be mildly Van Tillian in those days, but that was before he became a faculty member at Covenant, a place which at the time was unfriendly to the thinking of Cornelius Van Til.  Of course, I was simply a college junior and had never actually read Dr. Van Til or even heard of him then, so probably it was simply that he laid out an apologetics foundation from Scripture, and Professor Van Til built on that foundation when I went to Westminster, because of all Reformed thinkers, Van Til seems to be Dr. Reymond’s nemesis. 

Van Til’s thought has profoundly influenced me in several ways.  In addition to my view of apologetics, I see that:

1.  Human thinking is analogical to God’s thinking.

2.  Many deep truths of Scripture are to be embraced with a sense of antinomy.

3.  The genius of Reformed theology should be its reticence where the Scripture does not give a clear answer. 

Dr. Reymond would heartily reject the first two of those things.  That and his having been deeply influenced by Gordon Clark are the fundamental reasons that he espouses supralapsarianism.  The supralapsarian position is the logical deduction of certain statements in Scripture about God’s sovereignty, but I think that it goes beyond Scripture and travels down a path where angels fear to tread. 

Dr. Reymond is certainly a clear thinker and a forthright disciple of John Calvin.  I have even wondered at times if he might not be genealogically related to Calvin . . . add Calvin’s funny hat and beard and notice the resemblance:

However, I think that Dr. Reymond makes too much of Calvin’s rejection of certain of the Nicene Fathers and his affirmation that not only the Father but also the Son and the Spirit are autotheos.   I have no difficulty in saying that the Son is “very God of very God,” but that doesn’t mean that I embrace all of the Greek speculative reasoning of some of the Fathers of the Church when I affirm the Nicene Creed without reservation.  Of all biblical truths, the doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation should be handled with the utmost avoidance of speculation.  I can agree with Dr. Reymond’s summation.  Indeed, it sounds like something I would write (must go back to Reymond’s peripatetic, uh, automotive, method with me):

. . . I do not intend to deny that the three Persons of the Godhead do have distinguishing, incommunicable properties which are real, eternal, and necessary: Indeed, without them there would be no Trinity. The distinguishing property of the Father is paternity (paternitas) from which flow “economical” activities in which the Son and Spirit do not share; the Son’s is filiation (filiatio) from which flow “economical” activities in which the Father and Spirit do not share; and the Holy Spirit’s is spiration (spiratio) from which flow “economical” activities in which the Father and the Son do not share, all descriptions which can be justified by Scripture.

We must be extremely cautious, however, in asserting what these distinguishing properties mean lest we go beyond Scripture. There can be no question that in his paternity the Father is the Father of the Son. But we must not attempt to define, beyond the fact of the clearly implied order, a modal “how” of the Father’s paternity. And there can be no question that the Son is the Son of the Father. We know that his Sonship means that he is equal with the Father with respect to deity (John 5:18; 10:33-36), and we also know that as the Son he is to be distinguished from the Father with respect to his personal property of filiation (John 1:1-3, 18). We know also that his Sonship implies an order of relational (not essential) subordination to the Father which is doubtless what dictated the divisions of labor in the eternal Covenant of Redemption in that it is unthinkable that the Son would have sent the Father to do his will). But beyond this we dare not go. We must not attempt to define, beyond the fact of the clearly implied order, a modal “how” of the Son’s filiation. It is enough to know that the Scriptures affirm that the titles “Father” and “Son” speak of a personal, differentiating manifoldness (that is, “subjective conscious selves”) within the depth of the divine Being. Finally, there can be no question that the Holy Spirit is a divine Person who is the Spirit of God and of Christ (Rom. 8:9), and that he “proceeded” or “came forth from” the Father and the Son (John 14:26; 15:26; 16:7; 20:22) at Pentecost on his salvific mission. But we must not attempt to define, beyond the fact of the clearly implied order, a modal “how” of the Spirit’s spiration. It is enough to know that the Scriptures affirm that this title distinguishes a third subjective conscious self in the depth of the divine Being.  (Robert L. Reymond, A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith, p. 336, emphases the author’s)

It is the other statements that he makes earlier that I think are a bit of overkill:

In fact, when they taught that the Father is the “source” (arch, arche, Lat. fons), “fountain” (phghpege) and “root” (riza, rhiza) of the Son and that the Son in turn is God out of  (ekek) God, that is, out of the being of the Father, they were virtually denying to the Son the attribute of self-existence, an attribute essential to deity, and were implying that the same divine essence, paradoxically, can be both “unbegotten” and “begotten” depending upon whether it is the Father or the Son which is being considered. (Ibid. p. 326)

My own view of the matter is:

There is only one God.  In that absolute unity of essence, there are three distinctions, which we may call persons, an inadequate but useful term, because while the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are distinct in ways that are similar to the distinction between one human person and another, God’s unity of essence destroys our ability to comprehend this distinction in any absolute way as we would with three separate human individuals.  Yet this distinction is real, because God eternally and simultaneously exists as both one and three:  the One God exists in three distinct, self-conscious personalities, as three distinct persons.  This is seen in the baptism of Jesus:  the Father speaks from heaven, the Holy Spirit comes down from the Father to the Son, and the Son is baptized.  So there is not one self-conscious person revealing himself to humankind in three different roles or simply acting in three different modes, but three distinct, self-conscious personalities simultaneously acting and interacting with each other:  “We worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; Neither confounding the persons nor dividing the substance. For there is one person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Spirit.” (The Athanasian Creed

The one God in himself is three distinct persons.  In terms of being, we may say that ontologically there is an absolute equality between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  In terms of redemption, the Father is the Head of Christ, the Son becomes the Servant who absolutely subordinates himself to the will of the Father and the Spirit submits himself to be sent by the Father through the Son to glorify the Son in his people. 

In that distinction, the Father is properly understood as a father, and the Son as a son, on the analogy of our understanding of human paternal-filial relationships.  In his paternity, in the course of time, the Father begot the Son through the mysterious work of the Holy Spirit acting on the Virgin Mary. This act of begetting in time is reflective of the eternal relationship between the Father and the Son, but this relationship is ultimately beyond our ability as human beings to grasp in any comprehensive way, because human paternal-filial relationships involve sexual intercourse, and there is no sense in which God begot his Son in that way, neither eternally nor in time through the Virgin Mary.  Thus we may say that God is Father and God is Son after the analogy of human paternal-filial relationships, and, though only analogically true, it is nevertheless actually true, because God’s Fatherhood is mirrored in human fatherhood. 

In that distinction, the Father and the Son send the Holy Spirit into the world.  In the work of redemption, it is not simply that the Father and the Son send the Spirit, but the Father sends the Spirit through the Son.  How the redemptive work of the Spirit, proceeding from the Father through the Son, reflects the eternal essence of God and the inter-personal relationships between the Father, the Son and the Spirit is a matter that is ultimately mysterious.  The Bible simply does not give adequate information for humans dogmatically to assert anything other than the simple truth that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father through the Son and that the different redemptive works performed by the three members of the Godhead somehow reflect the eternal nature of God himself, but how this is so is never revealed.

In spite of the above, I would still wholeheartedly recommend Dr. Reymond’s A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith along with Louis Berkhof’s Systematic Theology and Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology as most excellent summaries of the Christian Faith written for a modern audience.  Then, of course, there is the great work of John Calvin himself, his Institutes of the Christian Religion, which the late John Murray called the opus magnum of Christian theology.  Any of these works would prove a very useful help in the systematic study of what the Bible teaches, but none of them is free from errors, only the Bible itself is.

See also my brief piece on the Trinity.

Bob Vincent