Praise to the God Who is Three Persons!
I marvel over how mysterious the Trinity is. Have you ever studied the difference between the ontological Trinity and the economical Trinity? I refer you to Louis Berkhof's Systematic Theology for this.
The ontological Trinity is mysteriously beautiful. We speak of God being "one in essence, three in Person." This is true as far as it goes, but many misunderstand this and think of God as an abstract essence, wherein three Persons fill that essence. But this is not the way the Bible speaks of God.
Van Til was right when he said that God was "Absolute Person." Although, that too was a bit confusing, because God is Three Persons, not one person.
The way the Church has always understood this is that the Father is the eternal Source of the Trinity, and the Son was eternally begotten of the Father (filiation), and the Spirit eternally proceeds from the Father, through the Son (spiration). Historically, it was debated whether we should say that the Spirit proceeds from the Father AND the Son, because the concern was that the Father be considered the eternal Source, and some felt that to say "AND the Son" (filioque) compromised this. But the other side wanted to respond to the Arian heretics by proving that Jesus was eternal God as well, which was their concern.
I believe there is nothing wrong in saying that the Spirit proceeds from the Father AND the Son as long as it is properly understood that we mean "through" the Son. Indeed, the Father is the eternal source, or fountainhead, of the Trinity, and the Son is eternally generated, and the Spirit proceeds from the Father and (through) the Son.
There have been some recent naysayers, particularly coming from evangelicalism. Their concern is that they think that it is a contradiction to say "eternal generation." They argue that the Son became the Son only at the Incarnation, but before then, He was only the Word. But this is not the Church's position, and it never has been. The Church's position is that the Son was eternally begotten of the Father.
This is also the position of the Reformed creeds and confessions. It is the position of my Confession as well, The London Baptist Confession of 1689.
I think it is important to recognize the mystery here, but it is also important to humbly bow the knee to the mind of the Church.
"BUT WE JUST NEED TO GO BACK TO THE BIBLE!"
Some will say, "OK, so it's the position of the historic Church, and the position of the Reformed confessions. So what? What matters is what the Bible says."
I am all for what Scripture says. I think that this can be deduced from Scripture as well. But there is also something to be said for submitting to the mind of the Church. Do we understand Scripture perfectly? It has always been the heretics who have said that we need to ignore what the Church has always said.
"BUT THE REFORMERS WERE ALL ABOUT SOLA SCRIPTURA!"
Yes, the Reformers were about Sola Scriptura, as am I. But they never understood Sola Scriptura as just "me, my Bible, and the Holy Spirit." Indeed, Roman Catholic heretics and Eastern Orthodox heretics always criticize us Protestants for this kind of attitude.
But, historically, "me, my Bible, and the Holy Spirit" was never the attitude of the Reformers, and it is not what Sola Scriptura means. No, they understood it as submission to the mind of the Church, and bowed the knee to her most willingly. They recognized that the Church was indeed "the pillar and foundation of all truth." They saw the Bible as the Church's book. This is the position of the Reformed faith today as well.
In part 2, I will be posting an article from a brother which is excellent on the eternal Sonship of Christ. I again also refer my readers to Louis Berkhof's excellent treatment in his Systematic Theology.
I hope that these posts aid us all to marvel at how mysterious and how beautiful our God is!