If Jesus Commended Mary, Why Can’t We?

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A Sunday-school teacher asks the class of young children, “What is little and gray, eats nuts, and has a big bushy tail?”

After a moment one child replies, “I know the answer’s probably supposed to be Jesus, but it sure sounds like a squirrel to me.”

There are many books and articles and sermons these days that seek to remind us that all of Scripture ultimately points to Jesus. I have benefited from these very much. It’s important to remember that the stories of David and Jonah and Samson aren’t simply children’s tales or morality plays. The point is not to “Dare to be a Daniel!” but rather to see God’s work of salvation through all of Scripture.

However, when we consider examples of faithful believers in Scripture, we shouldn’t lose sight of the lessons we are meant to learn from them. Granted the examples are as much “don’t do this” as “do this.” But there is a way to consider these lessons without forgetting that Jesus is the focus of the Bible. If we aren’t careful, our attempts to highlight Jesus in every passage end up like the old Sunday School joke.

Tim Challies has a post this week about who the true hero is in the Mary and Martha story:

The story of Mary and Martha in Luke 10 is one of those accounts from the life of Jesus that is in danger of becoming cliché. And it will become that if we fail to see the true hero of the story. …

And so we learn that we are to be like Mary in a Martha world, people who prioritize spending time with Jesus instead of allowing the cares of life to overwhelm us. Mary is the hero.

Or is she? …

When we see Jesus sitting in Martha’s home, we see the true hero of the story.

Now, first things first, Jesus is absolutely the true hero of the Bible. That is one of the greatest truths of the gospel. All of the Biblical “heroes” point to the ultimate hero: Emmanuel, God with us.

However, I have some concerns about Challies’ attempt to refocus our attention in the story away from Mary and Martha. First, even though Jesus is the hero of all Bible stories, there are still important lessons to learn from the account. Why does Luke (and ultimately God) include this account? I don’t think it’s an accident that the story of Mary and Martha comes just after the “Good Samaritan” and before the Lord’s prayer. All three are instructional.

The “Good Samaritan” story ends with the command, “Go and do likewise.” The purpose of the story is to teach us about who our neighbor is and what our duties are towards our neighbors. Ultimately Jesus is the hero who rescues us from our sins and heals us by his own sacrifice. But there is an application for us too.

In the story of Mary and Martha, Mary is commended for choosing the “good portion.” What did she choose? She chose to sit at the Lord’s feet and listen to His teaching instead of being anxious and troubled over “much serving.” Her priorities were right, and it’s not wrong to point that out.

Choosing the “good portion” is a real challenge for most of us. We are often busy and anxious and troubled over many things. We are often distracted from listening to His teaching. We often need to remember what our priorities should be.

This is not to add more work or weight or guilt to our lives. It’s to free us from our running around and trusting in our own activity to save us. Because that is the problem with Martha’s actions. Martha’s heart wasn’t in the right place. She was more concerned about the serving than she was about listening to the guest of honor. Her “faith” or “trust” was in the wrong thing. Mary, on the other hand, is commended for putting her faith in the right thing. She was trusting and resting in Him.

Now, why does it matter whether we commend Mary or diminish her importance in the story? Well, my concern is that there is a strong movement within conservative churches that teaches that the home and domesticity are the ultimate callings and places of service for women. In True Woman 101, Mary Kassian and Nancy Leigh DeMoss write:

The woman, on the other hand, wasn’t created out in the field. She was created within the boundaries of the garden — the “home” where God had placed her husband. This detail is intriguing, since Scripture indicates that managing the household is a woman’s distinct sphere of responsibility. … The Bible teaches that God created woman with a distinctively feminine “bent” for the home. “Working at home” is on its Top Ten list of important things that older women need to teach the younger ones (Titus 2:4-5). Scripture encourages young women to “manage their households” (1 Tim. 5:14). It praises the woman who “looks well to the ways [affairs] of her household” (Prov. 31:27). And it casts in a negative light women whose hearts are inclined away from the home — those whose “feet” are not centered there (Prov. 7:11). (72)

They go on to say:

[C]reating a place to beget and nurture life is at the core of what it means to be a woman. … It’s about creating a warm, nurturing, orderly, stable place that promotes well-being and fosters physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual growth. It’s about welcoming others in. It’s about ministering to the soul. It’s about community. It’s about cultivating relationships. And that’s something God has particularly equipped women to do. (73)

If Kassian and DeMoss (and many others) are right that domesticity and caring for the needs of others are inherently what women are made to do, then shouldn’t Martha have been commended for her efforts at hospitality? Martha was just going around making sure her home was nurturing and ministering to others. Mary’s the one avoiding her God-given purpose, right? Why is Mary commended and Martha corrected?

Obviously I’m exaggerating a bit here. But there are many voices today encouraging women to accept that domesticity and motherhood are the highest calling. And much like Challies is concerned about in his article, when we tell women that, we are taking the focus off of Jesus. Domesticity, hospitality, and motherhood are all wonderful things, but the highest calling and purpose for all mankind (male and female) is found in glorifying God and enjoying Him forever.

Our first and greatest priority must always be Jesus. Many women will serve God through their families and homes. Other women will serve God in their callings outside the home. In all that we do, we seek to glorify Him.

In Luke’s account, Mary chose the “good portion” and demonstrated that her priorities were correct. Jesus commended her for it and told Martha that Mary would not have this taken away from her. If Jesus commended Mary, and did so for our instruction, shouldn’t we also commend her and teach the lesson Martha learned?

No Adam, No Fall, No Original Sin, No Substitutionary Atonement

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How you interpret Genesis 1-3 is about more than just the length of the creation days. What you believe about how the world began has ripple effects throughout Scripture. If Genesis 1 and 2 are metaphorical or allegorical and not meant to be understood literally, then that affects many other parts of Scripture. For example, was there an actual couple, Adam and Eve, from whom all humanity are descended? How were they created? Were they created perfect and without sin? Did they sin and fall from that perfection? Was there death before the Fall?

Some Christians who believe in theistic evolution work hard to show that their views on the origin of the world and mankind do not mean abandoning a belief in Adam and original sin. For some Adam was a de novo creation, for others he was a hominid adopted by God and given a soul, and for another group Adam is merely a metaphorical figure who represents the origin of man and sin.

The problem with these attempts to reconcile evolutionary teachings on the origins of man with the Bible is that for each “conflict” they solve more difficulties are created down the line. Many Young Earth Creationists (YEC) are belittled for being concerned about the dangers of the “slippery slope” that starts with accepting evolution. However, there is a very real problem with how to interpret Scriptures dealing with Adam, the Fall, sin, etc. And many theistic evolutionists agree.

BioLogos, a foundation that exists to promote theistic evolution, regularly runs articles from various scholars on how to reinterpret these issues and how to reconcile them with evolutionary teachings. The latest series discusses the doctrine of the atonement. BioLogos wants Christians to believe there is a rich history of differing opinions on the atonement. In fact, they want you to believe that there is no one accepted position:

The work of Christ must be understood as a response to the reality and universal extent of sin among human beings. And, of course, our understanding of the nature of sin is affected by different models of human origins. Many theologians think that the substitutionary model of atonement requires something like the Augustinian view of the Fall. But there are other models of atonement, and other models of the Fall. Substitutionary atonement is questioned these days on grounds other than evolutionary understandings of human origins, but many evolutionary creationists have added their voices to those concerns.

The atonement is one of the easiest examples to give for there being considerable theological diversity in the church over these 2000 years. From christus victor and fishhook theories, to penal substitution and moral exemplar theories, we can’t say there is one doctrine of the atonement that has stood the test of time.

This is disturbing to say the least. While it’s true that there are various other “models,” none are Biblical. The doctrine of substitutionary atonement is, and has been, the one orthodox position. Jesus died on the cross to pay for my sins. That’s the gospel. This is clear in a number of passages:

All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:18-21 ESV)

He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. (1 Peter 2:24-25 ESV)

But substitutionary atonement is dependent on Adam and the Fall and original sin. If evolutionary views on origins move one away from these doctrines, then the atonement needs to be reworked too.

The first attempt to do so in BioLogos’ new series is by Dr. Joseph Bankard, an associate professor of philosophy at Northwest Nazarene University. In part 1 of his essay, Dr. Bankard explains that he was raised to believe in substitutionary atonement, but after he accepted evolutionary views on origins, he decided to rethink the atonement. He was particularly bothered by two aspects:

From my perspective, Substitutionary Atonement creates two potential problems for Christian theology. It seems that if substitutionary atonement is true, then God is either severely limited in power or unnecessarily cruel. If the only way God can forgive or reconcile is through blood and sacrifice, then God’s power is limited. Why is sacrifice the only way God can forgive? If God is all powerful, then there should be a number of ways to reestablish right relationship with humanity. If God can’t forgive without blood and sacrifice, then God is limited in power.

On the other hand, if God can forgive humanity in many ways and simply chooses to use blood as God’s means of forgiveness, then God seems unnecessarily cruel. Why would God will the torture, humiliation, and death of his son, if there were other ways to redeem humanity? One could even argue, as Gregory Love does in his book Love, Violence, and the Cross, that substitutionary atonement makes God look like an abusive father.

Dr. Bankard doesn’t believe that substititonary atonement is consistent with God as revealed in Jesus. He also doesn’t believe that it fits well with evolutionary theory:

First, what happens to the doctrine of the Fall of humanity in light of evolution? If evolution is true, then the universe is very old, humans evolved from primates, and the historical accuracy (but not the truth) of the Genesis narratives is called into question. Because of this, many who support a version of theistic evolution argue for a metaphorical or allegorical interpretation of Genesis 1-3.[4] In this view, the Fall is not a historical event.

And,

However, if denying the historical Fall calls into question the doctrine of original sin, then it also calls into question the role of the cross of Christ within substitutionary atonement. If Jesus didn’t die in order to overcome humanity’s original sin, then why did Jesus die? What is Jesus, the second Adam, attempting to restore with the cross, if not the sin of the first Adam?

So, according to Dr. Bankard, no Adam, no Fall, no original sin, no substitutionary atonement.

In part 2 of his essay, Dr. Bankard attempts to answer why Jesus died if not to “save His people from their sins.” He believes that instead of Jesus’ death, we should focus on the incarnation:

Jesus doesn’t become human to die. Jesus takes on flesh and bone to show us how to really live, how to be fully human.

And,

First, the incarnation is not primarily about the cross. God does not send Jesus to die. God does not require Jesus’ death in order to forgive humanity’s sin. As a result, God is not motivated by retribution or righteous anger. Instead, the incarnation is motivated by love.

So, Jesus came to show us how to be fully human. He is then our example. But if so, then why did He die?

I argue that God did not will the cross. An angry crowd, a prideful group of the religious elite, and a cowardly Roman prefect, put a perfectly innocent man to death. They willed the cross. And I believe this act is an example of sin. But God is holy, loving, and just. Thus, God cannot will or condone sin. Instead, I argue that the incarnation is about life, revelation, and inspiration—not death. I believe that God knew Jesus would be killed. That’s what happens when the kingdom of God collides with the kingdom of this world. But Christ’s death was not part of God’s divine plan.

Dr. Bankard believes that Jesus died because bad men killed Him, but that it was not part of God’s plan. I’m not sure why he finds this lack of God’s sovereignty and power to be a more comfortable position. He goes on to explain that God’s love is the heart of the atonement:

God promises to absorb violence and death and replace it with reconciliation, forgiveness, and love. This revelation, this vision, is the reason for the incarnation. It is the power behind the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. And it is the method and the means of our atonement and ultimate salvation.

So, all we need is love. All we need is love. All we need is love, love. Love is all we need … . (My apologies to the Beatles, and their fans.)

I believe that Dr. Bankard is correct that God’s love was the impetus behind the whole plan of redemption. John 3 is pretty clear on that:

And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:14-16 ESV)

But God’s love for us doesn’t change the fact that Jesus came to die for our sins. Both are true. God loves us, therefore Jesus came to die to pay the penalty for our sins. As Romans 3 says:

For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:22-26 ESV)

He is just and the justifier. God is love, but leaving us in our sins would not have been love.

Dr. Bankard closes with explaining again why his view of the atonement is preferable:

This view of the atonement is important for several reasons. First, it doesn’t require, though would be compatible with, a historical Adam and Eve and a traditional view of original sin. The substitutionary view argues that Jesus’ death redeems the sin committed by Adam and Eve in the garden. To adopt this view, one must read Genesis 1-3 more literally. At times, this kind of biblical hermeneutic may run counter to evolutionary theory. The view sketched above does not require a historical Adam and Eve or a traditional concept of original sin, making it more compatible with evolution. Additionally, my view of atonement argues that Christ’s death was not part of God’s plan. This helps preserve God’s power (God can forgive in many ways, he doesn’t require blood) and God’s goodness (God doesn’t will the cross).

Dr. Bankard’s understanding of the atonement is certainly easier to reconcile with evolutionary theory. But that seems to be the wrong way to go about interpretation. Reading Scripture so that it fits within your own paradigm is eisogesis, reading into the text. When you start with the view that evolution is correct and then decided how to read Scripture so that it fits with evolution, you will end up doing some interesting hermeneutical gymnastics.

No creation, no Adam, no Fall, no original sin, no substitutionary atonement, no Christ? How far do we go to accommodate what evolutionary science says is and isn’t possible? It really does come down to “Did God really say?”

He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’ (Luke 16:31 ESV)

Theological Fitness: A Review

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Ah, fitness. Such a hot topic these days. It’s everywhere: from exercise routines to the latest diet trends to electronic gadgets and apps to keep track and stay focused on your goals. Everyone wants to be fit, or at least, laments that they aren’t as fit as they’d like to be. Fitness can be a controversial topic because everyone has a different opinion as to how to go about it.

For example, I hate to run. If you ever see me running, please stop and help me, someone is chasing me. I do, however, enjoy working out in water. This is for three reasons. You don’t get all sweaty. If you make a mistake, no one can see it. And most importantly, if anything jiggles that shouldn’t, they can’t see that either.

Kidding aside, fitness is an important concept in our society. But what about theological fitness? Are our bodies strong, but our “theological muscles” wasting away? Does it matter if they are? What can we do about it? This is the focus of Aimee Byrd’s new book, Theological Fitness: Why We Need a Fighting Faith. Aimee Byrd, also known as the Housewife Theologian, is part of the team of contributors for the Mortification of Spin podcast. She and her co-hosts, Carl Trueman and Todd Pruitt, regularly discuss topics of interest in the Reformed world.

One of Byrd’s recent concerns has been the lack of discernment and doctrinal precision in many of the popular Christian books. I share her concern and am thankful for her solid and helpful contribution in her most recent book. Theological Fitness is an excellent study, and not just for women.

At the heart of Theological Fitness is a discussion of Hebrews 10:23 and what it means for believers. Hebrews 10:23 says, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.” Byrd writes about how, why, and what we’re to “hold fast” to:

Are you tempted to backslide? Hold fast! Are you being persecuted? Hold fast! Through suffering, fear, and chastisement, and in the ordinary, everyday life of faith and obedience, we are encouraged to hold fast. It may sound like an easy adage, but my goal in this book is to show you that it is a workout. And this kind of workout, this exhortation, in fact, promotes a theological fitness. (14)

What is “theological fitness”? Byrd says, “Theological fitness, then, refers to that persistent fight to exercise our faith by actively engaging in the gospel truth revealed in God’s Word. (16)” Fighting, exercise, actively engaging … these words emphasize the effort we are called to make in our daily walk. It’s about the process of sanctification.

There are some today who prefer not to talk about our efforts as part of sanctification. They point to Christ’s work and our inability. But the idea that we are called to strive towards holiness is not unbiblical. The Westminster Shorter Catechism (Question 35) defines sanctification this way:

Sanctification is the work of God’s free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness.

Sanctification is God’s work of making us holy, but part of that work is making us able to “die unto sin and live unto righteousness.” And Paul uses frequent examples from sports and warfare to illustrate that this means effort on our part.

Byrd makes this point in Theological Fitness:

We persevere not because of our own faithfulness, but because he who promised is faithful. … Only Jesus had the fitness for the work of our salvation. But he has now qualified us for the race of the Christian life. (17)

I love the image of Jesus having qualified us for the race. It’s God’s work, and He will finish it. But we are called to work, and work hard, in this life. And that is what Byrd focuses on in her book. Using many fitness metaphors and examples, thankfully well-explained for those of us less fitness savvy, Byrd encourages us all to struggle and to fight the good fight.

Because we have been justified by God’s grace and Christ’s death and resurrection, we are now free. Free to struggle against our indwelling sin and free to struggle for growth in holiness:

We are new creations under the reign of grace! Sin no longer reigns in us, and knowing this new status changes everything. We are not fighting to improve our old selves, but we are striving to live as new creations in Christ. (46)

And the struggle is a good thing! It’s a gift:

The great gift of faith doesn’t stop at our justification, but it causes us to continue to trust in God to sanctify us as we press on. That same faith that looked to Christ for a declaration of holiness now looks to him for the strength and ability to live in holiness. Surely, sanctification is not passive process; it is a daily struggle. But the struggle is part of the blessing. (50)

What I loved about this book is that it’s an encouragement, even an exhortation, to be serious about our sanctification, but it’s not a burdensome checklist kind of book. It strikes the right balance between struggling against our sin and resting in the finished work of Christ. Our efforts cannot save us, but we are called to “hold fast” because “He is faithful.”

If you are looking for a good study for yourself or a group, I highly recommend Theological Fitness. There are even study questions that can be used in a small group setting. It may not popular these days to be serious about holiness and piety (not to be confused with pietism), but we are in a very real struggle and need to be encouraged in our own fight and to encourage others. This book helps us do that. I am very thankful for Aimee Byrd and her work.

 

Note: I was given a copy of this book to review. I was not asked or expected to review the book in a positive light. Other than the book, I received nothing in exchange for this review.

Does the Son Eternally Submit to the Authority of the Father?

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In my last article, I discussed some of my concerns with a teaching called the Eternal Subordination of the Son (ESS). ESS was developed as a response to feminists and egalitarian arguments regarding gender roles. Wayne Grudem, one of the proponents of ESS, wrote an article giving 12 biblical evidences for defining the relationship between the Father and the Son as one of eternal authority and submission.

While I can agree that the Son does certainly submit to the Father in some respects, I think ESS is a dangerous departure from orthodox formulations of the Trinity. The relationship between God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit is so much more than authority and submission. I believe that ESS is the result of isolating and emphasizing one aspect of trinitarian relationships to the neglect of others.

I intend to address each of Grudem’s 12 points and to respond by using John Calvin and Matthew Henry’s commentaries. The purpose in using Calvin and Henry is that they predate the gender roles debates by centuries. If eternal authority and submission is the predominate Scriptural theme as Grudem contends, then there should be evidence in the Protestant commentaries. If it’s not, then I believe Calvin and Henry’s commentaries will illustrate different emphases in those Scriptural passages.

Grudem’s article was written to respond directly to various egalitarian or feminist writers. My response is not meant to support their arguments necessarily but rather to demonstrate that some who hold to complementarian views of gender roles do not agree that ESS is biblically sound or consistent with orthodox formulations of the Trinity.

In preparing to write this, I read through Michael Horton’s chapter on the Trinity in his systematic theology, The Christian Faith. I recommend it as a good summary of the history and issues debated over various definitions of the Trinity. Horton gives a great quote from Gregory the Nazianzus that I believe should be the focus of all discussions of the Trinity:

‘No sooner do I conceive of the One than I am illumined by the Splendor of the Three; no sooner do I distinguish Them than I am carried back to the One.’ (361, ebook)

This, I believe, is the failure of ESS. It draws our attention away from the majesty of the Triune God.

1. The Father’s authority and the Son’s submission indicated by the names “Father” and “Son”

Grudem argues that the patriarchal audience of biblical times would have understood the terms “father” and “son” to mean an authority/submission relationship:

Therefore, what is everywhere true of a father-son relationship in the biblical world, and is not contradicted by any other passages of Scripture, surely should be applied to the relationship between the Father and Son in the Trinity. The names “Father” and “Son” represent an eternal difference in the roles of the Father and the Son. The Father has a leadership and authority role that the Son does not have, and the Son submits to the Father’s leadership in a way that the Father does not submit to the Son. The eternal names “Father” and “Son” therefore give a significant indication of eternal authority and submission among the members of the Trinity.

The problem with using extra-biblical evidences to support an interpretation is that you have no guarantee which evidences are the ones believers are meant to use. The Reformers were very strong on using Scripture to interpret Scripture. Does the Bible teach that adult children are supposed to relate to their adult parents in terms of authority and submission? Not exactly. Genesis 2:24 says that a man is to leave his parents and cleave to his wife. Ephesians 6 tells children to submit to their parents.

Grudem acknowledges this Scriptural evidence in a footnote:

However, one word of caution is appropriate here. I am not saying that the Bible commands all adult sons to be subject to their own fathers for their entire lifetimes, for that is nowhere commanded in Scripture. Instead, the Bible commands, “Children obey your parents in the Lord” (Ephesians 6:1), and the word “children” (Greek teknon, plural) would have been heard by the Christians in the church at Ephesus as applying only to children up to a certain age, and not to adults. At least by the time a man “shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife” (Genesis 2:24), when he establishes a new household, and probably in other circumstances as well, the responsibility of children to obey their parents no longer applies to those who have reached adulthood.

But let’s consider some biblical support that Grudem uses to make his argument. Grudem references passages from John: John 5:18-19, John 6:37-38, and John 8:37-38.

John 5:19: So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise. 

In the ESV Study Bible notes, which Wayne Grudem edited, it says:

Jesus’ claim that the Son can do nothing of his own accord, taken with vv. 17-18, affirms two themes: (1) Jesus is equal to God, i.e. he is fully divine; (2) the Father and the Son have different functions and roles, and the Son is subject to the Father in everything he does, yet this does not deny their fundamental equality. (6769, all pages from e-book version)

In contrast, Matthew Henry writes that this passage speaks to the Son having the same authority and power of the Father:

This was justly inferred from what he said, that he was the Son of God, and that God was his Father, patera idion —his own Father; his, so as he was no one’s else. He had said that he worked with his Father, by the same authority and power, and hereby he made himself equal with God. (emphasis mine)

John Calvin also sees equality as the point of the passage:

Arius inferred from it that the Son is inferior to the Father, because he can do nothing of himself. …

For the discourse does not relate to the simple Divinity of Christ, and those statements which we shall immediately see do not simply and of themselves relate to the eternal Word of God, but apply only to the Son of God, so far as he is manifested in the flesh. …

The whole discourse must be referred to this contrast, that they err egregiously who think that they have to do with a mortal man, when they accuse Christ of works which are truly divine. This is his reason for affirming so strongly that in this work, there is no difference between him and his Father. (emphasis mine)

John 6:37-38: All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.

Matthew Henry focuses on the Son’s equality with the Father. Henry frames the Son’s submission as relating to His humanity.:

Here he tells that he came to do, not his own will, but the will of his Father; not that he had any will that stood in competition with the will of his Father, but those to whom he spoke suspected he might. … He therefore never consulted his own ease, safety, or quiet; but, when he was to lay down his life, though he had a human nature which startled at it, he set aside the consideration of that, and resolved his will as man into the will of God: Not as I will, but as thou wilt. (emphasis mine)

John 8:28-29: So Jesus said to them, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me. And he who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to him.” 

Matthew Henry:

First, That he did nothing of himself, not of himself as man, of himself alone, of himself without the Father, with whom he was one. He does not hereby derogate from his own inherent power, but only denies their charge against him as a false prophet;for of false prophets it is said that they prophesied out of their own hearts, and followed their own spirits.

John Calvin:

In the whole of these proceedings, which you condemn, no part is my own, but I only execute what God has enjoined upon me; the words which you hear from my mouth are his words, and my calling, of which He is the Author, is directed by him alone. Let us remember, however, what I have sometimes mentioned already, that these words are accommodated to the capacity of the hearers. For, since they thought that Christ was only one of the ordinary rank of men, he asserts that whatever in him is Divine is not his own; meaning that it is not of man or by man; because the Father teaches us by him, and appoints him to be the only Teacher of the Church; and for this reason he affirms that he has been taught by the Father.

According to Henry and Calvin, this passage is not about an inherent authority/submission relationship between the Son and the Father, but rather about Jesus’s rightful authority to teach. He was not teaching on His own authority or power as a man or as a human prophet. He was teaching them by the power of God. He was also claiming equality with God, and this the Jewish audience understood clearly. This was why they accused Him of blasphemy.

In a related note on reading into what it means to be “father” and “son,” Michael Horton warns about the care we should take in using analogies:

In adopting an analogical approach to divine and human persons, we must also recall that creatures are analogical of God rather than vice versa. As Athanasius reminds us, God’s fatherhood is not an analogy of human relations, but vice versa. Therefore, we cannot begin with our concept of ideal human personhood or society. (The Christian Faith, 379)

2. The Father’s authority and the Son’s submission prior to creation

Grudem is countering arguments that the Son’s submission to the Father is temporary and restricted to the incarnation:

The “temporary submission” view claims that the Son’s submission to the Father was only for the period of his Incarnation. By contrast, Scripture gives us indications of a unique leadership role for the Father long before the Son came to earth

There are several passages that Grudem uses to support this point. The ESV Study Bible commentary also makes similar claims in a couple of places.

John 3:35: The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand.

In the commentary on John 3:35:

The Father … has given all things into his hand indicates supreme authority for the Father in the counsels of the Trinity, and a delegated authority over the whole created universe for the Son, as is indicated also in many other NT passages. Yet at the same time, the Father, Son and Spirit are fully God in the unity of a single divine being.(6754-6755, emphasis mine)

Ephesians 1:4: even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.

The commentary on Ephesians 1:4:

He chose us in him means that the Father chose Christians in the Son (Christ), and this took place in eternity past, before the foundation of the world. This indicates that for all eternity the Father has had the role of leading and directing among the persons of the Trinity, even though Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are equal in deity and attributes.(7579, emphasis mine)

Neither Calvin nor Henry make any particular comments on John 3:35 regarding authority or the eternal counsels of the Trinity. On Ephesians 1:4, Calvin writes that the passage is about salvation being not about our merit but Christ’s:

In Christ. This is the second proof that the election is free; for if we are chosen in Christ, it is not of ourselves. It is not from a perception of anything that we deserve, but because our heavenly Father has introduced us, through the privilege of adoption, into the body of Christ. In short, the name of Christ excludes all merit, and everything which men have of their own; for when he says that we are chosen in Christ,it follows that in ourselves we are unworthy.

Acts 1:7: He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. 

The ESV Study Bible commentary on Acts 1:7:

the Father has fixed by his own authority. Ultimate authority in determining the events of history is consistently ascribed to God the Father among the persons of the Trinity.(7012)

Matthew Henry and John Calvin both write that this passage is meant to warn against seeking to know things that God has not revealed:

Henry:

It is folly to covet to be wise above what is written, and wisdom to be content to be no wiser.

Calvin:

This is a general reprehension of the whole question. For it was too curious for them to desire to know that whereof their Master would have them ignorant; but this is the true means to become wise, namely, to go as far forward in learning as our Master Christ goeth in teaching, and willingly to be ignorant of those things which he doth conceal from us. But forasmuch as there is naturally engendered in us a certain foolish and vain curiosity, and also a certain rash kind of boldness, we must diligently observe this admonition of Christ, whereby he correcteth both these vices.

Grudem also appeals to Romans 8:29.

Romans 8:29: For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 

Instead of seeing an eternal authority/submission structure, Matthew Henry, writes of Christ as the “image of his Father” and of Christ’s work as Mediator:

Christ is the express image of his Father, and the saints are conformed to the image of Christ. Thus it is by the mediation and interposal of Christ that we have God’s love restored to us and God’s likeness renewed upon us, in which two things consists the happiness of man

I will agree that there has always been an ordering in the economic Trinity, but I deny that this ordering means there is an authority/submission structure in the immanent Trinity. Michael Horton summarizes it this way:

Rather, in every external work of the Godhead, the Father is always the source, the Son is always the mediator, and the Spirit is always the perfecting agent. (The Christian Faith, 381, emphasis mine)

3. The Father’s authority and the Son’s submission in the process of creation

Grudem argues that because the Father created through the Son that that indicates an authority/submission structure:

In the process of creating the universe, the role of initiating, of leading, belongs not to all three members of the Trinity equally, but to the Father. The Father created through the Son.

Grudem uses John 1:1 and Hebrews 1:1-2 as support.

John 1:1: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 

Matthew Henry sees John 1:1 differently:

The evangelist here lays down the great truth he is to prove, that Jesus Christ is God, one with the Father.

God made the world by a word (Ps. 33:6 ) and Christ was the Word. By him, not as a subordinate instrument, but as a co-ordinate agent, God made the world (Heb. 1:2 ), not as the workman cuts by his axe, but as the body sees by the eye. (emphasis mine)

Hebrews 1:1-2: Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. 

Matthew Henry again affirms the equality of the Son with the Father in creation:

By him God made the worlds, both visible and invisible, the heavens and the earth; not as an instrumental cause, but as his essential word and wisdom. By him he made the old creation, by him he makes the new creature, and by him he rules and governs both.

John Calvin also speaks to the unity and diversity of the Trinity in creation:

According to the most usual mode of speaking in Scripture, the Father is called the Creator; and it is added in some places that the world was created by wisdom, by the word, by the Son, as though wisdom itself had been the creator, [or the word, or the Son.] But still we must observe that there is a difference of persons between the Father and the Son, not only with regard to men, but with regard to God himself. But the unity of essence requires that whatever is peculiar to Deity should belong to the Son as well as to the Father, and also that whatever is applied to God only should belong to both; and yet there is nothing in this to prevent each from his own peculiar properties.

As in the second point, there is an ordering in the economy of the Trinity in the work of creation. That ordering does not mean there is an authority/submission structure in the immanent Trinity.

4. The Father’s authority and the Son’s submission prior to Christ’s earthly ministry

Grudem’s next point is that the Father’s authority and the Son’s submission is evident in the sending of the Son:

The Father sending the Son into the world implies an authority that the Father had prior to the Son’s
humbling himself and becoming a man. This is because to have the authority to send someone
means to have a greater authority than the one who is sent. He was first “sent” as Son, and then he
obeyed and humbled himself and came. By that action he showed that he was subject to the
authority of the Father before he came to earth.

Grudem uses Galatians 4:4 and 1 John 4:9-10 in the article.

Galatians 4:4: But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 

Calvin sees Christ’s eternal equality with God in this verse:

God sent forth his Son. These few words contain much instruction. The Son, who was sent, must have existed before he was sent; and this proves his eternal Godhead. Christ therefore is the Son of God, sent from heaven.

1 John 4:9-10: In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

Calvin focuses here on why Christ was sent:

And sent his Son It was then from God’s goodness alone, as from a fountain, that Christ with all his blessings has come to us. And as it is necessary to know, that we have salvation in Christ, because our heavenly Father has freely loved us; so when a real and full certainty of divine love towards us is sought for, we must look nowhere else but to Christ.

Grudem’s argument also appears in his commentary on John 14:28.

John 14:28: You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I will come to you.’ If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I.

The ESV Study Bible commentary sees authority and submission in the sending of the Son:

In saying that the Father is greater than I, Jesus means that the Father as the one who sends and commands is “greater” (in authority or leadership) than the Son. However, this does not mean that Jesus is inferior in his being and essence to the Father. (6816-6817)

In contrast, Matthew Henry explains that the “Father is greater” means that Christ has humbled Himself in the incarnation and would be returning to His greater estate:

The reason of this is, because the Father is greater than he, which, if it be a proper proof of that for which it is alleged (as no doubt it is), must be understood thus, that his state with his Father would be much more excellent and glorious than his present state; his returning to his Father (so Dr. Hammond) would be the advancing of him to a much higher condition than that which he was now in.

John Calvin argues the same:

This passage has been tortured in various ways. The Aryans, in order to prove that Christ is some sort of inferior God, argued that he is less than the Father …

Christ does not here make a comparison between the Divinity of the Father and his own, nor between his own human nature and the Divine essence of the Father, but rather between his present state and the heavenly glory, to which he would soon afterwards be received

The Father is not “greater” because He sent the Son, but returning to the Father is much “greater” than the voluntary humiliation of the incarnation.

John Calvin makes this point clear in his Institutes:

Thus, when he says to the apostles, “It is expedient for you that I go away,” “My Father is greater than I,” he does not attribute to himself a secondary divinity merely, as if in regard to eternal essence he were inferior to the Father; but having obtained celestial glory, he gathers together the faithful to share it with him. He places the Father in the higher degree, inasmuch as the full perfection of brightness conspicuous in heaven, differs from that measure of glory which he himself displayed when clothed in flesh. … Accordingly, John, declaring that he is the true God, has no idea of placing him beneath the Father in a subordinate rank of divinity. (Institutes, I.13.26)

5. The Father’s authority and the Son’s submission during Christ’s earthly ministry

Grudem makes the point that the Son submitted to the Father during Christ’s incarnation:

While on earth, Jesus often speaks of his submission to the authority of his Father.

He uses John 6:38, John 8:28-29, and John 15:9-10. We’ve already looked at the first two in the first point. But I will add John Calvin‘s commentary on John 6:39 here:

As to the distinction which Christ makes between his own will and the will of the Father, in this respect, he accommodates himself to his hearers, because, as the mind of man is prone to distrust, we are wont to contrive some diversity which produces hesitation. To cut off every pretense for those wicked imaginations, Christ declares, that he has been manifested to the world, in order that he may actually ratify what the Father hath decreed concerning our salvation.

John 15:9-10: As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 

Where Grudem sees eternal authority and submission, Henry and Calvin describe Christ’s work as mediator and His human nature. Grudem’s views are evident in three excerpts from Grudem’s ESV Study Bible commentary.

Matthew 11:27: All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. 

ESV Study Bible:

All things have been handed over to me by the Father. This reveals the profound divine self-consciousness of Jesus, as well as the supreme authority of the Father within the Trinity, by which he has delegated authority over “all things” to the Son. “All things” probably refers to everything needed with respect to the carrying out of Christ’s ministry of redemption, including the revelation of salvation to those to whom he chooses to reveal the Father.(6026)

Matthew Henry:

All things are delivered unto me of my Father. Christ, as God, is equal in power and glory with the Father; but as Mediator he receives his power and glory from the Father; has all judgment committed to him.

John Calvin:

We now see that he connects faith with the eternal predestination of God, — two things which men foolishly and wickedly hold to be inconsistent with each other. Though our salvation was always hidden with God, yet Christ is the channel through which it flows to us, and we receive it by faith, that it may be secure and ratified in our hearts.

Mark 10:40: but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.” 

ESV Study Bible:

is not mine to grant Though Jesus is fully God, yet there are differences of authority within the Trinity and the Son throughout Scripture is always subject to the authority and direction of the Father, who will ultimately determine who exactly receives such positions of honor. Jesus both defers authority to his heavenly Father and implies that he will himself be exalted. (6259-6260)

Calvin:

By this reply Christ surrenders nothing, but only states that the Father had not assigned to him this office of appointing to each person his own peculiar place in the kingdom of heaven. He came, indeed, in order to bring all his people to eternal life; but we ought to reckon it enough that the inheritance obtained by his blood awaits us. As to the degree in which some men rise above others, it is not our business to inquire, and God did not intend that it should be revealed to us by Christ, but that it should be reserved till the latest revelation. We have now ascertained Christ’s meaning; for he does not here reason as to his power, but only desires us to consider for what purpose he was sent by the Father, and what corresponds to his calling, and therefore distinguishes between the secret purpose of God and the nature of that teaching which had been enjoined on him. It is a useful warning, that we may learn to be wise with sobriety, and may not attempt to force our way into the hidden mysteries of God, and more especially, that we may not indulge excessive curiosity in our inquiries about the future state.

John 12:49: For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment—what to say and what to speak. 

ESV Study Bible:

Not … on my own authority indicates again that supreme authority in the Trinity belongs to the Father, and delegated authority to the Son, though they are equal in deity.(6809)

Henry:

Christ, as Son of man, did not speak that which was of human contrivance or composure; as Son of God, he did not act separately, or by himself alone, but what he said was the result of the counsels of peace; as Mediator, his coming into the world was voluntary, and with his full consent, but not arbitrary, and of his own head.

Calvin:

For I do not speak from myself. That the outward appearance of man may not lessen the majesty of God, Christ frequently sends us to the Father. This is the reason why he so often mentions the Father; and, indeed, since it would be unlawful to transfer to another a single spark of the Divine glory, the word, to which judgment is ascribed, must have proceeded from God. Now Christ here distinguishes himself from the Father, not simply as to his Divine Person, but rather as to his flesh; lest the doctrine should be judged after the manner of men, and, therefore, should have less weight.

There is no doubt that the Son submitted to the Father during his incarnation. His role as Mediator and His human nature are both referenced throughout the New Testament regarding His submission. This does not mean, however, that there is therefore eternal authority and submission in the immanent Trinity.

6. The Father’s authority and the Son’s submission in Christ’s ministry as Great High Priest

Grudem writes that Christ’s intercession for believers is proof of the Son’s eternal submission to the Father:

To “intercede” (entygchanō) for someone means to bring requests and appeals on behalf of that person to a higher authority, such as a governor king, or emperor (cf. Acts 25:24 which uses the same verb to say that the Jews “petitioned” the Roman ruler Festus). Thus Jesus continually, even today, is our great high priest who brings requests to the Father who is greater in authority. Jesus’ high priestly ministry indicates an ongoing submission to the authority of the Father.

Grudem uses Romans 8:34 to support this point.

Romans 8:34: Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.

Calvin, on the other hand, writes of Christ’s role as Mediator in His intercession for believers:

Who intercedes, etc. It was necessary expressly to add this, lest the Divine majesty of Christ should terrify us. Though, then, from his elevated throne he holds all things in subjection under his feet, yet Paul represents him as a Mediator; whose presence it would be strange for us to dread, since he not only kindly invites us to himself, but also appears an intercessor for us before the Father. But we must not measure this intercession by our carnal judgment; for we must not suppose that he humbly supplicates the Father with bended knees and expanded hands; but as he appears continually, as one who died and rose again, and as his death and resurrection stand in the place of eternal intercession, and have the efficacy of a powerful prayer for reconciling and rendering the Father propitious to us, he is justly said to intercede for us.(emphasis mine)

Far from seeing a difference of authority and submission, Calvin shows Christ as highly exalted and as having reconciled us to the Father.

7. The Father’s authority and the Son’s submission in Christ’s pouring out the Holy Spirit at Pentecost

Grudem writes that Christ needed the Father’s authority to send the Holy Spirit:

After his ascension to heaven, after his earthly ministry was over, after God highly exalted him, he still did not have the authority on his own to pour forth the Holy Spirit in new power on the church. He waited until he received that authority from the Father, and then he sent forth the Holy
Spirit in his new, more powerful work

Grudem uses Acts 2:33 to support this point.

Acts 2:33: Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing. 

In the ESV Study Bible commentary, it explains:

The interactive and differentiated relationship among the persons of the Trinity is clearly evident in this verse. Thus God the Father first gave the promise that the Holy Spirit would come in a greater, more powerful way to accomplish his work in people’s lives (as indicated in Peter’s quote from Joel 2 in Acts 2:17-19). Then, when Christ’s work on earth was accomplished, Christ was exalted to the second highest position of authority in the universe, namely, at the right hand of God, with ruling power delegated to him by God the Father. Then Christ received authority from the Father to send out the Holy Spirit in this new fullness. (7020-7021, emphasis mine)

Instead of an inherent authority and submission in the immanent Trinity, Calvin explains that receiving or obtaining from the Father speaks to Christ as Mediator:

Furthermore, whereas it is said that he obtained it of the Father, it is to be applied to the person of the Mediator. For both these are truly said, that Christ sent the Spirit from himself and from the Father. He sent him from himself, because he is eternal God; from the Father, because in as much as he is man, he receiveth that of the Father which he giveth us.

This is consistent with the Nicene Creed’s filioque clause: “We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son.” The Spirit proceeds from both God the Father and God the Son.

Acts 2:33 does speak to the work of the Trinity, but I do not believe that it proves a authority/submission structure within the immanent Trinity.

8. The Father’s authority and the Son’s submission in Christ’s receiving revelation from the Father and giving it to the church

Grudem believes that the Father’s authority is evident in Jesus receiving the revelation that is revealed to John:

Jesus did not initiate the book of Revelation on his own, but he was given this revelation by the Father and authorized by the Father to deliver it to the church.

Grudem refers to Revelation 1:1.

Revelation 1:1: The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John 

Calvin, of course, did not write a commentary on Revelation, but Matthew Henry did. Henry explains that Jesus received the revelation in His office as Mediator:

It is a revelation which God gave unto Christ. Though Christ is himself God, and as such has light and life in himself, yet, as he sustains the office of Mediator between God and man, he receives his instructions from the Father. The human nature of Christ, though endowed with the greatest sagacity, judgment, and penetration, could not, in a way of reason, discover these great events, which not being produced by natural causes, but wholly depending upon the will of God, could be the object only of divine prescience, and must come to a created mind only by revelation. Our Lord Jesus is the great trustee of divine revelation; it is to him that we owe the knowledge we have of what we are to expect from God and what he expects from us.

Again, this passage is further evidence of Christ’s work as Mediator, and it is not evidence of the eternal authority of the Father and submission of the Son.

9. The Father’s authority and the Son’s submission in Christ’s sitting at God’s right hand – a position of authority second to that of the Father himself

Grudem writes that Christ being at the right hand of the Father indicates a position of secondary authority:

To sit at the LORD’s right hand is not a position of equal authority, for “the LORD” (Yahweh) is still the one commanding, still the one subduing enemies. But it is a position of authority second only to the LORD, the king and ruler of the entire universe.

Grudem uses several passages to support this point. Some (Acts 2:33) have been considered in other points. Grudem particularly uses Psalm 110:1 to prove that the right hand is a secondary authority. However, Calvin, Henry, and Charles Spurgeon see the right hand of the Father to be an indication of great honor and power.

Psalm 110:1: The LORD says to my Lord:“Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.” 

Calvin explains that the Father is ruling through Christ:

The simile is borrowed from what is customary among earthly kings, that the person who is seated at his right hand is said to be next to him, and hence the Son, by whom the Father governs the world, is by this session represented as metaphorically invested with supreme dominion.

My favorite explanation of this passage comes from Charles Spurgeon’s The Treasury of David:

How condescending of Jehovah’s part to permit a mortal ear to hear, and a human pen to record his secret converse with his co-equal Son!

Ephesians 1:20: that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places 

Calvin defines “the right hand” as being the place of highest royal power:

And set him at his own right hand. This passage shews plainly, if any one does, what is meant by the right hand of God. It does not mean any particular place, but the power which the Father has bestowed on Christ, that he may administer in his name the government of heaven and earth. It is idle, therefore, to inquire why Stephen saw him standing, (Acts 7:55,) while Paul describes him as sitting at God’s right hand. The expression does not refer to any bodily posture, but denotes the highest royal power with which Christ has been invested. This is intimated by what immediately follows, far above all principality and power: for the whole of this description is added for the purpose of explaining what is meant by the right hand.

Hebrews 1:3: He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high

Matthew Henry also describes “the right hand” as a place of highest honor:

From the glory of his sufferings we are at length led to consider the glory of his exaltation: When by himself he had purged away our sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, at his Father’s right hand. As Mediator and Redeemer, he is invested with the highest honour, authority, and activity, for the good of his people; the Father now does all things by him, and receives all the services of his people from him. Having assumed our nature, and suffered in it on earth, he has taken it up with him to heaven, and there it has the high honour to be next to God, and this was the reward of his humiliation.Now it was by no less a person than this that God in these last days spoke to men; and, since the dignity of the messenger gives authority and excellency to the message, the dispensations of the gospel must therefore exceed, very far exceed, the dispensation of the law.

Calvin, on the same passage, says Christ is governing in the place of the Father:

The right hand is by a similitude applied to God, though he is not confined to any place, and has not a right side nor left. The session then of Christ means nothing else but the kingdom given to him by the Father, and that authority which Paul mentions, when he says that in his name every knee should bow. (Philippians 2:10) Hence to sit at the right hand of the Father is no other thing than to govern in the place of the Father, as deputies of princes are wont to do to whom a full power over all things is granted. And the word majesty is added, and also on high, and for this purpose, to intimate that Christ is seated on the supreme throne whence the majesty of God shines forth. As, then, he ought to be loved on account of his redemption, so he ought to be adored on account of his royal magnificence

Hebrews 8:1: Now the point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven

Matthew Henry describes the authority of Mediator at the right hand of the Father:

Where he now resides: He sits on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty on high, that is, of the glorious God of heaven. There the Mediator is placed, and he is possessed of all authority and power both in heaven and upon earth. This is the reward of his humiliation. This authority he exercises for the glory of his Father, for his own honour, and for the happiness of all who belong to him; and he will by his almighty power bring every one of them in their own order to the right hand of God in heaven, as members of his mystical body, that where he is they may be also.

Hebrews 10:12: But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God

Matthew Henry sees this passage as describing the exaltation of Christ as man and Mediator:

To what honour Christ, as man and Mediator, is exalted-to the right hand of God, the seat of power, interest, and activity: the giving hand; all the favours that God bestows on his people are handed to them by Christ: the receiving hand; all the duties that God accepts from men are presented by Christ: the working hand; all that pertains to the kingdoms of providence and grace is administered by Christ; and therefore this is the highest post of honour.

1 Peter 3:22: who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him. 

John Calvin explains that sitting at the “right hand” is a mark of the supreme power that Christ wields:

Who is on the right hand of God. He recommends to us the ascension of Christ unto heaven, lest our eyes should seek him in the world; and this belongs especially to faith. He commends to our notice his session on the Father’s right hand, lest we should doubt his power to save us. And what his sitting at the right hand of the Father means, we have elsewhere explained, that is, that Christ exercises supreme power everywhere as God’s representative. And an explanation of this is what follows, angels being made subject to him; and he adds powers and authorities only for the sake of amplification, for angels are usually designated by such words. It was then Peter’s object to set forth by these high titles the sovereignty of Christ.

Far from teaching that the right hand of the Father is a place of secondary authority, Matthew Henry and John Calvin use the phrase to describe the exaltation of Christ as man and Mediator to the place of highest honor and power. In his commentary on Philippians 2:9-10, Calvin explains:

For what need, I ask, had he, who was the equal of the Father, of a new exaltation? … The meaning therefore is, that supreme power was given to Christ, and that he was placed in the highest rank of honor, so that there is no dignity found either in heaven or in earth that is equal to his.

10. The Father’s authority and the Son’s submission in giving the Son authority to rule over the nations

Grudem sees the Father’s authority in His giving the Son authority over the nations:

The Father’s authority over the Son is seen in how he delegates to the Son authority over the nations

Grudem uses Daniel 7:13-14 to support this point.

Daniel 7:13-14: “I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed. 

Calvin, in his commentary on this passage, explains that Christ became subject to the Father in His role as mediator:

For if we hold this principle that Christ is described to us, not as either the word of God, or the seed of Abraham, but as Mediator, that is, eternal God who was willing to become man, to become subject to God the Father, to be made like us, and to be our advocate, then no difficulty will remain.

And:

Behold, therefore, a certain explanation. We will not say it was bestowed with relation to his being, and being called God. It was given to him as Mediator, as God manifest in flesh, and with respect to his human nature.

Matthew 28:18: And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 

In the ESV Study Bible’s commentary on Matthew 28:18, it explains that because Jesus was given authority by the Father, then the Son remains subject to the Father:

All authority. In his risen state, Jesus exercises absolute authority throughout heaven and earth, which shows his deity. His authority has been given by the Father, which indicates that he remains subject to the Father. (6113)

Matthew Henry, on the other hand, writes of Christ’s equality with God and His role as mediator:

As God, equal with the Father, all power was originally and essentially his; but as Mediator, as God-man, all power was given him; partly in recompense of his work (because he humbled himself, therefore God thus exalted him ), and partly in pursuance of his design; he had this power given him over all flesh, that he might give eternal life to as many as were given him (Jn. 17:2 ), for the more effectual carrying on and completing our salvation.

Calvin also points to Christ’s role as Mediator in this passage:

Yet let us remember that what Christ possessed in his own right was given to him by the Father in our flesh, or—to express it more clearly—in the person of the Mediator; for he does not lay claim to the eternal power with which he was endued before the creation of the world, but to that which he has now received, by being appointed to be Judge of the world. Nay, more, it ought to be remarked, that this authority was not fully known until he rose from the dead; for then only did he come forth adorned with the emblems of supreme King.

So for Henry and Calvin, Christ has a delegated authority in His role as Mediator. This is not the same as an eternal submission of the Son to the authority of the Father.

11. The Father’s authority and the Son’s submission after the final judgment and then for all eternity

Grudem believes that the authority of the Father and the submission of the Son will continue for all eternity:

Here is an indication of what will happen after the final judgment, when all enemies are destroyed and we enter into the eternal state. Just to be sure that there is no misunderstanding, Paul specifies that it was always the Father who always had ultimate authority, for it was the Father who“put all things in subjection” to the Son – all things, that is, but of course not the Father! Paul explicitly says, “He is excepted who put all things in subjection under him.” The Father has never been subject to the Son. “He is excepted.”

And then Paul specifies that once every enemy has been conquered and even death has been destroyed, the submission of the Son to the Father will not cease even at that time, for even then,“the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all” (v. 28). The Son has been subject to the authority of the Father since before the
foundation of the world, and here Paul specifies that the Son will continue to be subject to the authority of the Father forever.

Grudem uses 1 Corinthians 15:24-28 as support for this point.

1 Corinthians 15:24-28: Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “all things are put in subjection,” it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him. When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all.

In the ESV Study Bible commentary on this passage, it says:

the Son … will also be subjected. Jesus is one with God the Father and equal to the Father in deity yet functionally subordinate to him, and this verse shows that his subjection to the Father will continue for all eternity. God will be all in all, not in the sense that God will be everything and everything will be God, as some Eastern religions imagine, but in the sense that God’s supreme authority over everything will be eternally established, never to be threatened again.(7385-7386, emphasis mine)

Matthew Henry explains in his commentary on this passage that Christ has a delegated authority in his role as Mediator:

As man, all his authority must be delegated. And, though his mediation supposes his divine nature, yet as Mediator he does not so explicitly sustain the character of God, but a middle person between God and man, partaking of both natures, human and divine, as he was to reconcile both parties, God and man, and receiving commission and authority from God the Father to act in this office. The Father appears, in this whole dispensation, in the majesty and with the authority of God: the Son, made man, appears as the minister of the Father, though he is God as well as the Father. Nor is this passage to be understood of the eternal dominion over all his creatures which belongs to him as God, but of a kingdom committed to him as Mediator and God-man, and that chiefly after his resurrection, when, having overcome, he sat down with his Father on his throne, Rev. 3:21 .

This is separate from His unlimited power as God:

This is not a power appertaining to Godhead as such; it is not original and unlimited power, but power given and limited to special purposes. And though he who has it is God, yet, inasmuch as he is somewhat else besides God, and in this whole dispensation acts not as God, but as Mediator, not as the offended Majesty, but as one interposing in favour of his offending creatures, and this by virtue of his consent and commission who acts and appears always in that character, he may properly be said to have this power given him; he may reign as God, with power unlimited, and yet may reign as Mediator, with a power delegated, and limited to these particular purposes.

He also writes that Christ, as Mediator, will deliver up the kingdom to the Father in completion of His work of redemption:

That this delegated royalty must at length be delivered up to the Father, from whom it was received (v. 24); for it is a power received for particular ends and purposes, a power to govern and protect his church till all the members of it be gathered in, and the enemies of it for ever subdued and destroyed (v. 25, v. 26), and when these ends shall be obtained the power and authority will not need to be continued.

The meaning of this I take to be that then the man Christ Jesus, who hath appeared in so much majesty during the whole administration of his kingdom, shall appear upon giving it up to be a subject of the Father. Things are in scripture many times said to be when they are manifested and made to appear; and this delivering up of the kingdom will make it manifest that he who appeared in the majesty of the sovereign king was, during this administration, a subject of God. The glorified humanity of our Lord Jesus Christ, with all the dignity and power conferred on it, was no more than a glorious creature. This will appear when the kingdom shall be delivered up; and it will appear to the divine glory, that God may be all in all, that the accomplishment of our salvation may appear altogether divine, and God alone may have the honour of it.

Calvin also interprets this passage to be referring to Christ’s role as Mediator:

In the first place, it must be observed, that all power was delivered over to Christ, inasmuch as he was manifested in the flesh. It is true that such distinguished majesty would not correspond with a mere man, but, notwithstanding, the Father has exalted him in the same nature in which he was abased, and has given, him a name, before which every knee must bow, etc.

He also explains that Christ will deliver up the kingdom of believers to God in completion of His role as Mediator:

We acknowledge, it is true, God as the ruler, but it is in the face of the man Christ. But Christ will then restore the kingdom which he has received, that we may cleave wholly to God. Nor will he in this way resign the kingdom, but will transfer it in a manner from his humanity to his glorious divinity, because a way of approach will then be opened up, from which our infirmity now keeps us back. Thus then Christ will be subjected to the Father, because the vail being then removed, we shall openly behold God reigning in his majesty, and Christ’s humanity will then no longer be interposed to keep us back from a closer view of God.

As is true in other passages discussed previously, where Grudem sees support for his belief in the eternal submission of the Son to the authority of the Father, Calvin and Henry interpret the passages in terms of Christ’s role as Mediator and His human nature.

12. Are all the actions of any one person of the Trinity actually the actions of all three
persons?

Grudem’s last point is specifically a response to certain arguments that seem to make no differentiation between the persons of the Trinity in the work that each does:

And so we must conclude that Erickson is incorrect in saying that an action of any member of the Trinity, such as predestining, sending, or commanding, “should not be taken as applying to the Father alone but to all members of the Trinity.” To say this is actually to come very close to
obliterating the distinctions among the members of the Trinity. It is coming very close to the ancient heresy of modalism, which said that there was only one person in God who manifested himself in different ways or “modes” of action. And it is certainly not a position which is consistent with hundreds of texts which show unique activities being carried out by one person of the Trinity with respect to another person of the Trinity.

I completely agree that there is both unity and diversity in the Trinity. There are distinctions made in Scripture regarding the roles each person plays in the various works of God. I think John Calvin explained this well in his commentary on Hebrews 1:2 explaining how both the Father and the Son can be said to be “Creator”:

According to the most usual mode of speaking in Scripture, the Father is called the Creator; and it is added in some places that the world was created by wisdom, by the word, by the Son, as though wisdom itself had been the creator, [or the word, or the Son.] But still we must observe that there is a difference of persons between the Father and the Son, not only with regard to men, but with regard to God himself. But the unity of essence requires that whatever is peculiar to Deity should belong to the Son as well as to the Father, and also that whatever is applied to God only should belong to both; and yet there is nothing in this to prevent each from his own peculiar properties.

However, believing that there are distinctions and differences in the persons of the Trinity and especially in the eternal work of God is not the same as believing that there is an inherent authority/submission structure in the immanent Trinity.

In conclusion, I don’t believe that Grudem has proven his case for an eternal submission of the Son to the authority of the Father. Matthew Henry and John Calvin repeatedly interpret the above passages as being about Christ’s role as Mediator and not about authority and submission. There is a distinction in the persons of the Trinity, but there is not a hierarchy of authority and submission in the immanent Trinity. This is consistent with what Calvin writes:

It were unbecoming, however, to say nothing of a distinction which we observe that the Scriptures have pointed out. This distinction is, that to the Father is attributed the beginning of action, the fountain and source of all things; to the Son, wisdom, counsel, and arrangement in action, while the energy and efficacy of action is assigned to the Spirit. … though in eternity there can be no room for first or last, still the distinction of order is not unmeaning or superfluous, the Father being considered first, next the Son from him, and then the Spirit from both. (Institutes, 1.13.18)

The Westminster Confession of Faith explains it this way:

In the unity of the Godhead there be three Persons of one substance, power, and eternity: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. The Father is of none, neither begotten nor proceeding; the Son is eternally begotten of the Father; the Holy Ghost eternally proceeding from the Father and the Son. (WCF 2.3)

There is unity and diversity in the Trinity, but any discussion of the Trinity should be done with caution as our finite minds are not particularly capable in comprehending such a mystery. All of our consideration of the Trinity should cause us to worship and glorify God. If it doesn’t, we should be concerned.

I’ll close with a quote from Calvin that sums up the caution we should have:

Therefore, let us beware of imagining such a Trinity of persons as will distract our thoughts, instead of bringing them instantly back to the unity. The words Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, certainly indicate a real distinction, not allowing us to suppose that they are merely epithets by which God is variously designated from his works. Still they indicate distinction only, not division. (Institutes I.13.17)

May God be glorified even if we never fully understand how He can be One and Three at the same time.

Continuing Down this Path, Complementarians Lose

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Recently I saw an article at Jared Moore’s blog called “The Complementarians Win.” This is a review of a new book, One God in Three Persons, edited by Bruce Ware and John Starke. The book’s blurb on Amazon says:

Challenging feminist theologies that view the Trinity as a model for evangelical egalitarianism, One God in Three Persons turns to the Bible, church history, philosophy, and systematic theology to argue for the eternal submission of the Son to the Father.

Having read portions of the book, I believe that Moore’s review is an accurate summary of the book. Moore summarizes the book this way:

Complementarians believe that God has created men and woman as equal image-bearers of God, yet with differing roles in the church and home. Many, however, balk at this notion arguing that a hierarchy in the church or home necessarily means that one gender is less valuable than the other. But if complementarians can prove that there is a hierarchy in the immanent (ontological) Trinity, then they win, for if a hierarchy exists among the Three Persons of God, and these Three Persons are equally God, then surely God can create men and women equal yet with differing roles in the church and home. If God the Father leads the Son and Spirit infinitely, and if the Son submits infinitely to his Father, and these Three remain fully and equally God, then the hierarchy in the home and church, and the submission of women to men in the church and home does not necessarily mean that women are less valuable than men. Just as the Son and Spirit are not less valuable than the Father, women are not less valuable than men, though a hierarchy has been given by God based on gender in the home and church. In the new book, One God in Three Persons, the complementarians win. They have argued persuasively that there is a hierarchy in the immanent Trinity. (emphasis mine)

This is very, very interesting. Here’s what’s happening for those who might not be familiar. There are some theologians who teach a doctrine called “Eternal Subordination of the Son” (ESS). This includes Bruce Ware and Wayne Grudem, both of whom have chapters in the above linked book. Using the human relationship of father and son as a model for the relationship between God the Father and God the Son, ESS teaches that the Son, because he’s a son, submits to the Father from all eternity and for all eternity.

Proponents of ESS have been accused of teaching a hierarchy in the immanent Trinity, but they used to deny this. This book is the first time I’ve seen it clearly stated that they believe that the Son’s submission to the Father is ontological and not merely a function of the economic Trinity. At one point, the book claims that it is promoting functional subordination and equality of nature/essence. However, it goes on the make arguments for authority/submission as inherent in the nature of God as Father and Son.

Immanent or ontological Trinity refers to the nature, being, or essence of God. Economic Trinity refers to the way in which the persons of the Godhead relate to each other, for example in the work of creation and salvation. Basically the discussion is over who God is versus what God does and how He does it.

The term “complementarianism” was first coined as a response to feminist and egalitarian discussions of gender roles in the church and home. The basis is that men and women were created to complement each other and that men and women, while equal, have different roles in marriage and in the church. The challenge is maintaining equality given the differences in roles. Some complementarians have looked to ESS as a way to ground gender complementarity in the Trinity. The above quote explains the connection:

if complementarians can prove that there is a hierarchy in the immanent (ontological) Trinity, then they win, for if a hierarchy exists among the Three Persons of God, and these Three Persons are equally God, then surely God can create men and women equal yet with differing roles in the church and home.

There are several problems with this approach, however.

First, ESS is more the result of eisogesis, or reading into the text, than exegesis, or interpretation of the text. It’s always dangerous to use one’s presuppositions as a starting point when interpreting Scripture. The article (and book) accuse feminists and egalitarians of using their beliefs about gender roles as the guide for understanding the Trinity. Unfortunately, some complementarians are equally guilty on this count. They have started with a particular understanding of how men and women are meant to relate to each other, and from there, they have built a doctrine of the Trinity.

Second, it is extremely dangerous to tamper with the historic, orthodox formulations of the Trinity. The inner workings of the Trinity is a mystery. We have been given some small glimpses into understanding aspects of the Trinity. Our creeds and confessions, especially the Athanasian and Nicene Creeds, give evidence of the careful study and consideration that the early church fathers gave to the doctrine of the Trinity. Any departure from those formulations should be done with great caution.

Third, there is considerable damage done both to our understanding of the Trinity and also to our understanding of men and women and how we relate to each other. ESS has a trickle down effect on doctrine in many areas. Despite it’s claims to the contrary, it makes the Son inferior to the Father and misinterprets aspects of the work of redemption.

It also creates an environment in which women are more likely to be mistreated, devalued, and abused. If men and women were created with an authority/submission structure, how does this get applied? Does it apply only to the church and the home? If women are by nature (ontologically) submissive, how does this not lead to all women should submit to all men? And, given that close to 90% of men will not be ordained leaders in the church and therefore must submit to the leaders in the church, how is being submissive uniquely feminine? What it means to be male/female must be more than authority/submission.

In this article, I want to answer several claims made in the article/book. My contention is that if complementarians choose to promote ESS and especially a hierarchy in the immanent Trinity, they will not win. In fact, they will lose.

As part of this article, I will use a couple of quotes from Matthew Henry and John Calvin to contrast the way in which proponents of ESS interpret Scripture. I will also have a second article that gives more comparison quotes with a discussion of the differences in interpretation and why it matters.

As a side note, the authors of the book are using a different acronym from ESS. They have termed the doctrine, “eternal relational authority-submission” (ERAS). As far as I can tell, the two are functionally the same.

Back to the article’s claims, contrary to what the article says:

  • A father/son relationship does not necessarily mean there is a hierarchy of authority and submission.
  • Arianism is not the only form of subordinationism denied by the Nicene Creed
  • A difference in roles in the Trinity does not necessarily mean there is a hierarchy in the immanent Trinity.
  • A hierarchy in the immanent Trinity is not the historic, orthodox teaching, and teaching that there is a difference between the economic Trinity and the immanent Trinity is not new or innovative.
  • Egalitarians are not the only ones who deny a hierarchy in the immanent Trinity.

Point one, the article claims that because God defines the relationship as Father and Son and because the Father sends the Son, then there must be a hierarchy of authority and submission:

The Son and Father are God, but there is an eternal hierarchal relationship, in that the Son submits to the Father according to John’s Gospel. The Father sends the Son, and the Son willing goes. The Son submits to his Father and is willingly obedient to him. The apostle John clearly uses Father and Son language to indicate a Father and Son relationship. At least, that is how his recipients would have understood his language.

Some have argued that the Father sending the Son highlights their unity not hierarchy, but that is only half the story concerning the background. In Jewish institution, the one sent has the authority of the sender, that is true, but according to Jewish agency, the sent one is subordinate to the sender.

Whatever was true of Jewish understanding and culture of the time, father/son relationships do not necessarily mean authority and submission. We are not talking about an adult father and his adolescent son. The Son of God is not an eternal child. Consider rather an adult father and his grown son. Should that relationship have the same authority/submission structure? Genesis 2:24 and Ephesians 6: 1 might indicate otherwise.

Jesus is the Son of God. He is equal to God. He is the very image of God. He has a unique relationship with the Father different from created humanity. Colossians 2:9, “In him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily.” He is God with us. His designation as “Son” speaks to His glory not to His being second in the hierarchy of the Trinity.

Second, Arianism is not the only form of subordinationism. Subordinationism is an old heresy that teaches that the Son and Holy Spirit are subordinate in nature and being to the Father. Arianism was one form of subordinationism that went so far as to say that the Son was created and not of the same substance as the Father.

All forms of subordinationism, or hierarchy in the ontological or immanent Trinity, were condemned by Athanasius and in the final form of the Nicene Creed. This is part of the split between the Eastern and Western church. The Eastern church taught a hierarchy in the immanent Trinity: Father-Son-Spirit. The Western church taught equality in nature and being: “very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father.”

The authors of the book, One God in Three Persons, are not Arians. They do not believe the Son was created by the Father. They are, however, teaching subordinationism or hierarchy in the immanent Trinity. Despite what the article claims, this is not the historic, orthodox formulation of the doctrine of the Trinity.

From the Athanasian Creed:

And in this Trinity none is afore or after another; none is greater or less than another.

But the whole three persons are coeternal, and coequal.

So that in all things, as aforesaid, the Unity in Trinity and the Trinity in Unity is to be worshipped.

He therefore that will be saved must thus think of the Trinity.

Third, a difference in the roles between the persons of the Trinity does not mean that there is a hierarchy in the immanent Trinity. This is the very reason why theologians discuss the “economic Trinity.” The economic Trinity and immanent Trinity are different in description.

Fourth, the orthodox creeds and confessions illustrate these differences. God: Father, Son, and Spirit are equal in being and nature. One God, not three. One being, not three. One essence, not three. But there are distinctions and differences in the tasks they perform. To claim that the distinctions require a hierarchy in the immanent Trinity is to run contrary to the historic, orthodox formulations of the immanent and economic Trinity.

Making a distinction between the economic and immanent Trinity is not new or innovative. You can see these distinctions in the commentaries Matthew Henry and John Calvin wrote on the Bible. Here is an example of the difference in interpretation between a proponent of ESS (Wayne Grudem) and those who hold to a distinction between the immanent and economic Trinity (Henry and Calvin).

First are two quotes from the commentary in Wayne Grudem’s ESV Study Bible. Notice the emphasis he makes on the supreme authority of the Father within the Trinity:

John 12:49 (6809, ebook)
Not … on my own authority indicates again that supreme authority in the Trinity belongs to the Father, and delegated authority to the Son, though they are equal in deity.

1 Corinthians 11:3 (7365-7366, ebook)
The head of Christ is God indicates that within the Trinity the Father has a role of authority or leadership with respect to the Son, though they are equal in deity and attributes.

Here are excerpts from Matthew Henry’s commentary on the same passages. Notice that Henry makes it clear that Christ, in his role as mediator, submits to God:

John 12:49

Christ, as Son of man, did not speak that which was of human contrivance or composure; as Son of God, he did not act separately, or by himself alone, but what he said was the result of the counsels of peace; as Mediator, his coming into the world was voluntary, and with his full consent, but not arbitrary, and of his own head. (emphasis mine)

1 Corinthians 11:3
Christ, in his mediatorial character and glorified humanity, is at the head of mankind. He is not only first of the kind, but Lord and Sovereign. He has a name above every name: though in this high office and authority he has a superior, God being his head. (emphasis mine)

Lastly, here is John Calvin on the same passages. Calvin also makes a distinction between the Son’s equality of essence with the Father and His submission to the Father in His role as mediator:

John 12:49
For I do not speak from myself. That the outward appearance of man may not lessen the majesty of God, Christ frequently sends us to the Father. This is the reason why he so often mentions the Father; and, indeed, since it would be unlawful to transfer to another a single spark of the Divine glory, the word, to which judgment is ascribed, must have proceeded from God. Now Christ here distinguishes himself from the Father, not simply as to his Divine Person, but rather as to his flesh; lest the doctrine should be judged after the manner of men, and, therefore, should have less weight. (emphasis mine)

1 Corinthians 11:3
God, then, occupies the first place: Christ holds the second place. How so? Inasmuch as he has in our flesh made himself subject to the Father, for, apart from this, being of one essence with the Father, he is his equal. Let us, therefore, bear it in mind, that this is spoken of Christ as mediator. He is, I say, inferior to the Father, inasmuch as he assumed our nature, that he might be the first-born among many brethren. (emphasis mine)

Both Matthew Henry and John Calvin repeatedly interpret the passages that refer to Christ’s submission or subjection to be speaking of Christ’s role as mediator. This is a consistent application of the orthodox understanding of the economic Trinity.

Lastly, contrary to the article, egalitarians are not the only ones who deny a hierarchy in the immanent Trinity. Many complementarians make a distinction between the economic and immanent when discussing the Trinity. Not all complementarians agree with Grudem and Ware that there is a hierarchy in the immanent Trinity.

In conclusion, I’m not convinced that the authors have proven their point. They claim that a hierarchy in the immanent Trinity does not mean inequality:

If there is hierarchy and equality in the immanent Trinity, then the complementarians win, for it means that men and women can be equal even with an order of authority.

A hierarchy in the immanent Trinity will always lead to inequality. It is more than a difference in roles. It is about the nature or essence of God. I can’t help but conclude that their argument is the biblical, trinitarian equivalent of “separate, but equal.” No matter their intention, the result is the same. It’s not equal.

As for the desire to ground complementarity of men and women in the Trinity, there is good Scriptural support for the main claims of complementarianism without changing the historic, orthodox teaching on the Trinity. While egalitarians and feminists may disagree with the complementarian interpretation of those passages, there is clear, Biblical evidence for teaching the following:

  • Men and women are made in the image of God and equal before God in Christ.
  • Husbands are the spiritual leaders of the home.
  • Wives should submit to their own husbands.
  • Ordained leadership in churches should be male.
  • Christ, in His role as mediator, submitted to His Father, and He is our example in all of life.

While I understand the reason these theologians want to find support for complementarity in the doctrine of the Trinity, I believe, on the whole, that we are safer when we hold fast to what the Bible teaches and stick close to the creeds and confessions. The Trinity is a mystery and should be handled with great care. Departing from the historic, orthodox formulations of the Trinity is not a winning move, no matter what the motivation.

True Woman 101: Divine Design

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There have been a couple of really good blog posts recently about the need to be discerning in what we read. Good reviews, impressive recommendations, even the stellar reputation of the authors shouldn’t be all that we rely on in deciding the worth of a book. Scripture tells us to be careful about the messages we listen to and to test them based on Scripture. In Acts, the people of Berea are commended for “examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.”

It’s in that spirit that I’m writing this review. Not to score points in a debate or to win an argument. Not to prove someone wrong or to pat myself on the back. Bad doctrine hurts the church, and specifically, it hurts the people in the pews.

True Woman 101: Divine Design is a eight week Bible study intended for women. The book brief on Amazon.com reads:

What does it mean to be a woman? The current cultural ideal for womanhood encourages women to be strident, sexual, self-centered, independent — and above all — powerful and in control. But sadly, this model of womanhood hasn’t delivered the happiness and fulfillment it promised. The Bible teaches that it’s not up to us to decide what womanhood is all about. God created male and female for a very specific purpose. His design isn’t arbitrary or unimportant. It is very intentional and He wants women to discover, embrace, and delight in the beauty of His design. He’s looking for True Women!

Bible teachers Mary A. Kassian and Nancy Leigh DeMoss share the key fundamentals of biblical womanhood in this eight week study. Each week includes five daily individual lessons leading to a group time of sharing and digging deeper into God’s Word. And to enhance this time of learning together, on-line videos are available featuring Mary and Nancy as they encourage women to discover and embrace God’s design and mission for their lives.

The authors are Mary A. Kassian and Nancy Leigh DeMoss. From their bios on the True Woman website:

Mary is a distinguished professor of Women’s Studies at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, and is the author of several books including The Feminist Mistake and In My Father’s House.

And

Nancy Leigh DeMoss is a beloved mentor and “spiritual mother” to hundreds of thousands of women who have read her best-selling books and who listen to her two daily radio programs, Revive Our Hearts and Seeking Him.

Because of my particular interest in the discussion in complementarian circles about what it means to be a godly man or woman, I was curious about this book. I’ve read some blog posts at the True Woman website in the past, and I recognize the names of several of the authors. I wondered what they were teaching about biblical womanhood.

Having finished the book, I am very concerned. There are serious foundational problems with the teaching in this book. The most serious are discussions of the Trinity. The authors then use their understanding of the Trinity as the foundation for their teaching on biblical manhood and womanhood.

Probably the next most troubling thing is that the authors use the relationship between husband and wife as the model for all male/female interactions. And while they recognize that some Christians may disagree with them about what they teach, they consider any disagreement to be the result of the feminist movement’s influence on society. The result is that the book tends to be very heavy on law and very light on grace.

Starting from the top, Kassian and DeMoss’s description of the Trinity is concerning:

The first relationship mirrored the image of God. In the Trinity, individual and distinct beings are joined in an inseparable unity. The individual members (Father, Son, and Spirit) are joined as part of the collective whole (God) (93, all page numbers from the ebook version).

I realize that this is most likely an example of sloppy word choice, but it’s very, very important how we talk about the Trinity. The words used make a big difference. The Trinity is not a “God club” with three individual members. If you combine the Westminster Confession and the Athanasian Creed you have the orthodox description:

In the unity of the Godhead there be three Persons of one substance, power, and eternity: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. …  So that in all things, as aforesaid, the Unity in Trinity and the Trinity in Unity is to be worshipped. He therefore that will be saved must thus think of the Trinity. (WCF 2.3; Athanasian Creed 27-28)

God is one being, three persons, equal in glory and power and majesty.

The reason that this sloppy handling of the Trinity is important is that the authors also discuss the Trinity in concerning ways in their definition of what it means to be made in the image of God. Here is their explanation for “Let us make man in our image:”

The discussion about creating man and woman took place among members of the Godhead. It may have been among all three: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But at the very least, it involved the Father and His Son, as Scripture draws parallels between that relationship and the relationship of the man and the woman (see 1 Cor. 11:13). We’ll talk more about that later, but for now, just think about this: When God created male and female, He had the dynamic of His own relationship in mind. The Lord created the two sexes to reflect something about God. He patterned the male-female relationship (“them”) after the “us/our” relationship that exists within God (24-25, emphasis mine).

The authors of True Woman 101 teach that there is an authority/submission structure in the very nature of the Godhead. Nancy Leigh DeMoss interviewed Wayne Grudem on the Revive Our Hearts website to discuss “Marriage and the Trinity“:

When did the idea of headship and submission begin? The idea of headship and submission never began. It has existed eternally in the relationship between the Father and Son in the Trinity. It exists in the eternal nature of God himself.

And in this most basic of all relationships, authority is not based on gifts or ability. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are equal in all attributes and perfections, but authority is just there. Authority belongs to the Father, not because He is wiser or a more skillful leader, but just because He is Father. Authority and submission is the fundamental difference between the persons of the Trinity. (emphasis mine)

When Reformed theologians speak about the Son’s submission to the Father in the work of redemption, they are generally speaking of the economic Trinity, i.e. the way the persons of the Trinity work together in the acts of creation, redemption, etc. This is distinct from the ontological Trinity which concerns the very nature of God. The problem with Grudem’s formulation here and its subsequent use in the True Woman 101 book is that by saying God the Father has supreme authority “just because He is Father,” he is making an ontological statement about the very nature of God.

This is contrary to the traditional formulation found in the Athanasian Creed:

And in this Trinity none is afore, nor after another; none is greater, or less than another.

As a result, the book teaches that there is an inherent inequality in the nature of the Godhead. This is troubling. And it appears to be the result of a desire to ground the complementarian understanding of the relationship between husband and wife in a “deeper truth.”

As you can see from the second half of the above quote from True Woman 101, the authors teach that “[t]he Lord created the two sexes to reflect something about God. He patterned the male-female relationship (“them”) after the “us/our” relationship that exists within God.” (25) What they are teaching is that, just as there is within the Trinity, there is an authority/submission structure inherent in the creation of men and women:

Males display the glory of God in an uniquely masculine way. Females display the glory of God in a uniquely feminine way. Each sex bears the image of God; but together, they display deep, important truths about God in relationship- God the Father in relationship with the Son of God, and the Son of God in relationship with His bride (33).

According to Kassian and DeMoss, men were created to reflect God the Father’s authority, and women were created to reflect the submission of the Son. Men therefore have a unique calling to lead and to be in authority. Women are made to submit to that authority through being amenable and deferential:

But it does mean that leadership, provision, protection, and responsible initiative are central and indispensable to what God created man to be (57).

And,

The third aspect of a beautiful womanly disposition is the inclination to submit. We believe the Lord created women with a disposition – an inclination – to respond positively to being led. We are the responder-relators created with a “bent” to be amenable (152).

In other words:

He initiated. She responded. The pattern of their relationship reflected who God created them to be (69).

Of course, I do believe that men and women were created with differences inherent in who we are as male and female. I also believe that husbands are called to be the spiritual leaders of their homes and of their wives and that wives are called to submit to the leadership and authority of their husbands.

However, the problem with the book is that the authors of True Woman 101 move beyond the relationship of husband and wife and ground the authority/submission structure in the very nature of male and female. This means that they apply their paradigm of initiation/response to all male/female relationships:

The Bible presents a design for True Womanhood that applies to all women – at any age and at any stage of life – old, young; single, married, divorced, widowed; with children or without, whatever. Its design applies to women of every personality type, every educational level, every career track, every socioeconomic status, and every culture. God’s design transcends social customs, time, and circumstance (20, emphasis original).

For men this means leading, providing, and protecting women:

Man is accountable to God to nourish (provide) and cherish (protect) those in his sphere of responsibility. His primary responsibility is toward his wife. But the charge also extends, in a general way, to the attitude men ought to have toward all women. It is part and parcel of their distinctive, God-created makeup (48-49, emphasis mine).

And,

In other words, the way a man relates to a wife, sister, daughter, colleague, or friend will differ, but all those relationships are informed and influenced who his is as a man. Masculinity means that he accepts a chivalrous responsibility to offer appropriate guidance, provision, and protection to the women in his life (57).

For women, it means responding to the initiative of men:

Having a receptive, responsive spirit is at the core of what it means to be a woman. A godly woman is an “amenable” woman – an agreeable woman. She says yes (amen!). She has a disposition that responds positively to others, and particularly to the initiative of godly men. She is “soft” and not obstinate about receiving direction. She is “leadable” (69).

And,

Whether married or single, an amenable woman affirms and encourages godly qualities and initiative by men by being responsive rather than resistant in her interaction with them. Of course, we’re not talking about being amenable or responsive to sin. But even while saying no to sin, we can have a spirit that is inclined to be responsive, yielding, and deferential (153).

To summarize, men are to initiate and women are to respond in all of life. Of course, I do wonder how this paradigm works with the interaction between Boaz and Ruth. It seems clear to me that Ruth initiated that relationship, on Naomi’s advice. And then there’s Deborah.

The authors continue to apply the relationship of Adam and Eve in creation to all of mankind by discussing woman’s role as a “helper”:

Being a “helper” is a fundamental aspect of our design as women. This calling certainly applies to a woman’s relationship with her husband. But we believe it also extends beyond the marriage relationship. There are many ways we as women can help, rather than hinder, the men around us. We can help them: Glorify God (170).

According to the book, women were made to help men, not just that wives were designed to help husbands in the marriage relationship. This is disturbing, in part, because of what Kassian and DeMoss teach about man’s created purpose vs. woman’s created purpose. They teach that men (males) were created to glorify God and that women were created to help men fulfill that purpose:

The male was created to bring glory to God – and to serve Him (rather than himself). This is man’s ultimate purpose. … God created a helper to assist the man in fulfilling his ultimate purpose. Woman helps man glorify God in a way he could not do if she did not exist (76, emphasis mine).

This is a troubling departure from what the catechism teaches:

Q. 1. What is the chief end of man?
A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever. (WSC)

Despite modern understanding, “man” here refers to humanity or mankind. All of mankind, male and female, were created to glorify God. Women are called to glorify God. We may do so in conjunction with men or on our own, but our purpose is not different from that of men.

Kassian and DeMoss spend a considerable amount of the book discussing the dangers and influence of feminism on culture and the church. While I share many of their concerns about the modern feminist movement, especially third wave feminists, they present a muddied and confused picture of the historical feminist movement. As a result, all of the movement is deemed bad and contrary to God’s divine design.

This is unfortunate. As I’ve written elsewhere, the feminist movement started well before the 1960’s, and the earliest feminists were Christian women who were striving to protect and defend women in many worthy ways.

It is somewhat amusing to me that Kassian and DeMoss would depict the feminist movement as universally bad given the numbers of ways in which their own lives have benefited from some of the work of the first and second waves. Ms. DeMoss, for example, is an unmarried woman who lives in her own home, inherited money that she manages, runs her own business, hires employees, earns her own income, publishes books, and speaks publicly to large groups. All of these are blessings and are the result of the work of first wave feminists.

But, back to the book. Kassian and DeMoss view feminism in all forms as rebellion against God’s design for women. They believe that it is contrary to the gospel:

Did feminism identify some valid problems? Yes. Did it propose some helpful changes? It likely did. Can feminism be embraced along with our Christian faith? Absolutely not. Why not? Because it introduces a subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) distortion into the way we approach gender and male-female relationships. It contains truth, but it also contains some powerful and destructive lies. And in so doing, it strikes at the very image of God and at an important earthly picture He chose to display the redemptive story. At its core, feminist philosophy is antithetical to the gospel (120).

To be clear, I do believe that there is an anti-God movement within the modern feminist movement. Margaret Sanger is a good example as are many third wave feminists. However, the early feminist philosophy that women were equal in value and worth and should be treated as such is not at all antithetical to the gospel.

According to the book, feminism is wrong and misguided because it misidentifies the root problems in society:

Feminism is based on the wrong premise. It assumes that ‘patriarchy’ is the ultimate cause of woman’s pain. It proposes the wrong solution. It says that women have the right, the knowledge, and the power to redefine and rectify the male-female relationship. It’s fueled by the wrong attitude. It encourages anger, bitterness, resentment, self-reliance, independence, arrogance, and a pitting of woman against man. It exalts the wrong values. Power, prestige, personal attainment, and financial gain are exalted over service, sacrifice, and humility. Manhood is devalued. Morality is devalued. Marriage is devalued. Motherhood is devalued. In sum, feminism promotes ways of thinking that stand in direct opposition to the Word of God and to the beauty of His created order (121).

Kassian and DeMoss have created a false dichotomy. While it’s true that modern feminists often demean and devalue men, marriage, and morality, that doesn’t mean that patriarchy isn’t a real problem. Throughout the True Woman book, patriarchy is generally put in scare quotes which signals that the authors don’t see it as a real topic of concern. In fact, they appear to support patriarchy, calling it “God’s divine design”:

Culture promotes a way of thinking about womanhood that is decidedly feminist. Its solution to the battle of the sexes is to dismantle patriarchy, and in the process, undermine and dismantle God’s divine design (132).

Patriarchy is an actual problem and is not God’s design. It has been a problem for women and society for thousands of years. Dismissing the truth of that does not help Kassian and DeMoss in their concerns about feminism. One can disagree with the devaluing of men and also believe that there exist those who devalue and demean women. Both extremes are bad, and both extremes are at work in our culture and churches.

My final concerns about the True Woman 101 book has to do with the practical applications. This has three basic parts: divorce, abuse, and a lack of grace/gospel. These are the ways in which the book’s teachings will impact and hurt women, families, and churches.

First, the True Woman manifesto, which all book study participants are encouraged to read and sign, teaches a permanence view of marriage. That means that divorce is not allowed in any way for any reason. The view would say there are no biblical grounds for divorce, not adultery, abandonment, or abuse. This teaching is dangerous. It’s contrary to the Bible, and it’s contrary to the teachings of my denomination.

Second, because of their belief in the permanence of marriage, their teachings on the nature of women to submit, and their dismissive attitude to the dangers of patriarchy and men who misuse their authority, the book creates a perfect environment for abuse to flourish. Instead of recognizing that men can and do abuse women even in the church, Kassian and DeMoss make a point of sin-leveling which makes abuse just another of the many sins in a relationship and we’re all sinners:

The problem in the male-female relationship isn’t men. It’s sin. And sin is something that affects women just as much as it affects men. Men and women may sin in different ways, but the truth of the matter is that ALL have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Women are not innocent. Women are sinners. Women can’t fix sin. So we can’t fix men (112).

At one point in the book, Mary Kassian relates a story of one of her friends who was abused by her husband. Kassian tells of being very angry and wanting to confront the man for what he did. She goes on to say that her husband took her aside and reminded her that the abusive man wasn’t the real problem, but that sin was. (111)

While it’s certainly true that sin is the root problem in all relationships, it is right and proper to confront a sinner for his sin and to hold him accountable. The answer is not shrugging our shoulders and lamenting the sins that damage our relationships while submitting to the abuse. It’s also not teaching women that their own sins are equally at fault in abusive situations.

Kassian and DeMoss seem to recognize that the teachings in True Woman might be understood to encourage abuse, but they dismiss that as silly:

We’ve heard all sorts of dismal prognoses about what will happen to women who decide to push back from the table of wildness and embrace God’s vision for womanhood instead. … You’ll encourage abuse. … Sorry but those dire threats are just plain silly. The truth is, as anxious as we might be about what could happen if we fully follow the Lord, we should be more concerned about what will happen if we don’t! (136)

The authors would do well to get to know the very real women and children who have been hurt and abused by men who have taken teachings like True Woman 101 and used them as support for their abuse. When men are told they hold the authority and reflect the authority of God the Father in their relationships with women, there are bound to be men who see this as just the affirmation they need to treat their wives and children in abusive ways. Combine that with women being told they must be soft and amenable and deferential to all men and that divorce is never an option, and you have women who are conditioned not to speak up and not to get help:

Are you angry at some man for the way he has treated you? … how does God want you to respond? How does the gospel of Christ motivate and enable that kind of response? ‘For the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.’ (123)

My final concern about the practical implications of the book is that there is very little grace or gospel. The whole of True Woman 101 is filled with commands, musts, shoulds, and questions designed to show women how far they are from the “biblical womanhood” ideal. The weight of the failure of marriages and society itself is placed on women acting in rebellion to the picture of femininity that Kassian and DeMoss hold up as the standard. And once a woman is feeling terrible over how far she has missed the mark, the solution the book gives is not to turn to Christ but to work harder.

Take a moment to “fess up” in prayer. Ask the Lord to help you take personal responsibility for your choices, to acknowledge where you have chosen your way rather than His (92)

Do you think your attitude is in line with God’s ideal? If not, how could you bring it more in line? (94)

How do you need to adjust your attitude toward womanhood so that it matches His? (136)

Which “standard of teaching” about gender do you think God wants you to obey? (142)

How devoted a bride are you? Fill out the following devotion report card. In the column to the right of each statement, give yourself a grade ranging from A to D for how devoted you are to Christ (145).

Go back and fill out the shaded part of the report card. Give yourself a grade for how devoted you are to your husband (146).

Are you a helper or hinderer? Are there any ways you may be hindering the men around you from becoming all God created them to be? (170)

What are some possible effects of ignoring or rejecting God’s design for womanhood – on women, the home, the church, and the culture? (172)

Without godly womanly influence, its moral fabric would unravel, families would fail, and it would certainly sink into degradation and ruin (174)

What do you intend to do to support the vision for the quiet “counterrevolution” that we’ve shared? (178)

Kassian and DeMoss even go so far as to suggest that if you disagree with them on these matters, you are actually disagreeing with God, and your salvation might be in question:

Obedience is an evidence that we are truly children of God (1 Peter 1:14; see also Heb. 5:9; 11:8). In fact, according to Scripture, those who persistently disobey His Word, those who have no inclination to obey Him, have no basis for assurance that they belong to Him (36-37).

And ultimately women are responsible for their own righteousness:

But it’s particularly important for us women to listen up and pay attention to these passages, because “bride” is the part of the gospel story women are uniquely designed to tell. The spotlessness of the bride’s wedding dress reflects the type of character that God desires for women. A True Woman dressed in the beauty of holiness. … Holiness isn’t an abstract concept. It translates into practical, daily attitudes and behaviors (148).

There is no good news here. According to Kassian and DeMoss, women are the ones at fault, but if we follow these guidelines for biblical womanhood then we can be holy. That’s not the gospel. In fact, the book is so works oriented and so lacking in Christ’s work of redemption that a Mormon or Jehovah’s Witness reading it would probably not be offended in the least.

While there is more that I could write about True Woman 101 and my concerns, these are the ones that I found the most troubling. There were a couple of quotes that I found that I did agreed with, although not for the reasons the authors intended. I’ll close with these:

You need to be smart when it comes to the messages you listen to (132).

[S]ome people use the Bible to defend views and practices that are anything but biblical (181).

Marriage as a Blood Covenant?

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In a recent discussion about marriage and the role of the church in performing marriages, a pastor mentioned that he didn’t see the need for the church to perform wedding ceremonies. The way he explained it marriage is a covenant that is ratified when the man and woman consummate their marriage. The important part, to him, is the initial sexual act. That is what makes it a marriage. He went on to say that marriage is a “blood covenant.” Like all biblical covenants, he said, it’s sealed by the spilling of blood.

I was honestly floored by this discussion. I have no problem at all speaking of marriage as a covenant. Vows are made, and there is a legal agreement. Marriage is binding, and there are only a few biblical reasons to divorce. Marriage isn’t to be entered into lightly. It should always be taken seriously.

However, the part about marriage as a blood covenant really took me aback. I did some research into the concept and found a couple of examples of this teaching. As a side note, it does not seem to be mainstream or widely accepted. Many of the pastors and theologians (all reformed) I spoke with had never heard of it. Here are a couple of quotes that explain the teaching. Forgive me for the explicit nature of the following descriptions.

Marriage: A Blood Covenant with a Three-fold Purpose” by Bob Vincent

So as we look at the inception of marriage under the Old Testament, we discover that it involves, as all blood covenants do, the shedding of blood. And we discover that virginity was a very special and treasured thing in the law of God. And it is special and treasured because it is part of the shedding of the blood in this blood covenant of marriage. So important it is, that the parents of the young woman preserve the evidence that she was a virgin on her wedding night, so that if her husband proves to be a scoundrel and accuses her of not being what she said she was — and this is not the case of someone who is honest and up front before marriage, but this is someone presenting herself for marriage, and she is not really that — then the parents produce the evidence of the blood covenant with the garment or the sheet that was … that absorbed the blood in the cutting of the covenant.

The Hebrew word, by the way, for making a covenant is literally, in Hebrew, “to cut a covenant.” We cut a covenant. And so in the marriage act there are two things. There is the couple committing themselves to live together after God’s ordinance, and there is the shedding of the blood, the private act, the cutting of the covenant. Both things are important.

Covenant Sexuality” by Dannah Gresh

The next test is that a biblical covenant is always sealed in blood. The covenant between Abraham and God was sealed with animal sacrifice. There was blood.

The greatest covenant that you and I know is the covenant of Jesus Christ and the cross. It is sealed in blood. Do you know that the gift of marriage is also a covenant sealed in blood? Let me be a little technical with you for a just a moment. There is a small tissue within every woman. It’s called the hymen. It’s within her body.

When she has sex for the very first time, this tissue is stretched or torn, and there is a release of blood. Now, if you grew up in the day and age when Jesus walked the earth, the Jewish wedding ceremony took this so seriously, this covenant of blood, that the first gift that they would have given you, as a young bride, would have been white wedding linens.

And they would want you to seal the covenant on that night, returning from your honeymoon chamber with blood evidence to share with your whole family, that this covenant had been sealed in blood. Somebody tell me you’re glad you’re a woman of the new millennium.

But you know what? They weren’t uncomfortable with that. They celebrated it; they understood the significance of the blood. It was a beautiful thing. Sex is a blood covenant.

To summarize, the idea is that all covenants require a shedding of blood to seal the covenant. Marriage is a covenant that is sealed by the shedding of a virgin’s blood during her first sexual experience with her husband.

I find this teaching to be grotesque and potentially very dangerous. I also think it’s unbiblical for a number of reasons.

First, do all biblical covenants require the shedding of blood to seal the covenant? According to the Westminster Shorter Catechism, God entered into a covenant of life with Adam before the fall:

Q. 12. What special act of providence did God exercise towards man in the estate wherein he was created?
A. When God had created man, he entered into a covenant of life with him, upon condition of perfect obedience; forbidding him to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, upon the pain of death.

Was there shedding of blood to seal this covenant? There was, of course, considerable blood shed as a result of the breaking of this covenant. But nothing is said or alluded to about blood in the ratifying of the covenant of life.

Second, marriage is a creation ordinance instituted by God before the fall. Why would there be a need for the shedding of blood before sin and death had entered the world? Did Eve bleed on her wedding night? Only she and Adam know, but I doubt it. The curse brought pain to childbearing and all it entails. There is no reason for Eve to have experienced that pain before she sinned.

The third reason I think this teaching is unbiblical is that we now live under the covenant of grace after the last, best, and only true sacrifice has already taken place. Christ has paid the penalty for our sins, and there are no more sacrifices. Ever. Why would any Christian who has been bought by the precious blood of Christ teach that a woman must offer a sacrifice of blood to seal her marriage?

Lastly, I want to consider the very practical side of things. Not all women bleed on their wedding night. This can be true for any number of reasons. Does this invalidate their marriage? It doesn’t change the vows they made.

Let’s consider a few different scenarios. First, not all virgins will bleed the first time they have sex. That’s simply medical fact.

Second, not everyone who marries is a virgin. Many people have sexual sins that they have repented of. Some people have been sinned against. (Although in those cases I would still consider them to be virgins.) Are their marriages less valid? Under a covenant of works, maybe. But we live under a covenant of grace with forgiveness and mercy.

Also, the teaching seems to demean second marriages. There are valid, biblical reasons for widowed or divorced men and women remarry. In these marriages, no one is a virgin. Their marriages are biblical and God-honoring. Does it matter that they weren’t sealed with blood? Are they less married as a result?

I understand the desire to strengthen the biblical arguments for marriage. Marriage is under attack in our culture today. But in our attempts to bolster biblical marriage we need to be careful about the unintended consequences of going beyond what Scripture teaches. I see four basic repercussions from teaching that marriage is a blood covenant.

  • It teaches a repulsive view of the sexual relationship between a husband and wife. What was created to be a beautiful expression of the one flesh relationship should not be twisted into a bloody sacrifice.
  • It idolizes virginity. It is a good and God-honoring thing for women (and men) to wait for marriage. It is a blessing, and it protects against many heartaches. But it’s should not be made into an idol. There is a serious danger of that happening. Consider “purity balls.”
  • It overshadows the grace and forgiveness that we live under as believers in Christ. We are all sinners saved by grace. There are no more sacrifices required.
  • It could be used to promote or excuse abuse. There is so much that could be said here, but I’ll leave it at this. There are despicable men in this world who would use this teaching to hurt women.

Marriage is a beautiful thing. God gave us marriage for our benefit and mutual support and as a picture of the relationship between Christ as His Church. We should work hard to support and protect marriage. But we don’t need to go back to the Old Testament sacrificial system to do so.

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. (Galatians 5:1 ESV)

My 2 Cents: Feminism, Stereotypes, and Experiences

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Last week, I read a post “If I Had a Million Dollars (Why I’m Not a Feminist)” by Shannon Popkin. It’s an article written in response to another post, “If I Had a Dollar (Why I Am a Feminist)” by Anna Fonte. Both women wrote about their experiences: growing up, fathers, mothers, daughters, families, men, fulfillment as a woman. Both articles make some interesting points, but each falls short of getting to the heart of what feminism is and why it should be embraced or rejected.

The terms “feminist” and “feminism” are used often but the meaning is variable. Most historians consider there to have been three waves of feminism. First wave feminism took place in the late 1800s to early 1900s. It was mainly concerned with legal rights. Most people are familiar with the suffrage movement to give women the right to vote. But there were other legal rights that the first wave feminists sought. These include: the right to inherit property, shared ownership of their children, the right to own property, the ability to execute wills and make legal decisions for their children, and the ability to be a legal witness in a court case. The first wave feminists also wanted to improve opportunities for women in education and in the workplace.

While some may argue with me about this, these goals were admirable ones. Before this time women were truly at the mercy of others and often unprotected. A woman whose husband died or left her might find herself with no money, no shelter, and very few good options for employment.

In the 1960s, a second wave of feminism began. While these feminists were also concerned about inequalities in the workplace and in the laws, many were pushing for what would be called “reproductive rights.” Abortion, contraception, and less restrictions on sexuality were part of what this wave is known for. Not all women agreed, however. Many women who were for “equal pay for equal work” were not in favor of abortion. There is still a significant group of feminists who are pro-life.

Other goals from the 1960s-1980s include ending discrimination in the workplace and courts, awareness of domestic violence, and confronting the objectification and exploitation of women through prostitution and pornography.

Second wave feminism is more of a mixed bag when considering the good and bad of the movement’s goals. Abortion and “casual sex” have, and continue to, hurt many women. No fault divorce, along with these, has allowed many men to abandon women and children with little responsibility for their welfare.

Interestingly enough, it was a disagreement among some feminists over issues such as prostitution and pornography that lead to a distinct third wave. The third wave of feminism began in the 1990s and has been well-known for it’s focus on gender and sexuality. Many third wave feminists embrace a very fluid definition of gender and an unrestrained and open sexuality. There is nothing that I can commend in these goals.

Considering the three waves of feminism, there are some good things that have come from the first and second waves. If you are a single woman who lives on her own, owns her own home, and has a good job you have these women to thank for much of that. If you have never been asked in a job interview when your last period was (they wanted to know if you might be pregnant and likely to leave the job) you owe that to these women. If you are a woman who has an education and job opportunities for decent employment, you are benefiting from the work of these women.

But it isn’t all good. As I pointed out above, there are some really awful things that have been brought about by the various waves of feminism. Abortion, casual sex, open sexuality, fluid gender: these are wrong and have brought about nothing but hurt.

There is also a very ugly side to the modern feminist movement: the demeaning and devaluing of men. It is very common today to hear women say that men are worthless, that women don’t need men, that women are better than men. Men are often the butt of jokes as clueless or useless. This is very ugly and completely wrong.

Back to the two articles I mentioned at the start. I believe that both articles are weak because they focus mainly on experiences and on stereotypes. Anna (why I am a feminist) explains how men have hurt her and her mother. She chooses abortion because of what was happening in her life at the time. She uses her life history to show that she doesn’t need a man because from her history men are not to be trusted.

Shannon (why I am not a feminist) explains from her own history how her dad and her husband have cared and provided for her and her family. She and her mother embraced traditional roles as homemakers and mothers. She feels happy and fulfilled because being a mother and homemaker is better and more fulfilling than any career or other way of life. She sees feminists as angry and less happy. She uses her life history to show what it means to be “not a feminist.”

Anna’s piece is very sad to me. She has been hurt by men and lied to by those who told her abortion was the answer. She has scars from her childhood and needs desperately to be loved and forgiven as only Christ can. She’s wrong about men. Some men are wicked and untrustworthy. But that’s not the way it should be.

Shannon’s article is frustrating to me. She’s had a good life. She has a husband and children. Her husband has been able to provide in such a way that she is able to be at home and care for her family. But I’m concerned that her emphasis on fulfillment through husband and children will hurt women who do not have the same experiences.

Is this the only way or even the best way for Christian women to find fulfillment? There are many single women around, godly women who would love to be married and have a family. But God has not provided that for them. Are they less fulfilled? Do they have less value if they serve God through their career and friendships? What about women who help to provide for their families through their work? Are they less worthy of praise? Are they “feminists” because they work outside their homes? And what about the barren women? Are they less fulfilled because God hasn’t filled their arms with children?

While I think it’s very important to stand for good things life family, homes, marriages, and child-rearing, we should not created a checklist of what it means to be a good woman beyond what Scripture teaches. The Proverbs 31 woman, among other examples, was a woman of many talents who was busy providing for her home as well as caring for her household.

So as far as feminism goes, I’m thankful for the good, and I reject the bad. Would I call myself a feminist? No, especially not given the modern feminist movement. My life experiences, both good and bad, are not the reason I’m “not a feminist.” My reasons are based not on stereotypes, but on objective truth.

My own list would look like this:

  • Men and women are both created in the image of God and equal in Christ
  • Husbands and wives are different and need each other
  • Husbands are called to be the spiritual leaders of their homes and wives are called to submit to that leadership
  • Ordained leaders in the church should be men
  • Men and Women are fulfilled by glorifying God in all they do through the callings and gifts that God has given them individually
  • What that looks like will be different for each man and woman
  • Abortion is always to be rejected.
  • Sexuality is to be expressed in marriage.
  • Marriage is between one man and one woman.
  • Divorce should only be the result of adultery, abandonment, or abuse.

When we move past experience and stereotypes to biblical truth, we find that there are some things that are absolutes on which we should not budge. And there are other things that are matters of discernment and liberty. We should be kind but firm on the one, and gracious and flexible on the other. May we build each other up in Christ.

The Sociology (or Freudian Psychology) of Hats?

Over at the blog-that-must-not-be-named, the boys are at it again. This time it’s a short excerpt from a much longer piece that attempts to draw some sociological conclusions from the changes in hats during the 20th century:

I’ll just leave you with one sociological note. I love this. It’s James Laver’s sociology of hats. In the Victorian period, says Laver, men’s hats were very tall and very stiff, like John D. Rockefeller’s shiny silk toppers in all the old cartoons, while women were wearing kerchiefs, pieces of thin pale fabric that lay limply on top of the head with no superstructure to give them shape.

As you get to the early 1900s, instead of standing up erectly and boldly like the topper, men’s hats begin to shrink in size, stiffness, and assertion. The crowns shrivel to less than half the size of the topper’s—in some cases, as with the trilby, less than a third. They begin to be made of felt, with dents and creases and wrinkles that make it obvious just how soft and diffident they are. And today, a century later, men’s hats have been reduced to…oh yes, pieces of fabric that lay limply on the head with no superstructure to give them shape: baseball caps, gone-fishing caps, little-kid caps, snow caps with no pom-pom balls sewn on top, no balls at all…in other words, pre-puberty hats, while women’s hats, so-called garden party hats, become huge, with great brims of intimidating diameter and decorations gaudy as a peacock’s, which means—well, all I can say is that great theories have been induced from much less!

Okaaaay . . .  wow.

So if I understand it correctly, back when men were men in the Victorian times, men’s hats were tall and straight and manly. Then over time, men hats have become less impressive and somehow less masculine. The implication being that men’s hats reflecting the role of men in society, I guess.

As a student of history and someone who enjoys historical fashion, I decided to have a little fun with this. What follows is a brief study of hats across the centuries.

First, despite the author’s statement that Victorian women wore kerchiefs, Victorian ladies wore very impressive hats:

victorian hat

Victorian Women Hats Victorian lady with fabulous

Women even wore “top hats”

On the other hand, men also wore a variety of hat depending on the occasion:

In the 1600’s, women’s hats were impressive, and men’s hats were not so much:

Of course, since Elizabeth was reigning at the time, it might be argued that men’s hats expressed the angst men felt at being ruled by a woman.

Let’s move on to an earlier time. In the 1400’s women wore very impressive hats:

And what were the men wearing? Let’s just say it’s not as impressive:

Hmm. Maybe hats don’t reflect societal changes and gender roles. Maybe fashion has always been a bit silly. However, let’s consider one last thing.

Men here in Texas wear this kind of hat:

But then, so do the women:

Christians, Businesses, and the Brave New World

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There have been several stories in the news lately about Christian business owners who are being sued for refusing to provide their services for same-sex weddings. A handful of Christians have lost their businesses as a result of their stance. On Sunday, I read an article about how Christians in business should act towards the LGBT community. “Mission, Ministry, and Same-Sex Ceremonies” was written by an unnamed PCA pastor who believes that it is unbiblical for Christians to refuse goods and services, like flowers or a cake, for same-sex ceremonies:

Namely, this florist—and many other Christians involved in providing the trappings of  the American wedding industry—are incorrect regarding the biblical principles for providing their goods or services for a same-sex ceremony. I believe they are in error due to a misunderstanding of the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers, due to a conflating of a personal “ick” factor with biblical morality, and due to an unhealthy fixation on the individual rights of Christians versus the corporate calling of the Church.

The author writes that by refusing to provide goods and services Christians are failing to show love to their homosexual neighbors and are hurting the mission and work of the church to spread the gospel:

I understand the well-intentioned efforts of Christians to honor God with their work, and I applaud them for it. However, when Christians misunderstand the nature of their work by loading it with all sorts of ministerial freight that it just does not have, they don’t serve the mission of the gospel. When we serve certain sinners but not others because we’ve baptized our “ick” factor as a biblical standard, we are not being the salt and light we think we are. When we slip into asserting our rights instead of living as those “bought with a price,” we do not serve the good news of Jesus Christ.

I believe that the author is completely and utterly wrong. I believe that he has misunderstood and misrepresented the beliefs and motivations of these Christian business owners. I’ll explain why I disagree with each of his points, but first, I think it’s worth noting that the pastor is clear that he would not perform a same-sex wedding ceremony. I’m glad that we agree there. I do wonder what the author’s stance is on attending a same-sex wedding. I agree with those who have argued that we shouldn’t attend, because it’s a sign of support and approval of the ceremony and what it stands for.

The author’s first point is that the refusal to provide services for these ceremonies is a misunderstanding of the “priesthood of believers.” While all work is ultimately to God’s glory, he writes that there is a difference between the role a minister plays in the wedding ceremony and the role business owners play in providing flowers, music, cakes, etc. He believes that only the minister represents God’s authority. Therefore, according to the author, there is no “religious” reason for Christians to refuse.

While it is certainly true that flowers and cake and music and decorations are merely “trappings of the American wedding industry,” it’s not necessarily true that Christians who refuse are doing so based on a misunderstanding of their role. Is it not possible that these Christians hold personal convictions that providing services for same-sex ceremonies would be participating in a celebration of sin?

You don’t have to believe that flowers and cake are somehow redemptive to believe that your participation in a same-sex ceremony would be an approval of the ceremony itself. If these Christians believe that their participation is sinful because it would appear to be giving approval, then should we force them to act against their consciences? Isn’t that contrary to what Romans 14:23 teaches?

The author’s second point is that Christians who refuse services for same-sex ceremonies are conflating their personal “ick” factor with biblical morality. His argument is a combination of two common objections: we’re just grossed out by homosexuality and we’re singling out this particular sin to object to. The author wonders whether these business owners are making sure they aren’t participating in other types of sins when providing their services. As an example, the author writes that since pride, gluttony, and not caring for the poor are sins, are business owners refusing services to most of the middle class and all the upper class in America?

I have three points in response here. First, we should be concerned about all sin. If we aren’t as concerned about adultery, abortion, hatred, gossip, etc. as we are about homosexuality, then we should work to root out sin in all facets of our own lives. The answer is not that we should therefore be lax on homosexuality.

Second, it isn’t wrong to be repulsed by sin. Heaven help us, all to often we are completely at ease with sin. That said, many of the Christian businesses in question have gladly and willingly provided general services to their homosexual neighbors. They have cultivated relationships and friendships. They have shown no indication that they find their neighbors to be “icky.” They have simply refused to participate in a ceremony that celebrates sin and mocks the biblical origin and purpose of marriage.

Third, the author is concerned that Christians aren’t investigating whether or not their services might be used in to promote sin. I believe that 1 Corinthians 10:25-29 addresses the issue here:

Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience. For “the earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof.” If one of the unbelievers invites you to dinner and you are disposed to go, eat whatever is set before you without raising any question on the ground of conscience. But if someone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for the sake of conscience—I do not mean your conscience, but his. For why should my liberty be determined by someone else’s conscience? (1 Corinthians 10:25-29 ESV)

We should go about our business dealings doing our best to honor God in all we do. We do not need to investigate the background or purposes for every transaction. However, if someone comes to us and says they want our services for something sinful, we should refuse, gently and with humility, but we must refuse.

As an example in the beginning of his article, the author poses a question from a medical professional about needing to provide services to any and all with very few exceptions. However, would that medical professional provide an abortifacient to a pregnant woman? I hope not.

Unlike the example in 1 Corinthians (eating meat or not), homosexual behavior is not adiaphora. Scripture clearly condemns it in many places. This is not a matter of Christian liberty, or an area where Christians can simply agree to disagree. Christians should interact with sinners, but we shouldn’t participate in their pagan ceremonies. And it is a pagan ceremony, what god is honored in a same-sex ceremony?

The author’s last point is that refusing to provide services for a same-sex wedding is an “unhealthy fixation on individual rights” vs. the “corporate calling of the church.” He writes that American Christians are too focused on individual rights. As slaves to Christ, we must be willing to set aside our rights for the good of the church and the advancement of the gospel. According to the author, we should be focused on the power of the gospel for the salvation of sinners and not on our boycotts.

My question is what gospel are we proclaiming if we cater to sin and promote it through our actions? If we show our approval of same-sex marriages by providing our services, are we truly loving our neighbors? This is the major issue of our day. Our stance on homosexuality, same-sex marriage, and related topics matters very much. We are to be kind and at peace with others to the best of our abilities, but when we are asked to participate in sin, we must refuse.

The first century Christians were asked to offer a pinch of incense on the altar to the Emperor. Many refused. They were deemed intolerant and unloving. Why didn’t they offer the incense so that they could continue to spread the gospel? Because it was a sin.

I believe Christians are right to refuse to participate in these ceremonies. They are acting on their convictions that same-sex weddings are inherently sinful and that participating would be approving of and promoting sin. We should be supporting and encouraging these believers instead of binding their consciences by telling them to participate in something they believe is sinful. The mission of the church is not harmed by their refusal. These Christians are standing firm on the issue of our day. We must do the same while offering the hope we have that we are all sinners and that Christ is our only salvation.

If I profess, with the loudest voice and the clearest exposition, every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christianity. Where the battle rages the loyalty of the soldier is proved; and to be steady on all the battle-field besides is mere flight and disgrace to him if he flinches at that one point. — Elizabeth Rundle Charles

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