Does it matter what women are taught?

Since I first began writing, one of my main concerns has been the effect false teaching has on the church, and particularly on women. It is a topic dear to my heart. Because of this, I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review Aimee Byrd’s latest book, No Little Women: Equipping All Women in the Household of God. Aimee also has a heart for the women in the church and what they’re being taught.

In No Little Women, Aimee addresses the need for women to be taught both solid doctrine and how to be discerning. The book is geared towards two audiences: pastors/elders and Christian women, although anyone would benefit from reading it.  Aimee wants pastors/elders to take an active role in teaching, equipping, and protecting women in the church. She asks, “[W]hat is your expectation for the women in your church? (271)” She also wants women to be competent allies and not “little women.”

The title comes from Paul’s warnings in 2 Timothy 3:6-7,

For among them are those who enter into households and captivate weak women weighed down with sins, led on by various impulses, always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. (NASB)

Aimee notes that “weak” women could be translated “little” or “small” women (23). This description does not mean that women are by nature “weak” and gullible, but it is a useful warning that godly women should heed. If we’re not going to be weak and easily led astray, we will need to be well grounded in the Scripture. We need to know what we believe.

Aimee warns that today the greatest danger for women is likely coming from books and materials marketed for women by Christian publishers and authors.

In many cases, women’s ministry becomes a back door for bad doctrine to seep into the church. Why are there still so many gullible women? … Why is it that so many women sit under good preaching and have all the best intentions, yet fall prey to the latest book marketed to them that is full of poor theology? And why do so many women in the church fail to see that theology has any practical impact on their everyday lives? (22)

For this reason, pastors/elders need to know what’s being taught in women’s books and studies, and women need to learn discernment. Aimee’s book seeks to encourage both. First, Aimee explains why it matters.

All Christians, both men and women, are theologians. We all have beliefs about God. In order to be good theologians, we must be taught good doctrine. Here Aimee emphasizes the importance of the ministry of Word and sacraments done by our ordained leaders. This cannot be replaced by study on our own or in small groups or by parachurch organizations. We need to hear the Word preached and have the sacraments administered in the church by our pastors and elders.

Because men and women together make up the body of Christ, the church, Aimee explains that we must work together. Aimee uses the imagery of the church as the household of God. “In a household that is set up properly, women should thrive alongside the men as they serve according to their giftedness and the needs of the church (87).” Only qualified men should be ordained leaders in the church, but we all have gifts that should be used in the work of the church:

While we do have male leadership in the ministerial office, we don’t want to promote a male culture in the church. Women are not only necessary allies to their husbands within their personal households but are also necessary allies to the men in carrying out the mission of the household of God. And in this way, women have distinct and diverse contributions to make alongside their brothers in Christ. Christ’s own ministry involved women as necessary allies. (106)

In order for women to be competent and to fulfill their roles as necessary allies, women must be taught sound doctrine.

Next Aimee explains why women’s ministry is so often a “back door for bad doctrine.” Many times the pastors/elders are unaware of what’s being taught:

Far too many motivated women are dealing with shallow women’s studies – or, worse, just plain false teaching – in their church. One of the biggest laments is that the elders are unaware of the harm that these studies are inflicting on the women in their congregation. And the message from silence is that the women don’t really matter. (31)

Even when pastors/elders are made aware of the dangerous teachings, many times nothing much is done:

It is often difficult to have an edifying, civil conversation with those who insist on teaching material that is being questioned by a discerning and concerned church member or pastor. The pastor often looks like the bad guy if he comes in, after a study has already been established, to gently correct the teaching and offer something to replace it. Families begin to take sides, and some even leave the church. Women have approached their pastors or elders because their group is studying a book with false teaching, only to be ignored as if it doesn’t matter because it’s just the women’s group. (51)

Two of the main reasons bad teaching in women’s ministry gets a pass is that the teachers are so friendly and likable:

Many Christians do not distinguish between a likable personality and the content of that person’s teaching. … [M]any of the women who teach troubling doctrines are very likable. Their books are well packaged, their talks are endearing, and they are exceptionally good at honing in on the common struggles that women are dealing with. They approach these topic with humor, self-disclosure, and warmth. And their lingo sounds pretty Christian. … [W]e think we can let our guard down. (48)

And many people are hesitant to critique women teachers:

So often, the theology of women such as these is not critiqued because we don’t want to hurt feelings. Somehow it comes off as not nice to critique a woman’s teaching. Well, that isn’t taking women seriously, either. It is not insulting to point out error. What is unloving is giving a teacher license to teach falsely because you like her personality, because you want to believe that it’s true, or worse, because you don’t want to engage critically with a woman. (149)

As Aimee says, it should not be this way. Because women matter, because women are necessary allies, because women need to be competent, we must hold all of the teaching, no matter who it’s geared to, to the same high standard. To do this, we need practical skills to learn how to discern whether a book or study is theologically healthy or not.

In the last third of the book, Aimee sets out to teach us how to do be discerning. She gives a great illustration of the nature of the problem, equating false teaching in women’s books to an autoimmune disease in the church:

While there is a lot of heresy being sold by the Christian book industry, books marketed for and popular with Christian women could often be diagnosed as having autoimmune diseases. Without a thorough inspection, they seem to have some good points and experiences that women can relate to. But the authors tend not to have a sound theological immune system. … Inevitably what happens is that they being attacking healthy teaching in a subversive kind of way, causing all kinds of inflammation and various chronic conditions that weaken the church. For some reason, they do not react well to attempts to correct them, and they want to continue overactively spreading their messages. (234)

It’s crucial that we learn to assess the theological health of a book. To this end, Aimee lists four essential questions to ask about the theology of a book.

  1. What does the author say about God’s Word? (223)
  2. What does the author say about who man is? (224)
  3. What does the author say about God? (226)
  4. What does the author say about what God has done and is doing? (228)

Aimee also explains that not all theological “illnesses” in a book are equally dangerous. She describes the process of determining how dangerous it is as theological triage. She divides the theological differences into three categories: first-order, second-order, and third-order:

[T]he essentials, such as the authority of Scripture, the Trinity, the deity and humanity of Christ, and justification by faith, are what Mohler calls “first-order” doctrines that are necessary for a Christian to believe. Any teaching that contradict first-order doctrines are heretical. (231)

Examples of second-order doctrines would be mode of baptism and church government. These are important, but not essential for faith. Third-order doctrines would be something like eschatology. On these we can often agree to disagree.

Aimee then uses several examples from popular Christian books to demonstrate how to go about implementing these discernment skills. The examples are very helpful. I thought for my purposes here, I would use a quote from a new book as a practical demonstration of the essential questions and triage that Aimee recommends.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth is a popular author and speaker. She and Mary Kassian have written many books as part of the True Woman movement. I’ve written before about my concerns with the doctrine in True Woman 101. One of my main concerns was that Kassian and DeMoss taught the Eternal Subordination of the Son. After this summer’s Trinity debate, I wondered if the new books coming out would continue to teach ESS.

Adorned: Living Out the Beauty of the Gospel was released this week and is the first book written since Nancy DeMoss married and became Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth. What follows is a quote from Adorned:

But Paul himself, writing under the inspiration of the Spirit, specifically sets forth the divine order of headship and submission as being timeless and transcultural – the husband-wife relationship patterned after the God-Son relationship and the Christ-man relationship.

I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God. (1 Cor. 11:3)

For a wife, submission means accepting God’s good order for her life, just as a husband submits himself to God in accepting God’s order for his life. And it gives her the privilege of representing the mystery and the beauty of the Son’s submission to the Father. For even within the Trinity, we see this paradoxical arrangement — seamless unity with separate roles and different identities, perfect equality with pure submission.

The Father and the Son, we know, are both equally God. And yet the Son chooses to submit Himself to the will of the Father:

For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will by the will of him who sent me. (John 6:38)

The submission of Christian wives to their husbands is a powerful and beautiful picture of the Son’s submission to His Father and of the church’s submission to Christ. These wives, together with husbands who love them selflessly and sacrificially, put the gospel story on vivid and compelling display. (264-265)

Using Aimee’s criteria, we can assess the theological health of Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth’s book, Adorned. What I first noticed in reading the quote is that it teaches the Eternal Subordination of the Son. This answers question 3 above, “what does the author say about God?”

Teaching ESS, in turn, indicates a misuse of Scripture for both the passages quotes, which answers question 1, “what does the author say about God’s Word?” Both 1 Corinthians 11:3 and John 6:38 are speaking about Christ as the God-man. When Christ submits to God, it is His humanity that is submitting, not His divinity. The submission is not within the Trinity.

By applying this wrong view of the Trinity to the relationship of husband and wife, the quote illustrates a faulty anthropology. That answers question 2, “what does the author say about  who man is?”

In answer to question 4, “what does the author say about what God has done and is doing?”,  the quote equates the gospel with the relationship of a husband and wife which presents a severely truncated version of the gospel. Husbands and wives do reflect one aspect of the gospel in illustrating part of the relationship between Christ and the church.

However, there is no way for husbands and wives to tell the full story of the gospel, that Christ was incarnate and made man, that He lived a sinless life fulfilling the law for us, that He died a sacrificial death on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins, that He was raised on the third day overcoming death and hell, that His righteousness has been applied to us, and that He will come again in glory and we will be with Him forever. That is the full gospel and no marriage, as godly as is might be, could possibly demonstrate all of it. And we shouldn’t settle for less than the full story.

As far as triage goes, the Trinity is a first-order doctrine. By teaching Eternal Subordination of the Son, Adorned is teaching a false view of the Trinity. That is a serious problem. As Aimee says in No Little Women,

If an author is not in line with what God says about himself, then you should have serious doubts about what she is teaching you. (227)

Because of this, I would not recommend Adorned to others without seriously cautioning them.

I am very thankful for Aimee’s work in No Little Women. I hope everyone will read it. With Aimee, I hope that pastors and elders are encouraged to get involved with the women of their church in order to teach, equip, protect, and utilize them in the work of the church. I also hope women especially will be spurred to greater faithfulness and discernment. Our churches need us to be competent women in our roles as necessary allies. May we be “little women” no longer.

 

 

Saying Farewell to the ESV

When I first was introduced to the ESV, I was very impressed by it. I had grown up using the NASB and hadn’t ever been very fond of the NIV. So, I was pleased by a new “word-for-word” translation option. The translation was smooth and fairly easy to read. It also appeared to be the preferred translation for many books, websites, churches, etc.

My husband and I eagerly purchased Reformation Study Bibles, downloaded the ESV Study Bible on our Nooks, and started using the ESV as our default translation on the YouVersion Bible app. When our oldest two boys joined the church as communing members, we presented them with their own ESV Reformation Study Bibles with their names engraved on the covers.

When I was researching Eternal Subordination of the Son (ESS), I discovered that the ESV Study Bible’s notes strongly advocate for ESS. This shouldn’t have been too surprising since Dr. Wayne Grudem was the editor for the Study Bible and is one of the leading proponents of ESS. After discovering that Dr. Grudem was on the oversight committee for the ESV translation, I was uncertain, but I knew he was just one man among many on the committee. I hadn’t noticed any real problems in the translation itself.

Last September, however, Crossway announced that they had made new changes to the text and that those changes would be the last ones made. The ESV text would be permanent as of 2016. While it might be a poor decision to determine that you’ll never need to update a translation, I really didn’t have any objection to that part of Crossway’s statement. What was much, much more concerning to me was a couple of the new changes that were now going to be permanently set in stone:

Permanent Text (2016) ESV Text (2011)
Genesis 3:16
Your desire shall be contrary to your husband, but he shall rule over you. Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.
Genesis 4:7
Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.

In making these changes, the ESV had decided to change the translation of Genesis 3:16 and 4:7 to reflect a particular interpretation of the passages. I plan to write more soon on the origin and history of this interpretation, but for now I’ll just summarize my concerns using an excerpt from an article by Wendy Alsup and Hannah Anderson:

In the height of the battle against feminism in the 1970s, Susan Fohproposedthat the similarity between 3:16 and 4:7 was that a woman’s desire toward a man was similar to sin’s desire to destroy Cain. It was, dare we say, contrary to him. This connection is problematic for many reasons, including the fact that the language of Genesis 4:7 is unclear and may actually refer to Abel’s good desire toward Cain.**

Worse, from an interpretive standpoint, Foh used the confusing and obscure text of Genesis 4 to project something backonto the clearer Hebrew in Genesis 3. In contrast, a straightforward chronological reading of Genesis 1-4 actually affirms the lexical definition of the preposition ‘el as “for” or “toward.”  In terms of the fall, the woman’s desire for children, her desire for her husband, and the man’s efforts at cultivating the ground are all good things to be pursued in fulfillment of the Creation Mandate; but post-Fall, these good desires are thwarted with painful consequences. Just as the man’s desire to produce fruit from the ground is rewarded with sweat and pain, a woman’s desire to produce children from her own body is rewarded with sweat and pain. Just as the man turns to his attention to the earth looking for fruitful relationship, a woman turns toward (not away from) a man seeking fruitful relationship. (We will explore this more in Part 3.)

The only way translators can justify rendering ‘el as “contrary” is to assume something negative about the womans desire based on the use of desire in Genesis 4:7-8. But such a novel change relies solely on commentary, not on accepted definitions to the Hebrew ‘el. (emphasis original)

They go on to explain why this translation has bad implications:

Our first concern about the latest rendering of Genesis 3:16 is that it does not fit the larger rhetorical frame of the passage. It implies a sinful motivation for the woman’s desire rather than describing the broken context in which she finds herself. It also disrupts the parallelism of the text. God speaks to the woman about how the Fall affects her. He then speaks to the man about how the Fall affects him. Rendering 3:16 as “your desire shall be contrary to your husband” injects a statement about the woman’s nature when there is no corresponding statement about the man’s nature in terms of his work. We believe there is no parallel statement because Genesis 3:16 should not be read as an indictment of the woman’s desire.

As we discussed in Part 2, you can only arrive at a negative reading of the woman’s desire if you read negativity back into the passage from Genesis 4:7-8. But such a reading is highly prejudicial because it implies that the woman’s desires by their very existence are contrary to her husband. Because the rest of the passage is read as a statement of fact about this post-Fall world, the sentence “your desires shall be contrary to your husband” will also be read as a statement of fact. The rhetorical affect is to create suspicion around every desire that a woman has.

After a flurry of articles and blog posts, Crossway announced that the 2016 ESV text would not be permanent. While many were relieved to read this, some of us noted that nothing was said about the controversial change to Genesis 3:16 and 4:7. Would that be changed? To date, nothing has been said regarding changing these passages back. I know that published text takes time to be changed. As such, I expected that the ESV Bibles published last year would reflect the “contrary to” translation. And they do. This includes the big six-volume ESV Reader’s Bible.

I had hoped that maybe the online versions could be and would be changed. But so far, they haven’t. The current edition of the ESV on the ESV.org website gives this translation for Genesis 3:16:

To the woman he said, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be contrary to your husband, but he shall rule over you.” (Genesis 3:16 ESV)

The same is true for the major online Bible websites that offer multiple translations. The 2016 edition of the ESV with “contrary to” is the one in use.

I found this very discouraging. But it wasn’t the only reason I had for changing translations. In the Trinity debate this summer and the aftermath this fall, one of the discussions was over the interpretation of “monogenes.” Is it “only begotten” as the older English translations have it? Should it be “only,” “one and only,” “unique” as most of the recent translations, including the ESV, have it?

Lee Irons wrote to argue for “only begotten” as the preferred translation and many seem to be in agreement now. I’m glad for that. How many of us have memorized John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, He gave His only begotten Son …”? Somehow it doesn’t sound quite right “For God so loved the world, He gave His one and only Son …”. Granted that’s mostly personal preference, but there is a strong theological truth missing when we leave out the “only begotten.”

Between the “contrary to” in Genesis 3 and 4 and the missing “only begotten” in the New Testament passages, my husband and I decided that the ESV wasn’t the translation we wanted to use as a family. To be clear, we’re not dogmatic about it. Our church and many of our friends still use the ESV, we aren’t complaining about it or demanding change. But for our own devotions individually and as a family, we’ve decided to switch to the New American Standard (NASB). We have four main reasons for doing so.

  1. The NASB translates monogenes as “only begotten.” Given the Trinity debate this summer, I see the benefit in reinforcing this fundamental truth that Jesus is the only begotten of the Father.

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. (John 3:16 NASB)

2. The NASB does not translate Genesis 3:16 and 4:7 to say “contrary to.” In fact, I really like the way the NASB translates the passage. Especially the “yet”:

To the woman He said, “I will greatly multiply Your pain in childbirth, In pain you will bring forth children; Yet your desire will be for your husband, And he will rule over you.” (Genesis 3:16 NASB)

3. As you can see in the NASB and ESV verses quoted here, the NASB capitalizes the divine pronouns whereas the ESV does not. While it isn’t necessary, it is something I prefer. I find it helps keep track in a passage on who is talking.

4. In all translations, it’s necessary to add words at times. This is true in any translation from one language to another. What I appreciate about the NASB is that it tells you when words have been added by italicizing them. This allows the reader to consider how the translators have added things for clarity. It also is very transparent. The reader knows what words aren’t actually there in the original language.

A good example can be found in Ephesians 5:21-22:

and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ. Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. (Ephesians 5:21-22 NASB)

I thought it was interesting to note that in verse 22, “be subject” has been added so that the sentence makes sense. Considering that there is much discussion about what connection there should be between verses 21 and 22, I think it worth noting that verse 22 follows on referring to verse 21 in the original Greek. The literal translation is: “Wives, to your own husbands, as to the Lord.” Without verse 21, verse 22 just wouldn’t make sense. Knowing which words have been added can enhance Bible study.

So for these various reasons my husband and I have switched from the ESV to the NASB. I know that the NASB, or any other translation, is not without problems. But for now, we are content with our decision. Now, to find someone to put a new binding on my old NASB. More than twenty years of backpacks, college retreats, and Bible study has left it being held together with tape. Maybe for my birthday …

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The Trinity and 1 Corinthians 15:28

A reader, Ron Maness, a church librarian, sent me some research he had done comparing various interpretations of 1 Corinthians 15:28:

When all things are subjected to Him, then the Son Himself also will be subjected to the One who subjected all things to Him, so that God may be all in all. (NASB)

It is fascinating to compare the differences in interpretation between those who see an Eternal Subordination of the Son in this passage and those who don’t. It’s an interesting exercise on the impact of our presuppositions. It also shows how ESS/EFS/ERAS has become very widespread. Ron kindly gave me permission to share his findings here.

The Trinity and 1 Corinthians 15:28

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. 1 Corinthians 15:28 ESV

Non-Subordinationist Interpretations

Reformation Study Bible, ESV Version, 2015, Study Notes. Does not mean the Son is inferior in dignity and being. Rather, in his messianic work, the Son subjects himself to the will of the Father “when he delivers to the kingdom to God the Father (vs 24). The climax of Christ’s submissive, messianic work is this total conquest over his enemies. Author of Study Notes not named.

Gordon D. Fee. As in 3:22-23 and 11:3, the language of subordination of the Son to the Father is functional, referring to his “work” of redemption, not ontological, referring to his being as such. The unity of God lies behind all such language. The First Epistle to the Corinthians (New International Commentary on the NT), Eerdmans, 1987, page 760.

Anthony C. Thiselton. In the light of later formulations of a doctrine of the Trinity, in which the three persons of the Trinity are coequal in glory, some find themselves troubled by what has been called a “subordinationist” Christology here. But there are two responses:

1) First, in first century Hellenistic religions, there was often too readily an overly cozy focus on of some specific “Lord” (kyrios), which left vague ideas of the supreme, transcendent God as no more than a shadowy figure in the background. God, the Creator and Agent of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, is the ultimate source and goal of all. Neil Richardson concludes in a specialist study that 15:24 and 15:28 are in line with Paul’s theology elsewhere.

2) Second, mainline Christian theology has always distinguished between (a) “internal” relations within the Trinity of divine persons, and (b) how G0d-as-Trinity acts upon and in the world. To humankind and creation, God is God; believers relate to Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit as God. Issues about “internal” trinitarian distinctions of role do not affect the praising doxology of the created order to God through Christ in the power of the Spirit. God remains source and goal of all; God remains all in all.

1 Corinthians: A Shorter Exegetical and Pastoral Commentary, by Anthony C. Thiselton. Eerdmans, 2006, page 272.

Paul W. Marsh. The question here is one of function. Just as the incarnate Son was subject, or subordinate, to the Father to effect eternal redemption at his First Advent, and to that extent owned him as greater, so coming again the second time for the final accomplishment of that commission the same relationship continues. The task completed, the Redeemer, man’s Mediator, surrenders the kingdom to Him who sent him. Their essential equality and unity remains. The Son’s mediatorial function completed, God now reigns not through Christ, but as “immediate sovereign of the universe” (Hodge). 1 Corinthians, New International Bible Commentary (NIV), edited by F.F. Bruce, 1979.

Matthew Henry. The man, Christ Jesus, who has 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. Though the human nature must be employed in the work of our redemption, yet God was all in all in it. The Matthew Henry Study Bible (KJV), edited by A. Kenneth Abraham, 1997.

F.F. Bruce. When this subjection is completed and the last enemy destroyed, Christ has full accomplished his mediatorial ministry. …now he “delivers the kingdom to God the Father”. …His mediatorial kingship is the means for the consummation of the kingdom of God, which was inaugurated by his work on earth. The humble submissiveness to his Father’s will which characterized him then will continue to characterize him to the consummation, when “the Son himself will also be subjected” (or “will subject himself”) to “him who put all things under him”. But since the Son is the image and revelation of the Father, “Father and Son are really one in this activity” (Cullman). 1 & 2 Corinthians (The New Century Bible Commentary), by F.F. Bruce, Eerdmans, 1971.

Leon Morris. This presents a difficulty, for it appears to some that one member of one member of the Trinity is seen as inferior to another. But we must bear in mind that Paul is not speaking of the essential nature of either the Son or the Father. He is speaking of the work that Christ has accomplished and will accomplish…The climax of this whole work will come when he renders up the kingdom to him who is the source of it all. In that he became man for the accomplishment of that work, he took upon him a certain subjection that is necessarily impressed upon that work right up to and including its consummation. The First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians, Revised Edition (Tyndale NT Commentaries), by Leon Morris, 1985.

John MacArthur. From the time of his incarnation until the time when he presents the kingdom to the Father, Christ is in the role of a servant, fulfilling his divine task as assigned by his Father. But when that final work is accomplished, he will assume his former, glorious place in the perfect harmony of the Trinity…Christ will continue to reign, because his reign is eternal, but he will reign with the Father in trinitarian glory, subject to the Trinity (?) in that way eternally designed for him. 1 Corinthians (MacArthur NT Commentary), by John MacArthur, Moody Press, 1984.

Charles Hodge. The subjection here spoken of is not predicated of the eternal Logos, the second person of the Trinity, any more than the kingdom spoken of in v 24 is the dominion which belongs essentially to Christ as God. As there, the word Christ designates the Theanthropos, so here does the word Son designate not the Logos as such, but the Logos as incarnate. …so is the subjection here spoken of consistent with his eternal equality with the Father. It is not the subjection of the Son as Son, but of the Son as Theanthropos of which the apostle speaksIn one sense he is subject, in another sense he is equal. Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians, by Charles Hodge, Eerdmans, 1950.

Simon Kistemaker. Quotes Charles Hodge: “In one sense he is subject, in another sense he is equal…So the eternal Son of God may be both coequal with the Father and officially subordinate to him”. This means that in his office as redeemer and mediator Christ is subject to God the Father. New Testament Commentary: Exposition of the First Epistle to the Corinthians, by Simon Kistemaker, Baker Books, 1993.

Chrysostom. The apostle speaks in one way when he is talking about the Godhead alone and in another way when he is talking about the divine dispensation…it is clear that he is thinking of the divine dispensation of the incarnation, in which the Son has willingly subjected himself to the Father. 1-2 Corinthians (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, NT, vol 7), edited by Gerald Bray, Intervarsity Press, 1999.

Augustine. However, the rule of Catholic faith is this: when the Scriptures say of the Son that he is less than the Father, the Scriptures mean in respect of the assumption of humanity. But when the Scriptures point out that he is equal, they are understood in respect of his deity. 1-2 Corinthians (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, NT, vol 7), edited by Gerald Bray, Intervarsity Press, 1999.

John Calvin. 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. …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 veil 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 (citation missing).

Subordinationist or Other Interpretations (including those where it is not clear whether the subordination is eternal or limited to the Son’s redemptive work)

Tom Schreiner: Jesus’ unique relation to the Father is also implied in a few texts…Perhaps when using the designation “God” of the Father, Paul thinks primarily of Jesus as the human Messiah. But it also seems likely that he thinks of God’s priority in relation to the Son, particularly since, as we have noted previously, the Son is sent by the Father into the world…Further, God is Christ’s head (1 Cor 11:3), so that the Son is under his authority and rule. The Father has an authority that is greater than the Son, for the Son will “submit” to him after the kingdom is consummated, and the Son will hand the kingdom over to the Father (1 Cor 15:24,28). Thereby the Father will be “all in all”. The priority of the Father, however, does not cancel out the truth that the Son also shares divinity…Paul does not work out how this fits with monotheism, which he clearly affirms. The full theological and philosophical implications were left to the later church to work out. New Testament Theology: Magnifying God in Christ, by Thomas R. Schreiner, Baker Academic, 2008, page 323.

Tom Schreiner: The submission of Christ to the Father…Such submission (of wives to husbands) should not be construed as demeaning or as a denial of a person’s dignity or personhood, for Christ himself submits to the Father—and as the Son he did what the Father commanded, yet there is no idea that the Son lacks dignity or worth. Two Views on Women in Ministry, edited by James R. Beck, revised 2005, Zondervan, page 303.

Tom Schreiner referencing Craig Keener: Most egalitarians deny there is any sense in which the Son submits to the Father…But Craig Keener (“Is Subordination with the Trinity Really a Heresy: A Study of John 5:18 in Context, TJ 20 (1999), who is himself an egalitarian, suggests that the subordination of the Son, properly understood, is supported biblically. Two Views on Women in Ministry, edited by James R. Beck, revised 2005, Zondervan, page 303, fn.

David Garland. This is the only place in Paul’s letters where the absolute use of the title “the Son” appears (corresponds to the absolute use of God the Father in vs 24). It connotes submission to the Father. ..The title refers to the subjection of his will to God’s will and does not imply the inferiority of his person (as per Schweizer, who says “it describes a subordinate position in relation to the Father”). 1 Corinthians (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the NT, Baker, 2003, page 713)

Craig Blomberg. As representative of humanity, and doing what humans were supposed to have done but failed to do, Jesus remains ultimately subordinate to God…Although God the Son is essentially equal to the Father, he remains functionally subordinate, just as his glorified humanity keeps him distinct from what he was prior to the incarnation. 1 Corinthians, NIVAC, Zondervan, 1994, page 298.

ESV Study Bible. Jesus is one with God the Father and equal to the Father in deity, yet functionally subordinate to him (Mark 14:36, John 5:19, 26-27,30; 17:4), and this verse shows that his subjection to the Father will continue for all eternity. Study Notes on 1 Cor by Frank Thielman.

Zondervan NIV Study Bible. The subordination of the Son to the Father is not one of divinity or dignity but one of function. God the Father is supreme, not subject to anyone. Jesus the Son, fully divine, carries out the Father’s will. Study Notes on 1 Corinthians by Eckhard Schnabel.

Top 10 Posts for 2016

2016 was a very interesting year. As I compiled the following list of my top posts for the year, I reflected on the hot topics. Doug Wilson and plagiarism was again in the top 10, although a different set of books from 2015. Not surprisingly, several Trinity debate posts also made it to the top 10. I’m so thankful for all those who spoke up to defend Trinitarian orthodoxy. There is still much work to be done.

Thank you all for your support and encouragement. May God bless you all this year.

10. A Reflection and Some Lingering Concerns after the RTS Trinity Conference

This continued insistence on ESS/EFS/ERAS by Grudem and Ware worries me for both complementarianism in general and CBMW in particular. And for these reasons I was not as reassured by Ligon Duncan’s talk as I would have liked to have been. I am extremely glad to hear that both Dr. Duncan and RTS are Pro-Nicene, but that really wasn’t in doubt, was it?

9. “Rules for Thee and Not for Me”

These are merely six examples, one from each volume. Each of these examples is mostly word for word. None of these are from open sources like Wikipedia. The only difference between the Omnibus examples and the Driscoll ones is that there are more of them from the Omnibus. I’m honestly not sure why the “rules” that applied to the Driscoll plagiarism don’t apply to the Omnibus.

8. The Grand Design: A Review

In The Grand Design, Strachan and Peacock ground their understanding of the complementarity of men and women on a relationship of authority and submission in the nature of the Trinity. The result does damage to the doctrine of the Trinity, distorts the gospel, and damages the understanding of men and women and how they should interact.

7. Tim Keller, Redeemer City to City, and the Rise Campaign

Why do Keller and Redeemer want to plant churches and train leaders? To see New York City flourish:

We’re doing this for our city. Our longing is to see New York—and everyone in it—flourish. We believe the best way to serve the city is to embody the gospel in every neighborhood. The gospel doesn’t just change individual lives; it advances the common good. The increase in philanthropy, mercy, justice, racial reconciliation, integrity, and hope that occurs when more and more people live out the gospel is good for all of society, not just the body of Christ.

6. Wilson’s Influence on “Classical Christian Education”

Doug Wilson’s views on theology, history, slavery, patriarchy, marriage, sex, etc. are present in materials that many CCE schools, programs, and homeschools use. In doing my research, I focused on the six-volume Omnibus produced by Veritas Press. Veritas Press is owned by Marlin and Laurie Detweiler who were members of Wilson’s CREC denomination.

5. CBMW’s Blog Series on the Eternal Subordination of the Son

In my previous article on CBMW and the Eternal Subordination of the Son, I gave many examples of why it’s not accurate to say that CBMW is neutral in the current debate. But it is also not accurate to say that CBMW only has the one post on the Trinity. A quick search on CBMW’s website for “eternal subordination” will return a number of hits. There are several posts responding to or reviewing books by egalitarians who have written against ESS/EFS/ERAS. There is also an interesting series of posts specifically on the Eternal Subordination of the Son.

4. Wilson Responds

Let me take these one by one. First, of the almost 70 original sources cited in my post, fewer than 20 of them are from Wikipedia or other “open source” sites. When I cited Wikipedia as the source, I was careful to use the Internet Archive: Wayback Machine to verify that the Wikipedia information existed before the publication of each Omnibus volume. You can click on any of the Wikipedia links to take you to the archived page from a particular date that is older than the Omnibus publication date. So, unless time travel is an option, the Wikipedia sources predate the Omnibus volumes.

3. A Justice Primer: The Investigation

Before I published my article on the plagiarism, I presented my findings to 5 seminary and university professors. I wanted to know what they thought of the significance of what I’d found. All of them said it was plagiarism. They said that if they had done it, they would have been in trouble with their university/seminary/academic community. They also said that if one of their students had done the same the student would face disciplinary action including expulsion. Plagiarism is serious business.

2. Eternal Subordination of the Son and the ESV Study Bible

Given the recent debate over ESS/EFS/ERAS, I thought it would be worthwhile to demonstrate the influence this teaching has had in possibly unexpected places. The following are quotes from the ESV Study Bible study notes on various Bible passages. The page numbers are from the ebook version. The Scripture passages are all from the ESV translation.

  1. Plagiarism, Wilson, and the Omnibus

As these example show, the plagiarism in the Omnibus volumes is extensive and pervasive. These are only a small portion of the more than 100 instances I found.

A Bible Reading Plan and Bible Study for the New Year

For the last several years, I have been reading the Bible through each year. I’ve used several different plans, and there are elements of each that I’ve really enjoyed. But last year I wanted to do something different. I like the idea of reading each book through so that you get a good feel for the flow of the book. But I really don’t like to wait until the last third of the year to read the New Testament. I love reading the Wisdom Literature, but I think I appreciate them more in smaller portions.

So, after looking through the various Bible reading plans available, I decided to create my own. There’s a decent chance that someone has made one just like this already. If so, please let me know. I’d be glad to share it.

My plan alternates between Old Testament and New Testament books, but completes one book at a time. On the weekends, my plan has readings from the Psalms on Saturdays and a chapter from Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, or Song of Songs on Sundays.

I attempted to portion out the readings so that it wouldn’t be too much for any one day, but I may need to adjust the readings as I go through it this year. Below you’ll find a link to the pdf document with the full reading plan.

A Daughter of the Reformation Bible Reading Plan

I’m also planning to use Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Bible to supplement my reading. I’m hoping that the combination of Bible reading and Bible study will be helpful this year. I’d love to hear what your plans are for the year.

Grudem and Ware Double Down on the Eternal Subordination of the Son

Last month at the annual ETS meeting, the topic of the conference was the Trinity. Given the debate this summer over ESS/EFS/ERAS, it was an excellent topic and very timely. One of the highlights of the meeting was a panel discussion, “Submission and Subordination in the Trinity” featuring Dr. Kevin Giles, Dr. Bruce Ware, Dr. Millard Erickson, and Dr. Wayne Grudem. You can purchase the audio for these sessions here.

After listening to the sessions, I wanted to give a short summary for those who might be interested and also a few of my own reflections. There was not a lot of new material covered, but some points are worth highlighting. Of particular note is that Drs. Ware and Grudem stated that they now hold to the Nicene language of Eternal Generation of the Son.  After the summaries, I’ll explain why I’m still concerned about their commitment to Nicene orthodoxy.

Dr. Kevin Giles spoke first. His topic was “What is the Trinity Debate All About? A Reformed Confessional Perspective.” The full paper is available here. Dr. Giles is an ordained Anglican minister and has written many books on the Trinity. In his talk, Dr. Giles focused on the Nicene and Reformed doctrine of the Trinity.

He noted that the division that was made clear in this summer’s debate is between creedal/confessional evangelicals and non-creedal/confessional evangelicals. It was not between egalitarians and complementarians. He stated his belief that the doctrine of the Trinity is not about the relationship between the sexes. He went on to say that Drs. Ware and Grudem are not historically orthodox as defined by the Nicene creed.

Dr. Giles gave seven ways in which Drs. Ware and Grudem are outside the Nicene formulations in their teachings on the Trinity:

1. In the Nicene creed, the Son is called “Lord.” This is equating Him with YHWH. If the Son is Lord, then He is supreme and co-ruler. There is no difference in authority between the Son and the Father. Drs. Grudem and Ware contradict the Nicene creed in stating that the Father and Son are eternally different in authority.

2. The Nicene creed uses the term “begotten” to describe the Son. This is from the word monogenes. The creed uses the term in order to combat the Arian heresy that taught that the Son was subordinate to the Father because human sons are subordinate to their fathers. Jesus’ sonship is not like human sonship. The Father and Son are not defined by human experience. In Scriptures, the title Son of God is speaking about His kingly status, not subordination. Drs. Ware and Grudem contradict the Nicene creed by arguing that Jesus is a son like human sons therefore subordinate to the Father. Dr. Giles quotes Dr. Robert Letham:

“The Arian argument that human sons are subordinate to their fathers led to their contention that the Son is subordinate to the Father. The church rejected the conclusion as heretical and opposed the premise as mistaken. Rather, [it taught], the Son is equal with the Father in status, power and glory”. (“Eternal Generation”, in, One God, 122.)

3. In the Nicene creed, eternal generation is essential. The only difference between the Father and the Son is begetting. Drs. Ware and Grudem contradicted the Nicene creed in their denial of eternal generation. [Note: Dr. Giles spoke first in the panel discussion and so was not aware that Drs. Ware and Grudem would go on to affirm eternal generation in their talks.]

4. The Nicene formulation for the Son, “God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God,” explain that the Son is everything that the Father is, but He’s not the Father. Being “from the Father” does not make the Son inferior or subordinate to the Father in any way. Drs. Ware and Grudem use the doctrine of eternal begetting to teach the Eternal Subordination of the Son. However, Dr. Giles explained that eternal generation, instead of supporting ESS, “Son teaches the eternal co-equality of God the Father and God the Son.”

5. In the Nicene creed, the word “homoousius” is used to signify that the Son is one in being with the Father. There is only one divine will, not three wills. God is undivided, and all three persons share the same authority and glory. Drs. Grudem and Ware affirm homoousius, but divide God into the Father who rules and the Son who obeys which leads to multiple wills.

6. The Nicene creed explains that the Son is through whom all was created. The fundamental division is between the Creator and the created. The Son is co-creator with the Father. Drs. Grudem and Ware teach that the Son creates under the authority of the Father or at the direction of the Father. This is contrary to the Nicene formulation which teaches an order or taxis that differentiates but does not subordinate. There is order but not hierarchy in the Trinity.

7. The Nicene creed speaks of the incarnation of the Son. Dr. Giles referenced Phil. 2:4-11 to explain that the incarnation of the Son is “the willing and self-chosen subordination and subjection of the Son for our salvation.” The subordination and obedience of Jesus, the God-man, should not be read back into the eternal life of God. This is precisely what the writers of the Nicene creed were protecting against.

Dr. Giles concluded that ESS is not the historic teaching of the church. All of the Reformed and Post-Reformation confessions of faith exclude ESS. God is three persons equal in being and power. Dr. Giles mentioned a quote from the Second Heveltic Confession from 1566 which specifically denies any subordination:

We also condemn all heresies and heretics who teach that the Son and Holy Spirit are God in name only, and also that there is something created and subservient, or subordinate to another in the Trinity, and that there is something unequal in it, a greater or a less, something corporeal or corporeally conceived, something different with respect to character or will, something mixed or solitary, as if the Son and Holy Spirit were the affections and properties of one God the Father, as the Monarchians, Novatians, Praxeas, Patripassians, Sabellius, Paul of Samosata, Aetius, Macedonius, Anthropomorphites, Arius, and such like, have thought.

Dr. Giles also noted that the divine terms “power” and “authority” are synonyms in New Testament usage. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are equal in power and glory. This is contrary to Dr. Ware who states that the Father has the ultimate supremacy and highest glory.

Dr. Bruce Ware spoke next. His talk was on “The Nature of the Priority of the Father within the Trinity: Biblical Basis and Importance.” Dr. Ware is Professor of Christian Theology at SBTS. He has also authored a number of books including ones on the Trinity. In his talk, he focused on the Eternal Relationship of Authority and Submission (ERAS).

Dr. Ware began his talk by explaining that he now affirms the eternal generation of the Son and begottenness. He said that he gave it much thought after the debate this summer and now understands that the only way the Father is eternally Father and the Son is eternally Son is if the Father begets the Son. He said that the affirms the Nicene creed, “as I believe it was intended by the authors.” He then gave a fully Nicene definition of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in terms of begottenness and procession.

Dr. Ware went on to explain that these eternal relations of origin are what ground the functional relations within the Godhead. The names Father and Son are not true just of the economic Trinity. They are eternally functional relationships that necessarily follow from the ontological reality.

Because the Father is eternally Father he acts in a manner fitting the Father: always paternal- planning, designing, commanding, sending, purposing, willing, etc. The Son acts in was fitting as the Son: obeying, going, doing, accomplishing, working all that the Father gives Him to do. The Spirit as an agent of the Son fulfills work assigned by the Father: assisting, empowering, enlivening, acting all that the Father and Son have directed Him to do. He quoted Calvin on the distinctions of the Trinity:

“It is not fitting to suppress the distinction that we observe to be expressed in Scripture. It is this: to the Father is attributed the beginning of activity, and the fountain and wellspring of all things; to the Son, wisdom, counsel, and the ordered disposition of all things; but to the Spirit is assigned the power and efficacy of that activity….The observance of an order is not meaningless or superfluous, when the Father is thought of first, then from him the Son, and finally from both the Spirit.” (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion 1:13.18, ed. John T. McNeill, 2 vols., trans. Ford Lewis Battles (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1960), 1:142-43.)

Dr. Ware said that what we see in the economy activity of the Trinity is rooted in their ontological identities. This is carried out in the framework of authority and submission. The Father as Father expresses authority in planning, initiating, sending. The Son as Son expresses submission in embracing, responding, going. The Spirit as Spirit expresses further submissive support in empowering, assisting, completing.

Dr. Ware explained that when the early church spoke of taxis or order some saw a structure of authority and submission. Is this relationship of authority and submission merely economic and not eternal? Dr. Ware answered that it is either eternal or it is not at all. The evidence is of the Father planning, designing, sending, etc. in eternity past. What we know of the economic Trinity must reflect the ontological Trinity.

According to Dr. Ware, the Father possesses the personal property of paternal authority as expressed in the economy because in the order of subsistence He’s the Father. The Son possesses the personal property of filial submission as expressed in the economy because in the order of subsistence He’s the Son. The relationship of authority and submission is eternal because if what we see in the economy isn’t true of the immanent Trinity, then it questions the self-revelation of God.

Dr. Ware is concerned that God not be strikingly different than revealed. What God has shown us in the economy is Himself. Therefore the economy is truly immanent. Dr. Ware appealed to the divine names, Father and Son, as supporting the eternality of authority and submission. He said that the relationship of Father and Son in the Trinity is more than authority and submission, but that “at the heart of what it means for the Father to be Father and the Son to be Son is a full and joyous obedience of the Son to the Father.”

Dr. Ware concluded with an affirmation of the Eternal Relationship of Authority and Submission (ERAS). He repeated that the economic is rooted in and expressive of the eternal relationship of origin.

Dr. Millard Erickson was the third to speak. His talk was on ” Language, Logic, and Trinity: An Analysis of Recent Subordination Arguments.” Dr. Erickson is Professor of Theology at Western Seminary. He has written numerous books, several on the Trinity. His talk focused on the logical errors of the ESS arguments.

Dr. Erickson began with metaphysical issues. He asked the question: is EFS/ESS functional or ontological? He answered that if the Son is eternally and necessarily subordinate, then that is an ontological statement. Drs. Ware and Grudem have made a division between God’s attributes and the personal properties of the three persons. They would say the Son is functionally subordinate but has the full divine essence.

Dr. Erickson observed that if an attribute is necessary, it is essential and therefore inseparable from nature. Drs. Ware and Grudem teach that authority and submission are inherent in the Father and Son. According to proponents of ESS, the Father has an essential attribute (authority) that the Son doesn’t have, and the Son has an essential attribute (submission) that the Father doesn’t have.

Even the use of the term “fundamental” instead of “essence” or “essential” doesn’t change the ontological nature of the argument. If authority and submission are fundamental, then the Father and the Son are fundamentally different. Calling the differences of authority and submission “relational” confuses relationship with properties. Dr. Erickson explained that if logically ESS/EFS/ERAS implies subordination of essence and one rejects subordination of essence, then one has either to reject ESS/EFS/ERAS or prove that it isn’t bad logic. And that hasn’t been proven yet.

Next, Dr. Erickson pointed out that Drs. Grudem and Ware have made statements that EFS is essential to the differences between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, that without authority and submission there is no Father, Son, and Spirit. To say that the different roles of authority and submission are essential has a hidden premise. If different roles mean there must be differences of authority and submission, then that must be argued for or the conclusion doesn’t follow logically. It may be true, but it hasn’t been established.

After describing various logical fallacies that Drs. Ware and Grudem have used in the arguments for ESS/EFS/ERAS, Dr. Erickson moved on to exegetical examples. Drs. Ware and Grudem explain that Phil. 2:6-8 describes a new kind of obedience that the Son learned in the incarnation. But this is an insertion of meaning into the text.

Dr. Grudem explains that the word “intercede” in Heb. 7:25 and Rom. 8:24 always means to bring requests “to a higher authority.” However, other Greek lexicons don’t add the meaning of “to a higher authority.” Drs. Ware and Grudem also use passages that describe Jesus’ earthly ministry as proof of an eternal relationship of authority and submission between the Father and the Son. This assumes rather than argues the point.

Dr. Erickson explained that there is great danger in conflating the economic and immanent Trinity. There have to be differences between Jesus as incarnate God-man and the Son prior to the incarnation. For example, was Jesus capable of being tempted before the incarnation?

Dr. Erickson concluded with discussing the nature of the interpretive principle. If our interpretation is valid, it must be applicable to similar cases. For example, Dr. Grudem in arguing for ERAS says that Jesus uses the term “Father” for God, therefore, authority and submission is intended. In a parallel passage in John 20:17, Jesus states “my Father and your Father” and “my God and your God.” If calling God His Father here means an eternal relationship of authority and submission, what about “my God and your God?” Is the 1st person of the Trinity eternally the 2nd person’s God?

The last speaker for the panel was Dr. Wayne Grudem. His talk was on “Why a Denial of the Son’s Eternal Submission Threatens both the Trinity and the Bible.” The notes from his talk are available here. If you listen to the audio, there is a question and answer time with all four speakers included after Dr. Grudem’s talk. Dr. Grudem is Professor of Theology and Biblical Studies at Phoenix Seminary in Arizona and co-founder of the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. He has written many books including a best-selling systematic theology. His talk focused on why denying ESS/EFS/ERAS does damage both to our understanding of the Trinity and of the Bible.

The bulk of Dr. Grudem’s talk was a restating of his article, “Biblical Evidence for the Eternal Submission of the Son to the Father.” I have dealt more fully with that article in my post, “Does the Son Eternally Submit to the Authority of the Father?” But I will summarize the main points here.

Dr. Grudem believes that the Son is eternally in submission to the Father. He gave the following evidence. The Son submitted to the Father before the incarnation because the names Father and Son mean that there is a relationship of authority and submission. In the ancient world, fathers had authority, even over their grown sons, for all their lives. Since the original audience for Scriptures would have understood the names Father and Son to mean a relationship of authority and submission, then there must be an eternal relationship of authority and submission between God the Father and God the Son.

Dr. Grudem explained that contrary to his previous writings he now affirms the Nicene creed formulation of eternal generation or eternal begottenness. This is because, according to Dr. Grudem, eternal generation “provides the ontological basis for the eternal submission of the Son to the Father.”

Dr. Grudem also sees authority and submission prior to the incarnation in the planning, directing, initiating, choosing, and leading of the Father prior to and in the work of creation. The Father created through the Son, chose us in the Son, and sent the Son.

Dr. Grudem said that the Son continues to be in submission to the Father after the ascension. The Son intercedes for us, and as noted earlier, the extrabiblical evidence indicates that this is always from an inferior to a superior. The Son received authority from the Father to send the Spirit at Pentecost and to give the revelation to John in Revelation 1:1. The Son is seated at the right hand of the Father which is “never a position of equal authority, always secondary authority” in the ancient world. The Father delegates authority for the Son to judge the world after which, the Son will deliver the kingdom to the Father (1 Cor. 15:24-28). The Father is the ultimate authority.

Dr. Grudem summarized his points, “The Son is always subject to the authority of the Father.” That is never reversed. “Does this consistent pattern of Scripture mean nothing for our theology?” Dr. Grudem said that those who object to ESS threaten to obliterate the difference between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Next, Dr. Grudem quoted J.I. Packer, John Frame, Louis Berkhof, Carl F. Henry, and Jonathan Edwards as examples of theologians who taught the eternal subordination of the Son to the Father. All of these quotes are available in Dr. Grudem’s article, “Another Thirteen Evangelical Theologians Who Affirm the Eternal Submission of the Son to the Father” published at Reformation 21 this summer. In the talk at ETS, Dr. Grudem went on to say, “No theologian prior to modern evangelical feminism ever said eternal subordiation of the Son to the Father is unorthodox. No creed says that the Son is not eternally subject to the Father (to my knowledge.)”

Dr. Grudem then gave three clarifications. First, he explained that divine authority is not an attribute, but a property of relationship: “authority (as we understand it here) is a property of relationship, not an attribute of one’s being (an ontological attribute) (omnipotence is an attribute).” Second, there is only one divine will, but three distinct expressions of that will. Third, it’s not enough to say that the submission is eternal but not necessary. “Shall we say that God in himself is different from everything that Scripture tells us about how he acts in the world? Better to say that the economic Trinity reveals the ontological Trinity. And I think we must insist that Father and Son have eternally been Father and Son — and that those names consistently in Scripture assume a relationship in which authority belongs to the Father with respect to the Son.”

Dr. Grudem explained that opponents of ESS “undermine the doctrine of the Trinity by ‘confounding the persons’ in the Trinity.” This, he said, is contrary to the Athanasian creed. He specifically rejected the claim that every act of one person is an act of all three.

Dr. Grudem then concluded by saying that opponents of ESS undermine the authority of Scripture. They do this by failing to offer explanations for verses that seem to contradict their position and by making untruthful claims about the Scripture.

As I said at the beginning, there was not much new information covered in these talks. It was helpful and instructive to listen to them all. I will be writing more soon on some of what I learned and on the rest of my thoughts regarding what was said. But for today, I want simply to conclude with the following points that I think are most important.

First, I am glad to hear that Drs. Ware and Grudem now affirm eternal generation and eternal procession. However, by affirming it on one hand and then affirming ESS/EFS/ERAS on the other, they call into question their commitment to Nicene orthodoxy. As Dr. Giles’ talk addressed, there is more to the Nicene formulations than eternal generation. Eternal generation is not simply another way to say that God is eternally Father and Son and therefore eternally in a relationship of authority and submission.

Second, despite claims made after this summer, the terms ESS, EFS, and ERAS were used interchangeably. It does not seem that Drs. Ware and Grudem have changed fundamentally in their argument for an eternal submission of the Son to the Father.

Third, although Drs. Ware and Grudem insist that they believe that the Father and Son are equal in being, they continue to make ontological statements about the authority and submission of Father and Son. The Father “as Father” and the Son “as Son” are ontological statements. When Father means authority and Son means submission, that is making the Father and Son unequal in being.

Lastly, it is very troubling to hear Drs. Grudem and Ware attempt to separate God’s authority from His being. To make a distinction between God’s power and His authority is to separate something that no orthodox church father would have separated. God’s power, His omnipotence, includes His sovereignty, His almighty power, and His rule. 

This is expressed in Scripture in the name Almighty, which is used for both Father and Son. In the New Testament, the use of Lord as a title for Jesus expresses the same sovereignty. To deny equal authority for all three persons is to deny God’s sovereignty and omnipotence. To deny equal authority is to make the Son and the Spirit less than God or to deny that all of God is sovereign. And that is a very, very dangerous thing to deny.

So while there was some new information and it’s encouraging that Drs. Ware and Grudem have changed their minds on eternal generation, the talks indicated no fundamental change on ESS/EFS/ERAS. In fact, Drs. Ware and Grudem doubled down in their insistence on ESS/EFS/ERAS and continued to accuse those who deny ESS/EFS/ERAS of being wrong on both the Trinity and the Bible.

Answering Four Common Laymen Responses to the ESS/EFS/ERAS Debate

Brad Mason, author of guest post “Surprised by Orthodoxy: Responding to the Eternal Subordination of the Son Using the Pro-Nicene Fathers,” has written a new article and graciously allowed me to post it here. Brad is a lay member of the RCUS and a cabinet maker by trade. He’s married and has four children. In this article, Brad answers four common responses he’s heard to the ESS/EFS/ERAS debate. I’m grateful for his continued interaction with this important discussion. (All Scripture references from the ESV translation.)

 

Four Common Laymen Responses to ESS/EFS/ERAS Critics Answered
By Brad Mason

As the layman class, of which I am a member, begins to come to terms with the possibility that their Sunday School teacher may have led them astray by teaching that the Son of God has been subordinate to the Father for all eternity, recurring questions and rejoinders are nevertheless heard in small groups and church foyers across the reformed-ish world. They may have already come to terms with, for example, the multiple wills objection[1] and have become thoroughly convinced of the historical novelty of ESS/EFS/ERAS[2], even rightly concluding that the Council of Nicea and Athanasian Creed roundly contradict the teaching. But, being students of the Scripture, submitting admirably to its authority, and seeking peace within the Church of God and charity towards those who may err, I have in my experience heard the following responses to ESS/EFS/ERAS critics over and over, and have read very little direct response to these rejoinders at the popular, accessible level:

  1. “But the Father sent the Son.  This is a clear indication that the Father has greater authority than the Son.”
  2. “But the Son is not said to be ontologically subordinate, but only in a functional relation of subordination in role.”
  3. “But is this really a Gospel issue, worthy of causing division within the Church?”
  4. “But can’t we all just get back to loving each other and fostering unity?”

(Probably the other most common response would be, “But there must be some reason the Son came and submitted to the Father, and not the Father to the Son”, etc., but this has, in my opinion at least, been succinctly dealt with elsewhere at the popular level by Mark Jones.[3])

I have attempted below to deal with each of these four objections/questions in hopes that my fellow laymen in the Church might find certitude as well as a clear conscience in taking a stand against ESS/EFS/ERAS.  Of course, these answers are not exhaustive and are possibly not as persuasive as I would hope, but I pray that they may nevertheless be to the glory and honor of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, giving Him the honor He rightly deserves.

  • “But the Father sent the Son.  This is a clear indication that the Father has greater authority than the Son.”

This argument does indeed seem plausible on its face, for did not Christ say, “Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him” (John 13:16)? We see from the context of this passage that Christ is making the point that He is greater than His disciples, they being the sent ones and He the sender.  And this is perfectly in line with John 14:28, when Christ, having been sent, speaks of His coming return to the Father, “If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I”.  We ought to thus conclude that the Father is greater than the Son in all eternity, which clearly includes having greater authority than the Son, by virtue of being the sender and not the sent; and He even looked forward to returning to the greater, the Father.  It would seem this is unassailable Biblical reasoning.

But right away it needs to be noted that this argument proves too much.  Not even the most ardent ESS/EFS/ERAS defenders are willing to say that being sent proves the Son in eternity to be less than the Father and the Father greater than the Son.  They, fortunately, do intend to stay within the language of the Athanasian Creed, “And in this Trinity none is afore or after another; none is greater or less than another.”  ESS/EFS/ERAS proponents are rather arguing for an eternal functional relation of roles among the Godhead (we will discuss this claim below).  

Nevertheless, if the Bible is true, and it teaches us the sender is greater than the sent and therefore has greater authority, then why was this line to the contrary included in the great Creed of the Fathers?  How can both be true, that the Father sends the Son yet is not greater than the Son?

The answer universally[4] given by the Pro-Nicene Fathers themselves was that all passages that speak of the Father as greater than the Son are to be understood as a relation between the Father and the Son in His flesh—Christ, the God-Man.  For as the Athanasian Creed also says of the Son, He is “Equal to the Father as touching His Godhead, and inferior to the Father as touching His manhood.”  This includes even His having been sent.  Gregory Nanzianzus, for example, after proving from the Scripture the full equality of the Father and the Son, says the following to the subordinationists of his day:

But in opposition to all these, do you reckon up for me the expressions which make for your ignorant arrogance, such as My God and your God, or greater, or created, or made, or sanctified; Add, if you like, Servant (Philippians 2:7) and Obedient (Philippians 2:8) and Gave (John 1:12) and Learnt, (Hebrews 5:8) and was commanded, was sent, can do nothing of Himself, either say, or judge, or give, or will. […]To give you the explanation in one sentence. What is lofty you are to apply to the Godhead, and to that Nature in Him which is superior to sufferings and incorporeal; but all that is lowly to the composite condition of Him who for your sakes made Himself of no reputation and was Incarnate— yes, for it is no worse thing to say, was made Man, and afterwards was also exalted. The result will be that you will abandon these carnal and groveling doctrines, and learn to be more sublime, and to ascend with His Godhead, and you will not remain permanently among the things of sight, but will rise up with Him into the world of thought, and come to know which passages refer to His Nature, and which to His assumption of Human Nature.[5]

This is the principle expressed in the Athanasian Creed.  The Fathers saw clearly in their struggle with the Arians that all passages implying a greater and a lesser in the Godhead, including sending and sent, are to be accorded to Christ in His flesh, His human nature, not to that in which He is one with the Father, viz., His eternal Nature.

I think Augustine explains the relation of sender and sent among the Godhead best in his On the Trinity.  In Book 2 Ch. 5, after discussing the notion that sending proves superiority to the sent, he writes the following:

[…]perhaps our meaning will be more plainly unfolded, if we ask in what manner God sent His Son. He commanded that He should come, and He, complying with the commandment, came. Did He then request, or did He only suggest? But whichever of these it was, certainly it was done by a word, and the Word of God is the Son of God Himself. Wherefore, since the Father sent Him by a word, His being sent was the work of both the Father and His Word; therefore the same Son was sent by the Father and the Son, because the Son Himself is the Word of the Father. For who would embrace so impious an opinion as to think the Father to have uttered a word in time, in order that the eternal Son might thereby be sent and might appear in the flesh in the fullness of time? But assuredly it was in that Word of God itself which was in the beginning with God and was God, namely, in the wisdom itself of God, apart from time, at what time that wisdom must needs appear in the flesh. Therefore, since without any commencement of time, the Word was in the beginning, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God, it was in the Word itself without any time, at what time the Word was to be made flesh and dwell among us. And when this fullness of time had come, God sent His Son, made of a woman, that is, made in time, that the Incarnate Word might appear to men; while it was in that Word Himself, apart from time, at what time this was to be done; for the order of times is in the eternal wisdom of God without time. Since, then, that the Son should appear in the flesh was wrought by both the Father and the Son, it is fitly said that He who appeared in that flesh was sent, and that He who did not appear in it, sent Him; because those things which are transacted outwardly before the bodily eyes have their existence from the inward structure (apparatu) of the spiritual nature, and on that account are fitly said to be sent. Further, that form of man which He took is the person of the Son, not also of the Father; on which account the invisible Father, together with the Son, who with the Father is invisible, is said to have sent the same Son by making Him visible. But if He became visible in such way as to cease to be invisible with the Father, that is, if the substance of the invisible Word were turned by a change and transition into a visible creature, then the Son would be so understood to be sent by the Father, that He would be found to be only sent; not also, with the Father, sending. But since He so took the form of a servant, as that the unchangeable form of God remained, it is clear that that which became apparent in the Son was done by the Father and the Son not being apparent; that is, that by the invisible Father, with the invisible Son, the same Son Himself was sent so as to be visible. Why, therefore, does He say, Neither came I of myself? This, we may now say, is said according to the form of a servant, in the same way as it is said, I judge no man.[6]

Christ, as He Himself said, was indeed less than the Father, had less authority than the Father, was even servant of the Father. But not in eternity; not as the Son of God in all eternity, not as He is one in nature with the Father, but rather according to His human nature.  It is the Sent-One that says in His flesh, “the Father is greater than I” and says, “the Father who sent me…”.  The Son was always in the world, was the Creator, was always the giver of life and light of all men (John 1), long before He came unto His own, and was and is in fact the upholder of the entire universe (Heb. 1:3).  He is the very Word, Wisdom, and Power of God (1 Cor. 1:24) in all eternity.  His coming was His appearing to men in His flesh in time; His prior “sending”, not in time, was by the one will of the one God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Only in His kenosis is He the Sent-One of the Father, appearing among men as man, the great Servant of the Father and Redeemer of His enfleshed brethren.

  • “But the Son is not said to be ontologically subordinate, but only in a functional relation of subordination in role.”

Proponents of ESS/EFS/ERAS are indeed aware of and openly opposed to the Arian teaching of an ontological subordination of the Son to the Father, that is, a subordination and hierarchy within the very nature, essence, or being of God, for such a position clearly contradicts the Nicene Creed, dividing the one Nature and Will of God, calling into question the co-equality of the Persons. Rather, they locate this subordination and hierarchy of authority within relations of function or role amongst the persons of the Godhead.  This, they claim, distinguishes their position from the Arian heresy and shields them from their critics.  As Bruce Ware puts it,

[…]the Father’s authority over the Son does not indicate he is superior to the Son because 1) the Father and the Son each possesses the identically same nature and hence they are absolutely co-eternal and co-equal in nature, and 2) authority and submission describe merely the manner by which these persons relate to one another, not what is true of the nature of the Father or the Son. In other words, authority and submission are functional and hypostatic, not essential (i.e., of the divine essence) or ontological categories, and hence they cannot rightly be invoked as a basis of declaring one’s ontology (nature) greater and the other’s lesser. Ontologically, the Father and Son are fully equal, but as persons, they function in an eternal Father-Son relationship, in which the Father always acts in a way that befits who he is as Father, and Son always acts in a way that befits who he is as Son. Their Father-Son manner of relating (functioning) is seen (in part) in the authority of the Father and submission of the Son, as is evidenced by the vast array of the biblical self-revelation of the Trinitarian persons.[7]

Or as Wayne Grudem states it,

The heresy of subordinationism, which holds that the Son is inferior in being to the Father, should be clearly distinguished from the orthodox doctrine that the Son is eternally subordinate to the Father in role or function[…].[8]

But it seems clear to me (and others) that the words “function” and “role” are being used illicitly and beyond their normal meanings, to grant a veneer of plausibility to their unorthodox claims.  To begin with, “function” already implies ontology, or properties of being, nature, or essence.  Bruce Ware is absolutely correct when he states that, “function always and only follows essence. Put differently, what something can do is an expression of what it is”[9].  That is part of the very definition of “function”!  And the use of “role” fares no better when squared with the body of ESS/EFS/ERAS teaching, for a role is by definition not a necessary relation, nor an eternally fixed relation; a role could have been otherwise and can always become otherwise.  If one is in an eternal, necessary, counterfactual-excluding relation, then one is simply not in a relation of role.

But in the end, regardless of the terms used, ESS/EFS/ERAS is indeed about ontology and ontological subordination.  “Ontology” is the study of fundamental being, nature, essence; it has to do with what makes something what it is, including what it must be to be what it is and what it cannot be and still be what it is.  This is not the whole of the discipline of ontology, but it is essential to the meaning of “ontological.”  When we speak ontologically of God, we are speaking of His very being, nature, and essence—those things which are fundamental to who He is and without which He is not who He is.  Despite the reliance on “function” and “role” throughout the ESS/EFS/ERAS literature, a simple ordering of the logic of their arguments quickly peels away the veneer of plausibility:

(1)  God is ontologically Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, or He is not who He is:

“[…]if all three members of the Trinity are equally and fully divine, then they have all three existed for all eternity, and God has eternally existed as a Trinity (cf. also John 17:5, 24). Moreover, God cannot be other than he is, for he is unchanging (see chapter 11 above). Therefore it seems right to conclude that God necessarily exists as a Trinity—he cannot be other than he is.” (Grudem[10])

(2) There are no distinctions amongst the persons of the Godhead except in relations:

“[…]it may be said that there are no differences in deity, attributes, or essential nature between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Each person is fully God and has all the attributes of God. The only distinctions between the members of the Trinity are in the ways they relate to each other and to the creation. In those relationships they carry out roles that are appropriate to each person.” (Grudem[11])

“There is no difference in attributes at all. The only difference between them is the way they relate to each other and to the creation.” (Grudem[12])

(3) In eternity, the fundamental relational distinction between the Persons of the Trinity is their internal relations of subordination.

“The heresy of subordinationism, which holds that the Son is inferior in being to the Father, should be clearly distinguished from the orthodox doctrine that the Son is eternally subordinate to the Father in role or function: without this truth, we would lose the doctrine of the Trinity, for we would not have any eternal personal distinctions between the Father and the Son, and they would not eternally be Father and Son.” (Grudem[13])

“Authority and submission between the Father and the Son, and between both Father and Son and the Holy Spirit, is the fundamental difference between the persons of the Trinity.” (Grudem[14])

“[…]support will be offered for the church’s long-standing commitment to the Trinitarian persons’ full equality of essence and differentiation of persons, the latter of which includes and entails the eternal functional subordination of the Son to the Father, and of the Spirit to both Father and Son.” (Ware[15])

(4) Or, that the Father is “Father” and the Son “Son” entails that, and is entailed by, the submission of the latter to the former and the authority of the former over the latter:

“[…]what does it mean that the Father is the eternal Father of the Son, and that the Son is the eternal Son of the Father? Is not the Father-Son relationship within the immanent Trinity indicative of some eternal relationship of authority within the Trinity itself?” (Ware[16])

“Clearly, a central part of the notion of “Father” is that of fatherly authority.” (Ware[17])

“Authority belongs to the Father not because he is wiser or because He is a more skillful leader, but just because he is the Father.” (Grudem[18])

“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.” (Grudem[19])

(5) Therefore God is not Father, Son, and Holy Ghost unless there is an order of subordination within the Godhead:

“If we do not have ontological equality, not all the persons are fully God. But if we do not have economic subordination[…]then there is no inherent difference in the way the three persons relate to one another, and consequently we do not have the three distinct persons existing as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit for all eternity. For example, if the Son is not eternally subordinate to the Father in role, then the Father is not eternally “Father” and the Son is not eternally “Son.” This would mean that the Trinity has not eternally existed.” (Grudem[20])

And by (1) we must conclude that God is not who He is without an eternal order of subordination!  That, my friends, is an ontological statement—an ontological subordination—and it absolutely contradicts the Nicene formula.  If the claims of, and arguments for ESS/EFS/ERAS are to be accepted, we must admit that the subordination of the Son to the Father is no more a functional role than is His eternity, omnipotence, or immutability, for it would be ontologically definitive of His being, nature, and essence.

  • “But is this really a Gospel issue, worthy of causing division within the Church?”

The doctrine of the Trinity is rightly understood by laymen to be a profound mystery; certainly, we cannot comprehend the doctrine fully within our human minds any more than we can comprehend God Himself in His fullness.  So, many conclude, we cannot get bogged down in such minutiae as this, mostly lying beyond our ken anyhow, but must rather stick to core and understandable Gospel truths, such as the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.  But what, I ask in response, is the import and profundity revealed in the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ?  Is it not that the GOD, Jehovah Himself, became man and thus in His full Godhead and full humanity, has reconciled fallen and corrupt man to the true, perfect, and eternal God; that full and complete God with all majesty and authority has met together with true humanity in the Person of Jesus Christ? Is not the Gospel itself sapped of its inaccessible majesty and glory if the death and resurrection of our Lord were really the death and resurrection of humanity united with an eternally subordinate God, an eternally submissive God, a lower ranking person within the Godhead; in short, a sort of Jehovah Jr.?

If we carefully attend to how the truth of God as Triune has been revealed in the pages of Scripture, we can plainly see that the Gospel is itself the revelation of the Trinity and that Trinity contains the truth of the Gospel.  As T.F. Torrance opens his THE Christian Doctrine of God,

THE Christian doctrine of God is to be understood from within the unique, definitive and final self-revelation of God in Jesus Christ his only begotten Son, that is, from within the self-revelation of God as God become man for us and our salvation, in accordance with its proclamation in the Gospel and its actualisation through the Holy Spirit in the apostolic foundation of the Church. It is in the Lord Jesus, the very Word and Mind of God incarnate in our humanity, that the eternal God ‘defines’ and identifies himself for us as he really is.[21]

It is in the redemptive history, recorded in the narratives of the Scripture, especially the Gospel records and the Book of Acts, that we see the Triunity of the One God displayed.  B.B. Warfield fleshes this notion out well in the article, “The Biblical Doctrine of the Trinity”[22].  He first discusses how God in the Old Testament is carefully and relentlessly revealed as the One and only God—true unity.  Though God is eternally three in one, He nevertheless taught His people to take up the confession, “the Lord our God is one Lord” as the inviolable representation of His being. There were indeed indications of His personal distinctions throughout the Old Testament revelation, but more as furniture in a dark room, dimly seen, and not fully comprehended or revealed until the lights are turned on.

The New Testament letters, on the other hand, seem to assume throughout not only the oneness of God but that the Father is God, the Son is God, and that the Holy Spirit is God, though we find no discourse or chapters and verse where this Trinity in Unity is spelled out discursively or philosophically.  It rather easily flows from the lips and pens of the New Testament authors with no apologies nor sense that the reader should be surprised by the truths; it is a revelation presupposed at the basis of their discourse.

So where and when was this great doctrine of the Triunity of God revealed?  In the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, God made flesh, and in the outpouring of the Holy Ghost, promised by the Son and given at Pentecost.

We cannot speak of the doctrine of the Trinity, therefore, if we study exactness of speech, as revealed in the New Testament, any more than we can speak of it as revealed in the Old Testament. The Old Testament was written before its revelation; the New Testament after it. The revelation itself was made not in word but in deed. It was made in the incarnation of God the Son, and the outpouring of God the Holy Spirit. The relation of the two Testaments to this revelation is in the one case that of preparation for it, and in the other that of product of it. The revelation itself is embodied just in Christ and the Holy Spirit. This is as much as to say that the revelation of the Trinity was incidental to, and the inevitable effect of, the accomplishment of redemption. It was in the coming of the Son of God in the likeness of sinful flesh to offer Himself a sacrifice for sin; and in the coming of the Holy Spirit to convict the world of sin, of righteousness and of judgment, that the Trinity of Persons in the Unity of the Godhead was once for all revealed to men. Those who knew God the Father, who loved them and gave His own Son to die for them; and the Lord Jesus Christ, who loved them and delivered Himself up an offering and sacrifice for them; and the Spirit of Grace, who loved them and dwelt within them a power not themselves, making for righteousness, knew the Triune God and could not think or speak of God otherwise than as triune. The doctrine of the Trinity, in other words, is simply the modification wrought in the conception of the one only God by His complete revelation of Himself in the redemptive process. It necessarily waited, therefore, upon the completion of the redemptive process for its revelation, and its revelation, as necessarily, lay complete in the redemptive process.[23]

God has revealed Himself as Trinity in Unity and Unity in Trinity in His great redemptive work in time and in space!  It was the actualization of the Love of God in History, the Gospel itself, that God reveals Himself as He truly is and always was, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. The Gospel is the revelation of the one true God as Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, and the revelation of this Triunity is coextensive with the Gospel.

This fact having been admitted, who is this God we meet with in Jesus Christ?  The eternally subordinate and submissive One?  Blasphemous! No, He is the true God indeed, that the saints of old had always known and worshipped, though the full revelation awaited His coming in the flesh.  That is, in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ it is Jehovah Himself that is united in perfect personal union with the Human Nature of His fleshy creatures. This is the grandeur of the Gospel message.  When we read of Christ’s full divinity in the New Testament, we are not confronted with a subordinate person of the Godhead or one of lower rank. On the contrary, we read, “Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM’” (John 8:58). He is, in fact, the I Am that I Am who called Abraham and He who came to and saved the people of Israel from the tyranny of Pharaoh.  He is the God characterized uniquely by His aseity, dependent on nothing and no one, having the source and continuance of His Being in His own Being.  Throughout the New Testament, ascriptions given to God alone in the Old Testament are quoted over and over and applied to Christ.

And thus we see the grandeur of the Gospel Message in the nearly impossible-to-comprehend condescension of the true God taking up the Servant role, taking upon Himself flesh and humbling Himself in obedience.  The Apostle Paul, calling Christians to likewise give up their rights and natural estates, writes the following:

Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. (Phil. 2:3-8)

This is the profound greatness and revealed mystery of the Gospel, that one equal with God, one with God, and Himself the true God, voluntarily condescended, taking on the form of a servant through corruptible flesh, and became obedient, though it was not and is not His natural estate.  The Gospel message is not and cannot be that an eternally subordinate and submissive being became subordinate and submissive.  When God and man meet together in the Lord Jesus Christ, by union through the Holy Ghost, man meets with Him of Whom it was said in Psalm 45:6 (Heb. 1:8), “Thy throne, O God, is forever and ever; a scepter of uprightness is the scepter of Thy kingdom”, and He of Whom it was said,

Yours, O LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O LORD, and you are exalted as head above all. Both riches and honor come from you, and you rule over all. In your hand are power and might, and in your hand it is to make great and to give strength to all. And now we thank you, our God, and praise your glorious name. (1 Chron. 29:11-13)

We must, to uphold the truth and majesty of the Gospel itself, confess with clarity that the mission of Christ was to become submissive—a role contrary to and not a simple corollary of His eternal Nature.  In a word, submission was the mission, not the cause of the mission.

  • “But can’t we all just get back to loving each other and fostering unity?”

Indeed, we can and we must. But surely it is agreed that our Doctrine of God is the very heart of our Christian ethics, and therefore the truth or falsity of the ESS/EFS/ERAS position, impinging as it does on the ontological Nature of God and the very Gospel message itself, must have a bearing on our calling to love each other and foster unity.  And it most certainly does, for the example of Christ looms large in the Biblical authors’ framing of Christian ethics throughout the New Testament.  I will briefly explore just two of the many ramifications of this below.

First, take for example the Philippians passage noted above (in its wider context):

Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.

Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. (Phil. 2:1-8)

The clear point of this passage is that just as Christ, who was true God, with all the glory and majesty of God rightfully His, nevertheless gave it all up on behalf of His people, even to the point of obedience to a cursed and shameful death, so in like manner must we not regard our own supposed natural estates, looking to our own interests, but have the same mind of Christ, condescending to each other and treating others as more important than ourselves.  But what becomes of this call to Christ-likeness in unified love and lowliness of mind when we collapse the intended vast disparity between Christ in His eternal Majesty and Christ in His voluntary Servant form by claiming that Christ was always subordinate, submissive, and obedient?  Is the intended reading of the passage really, “Let this mind be in you which also was in Christ Jesus, who having always and eternally been a subordinate Person of God by nature, nevertheless set aside this natural estate of obedience and submission in order to become obedient and submissive”? Would we not, with ESS/EFS/ERAS assumptions, empty Paul’s argument of its intended power? This passage and others like it are at the heart of Christian ethics and are the principle and exemplar upon which we as Christians build our unity in love.  We see a similar argument in Romans:

We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.” (Rom. 15:1-3)

Again, the strong have to take up the burden of the weak, just as Christ, the infinitely strong, sought nevertheless not to please Himself but serve others.  Also, we see, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9).

To be clear, the principle of Christ-likeness in fostering love and unity among the people of God is powerfully enjoined upon us by the example of the One who is eternal God with all Power and Authority, submitting to no one, subject of no one, nevertheless breaching time and eternity to become submissive and obedient, contrary to His eternal Nature and rightful claim, all out of His infinite, condescending, love for His Creation.  We must do likewise.  ESS/EFS/ERAS renders this teaching impotent.

Next, and with the most notable ramifications, ESS/EFS/ERAS turns the principle of Christian rule and authority on its head.  1 Corinthians 11:3 has become one of the supposed foundational proof texts for the subordination of the Son to the Father, and from it is born, in their theology, an analogy of human authority and submission, specifically between husband and wife.  We have, e.g., from Grudem,

[…]in the relationship between man and woman in marriage we see also a picture of the relationship between the Father and Son in the Trinity. Paul says, “But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a woman is her husband, and the head of Christ is God” (1 Cor. 11:3). Here, just as the Father has authority over the Son in the Trinity, so the husband has authority over the wife in marriage. The husband’s role is parallel to that of God the Father and the wife’s role is parallel to that of God the Son. Moreover, just as Father and Son are equal in deity and importance and personhood, so the husband and wife are equal in humanity and importance and personhood. And, although it is not explicitly mentioned in Scripture, the gift of children within marriage, coming from both the father and the mother, and subject to the authority of both father and mother, is analogous to the relationship of the Holy Spirit to the Father and Son in the Trinity.[24]

Leaving aside the tortured interpretation and utter ahistorical nature of this reading of 1 Corinthians 11[25], we see that Grudem and nearly all ESS/EFS/ERAS proponents see in the passage an analogy: just as the Father and the Son are co-equal, yet the Son is eternally subordinate, so husband and wife are co-equal, yet the latter is subordinate to the former. Rather than unravel the whole of Grudem’s misreading here, for our present purposes I wish only to point out that there is, in fact, no analogy present in this passage! Paul does not say “as,” “just as,” “so as,” “in like manner,” or anything similar, even though Grudem attempts to supply them.  Further, if the ESS/EFS/ERAS analogical reading were accepted, it would prove much more than they intend, for the passage runs that God is the Head of Christ, Christ is the Head of man, and man the head of woman. If man being the head of woman is analogous to God being the Head of Christ, then the middle term, Christ is the head of man, is also part of the analogy. Thus, if the purpose of the passage were to teach that just as Father/Son are co-equal, then man/woman are co-equal, then we must also conclude that the middle term shows that God and man are co-equal—an absurd and unacceptable conclusion.

But Paul does give an analogy of the husband and wife relationship elsewhere in his writings,

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband. (Eph. 5:22-33)

Here, when Paul does actually give an analogy of the husband-wife relationship, he is explicit with “as to,” “even as,” “so also,” “as,” and the like.  But most important to our point here, we must note that when an analogy is given it is between husband and wife and Christ and His Church.  And how is this headship of Christ characterized in Ephesians 5?  In self-sacrificial love and service, as to the care of one’s very own body.  This is tremendously important, for in ESS/EFS/ERAS readings of 1 Corinthians 11, we have the exact opposite!  If we allow an analogy in 1 Corinthians 11:3, we see that the suffering Servant role of Christ toward God is the role of the wife to her husband.  That is, on their fallacious reading, the wife’s coequality is realized in her self-sacrificial servant role under the headship of her husband.  On the contrary, in Ephesians 5 we see the husband bearing the self-sacrificial role of loving service on behalf of his wife.  In the ESS/EFS/ERAS analogical reading of 1 Corinthians 11, headship implies rule over the self-sacrificing servant wife; in Ephesians 5, where an actual and explicit analogy is present, headship implies self-sacrificing service on behalf of the wife.

The principle of rule and authority that ought to govern all relationships within the Church is found in the following:

But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matt. 20:25-28)

In seeking to put 1 Corinthians 11 in service of ESS/EFS/ERAS claims, contrary to the near entire history of interpretation of the passage, proponents have turned Biblical headship on its head.  This should not simply be seen as collateral damage, but itself an impediment “to getting back to loving each other and fostering unity.”

_____________________________________________________________________________________________

[1] E.g., Glenn Butner, “Eternal Functional Subordination and the Problem of the Divine Will” (http://www.etsjets.org/files/JETS-PDFs/58/58-1/JETS_58-1_131-49_Butner.pdf); Mark Jones, “Eternal Subordination of Wills? Nein!” (https://newcitytimes.com/news/story/eternal-subordination-of-wills-nein)

[2] See Brad Mason, “Surprised by Orthodoxy: Responding to the Eternal Subordination of the Son Using the Pro-Nicene Fathers” (https://adaughterofthereformation.wordpress.com/2016/09/14/surprised-by-orthodoxy-responding-to-the-eternal-subordination-of-the-son-using-the-pro-nicene-fathers/)

[3] “Why did the Son become incarnate? Because he submitted?” (http://www.alliancenet.org/mos/1517/why-did-the-son-become-incarnate-because-he-submitted#.WA6bH-grKhc)

[4] See “Surprised by Orthodoxy”, the entirety of section 5.

[5] Oration 29.18 (http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/310229.htm)

[6] http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/130102.htm

[7] “Knowing the Self-Revealed God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” (https://secundumscripturas.com/2016/07/04/knowing-the-self-revealed-god-who-is-father-son-and-holy-spirit/)

[8] Systematic Theology, Ch. 14.C.2.b (https://www.biblicaltraining.org/library/trinity-wayne-grudem)

[9] Biblical Foundations for Manhood and Womanhood, p. 76 (http://www.waynegrudem.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/Biblical-Foundations-for-Manhood-and-Womanhood.pdf)

[10] Systematic Theology, Ch. 14.B.6

[11] ibid., Ch. 14.D.3

[12] ibid., Ch. 14.D.3

[13] ibid., Ch. 14.C.2.b

[14] Biblical Foundations for Manhood and Womanhood, p. 51

[15] ibid., pp. 234-235

[16] ibid., p. 242

[17] ibid., p. 245

[18] ibid., p. 51

[19] “Biblical Evidence for the Eternal Submission of the Son to the Father” (http://www.waynegrudem.com/biblical-evidence-for-the-eternal-submission-of-the-son-to-the-father-2012/)

[20] Systematic Theology, Ch. 14.D.3

[21] Introduction

[22] https://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/sdg/warfield/warfield_trinity.html

[23] ibid.

[24] Systematic Theology, Ch. 14.E

[25] see for example Augustine, Ambrose, Chrysostom, and Calvin on 1 Cor. 11:3 in, “Surprised by Orthodoxy”, 5.a., 5.e., 5.g., and 5.n (linked above), as well as John Gill here: http://biblehub.com/commentaries/gill/1_corinthians/11.htm

A Reflection and Some Lingering Concerns after the RTS Trinity Conference

After writing up my summary yesterday of the four talks at the recent Trinity conference at RTS Houston, I wanted to take some time to share my thoughts on the conference. On the whole, I found the talks extremely helpful. They were scholarly but still accessible for the average person in the pew. I was pleased to see many women and children in attendance. It makes me glad to see others interested in theology.

I came away from the conference with a stronger appreciation for those who have gone before us and fought for orthodoxy. I gained a greater understanding of the history and Trinitarian language used this summer in the debate. That was a great help. I also came away with a better understanding of why it matters. The Trinity is not a minor issue. This debate isn’t quibbling over silly things. What we believe about God will have an impact on all of our theology and life. I appreciated the speakers addressing the practical and pastoral aspects of the debate.

As far as the history goes, the talks at the conference gave me some insight on how to apply the lessons of the past to today’s debate. Here are some of my insights.

The tone police who have complained about the recent discussions would be horrified by how rough the 4th Century debates were. Having read letters from other church conflicts, I can add that this is true throughout history. We have very little sense of history when it comes to debate. Some issues are very serious, and sometimes it takes pointed words.

It’s not enough to claim that we’re following Scripture. It was pointed out a couple of times this weekend that Arius and the other heretics were claiming Scriptural support for their arguments. Scott Swain said that the short path to heresy isn’t denying Scripture, it’s affirming only part of what the Bible teaches. I believe that this is true of the debates today as well.

Dr. Haykin spoke of the Arian heresy as an overcorrection in response to modalism. Just as the Arians were so concerned about modalism that they went into heresy in a different way, I believe the current ESS/EFS/ERAS proponents have overreacted to concerns over feminism and egalitarianism. While there may be valid concerns, the answer is not in undermining the doctrine of the Trinity.

It was interesting to note that Athanasius, the Westminster Standards, and even the CBMW Statement of Faith affirm that each of persons of the Godhead possess all of the divine attributes. The question that came to mind when I realized this was whether or not the ESS/EFS/ERAS proponents would agree that God’s authority is a divine attribute.

In the 4th Century, there was much debate over the role and deity of the Holy Spirit. I think this is key today too. In much of today’s evangelical culture the Holy Spirit is treated as an “also ran” or afterthought. In the ESS/EFS/ERAS debate, the Holy Spirit has been described as the child of the union of the Father and the Son. Some evangelicals treat the Spirit as an impersonal force. Many seem to think His work is unnecessary in this “everything is grace, there are no rules for behavior”culture. We need to recover an understanding of the full deity and work of the Spirit.

I was amused by some of the historical accounts of orthodox church fathers who were deemed suspicious because of their allies. Modalists were also against Arianism, and some orthodox fathers were called modalists because of their friendships and their work against Arianism. Today, many of those on the Pro-Nicene side of the Trinity debate have been accused of being egalitarians or feminists. It’s true that there are egalitarians and feminists who have opposed ESS/EFS/ERAS. I am appreciative of their work in this regard. But, the fact that we agree on our opposition to ESS/EFS/ERAS doesn’t mean we agree about everything.

In the recent debate, proponents of ESS/EFS/ERAS balked at being equated with Arians. As many of us pointed out, Arianism was just one of many forms of subordinationism. But, it is worth noting that many of the same passages of Scripture are being used now as then to support their ideas. For example, Grudem uses John 14:28, “the Father is greater than I” as one of many verses in support of ESS/EFS/ERAS. The Arians used it too. The orthodox answer then, and now, is the same. Dr. Haykin pointed out that the orthodox understanding of the verses that speak this way is that they are speaking of Christ’s humanity. This is one of many examples of how a good understanding and appreciation of church history can be of great help.

It was noted a couple of times at the conference that scholarly debate and face to face meetings are to be preferred over online articles and discussions. While it’s certainly true that the church fathers got together to discuss at councils and other meetings. They also wrote many letters, tracts, papers, and books addressing specific heresies and those who promoted them by name. The names of these works are often “Against  so-and-so.” I’m thankful that these were written and that the discussions were recorded for posterity sake. It is a very good thing that these are available to us today.

Several times at the conference, the speakers emphasized the importance and Scriptural veracity of the Nicene formulations. For a very long time, the Nicene Creed has been considered a baseline for orthodox faith. However, affirming it means more than just agreeing to the words. We must also agree with the Pro-Nicene fathers as to what the words mean.

The annual ETS meeting is going on right now in San Antonio. Drs. Ware and Grudem spoke yesterday. Both now say that they affirm the language of the Nicene Creed regarding eternal generation. They also continue to affirm the necessity of believing ESS/EFS/ERAS. I was wondering how they could hold to both the Nicene and ESS/EFS/ERAS, but I found an answer in something Grudem wrote in the debates this summer:

I am happy to affirm both the full deity of the Son and that the Son is eternally “begotten of the Father before all worlds,” provided that “begotten of the Father” is understood to refer to an eternal Father-Son relationship in the Trinity that includes no superiority or inferiority of being or essence. Up to that point, I think all sides agree. But what kind of eternal Father-Son relationship is this? That is the point of difference. Bruce Ware and Owen Strachan and I have understood it in terms of the eternal authority of the Father and the eternal submission of the Son within their relationship.

So, they agree with eternal generation as long as it fits their definition of the Eternal Relationship of Authority and Submission in the Trinity. We’re clearly not saying the same things then. There are two fundamental differences.

First, we differ in our understanding of what is meant by the divine naming. Historically, the orthodox explanation has been that the names Father and Son mean that God the Father and God the Son have the same nature. Everything the Father has, the Son has, except being the Father. The distinction between the persons of the Trinity is limited to begetting, proceeding, and being begotten, not authority and submission.

In contrast, Grudem and Ware insist that the names Father and Son mean that there exists an inherent authority in being the Father and inherent submission in being the Son. This makes passages like, John 14:9, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father,” make little sense.

Second, as noted earlier all persons of the Godhead have all the attributes of God and this list usually includes power and glory. But this seems to be another difference between orthodoxy and ESS/EFS/ERAS. Is God’s authority (power) an attribute or not? Orthodox teaching says yes. Grudem and Ware say no. At ETS yesterday, Grudem said that authority is not a divine attribute, it’s a relationship. In Ware’s book, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, he claims that the Father has supreme glory as well as authority:

God the Father receives the ultimate and supreme glory, for the Father sent the Son to accomplish redemption in his humiliation, and the Father exalted the Son over all creation; in all these things, the Father stands supreme over all – including supreme over his very Son. … It is the Father, then, who is supreme in the Godhead – in the triune relationships of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – and supreme over all the very creation over which the Son rules as its Lord. (quoted in Who’s Tampering with the Trinity, Millard Erickson, pg. 233)

These are serious differences indeed. Until Ware and Grudem affirm the substance of the Nicene formulations, including full equality of power and glory, then they will continue to be outside the Nicene orthodoxy.

This continued insistence on ESS/EFS/ERAS by Grudem and Ware worries me for both complementarianism in general and CBMW in particular. And for these reasons I was not as reassured by Ligon Duncan’s talk as I would have liked to have been. I am extremely glad to hear that both Dr. Duncan and RTS are Pro-Nicene, but that really wasn’t in doubt, was it?

Grudem and Ware made clear yesterday at ETS that they are not backing down and they are continuing to say that to deny ESS/EFS/ERAS is to threaten the Trinity. These are strong words. I believe that equally strong words are needed in response. Clarity is also needed, which brings me to my concerns about Ligon Duncan’s talk.

Despite what Dr. Duncan said in his first point, the proponents of ESS/EFS/ERAS are indeed teaching ontological submission. If the Father is in authority by nature of being the Father, and the Son is in submission by nature of being the Son, that is an ontological argument. The Son submits because He’s the Son. There’s no way around this.

In his first point, Dr. Duncan gave several questions that were raised by the summer’s debate, but he did not answer the questions. They are important ones, and I would have liked to hear what he believes to be the answer to them. He did give a partial answer regarding whether or not ESS/EFS/ERAS is heresy. He quoted Liam Goligher as having called for proponents to quit or be deposed. While many accused Liam of having said this, it’s not what he said. Here’s what he actually said:

To speculate, suggest, or say, as some do, that there are three minds, three wills, and three powers with the Godhead is to move beyond orthodoxy (into neo-tritheism) and to verge on idolatry (since it posits a different God). It should certainly exclude such people from holding office in the church of God

Dr. Duncan said that the Trinity debate began with Liam’s two posts on Mortification of Spin in June and that the debate has been within the complementarian camp. While it’s true that Liam’s posts kicked off a particularly intense debate, many people have been challenging ESS/EFS/ERAS for years. There are both Pro-Nicene and ESS/EFS/ERAS complementarians in the current debate, but there were also many egalitarians involved as well. The Trinity is not just a complementarian issue.

Dr. Duncan also said that CBMW was mostly unaware of ESS/EFS/ERAS at least at an official level. It may well be true that he was personally unaware, but from what I’ve demonstrated before, ESS/EFS/ERAS has been taught from the beginning of CBMW. In fact, it seems to be foundational to CBMW’s version of complementarianism. And while I appreciate the theological diversity within CBMW, the Trinity is not something we can agree to disagree over. It’s much more than mode of baptism or even the 5 points of Calvinism. Should a statement of faith be more inclusive than the Nicene Creed? In the Nicene formulation too narrow? These are important questions that have not really been answered.

I was surprised by Dr. Duncan’s assertion that the Westminster Confession of Faith is minimalist regarding the doctrine of the Trinity. It’s true that the Confession doesn’t say everything that could be said, but it is a theologically rich statement. Here are some excerpts:

On God:

There is but one only,[1] living, and true God,[2] who is infinite in being and perfection,[3] a most pure spirit,[4] invisible,[5] without body, parts,[6] or passions;[7] immutable,[8] immense,[9] eternal,[10] incomprehensible,[11] almighty,[12] most wise,[13] most holy,[14] most free,[15] most absolute;[16] working all things according to the counsel of His own immutable and most righteous will,[17] for His own glory;[18] most loving,[19] gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin;[20] the rewarder of them that diligently seek Him;[21] and withal, most just, and terrible in His judgments,[22] hating all sin,[23] and who will by no means clear the guilty.[24] (WCF 2.1)

On creation:

It pleased God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,[1] for the manifestation of the glory of His eternal power, wisdom, and goodness,[2] in the beginning, to create, or make of nothing, the world, and all things therein whether visible or invisible, in the space of six days; and all very good.[3] (WCF, 4.1)

On Christ:

The Son of God, the second person of the Trinity, being very and eternal God, of one substance and equal with the Father, did, when the fullness of time was come, take upon Him man’s nature,[10] with all the essential properties, and common infirmities thereof, yet without sin;[11] being conceived by the power of the Holy Ghost, in the womb of the virgin Mary, of her substance.[12] So that two whole, perfect, and distinct natures, the Godhead and the manhood, were inseparably joined together in one person, without conversion, composition, or confusion.[13] Which person is very God, and very man, yet one Christ, the only Mediator between God and man.[14] (WCF 8.2)

Christ, in the work of mediation, acts according to both natures, by each nature doing that which is proper to itself;[37] yet, by reason of the unity of the person, that which is proper to one nature is sometimes in Scripture attributed to the person denominated by the other nature.[38] (WCF 8.7)

That last paragraph would help to answer the question of how Christ is said to submit to the Father. This is just a small portion of the Confession. There is a wealth of information there.

Dr. Duncan said that discussions like this one on the Trinity are best addressed in serious venues such as conferences and journals. I appreciate so much that RTS Houston held the Trinity conference this weekend and that I was able to attend. There certainly needs to be much work done at the academic level to combat the very widespread teaching of ESS/EFS/ERAS. I am thankful for those scholars and theologians who are doing this work.

But because ESS/EFS/ERAS is so widespread and particularly because it is so prevalent in popular level books and Bible studies, it must be addressed more broadly. The orthodox response needs to have the same reach as the heterodox teaching. This teaching is not merely academic or esoteric. This teaching has very real and very practical implications on the men, women, and children in our churches.

Even the PCA’s women’s leadership training material has contained ESS/EFS/ERAS teaching. I am very grateful to hear that  this is being addressed. For many people, conferences and journal articles are not accessible. If the average person hasn’t been taught about why ESS/EFS/ERAS is wrong, they will continue to be influenced by it. As long as the proponents of ESS/EFS/ERAS continue to teach it, we must continue to respond to it.

Again I am very thankful for Dr. Duncan’s reassurance regarding RTS and himself. I never doubted that they are Pro-Nicene. I have no doubts as to their orthodoxy or to their commitment to orthodoxy. I simply think there are questions that need to be answered regarding the connection between CBMW, complementarianism, and ESS/EFS/ERAS. I had hoped those questions would be answered, but I was disappointed.

A reader left a comment on my last article. He/she took issue with saying that complementarianism is not compromised by being Pro-Nicene. He/she said:

Wrong question. Has the complementarian movement been thoroughly compromised by ESS/EFS?

I think that is a very valid question, and one worth addressing. After the conference, I was left with one main question:

What’s more essential, being complementarian or being inside Nicene orthodoxy?

Confessing the Triune God: Retrieving Nicene Faith for Today’s Church- RTS Houston

This weekend, my husband and I had the pleasure of attending RTS Houston’s conference on the Trinity: Confessing the Triune God: Retrieving Nicene Faith for Today’s ChurchHere’s a brief description of the conference:

The recent “Trinity debate” reveals much confusion surrounding what is undoubtedly the most important and the most glorious of Christian doctrines. It also signals the need to retrieve the doctrine of the triune God as confessed by Fathers of the church on the basis of Holy Scripture in the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed of A.D. 381. Join Drs. Ligon Duncan, Michael Haykin, Blair Smith, and Scott Swain as they seek to mine the riches of the Nicene Faith for the renewal of today’s church. Speakers and topics include:

Dr. Michael A. G. Haykin | Biblical Exegesis in Fourth-Century Trinitarian Debates

Rev. D. Blair Smith | Trinitarian Relations in the Fourth Century

Dr. Scott R. Swain | “God from God, Light from Light”: Retrieving the Doctrine of Eternal Generation

Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III | The Doctrine of the Trinity and Complementarianism in Recent Discussions

We were told that the sessions were recorded and would be available soon on RTS’s website. I haven’t seen a link yet, but when I do, I’ll update it here. The talks are also being published as papers in the RTS Journal in the March 2017 edition. I highly recommend watching or reading these when they are available. The talks were very informative. For today, I thought I’d give a short summary of the talks. In the next post, I’ll give a brief reflection on the conference.

Dr. Michael A. G. Haykin | Biblical Exegesis in Fourth-Century Trinitarian Debates

The first talk, by Dr. Michael Haykin, was on Biblical Exegesis in Fourth-Century Trinitarian Debates. Dr. Haykin is Professor of Church History and Biblical Spirituality at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. While focused primarily on the fight to affirm the deity of the Holy Spirit, his talk was a helpful summary of the various 4th-Century councils and the extended debates that resulted from them. Dr. Haykin did hand out a copy of his paper, so I will be using some quotes with page numbers.

Dr. Haykin began by explaining that the doctrine of the Trinity is a gift for us from the early church fathers. We owe them a debt of gratitude. The doctrine of the Trinity is thoroughly Biblical, and it’s extremely important for us today. Dr. Haykin pointed out that our understanding of the Trinity is going to be crucial in interacting with Islam.

By the time of the Council of Nicea, the early church had dealt with and was still dealing with a number of heresies. One was modalism or the idea that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three masks that the one God uses in His interactions with humanity. Tertullian responded to this heresy by explaining that Genesis 1:26 is an example of God the Father speaking with God the Son and God the Spirit. According to Tertullian, God must be one substance, one being, but also three persons. From Tertullian, we get this language of the Trinity.

Another heresy that the early church faced was Arianism or subordinationism. This heresy taught that the Son was both created and ontologically (by nature) subordinate to the Father. Arius used verses like John 14:28, “my Father is greater than I,” to argue that the Son “did not share all of the attributes of the Father” (Haykin, pg 5). Interestingly, Arius and his followers were attempting to address the heresy of modalism, but they went too far. Dr. Haykin noted that in theological controversy it’s best to avoid knee-jerk reactions.

Dr. Haykin went on to give a very helpful, detailed explanation of the long battle against Arianism. The next Trinitarian debate was over the deity of the Holy Spirit. Basil of Caesarea was instrumental in this. For Basil, Matthew 28:19 was key. Dr. Haykin pointed out that we are baptized in the (singular) name of the Father, Son, and Spirit. This “implies faith in the three persons of the Godhead and also determines doxological ultimacy – the Father along with the Son and the Holy Spirit are to receive equal honour and worship” (Haykin, pg. 12).

Ultimately, the Council of Constantinople in 381 added the statement on the Holy Spirit as proceeding from the Father and worthy of worship and glory with the Father and the Son. Dr. Haykin concluded by that the Nicene Creed, post 381, “must be viewed as a norma normata (‘a rule that is ruled’) it is a rule that faithfully reflects the biblical view of God and, as such, it stands as one of the great landmarks of Christian theology” (Haykin, pg. 16). As Dr. Haykin explained, the creed is not infallible, but we tamper with it to our detriment.

Rev. D. Blair Smith | Trinitarian Relations in the Fourth Century

The second talk was Trinitarian Relations in the Fourth Century by Rev. D. Blair Smith. Rev. Smith is Assistant Professor of Systematic Theology at RTS-Charlotte. Building on Dr. Haykin’s talk on the history of 4th-Century Trinitarian debates, Rev. Smith discussed three specific developments in understanding the Trinity: the correlativity of names, eternal generation, and a fully Trinitarian vision.

Athanasius developed the concept of correlativity of the names Father and Son. For the Father to be eternally Father, there must also be an eternal Son. The names carry the meanings with them. The Son can’t be created, because that would mean there was a time before the Father became a father. Athanasius also looked at the divine titles: Word, Wisdom, Power, and Image. Each of these was used to describe the Son. These divine titles indicate a shared nature or ontology between the Father and the Son. Everything that is said about the Father, except being Father, is said about the Son.

Hilary of Poitiers helped developed the teaching of the eternal generation of the Son. Hilary wrote of the Father as the giver in an eternal “birth” or nativitas and of the Son as the receiver. The Father gives all that He is in His nature and there is nothing lacking in what the Son receives. In this giving and receiving, there is an order or taxis that speaks of a priority of the Father as the giver or source. This priority does not place the Father in a higher position, though, because the order is balanced by divine unity and inseparable operations.

Rev. Smith’s last point continued on from Dr. Haykin’s discussion on Basil of Caesarea and his development of a fully Trinitarian vision. Basil helped to expand the debate on the Trinity to include the Holy Spirit. Basil explained that the Spirit is uniquely named in Scripture and has a kinship with the Father and the Son. Therefore, it is right to worship the Spirit.

Basil defined the Spirit as proceeding from the Father, as “breath from His mouth.” This proceeding mirrors the begetting of the Son, both ineffable and yet true. Rev. Smith spoke about the logic of the kinship in the Trinity. There is a communion where each person of the Trinity receives glory. This glory travels along the lines of order from the Father to the Son to the Spirit, but also back from the Spirit to the Son to the Father. In this way, it is not a unilateral dependence, but a rhythmic reciprocity in the Trinity.  This balance is a mystery that is hard to understand and explain, but Rev. Smith concluded by saying that the Nicene honors what Scripture teaches about the nature and acts of the Father, Son, and Spirit.

Dr. Scott R. Swain | “God from God, Light from Light”: Retrieving the Doctrine of Eternal Generation

The third talk was by Dr. Scott Swain on “God from God, Light from Light”: Retrieving the Doctrine of Eternal Generation. Dr. Swain is Professor of Systematic Theology and Academic Dean at RTS- Orlando. Dr. Swain answered four questions regarding eternal generation.

The first question was “What is Eternal Generation?” Dr. Swain answered that eternal generation describes the Son’s “eternal relationship of origin from the Father.” The Son is from God the Father but in a way that is different from everything else that we say is “from God.” The Son is without beginning or end.

The second question was “What happened?” Why has interest in the doctrine of eternal generation waned in recent years? Dr. Swain noted that much of the lost of interest comes from attempts to give a simple explanation of the Trinity. He traced the root of this to an early 1900s article written by B.B. Warfield. In his article on the Trinity for the International Standard BIble Encyclopedia, Warfield summarized the Trinity with three points: there is one God, Father/Son/Holy Spirit are each God, and Father/Son/and Holy Spirit are each distinct persons. Warfield then said that this was a complete doctrine of the Trinity.

Dr. Swain noted that in contrast to Warfield’s article, the Westminster Standards explain how the three persons are distinct using the language of begotten and proceeding. Warfield’s definition left out both eternal generation and eternal procession. Unfortunately, systematic theologies of the late 20th-Century summarize the Trinity using Warfield’s limited three points. This includes Grudem’s best selling systematic theology, which Dr. Swain did not mention by name.

Dr. Swain explained that the vacuum caused by leaving out eternal generation and eternal procession was filled with the language of authority and submission. This gave us Eternal Subordination of the Son, Eternal Functional Subordination, and Eternal Relationship of Authority and Submission. Dr. Swain noted that the irony was that Warfield was trying to avoid suggesting authority and submission in the Godhead.

The third question was “Why believe eternal generation?” Dr. Swain explained that eternal generation is rooted in “Biblical patterns of divine naming.” This has two parts. First, the New Testament attributes God’s names and works to Christ, therefore the Son is the one true God. Second, there is a relational pattern of divine naming in Scripture. The Son is called begotten.

Dr. Swain pointed out that even if one doesn’t want to translate “monogenes” as “only begotten,” there are many Scriptural proofs for eternal generation. Hebrews 1:5, Proverbs 8:22-24, Micah 5:2, Hebrews 1:3, Colossians 1:15, and John 1:1 all speak of the Son as existing from eternity with God, equal with the Father. The emphasis in these passages is the relational origin of the Son in the Father. Christ is the radiance of the Father, the image of the Father, the Word from the Father.

Even if one doesn’t like the language of eternal generation, Dr. Swain said, one has to affirm the concepts as Scriptural. The Nicene formulation is simply repeating Scriptural concepts.

The fourth question was “Why does eternal generation matter?” The answer is both practical and pastoral. Eternal generation establishes the distinction between the Father and the Son and preserves equality within the Godhead. The Son (and Spirit) are equal in power and glory with the Father (WLC Ques. 9).

This equality of power and glory is lost when eternal generation is replaced by an eternal relationship of authority and submission. Proponents of ESS/EFS/ERAS can affirm that the Father and the Son have the same substance, but they can’t confirm that they are equal in power and glory. Dr. Swain quoted from one ESS proponent who claims that the Father has supreme glory in the Trinity.

Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III | The Doctrine of the Trinity and Complementarianism in Recent Discussions

The last talk was by Dr. Ligon Duncan on “The Doctrine of the Trinity and Complementarianism in Recent Discussions.” Dr. Duncan is Chancellor of RTS and Professor of Systematic and Historical Theology. He is also a senior fellow and board member of the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. He gave nine points related to the recent Trinitarian debate.

Dr. Duncan first gave a background to the recent debate regarding complementarianism and the Trinity. He referenced Liam Goligher’s posts on Mortification of Spin as the start of the debate. He emphasized that the debate is primarily between complementarians. He gave the meaning of the various ESS/EFS/ERAS acronyms and explained that while some might consider it debatable, EFS is not arguing for ontological subordination.

Dr. Duncan then listed several questions that were brought up in the debate. He did not attempt to answer them at this point. The questions included: Is EFS/ERAS taught in Scripture? Is it heretical? (He did give a side note here to say that Liam Goligher called for proponents to quit or to be deposed in his 2nd article.) Does EFS/ERAS entail multiple wills? Does it deny eternal generation?

Dr. Duncan’s second point was that complementarianism relies on Scripture and does not require a “reformulation of the Trinity” as in EFS. His third point was whether or not there is a coming war between Pro-Nicene and EFS complementarians. He explained that CBMW met and voted unanimously that to be a complementarian you need only affirm the Danvers’ Statement. He appealed to the wide theological diversity present in CBMW since it’s foundation.

The next point was a discussion of CBMW’s statement of faith. Dr. Duncan said that the statement of faith is orthodox and minimal regarding what it says about the Trinity. The statement does not mention EFS:  “We believe there is one true God, eternally existing in three persons as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, each of whom possesses all of the attributes of deity and divine personality.” This he said is close to the Westminster Larger Catechism’s wording.

Dr. Duncan’s fifth point was that classical protestant confessions don’t affirm EFS, but are minimalist about what they affirm on the doctrine of the Trinity. He said that  WCF 2.3 is the “only statement on the Trinity in the WCF.” He went on to say that all protestant confessions are equally minimalist regarding the Trinity.

Next, Dr. Duncan explained that this creedal minimalism left room for 20th-Century evangelicalism/biblicism to question Trinitarian language such as: simplicity, impassibility, foreknowledge, eternal generation, and eternality. He said that the Westminster divines assumed an inheritance from the church fathers and reformers and weren’t writing at a time when these issues were being addressed. They didn’t anticipate this current debate.

Dr. Duncan went on to say that the debate was part of a greater tradition of biblicism vs. retrieval. He said there has been an emphasis on non-speculation in modern times and that younger theologians are more interested in theological retrieval and drawing on church history. They have a different attitude towards historical theological formulations.

The eighth point was that the tone of the debate has been lacking. He said he’s thankful for the discussion, but that it’s better addressed in serious venues like conferences and journals.

The last point was a reassurance that RTS and Dr. Duncan are both complementarian and Pro-Nicene. He concluded by saying that complementarianism is not compromised by being Pro-Nicene.

 

Again, I am very grateful to have been able to attend and thankful for my sweet husband for coming along with me. I learned a good deal. In my next post, I plan to give my thoughts on the conference.

Restricting Women to the “Pink Passages”

Recently there have been several articles about Jen Hatmaker’s new support for same-sex marriage, but there was one article in particular that caught my eye. Timothy Hammons, an ordained teaching elder in the PCA (currently without call), wrote a piece, using Hatmaker as an example, on why no women should be teaching the Bible:

Here is the bigger problem: women like Hatmaker, Sarah Young, Ann Voskamp, and Beth Moore have have no business teaching the Bible. I include Sarah Young, who wrote Jesus Calling, and Ann Voskamp, who wrote One Thousand Gifts, in this category of heretical women of the faith as well. I wrote about the error of those two here. These women are having a huge impact with the women of the church, yet they are not trained theologically, they are certainly not called by God, and they answer to no one except themselves, doing what is right in their own eyes, when it comes to leading the women of the church. They are not in submission to the elders of the church, and in their success, have silenced many who might object.

Many would agree with him regarding these particular women who are noted for teaching false doctrine. However, Timothy expands his prohibition to include all women:

What I mean by this is that if the men of the church, especially elders, were serious about our calling as elders and husbands, we would address these issues and provide good solid teaching for our wives. Instead we leave it up to the women to teach the women. No, I don’t believe that the passage in Titus 2:3-5 is instructing the older women to teach the younger women the word of God. … We see no mention of older women teaching the younger women the word of God. …

The role of women in the church is quite clear to those who will actually look at what Scripture says. There is no call for women to be leading large masses of women in Bible studies, or at conferences, or any other such notion. According to the passage in Titus, and the way God created women, they are to be at home serving their husbands.

Let me briefly summarize the rest of his article. After that, I’ll go through point by point and respond.

  • Jen Hatmaker is a false teacher.
  • No woman should teach, not even other women
  • Women should learn from men, particularly elders and husbands
  • Women should be at home serving their husbands
  • Women are delicate, frail, and prone to deception
  • Having a husband read the Bible daily to his wife should be sufficient biblical instruction for women

First, I absolutely agree that Jen Hatmaker and the other women listed above are false teachers. No question about it. Believers should avoid their teaching. Pastors and elders should address their errors and warn their congregations. There is not nearly enough concern over what is taught to women. Aimee Byrd has addressed this in several posts, including this one on Hatmaker and Lifeway.

Interestingly, Timothy’s arguments against Hatmaker, et al, that “they are not trained theologically, they are certainly not called by God, and they answer to no one except themselves, doing what is right in their own eyes” fit many male false teachers too. A notable example is Doug Wilson. who Timothy shows respect for in other posts. So, if the argument was simply that we should avoid false teachers, I would be in complete agreement.

But that’s not where Timothy stops. Timothy believes that women should not teach at all. Now, to be clear, I believe that the ordained offices of the church (pastor, elder, etc) should be restricted to qualified men. I also believe that husbands are called to be spiritual leaders of their homes and that wives are called to submit to their own husbands. But that is not the point that Timothy is making. He says that women should not teach, not even other women.

Timothy does not address whether or not women should be allowed to teach children. From a comment he answers on his blog, it’s not clear. He seems to suggest that the biblical Timothy, who learned from his mother and grandmother, is not a general guideline about women teaching children, but an exception which is allowed because Timothy didn’t have a godly father.

Timothy says that Titus 2 does not mention women teaching other women the Bible. He believes that the teaching mentioned in Titus 2 is limited to loving husbands and children. This is not a common interpretation of the passage. Both John Calvin and Matthew Henry, who lived well before the modern complementarian/egalitarian debates, define the teaching in Titus 2 in a much broader sense. But even if we conceded that Titus 2 was particularly addressing home and family relationships, is this the only passage of Scripture to consider?

Hannah Anderson, in her book Made for More, talks about limiting women to the “pink” passages of the Bible:

Too often as women, we have restricted ourselves to the “pink” parts of the Bible. … And we forget that these “pink passages” were never intended to be sufficient by themselves. (105)

All of the passages addressed to believers are meant for both men AND women. Specific passages to husbands, fathers, pastors, etc. may not apply particularly to women, but the majority of the biblical guidelines for living as believers applies both to men and women. So let’s consider some of them.

The great commission in Matthew 28 is a command for all believers to spread the gospel. Women are not exempt from this:

Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. (Matt 28:19-20 NASB)

In 1 Thessalonians, Paul tells the believers (brethren) to encourage and admonish each other:

We urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with everyone. (1Thess 5:14 NASB)

In Colossians, Paul says believers should teach and admonish one another. This would also include women:

Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. (Col. 3:16 NASB)

To proclaim the gospel, to make disciples, to teach them all things, to encourage and admonish one another, all of these are what believers, men and women, are called to do.  And the Scriptures give us examples of women doing these things.

In Acts, we read of husband and wife, Aquila and Priscilla, taking Apollo aside to teach him correct doctrine:

and he [Apollo] began to speak out boldly in the synagogue. But when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately. (Acts 18:26 NASB)

Also in Acts, we read of Phillip’s daughters who were prophetesses:

On the next day we left and came to Caesarea, and entering the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, we stayed with him. Now this man had four virgin daughters who were prophetesses. (Acts 21:9 NASB)

In Luke, we’re told of Anna, the prophetess who recognized Jesus as the Savior. She “continued to speak of Him to all those who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.” Isn’t she an example of how we are to proclaim the good news and share it with others?

And there was a prophetess, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years and had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple, serving night and day with fastings and prayers. At that very moment she came up and began giving thanks to God, and continued to speak of Him to all those who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem. (Luke 2:36-38 NASB)

Next, Timothy writes that women should only learn from men, specifically elders and husbands. He uses 1 Cor. 14: 35 to support his argument. “If they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is improper for a woman to speak in church” (NASB). However, this passage is more about order and decency in public worship than it is about women learning only from their husbands. If Timothy’s point was that women shouldn’t be pastors or elders preaching in church, this passage would be a reasonable one to use. To make this passage into a prescription for women to learn only from men is a stretch.

What about women without husbands or women whose husbands are not believers? How are they to learn? Timothy answers this question posed by a reader on his blog. He says that deacons and elders should take single women and widows into their families so they can be taught by men.

As Christians from the Reformed tradition, we should be very resistant to any attempts to put mediators between believers and Christ. All believers, even women, have direct access to God through Christ and need no other mediator. We are a priesthood of believers, both men and women. We are all called to take person responsibility for our faith and for the exercise of it. We are all called to read the Scriptures and to pray on our own. Yes, women should discuss Scriptures with their husbands, but that doesn’t mean they should ONLY discuss it with their husbands. In a community of believers, where the passages on encouraging and admonishing fellow believers are followed, women are going to discuss their faith with other women. And that’s a good thing.

Yes, women should discuss Scriptures with their husbands, but that doesn’t mean they should ONLY discuss it with their husbands. In a community of believers, where the passages on encouraging and admonishing fellow believers are followed, women are going to discuss their faith with other women. And that’s a good thing.

In our society, with the use of social media and interactions beyond our local church families, it may well be that women will have these discussions through blogs, books, and even conferences.

Timothy also writes that the role of women in the church is “to be at home serving their husbands.” This is a seriously limited view of women. Setting aside the obvious problem of applying that role to single women and widows, Timothy’s prescription for women in the church does not fit with the examples of biblical women we’re given in Scripture. Lydia, Dorcas, Priscilla, Anna, Huldah, and Deborah are described as doing much more than serving their husbands at home. The Proverbs 31 woman is busy both inside and out of her home.

Now, I’m not saying that wives should NOT serve their husbands at home. Taking care of our families is an important part of who we are as wives and mothers. We should honor that. But just as men are more than their careers, women are more than their familial responsibilities. We are believers and fellow heirs. We may well be called to serve God in additional ways. Taking care of our families can include discipling others as part of the family of God.

Timothy goes on to appeal to the frail and delicate nature of women as the reason why men should step in and teach their wives. He quotes from 1 Peter 3:

You husbands in the same way, live with your wives in an understanding way, as with someone weaker, since she is a woman; and show her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers will not be hindered. (1 Peter 3:7 NASB)

It’s certainly true that women are often physically weaker than men, in general. Our bodies are often smaller and due to the nature of childbearing, vulnerable. Men are told to treat women with honor as fellow heirs. It’s a reminder that men aren’t to use their greater strength and power to harm or mistreat women. But that’s not the kind of weakness Timothy is talking about.

Timothy writes that women are more prone to deception than men. Quoting from 1 Timothy:

And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression. (1Tim 2:14 NASB)

Yes, Eve was deceived. And Paul uses both that and the creation order to explain his prohibition on women teaching with authority over men. But Paul does not say that women, in general, are more prone to deception. The passage also doesn’t say that therefore women should not teach other women. That is Timothy’s interpretation of the passage.

There are weak women who are easily deceived. Paul talks about them in 2 Timothy 3:6. But notice that Paul describes them as “weak” women. If all women were more prone to deception, there would be no need for the modifier. Given the many passages warning believers, both men and women, to be careful of being deceived, it seems clear that deception is something we all need to guard against.

Lastly, Timothy believes that women don’t need much in the way of biblical instruction:

As for the women in the church, you need to quit looking for star-studded satisfaction in your biblical instruction. If your husband reads the Bible to you daily, that is enough. The word of God is sufficient for you in that category.

Yes, the Word of God is sufficient for all believers. But like the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8, at times we all will need someone to guide us through the Word. We should look to our pastors and elders to teach us in the local church setting. No celebrity, male or female, should take the place of our local church, the preaching of the Word, or the private reading of the Word. But would we tell men that reading the Bible every day is sufficient biblical instruction for them?

Many men and women have a desire to think about and discuss theology. That’s a good thing, and we should encourage it. As I mentioned before in our modern society, that may include writing articles, books, speaking at and attending conferences. Many believers may write publicly to encourage and admonish others, just as Timothy is doing on his own blog.

To conclude, I think it’s absolutely imperative that we guard against false teachers. For too long, many pastors and elders have turned a blind eye especially to what is being taught to the women in the church. This needs to change. It’s vitally important that men AND women be taught sound doctrine. Pastors should be encouraged to preach sound doctrine. Husbands should be encouraged to study the Word with their wives.

But, we should be careful not to set up extrabiblical hedges. In our defense of qualified men as ordained leaders and husbands as spiritual leaders in the home, we should not restrict women to the “pink passages” in Scripture. Nor should we set up men as mediators between women and God. Christ is sufficient, for men and women.