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.

 

 

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.

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.

The Grand Design: A Review

Continuing some research I’ve been doing, I recently read a new book, The Grand Design: Male and Female He Made Them, by Owen Strachan and Gavin Peacock. I didn’t read the book intending to review it. However, given the recent debate over the Trinity, I decided it was a good example of why this debate is so important. All of our beliefs and doctrines are interconnected, and necessarily so. What we believe about the Trinity will influence other aspects of our theology, and that is clearly illustrated in this book.

The book blurb on Amazon describes The Grand Design:

The world has gone gray-fuzzy, blurry, gender-neutral gray. In a secularist culture, many people today are confused about what it means to be a man or a woman. Even the church struggles to understand the meaning of manhood and womanhood. In The Grand Design, Owen Strachan and Gavin Peacock clear away the confusion and open up the Scriptures. They show that the gospel frees us to behold the unity and distinctiveness of the sexes. In Christ, we have a script for our lives. Doxology, we discover, is in the details.

The authors are Owen Strachan and Gavin Peacock. Owen Strachan is Associate Professor of Christian Theology, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, President of the Center for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW), and son-in-law to Bruce Ware. Gavin Peacock is a former professional soccer player, Pastor of Calgary Grace Church and Director of International Outreach for CBMW.

This last month there has been an important debate going on over the Trinity and specifically over the nature and roles of the persons of the Trinity. On one side of the debate there are those who hold to the Eternal Subordination of the Son (ESS), also called Eternal Functional Subordination (EFS) or Eternal Relationship of Authority and Submission (ERAS). These would include Bruce Ware, Wayne Grudem, Owen Strachan, Gavin Peacock, and others.

On the other side of the debate are those who hold to the formulations found in the Nicene and Athanasian Creeds. These would include Carl Trueman, Aimee Byrd, Todd Pruitt, Liam Goligher, and many others. There have been many articles written the last two weeks. There is a helpful list at Bring the Books if you would like to read up on the topic.  I’ve written before about ESS and why I think it’s wrong: here and here.

At the heart of the debate is whether it’s correct and appropriate to speak of the relationship between God the Father and God the Son as one of eternal authority and submission. While orthodox theologians have traditionally taught that there is equality in the nature of the persons of the Godhead, they have also taught that there is a voluntary submission of the Son to the Father in the Son’s role as Mediator. This is the distinction between the ontological (the nature of who God is) and the economic (the roles each person plays in the work of creation, salvation, etc.).

Those who teach ESS/EFS/ERAS believe that authority/submission is an eternal aspect of the very nature of God. This is a departure from the historical, orthodox formulations of the Trinity as explained in the Nicene and Athanasian Creeds and Westminster Confession of Faith.

This is important because what we believe and teach about the Trinity is foundational to our faith and understanding of the gospel. But it is also important because of the applications being made from this foundation. Hannah Anderson and Wendy Alsup explain in their article, “The Eternal Subordination of the Son (and Women),” that authority/submission in the Trinity is being used to ground authority/submission of men and women.

This is where The Grand Design comes in. 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.

In The Grand Design, Strachan and Peacock teach that God the Son is by nature subordinate to God the Father:

The Son does the Father’s will: “I do exactly as the Father commanded Me,” Christ said in John 14:31. He submitted himself to the Father’s will (John 6:38). This posture of submission to fatherly authority did not begin the day Jesus came to earth. The Father is the authority of Christ, and always has been. The Son joyfully carries out the plan of his Father. The persons of the Godhead are not impersonal, with only titles to differentiate them. They are living persons, and their own love has structure and form. The Father as Father has authority; the Son as Son obeys his Father. (71, emphasis mine)

And

The Father is the Father because he sends the Son. The Son is the Son because he submits to the Father’s will. The Spirit is the Spirit because the Father and the Son send him. There is no Holy Trinity without the order of authority and submission. (89, emphasis mine)

This is dangerous because if the Son is by nature subordinate to the Father then He is not equal to Him, and if the Son is not fully divine, we’re all lost.

Having explained the authority/submission structure that they believe is inherent in the Godhead, Strachan and Peacock move on to apply this structure to men and women. The purpose is to be able to say that women are equal in value to men but also subordinate to them.

Just as there is equality of value but difference in authority and role in the Trinity, so it is with husband and wife. (71)

And,

Husbands are called to exercise leadership over their wives patterned after Trinitarian order (God the Father’s authority over the Son): God –> Christ –> Husband –> Wife (1 Cor. 11:3). A husband also exercises this headship due to creation order: the woman was made from the man (1 Cor. 11:8-9), thus giving the man primacy of leadership in the Garden as he names her “woman” and “Eve” (Gen. 2:23; 3:30).( 91)

In both of these quotes, the book mentions husbands/wives, not men/women, but as I’ll demonstrate later, Strachan and Peacock expand these ideas to encompass all men and women. Now to be clear, I believe that husbands are called to sacrificial, servant leadership of their wives and that wives are called to submit to their husbands. I also believe that ordained leadership of churches should be male.

The difference between what I believe and what this book teaches is one of essence versus relationship. It’s one thing to teach that a wife should submit to her husband. It’s another thing to teach that men are by nature leaders, and women are by nature submissive to male leadership. When you teach that women are by nature submissive to men, it has a profound effect on how you view men and women and how you expect men and women to behave.

According to The Grand Design, men were created to be:

Leaders

Men are called to be leaders by very virtue of the fact that they are created male. This is not a competency issue. It is an issue of God’s design. (46)

Providers

Men were made to work and physically provide. A lazy man who is not alert does not deserve to eat (2 Thess. 3:10), and those in his care will suffer. And he who stays home and watches the children while his wife goes out to work is not fulfilling his manly mandate. It doesn’t matter if she has more earning power; it’s about God’s design for manhood. There may be a season where a wife must step in to help, or a man may have disabilities that preclude him from certain labour. For men in general, however, the inclination to provide should be there. The biblical man’s job is physical provision. (50)

Protectors

Biblical manhood protects women, loving them through gracious leadership. Instead of taking from women as unsaved men do, godly men provide for women in appropriate ways, with the apex of this duty coming in marital provision (1 Tim. 5:8). (45)

Women were created to be:

Submissive

As we have seen, however, biblical submission is beautiful. It is a central feature of biblical womanhood. It is vital to understand that a woman’s role as a helper, her reverent attitude and her submissive response are tied together in God’s sovereign purposes from creation (as we’ve seen) but also in redemption. (82)

Respectful

Women are called to a posture of deep respect. (79)

Quiet and Gentle

Wives, for example, know that they are uniquely called to have a “gentle and quiet spirit,” a spirit that takes special expression in a marriage (1 Pet. 3:4). This teaching certainly applies most directly to married women, but we cannot miss the fact that any woman training her daughter in a godly way—knowing that marriage could be in her future—would teach her to develop by the Spirit’s power such a posture. We cannot think that it is only when a woman gets married that she seeks to exhibit such godliness. (146)

Helpers

What specifically was the woman created for? She was a “helper fit for him” (Gen. 2:18, 20). This was the unique role given by God to Eve. Adam was not created as a helper for Eve (Gen. 2:18-22 cf. 1 Cor.11:9-11). As noted in Chapter One, God created male and female equally in his image. He made Adam first but it was not good for him to be alone (Gen. 2:18). He needed someone to help him to complete the commission to be fruitful and multiply and rule over creation (Gen.1: 28). The woman was to help him do this by producing children with him and filling the earth with the presence of God’s image bearers. She was the man’s second in command. So Eve functions as Adam’s helper by virtue of creation. (65)

Life-givers

For their part, women are life-givers. Women give physical life to humanity, a task so great and so significant it cannot be quantified. God has highly esteemed women by making the survival of the human race hang on their care and nurture. There is immense fulfillment and meaning for women in this truth.( 69)

Again, I do not disagree that in the economy of marriage husbands are called to lead, provide, and protect. I also agree that in the economy of marriage wives are called to submit to their husbands’ leadership, to be helpers for their husbands, and to be life-givers, if the Lord sends children. However, I do not believe that it is Biblical to use these marriage roles to define the nature of men and women. If you doubt that this is what Strachan and Peacock are doing, please consider these quotes.

Whether a man is single or married, this biblical vision for manhood stands. (44)

And,

Manhood and womanhood are not limited to the home and church because they are not states you can switch off when you step into in a secular world. (113)

And,

Christian women have a far higher goal than that which our world sets for them: to glorify God as a woman. This involves being a helper—first in the context of marriage, and then as a principle to apply in her broader life. (76)

And,

In the bigger and everlasting family (household) of the church we all relate to each other as brothers and sisters meaning that gender-specific behavior is relevant. When we train men and women in same-sex settings, we help them understand better the very nature of manhood and womanhood. We call men to lead like Christ and we call women to respect and trust like the purified church (Eph. 5:22-33). (111)

The problem with teaching that the roles of husband and wife are actually the nature of men and women is that it stereotypes men and women, and it is contrary to Biblical examples of what men and women should be. The Biblical picture of men and women is much fuller and much harder to reduce to bullet points.

Deborah was a leader. Lois and Eunice lead Timothy to the faith. Ruth provided for Naomi. Believing women are told to provide for the widows in their families (1 Timothy 5). The Hebrew midwives, Jochebed, Miriam, Pharoah’s daughter, and Zipporah all protected Moses.

All believers all called to submit to God, to our church leaders, to civil authority, and to each other. Believers are also called to respect their church leaders and all those to whom respect is owed (1 Thess. 5:12, Romans 13:7). Psalm 131:2 encourages us all to have a calm and quiet soul. The Lord describes himself as “gentle” using the same word as the 1 Peter 3 passage (Matt. 11:29), and gentleness (same root word) is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:23). God describes Himself as our helper in many places. Appropriately fathers are also considered life-givers (Prov. 23:22). It does take two to bring life into this world.

Because Strachan and Peacock believe that the authority/submission structure is inherent in the Trinity and in men and women, authority and submission become the lens through which they understand Scripture. This shows up in their understanding of the Fall:

Adam should have protected his wife, rebuked the serpent, and exercised his God-given dominion over a beast that creeps on the ground. He was given this powerful role in Genesis 1. But he does no such thing. He hides instead of leading and protecting his wife. As a result, the beast takes dominion of mankind, and then Eve leads Adam. The order of creation instituted by God is reversed, and the man and woman sin against the Lord, and death enters the world.( 34-35)

And,

He abdicated his responsibility to lead his wife when the serpent usurped the created order by approaching her first and not Adam. The roles reversed. She bit, he was passive, they both fell, creation was fractured, and relational crisis ensued. (43)

It also distorts the application of the Bible to believers. Verses that are clearly for all believers are applied to either men or women depending on how it fits their paradigm. It’s the Procrustean bed of theology: what doesn’t fit, gets chopped.

His words in 1 Corinthians 16:13-14 apply to all believers, to be sure, but they have special significance for men, who are called to lead God’s people, and thus are called to lead in exhibiting the five traits we explore below. (47-48)

And,

Even as he calls all believers to maturity, Paul recognises that there is a specific way that a man should act, with manly bravery. (54)

And,

A reverent woman is not assertive, loud and obnoxious. She is appropriate, meek, modest, and self controlled, bringing honor to God, not attention to herself. (77)

Because they believe the characteristics of authority and submission are part of the very nature of men and women, Strachan and Peacock don’t restrict their understanding of the complementarity of men and women to the church and the home. They believe that there are certain jobs in the workforce that a woman shouldn’t do because she’s a woman.

Christian womanhood should have meaning in the workplace as well as the home and church. This means you express your femininity in all of life in all relationships. So young women should think carefully about what kind of job they might be working towards. Will it demand a masculine, directive aggression that goes against the grain of femininity? A woman’s challenge is to avoid a thin, quasi-womanhood, which doesn’t embrace the fullness of her feminine vocation and presents what Elisabeth Elliot calls a “pseudo-personhood.” … Surely, there are ambiguities on the matter of women in the workplace. I would suggest, though, that there are certain jobs which would at some point stretch biblical femininity to such an extent that they would be untenable for her (or reversely a man). An army sergeant for instance—barking orders and directing men or a female referee in a football match. (74)

They also believe the length of our hair is important:

Women and men should grow their hair different lengths, according to the Apostle Paul. “Long hair,” he teaches, “is a disgrace” for men but the “glory” of a woman (1 Cor. 11:14-15). The man and woman united in marriage must not look the same or blur their roles in marriage. The man was not created for the woman, but the woman for the man (1 Cor. 11:9). (123)

And they give descriptions of what it means to them to be masculine and feminine that have more to do with Western, middle-class cultural constructs than Biblical teaching.

We want our boys to pursue strength, to look adults in the eye when they talk, to shake hands with a firm grip, to welcome physical challenges, to take responsibility in the home, to wear clothes that are not feminine, to play games that are masculine, to jump to their feet when a woman needs assistance and offer it discreetly and courageously, and to appropriately and within reason pursue personal appearance and behavior that is not feminine. We do not want boys to talk to girls like they are are “bros,” to embrace other boys as if they are their wives, to be snarky and passive aggressive in their humor, and to shirk from responsibility and leadership. (138)

And,

We want our girls to pursue femininity, to develop a sense of social grace and decorum, to avoid being catty or enticing in their demeanor, to welcome opportunities to develop domes tic skills, to wear clothes that are not masculine but are modestly feminine, to welcome physical exertion but avoid manly com petition, and to appropriately and within reason pursue personal appearance and behavior that is not masculine. We do not want girls to treat boys like they are “girlfriends,” to look to boys for meaning and self-worth, to be aggressive in their approach, and to shirk from a uniquely feminine manner. (138-139)

Lastly, the view of complementarity taught in The Grand Design distorts the gospel. Strachan and Peacock teach that complementarity, as they define it, is an essential doctrine. “[C]omplementarity cannot be ‘take it or leave it'” (142). They teach that if you understand the gospel, you will agree with them on their version of complementarity. They teach that their understanding of complementarity IS the gospel.

The gospel creates a passion for and understanding of complementarity. You cannot divorce the two; you cannot separate one from the other. If you are to love the gospel, you cannot help but love the Christ-shaped vision of manhood and womanhood that the gospel creates. The two are one. (166)

This is extremely dangerous. While I believe that the Bible clearly teaches that Christ in His role as Mediator voluntarily submitted to the Father, that husbands are to be Spiritual leaders in the home, that wives are to submit to the leadership of their husbands, and that ordained leadership in the Church should be male, I do not believe that complementarity is equal to the gospel.

I believe that the view of complementarianism taught by Strachan and Peacock in The Grand Design is a dangerous distortion of Biblical truth. They start with a faulty and unorthodox understanding of the Trinity. They build on that foundation a narrow and unhelpfully limited view of the nature of men and women. They elevate their understanding of gender roles to the level of a first order doctrine. They distort the gospel.

I’m so very thankful for the light that has been shed on the bad doctrine being taught regarding the Trinity. It is imperative that our teaching on the Trinity be orthodox. I hope that there will be continued scrutiny of how ESS/EFS/ERAS teaching has trickled down through the complementarian movement. Men and women are hurting. Families are hurting. Churches are hurting. It’s time to pay attention to what’s being taught in the name of complementarianism.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grudem acknowledges this Scriptural evidence in a footnote:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matthew Henry:

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

John Calvin:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the commentary on John 3:35:

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

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

The commentary on Ephesians 1:4:

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

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

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

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

The ESV Study Bible commentary on Acts 1:7:

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

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

Henry:

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

Calvin:

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

Grudem also appeals to Romans 8:29.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matthew Henry sees John 1:1 differently:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Calvin focuses here on why Christ was sent:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John Calvin argues the same:

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

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

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

John Calvin makes this point clear in his Institutes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ESV Study Bible:

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

Matthew Henry:

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

John Calvin:

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

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

ESV Study Bible:

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

Calvin:

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

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

ESV Study Bible:

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

Henry:

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

Calvin:

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

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

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

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

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

Grudem uses Romans 8:34 to support this point.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grudem uses Acts 2:33 to support this point.

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

In the ESV Study Bible commentary, it explains:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grudem refers to Revelation 1:1.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Calvin explains that the Father is ruling through Christ:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is separate from His unlimited power as God:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Westminster Confession of Faith explains it this way:

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

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

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

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

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

Continuing Down this Path, Complementarians Lose

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There are several problems with this approach, however.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From the Athanasian Creed:

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

But the whole three persons are coeternal, and coequal.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John 12:49

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

1 Corinthians 11:3

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

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

John 12:49

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

1 Corinthians 11:3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

True Woman 101: Divine Design

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And,

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

In other words:

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

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

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

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

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

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

And,

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

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

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

And,

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is a troubling departure from what the catechism teaches:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And ultimately women are responsible for their own righteousness:

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

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

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

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

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