Complementarianism’s Trinity: The Story Now Told

Screen Shot 2017-08-12 at 8.52.47 AMAbout a year ago the story broke when some Reformed theologians with impeccable credentials (names below), many of them themselves complementarians of a sort, said a big “Nein!” on the eternal subordinationism of the Son to the Father as fashioned by the likes of Wayne Grudem, Bruce Ware, Owen Strachan, and Robert Letham. Others who embraced that theory, some of whom now pretend they didn’t believe such things but many of us know better, now pretend they did not believe ETS or now claim they’ve been eternal generationists all along.

Kevin Giles, who all along has been calling out Grudem and Ware and others, both was the first to call them out and now has written a small engaging account called The Rise and Fall of the Complementarian Doctrine of the Trinity. He has issued statement after statement but the authorities in the complementarian movement denounced him, ignored him, and therefore silenced him. But when the Reformed lights (names again below) came to his side, defended him, and denounced the inadequate and wrong-headedness of Grudem and Ware, the jig was up and suddenly Giles was no longer the bad guy. They will still largely ignore him, but the truth is out.

It’s in this book. It’s the story of the “rise and fall” of how eternal subordination got folded into Trinitarian thinking in such a way that God was on their side. They were wrong; God wasn’t. The doctrine of the Trinity ought to have nothing to do with female subordinationism to males nor of egalitarian relations in a marriage. Scholar after scholar has said this, none more consistently than Giles.

Every pastor and teacher who gets involved in this discussion — for among many of the followers of Grudem and Ware and others it continues to percolate unchecked — needs to read this book to get the fuller story. I will touch on a bit of it today. If you hear any pastor or teacher anchor complementarian relations among males-females in the doctrine of the Trinity, you need to read this book. Better yet, buy it, give it to them, and hold them accountable for it.

Here is Giles’ opener:

I have been crying out to complementarians for nearly twenty years, “Go back, you are going the wrong way on the Trinity. What you are teaching in the light of the creeds and confessions is heresy.” For well over a decade, I could count on one hand—and have fingers to spare—the theologians who openly supported me. Most evangelicals and Reformed theologians for most of this period in fact opposed me and were very critical of my work. I often felt like the boy who cried out, “The King has no clothes on, only to be cuffed around the ears by the princes and courtiers of the King. Slowly evangelical egalitarians began agreeing with me, but complementarians with very few exceptions stood in total opposition. Suddenly and unexpectedly in June 2016 everything changed. A few brave and honest complementarian princes said, “You know the boy is right, the King is naked,” and then everyone was free to state the obvious; the hierarchical ordering of the three divine persons is a denial of the creeds and confessions of the church. I now have so many evangelical and Reformed theological friends that I cannot number them. …

The about-turn of Dr. Denny Burk, the president of the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW), a long-time dogmatic supporter of the eternal subordination of the Son and of the argument that women’s subordination is grounded in the life of God, proves the point. On August 10th, 2016, he broke with his friends Wayne Grudem and Bruce Ware, saying “[I now] do not agree with all their Trinitarian views.” Rather, “as a result of what has unfolded over the last two months, I believe in eternal generation, a single divine will, inseparable operations, and the whole Nicene package.” And he added that, when putting the complementarian case, appealing to “speculative, extra-biblical Trinitarian analogies .. is unhelpful and unwarranted in Scripture.” And furthermore, “I think it is good and right to leave behind the language of subordination” in reference to Jesus Christ (1-2).

The complementarian theory of the Trinity — eternal subordination of the Son — badly reshaped Trinitarian thinking because of its commitment to hierarchical relations of husband and wife, males and females in the church and for some society too. It was riding the wave of consensus, or at least it thought it was:

Only in mid-2016 did it become clear that the sharp divide over the Trinity among evangelical Christians was not between complementarians and evangelical egalitarians but between those who insisted that the creeds and confessions of the church ruled on how the Scriptures are rightly to be interpreted on the Trinity and other major doctrines and those who believed with Bible in hand they could construe the Trinity independently as individuals (6-7).

Exactly. I myself knew there were Reformed theologians who disagreed, who also thought Grudem and Ware’s crowd were mismanaging what complementarianism itself meant. Because Giles has been the leading voice in criticism of the eternal subordinationism theory of Grudem and Ware, he has a special role in telling this story. Here are his words, words that are not boastful but sheer truth, truth about a man who has been accused over and over falsely:

I am also uniquely positioned and informed to write this book specifically on the complementarian civil war over the Trinity, because arguably my writings on the Trinity, more than the work of anyone else, precipitated this civil war. In support of this audacious claim, I note that when the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS)—with over 4,500 members, most with a PhD—was forced to concede that the complementarian doctrine of the Trinity had been judged heretical by many theologians and the issue had to be got out in the open, I was asked to give the opening address at the plenary forum on the Trinity at the annual ETS conference in San Antonio in November 2016. This was a huge honor. More than 2,500 evangelical theologians come each year to this conference; in 2016 the attendees numbered 2,641. On stage with me where Millard Erickson, Wayne Grudem, and Bruce Ware. Possibly five hundred theologians were present at this forum (7).

 

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