Even More on the Complementarian Calvinism Debate on the Trinity

Even More on the Complementarian Calvinism Debate on the Trinity June 12, 2016

Over at Credo Magazine, Michael Ovey (Principal of Oak Hill in London) asks, Should I Resign: On the Eternal Subordination of the Son, to which he answers, “no.” He also has a forthcoming book called, Your Will Be Done: Exploring Eternal Subordination, Divine Monarchy and Divine Humility. He concludes:

1. There is historical precedent for asserting the eternal subordination of the Son.

2. The texts of scripture require us to recognise at the level of the persons distinguishable wills of Father and Son.

3. The Son tells us in scripture that he reveals his eternal love for his Father by his obedience on earth, and this love at the level of persons includes on the Son’s part eternal obedience.

4. The eternal subordination of the Son does not divide the will of God at the level of nature, because the issue here is one of relations between the persons.

5. The eternal subordination of the Son does not entail Arianism, because the Son’s obedience arises from his relation as son and not because he is a creature.

What I notice here is that although Ware and Starke want to shy away from the language of “subordination,” Ovey wants to make it the centerpiece of his Trinitarianism!

On the other side of the court, over at New City Times, Mark Jones, A PCA minister and Crossway author, writes on God’s Will and Eternal Submission, Parts One.  He states:

Having looked more closely into the claims of the “eternal submissionists” and those who deny eternal generation, I have to confess that I am more alarmed now than ever at their theological project. As someone with some knowledge of historical theology, much of what I see going on right now can have some much-needed help from the history of Reformed (and earlier) orthodoxy … Now, if the “eternal submissionists” were only saying that Christ, as God-man, submits to the Father there would be no debate. As an ad extra reality, we all affirm this. But they are doing something very different, namely: they are affirming there is an eternal ad intra submission of the Son to the Father. This, to me, necessarily disrupts divine unity and leads to a rejection of the orthodox understanding of God’s will. Eternal submission necessarily posits two wills in God. Simplicity goes out of the window; and, furthermore, the oneness of God (una essentia) is compromised … If you think these are small issues that are not worth fighting over, they are not. Consider the 2nd Helvetic Confession (ch. 3): HERESIES. Therefore we condemn the Jews and Mohammedans, and all those who blaspheme that sacred and adorable Trinity. 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.

Paul Adams also refers to an article by Darren O. Sumner on “Obedience and Subordination in Trinitarian Theology,” which is available on-line here, and discusses Karl Barth and subordinationism. Sumnner concludes:

Were the evangelical theologian to appeal to Karl Barth as a potential ally in arguing for eternal, functional subordination, she must be willing to bring on board the whole of Barth’s actualist commitments – including an ontology that challenges the conviction that God’s being precedes God’s act, a material identification of the immanent and economic Trinity, and a rejection of the notion that the Son’s assumed humanity is an instrument isolated from the divine life. Without these commitments Barth’s theology is not comprehensible. The obedience of the Son to the Father relies upon God’s self-determination in election … Finally, Karl Barth was not known as a great champion of gender equality. But I believe he would by mystified by the transplantation of this debate from the sphere of trinitarian doctrine into that of gender roles in marriage and in the churches. Why is that? Why not pattern human relationships on the relations of the divine persons? For at least two reasons. First, without a social model of the Trinity there is insufficient correspondence for such an analogy. God the Father and the Son do not exist as two subjects, and trinitarian distinctions are utterly unlike human gender distinctions. If the one God exists in subordination to the one God, no space remains for insisting upon a corresponding subordination of wives to husbands.

Sumner has a blog post on the topic with Some Observations on the Eternal Functional Subordination Debate where he takes issue with Bruce Ware’s description: “As Son, the Son is always the Son of the Father and is so eternally. As Son of the Father, he is under the authority of his Father and seeks in all he does to act as the Agent of the Father’s will, working and doing all that the Father has purposed and designed for his Son to accomplish.”  Sumner responds:

It is the Bible’s identification of these two divine persons as “Father” and “Son” that Ware takes as his starting point for reasoning through the nature of their relationship.  Human fathers have authority over sons; in a right and godly relationship human sons submit to the authority of their fathers. From the fact that they are revealed in terms of the father-son relation, Ware extrapolates that God the Father and God the Son have a relationship which corresponds to this human relationship.  By using these names Scripture suggests that they relate as human fathers and sons properly do; the language is implicitly revelatory in this way.  For some readers this may seem a perfectly fine way of reasoning.  For now I’ll table the full demolition (which ought to make reference to Sallie McFague’s work on language and predication) and just mark it with a label: natural theology.  The EFS mode of reasoning is what Barth decried as human projection misidentified with divine revelation.  Ware takes a human cultural construct and, mistaking it for revelation, reads it upward into the life of God by means of an analogia entis. When he in turn derives from this divine relation a proscription for human gender relations, the circle is complete and the exercise in natural theology is made infinitely more egregious. Ware first reads the authority-submission structure from creaturely existence into the life of God; then he reads it back out again from God to human creatures — only now switching from the parent-child relation to male-female relations.  The procedure is entirely self-referential, a theological systole and diastole: Ware has derived from his doctrine of God exactly what he put into it.


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