Rumbling On

Rumbling On June 11, 2016

The debate between the eternal subordinationists and eternal generationists (the orthodox position of the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed) rumbles on.

Mark Jones, at Mortification of Spin, tosses in a rather piercing warning — this view of Ware and Grudem and Burk sounds a bit too much like Arminian Simon Episcopius:

Most debates I read of today have a parallel with another debate that has taken place over the course of church history. For example, the seventeenth-century Arminian theologian, Simon Episcopius, located the Son’s submission in an inherent subordination in the deity of the Son to the Father. He was not just claiming a certain order of subsistence or even speaking of an ontological dependence of the Son on the Father in terms of persons-appropriate language. That would not be controversial.

Rather, Episcopius argued that the subordination of the incarnate Son, which was traditionally ascribed to his voluntarily (i.e., freely) undertaken redemptive work, is in fact properly characteristic of the Son’s intrinsic relation to the Father. Even apart from the consideration of God’s ad extra (outward) works, there is, for Episcopius, an eternal (necessary) submission. This view of Episcopius may be the most obvious and similar precursor to present-day views that speak to “eternal submission.”

Using phrases such as “eternal submission” suggests there is an ontological submission of the Son to the Father in the ad intra relations between the divine persons. But how, given there is one essence (and thus one will), there can be submission is utterly beyond me.

There are a number of perspectives we could approach this debate from. Here’s one that many haven’t given much attention to as of late, which is why I raise it:
Why did the Son become Mediator?
Was it because he is eternally submissive to the Father? Does the Son have a relationship of submission to the Father in eternity?

Mark Thompson, a Sydney Anglican who sides with Grudem, Ware, and Burk:

Another danger lies in the term ‘subordination’ itself. While it would not be difficult to show that the term has been used by orthodox Christians from the earliest period and including stalwarts of modern trinitarian theology like Karl Barth, it is too easy to confuse ‘subordination’ and ‘subordinationism’. It is too easy not to ask the question ‘What kind of subordination do you mean?’ before rushing to the conclusion that the person using the term is actually espousing ‘subordinationism’. Though it is a mouthful, perhaps ‘asymmetrical relational order’ might be a better expression. In other words, there is an order in the relationship between the Father and the Son (we do not speak of two ‘brothers’, the Father and the Son are not interchangeable, etc). Perhaps not. But it does seem important to affirm as strongly as possible both the absolute equality of being between the Father and the Son (and the Spirit!) and an order between them that confirms and in a sense explicates that equality. The Father eternally begets the Son, not the other way around. The Spirit eternally proceeds from the Father and the Son (yes, I am theologically committed to the Filioque clause in the Creed; and yes, I know that the Creed does not use the word ‘eternally’ at that point)….

Any attempt to argue from the intratrinitarian relationships to a position on the roles and relational dynamics of men and women in the home and in the church needs particular care. Undoubtedly, in my view, the Trinity provides a background model of how equality and differentiation can exist together. I am even prepared to argue that the Trinity provides some ground for believing that the free embrace of headship and submission does not have to be oppressive or abusive nor need it involve a hierarchy of value (and yes, more work would need to be done than I have done here to identify and define ‘headship’ as the complement of ‘submission’). Yet there are very significant differences which need to be taken into account as well. A man and a woman are two different people, with different personalities, different centres of consciousness, and different wills. Yet the triune God is one God, the persons are ‘of one substance’ with each other, and there is one divine will. The best that can be done here is to speak of an analogy, but I would resist the suggestion that trinitarian theology alone necessitates one position or the other on the relationships and roles of men and women. For that we need to look very carefully at the biblical texts which specifically treat those relationships and roles and hear what God has to say to us there.

My purpose in this post has simply been to begin to explain why I for one would demur from any judgment that eternal relational subordination necessarily involves ‘reinventing the doctrine of God’, departing from orthodox doctrine of the Trinity, heresy or even idolatry. My own conviction is that it indicates an important strand of the biblical witness to God, recognised down through the ages by orthodox Christians who all would recoil from any hint of ‘subordinationism’.

Denny Burk:

Truman [sic] and Goligher write as if any analogy of gender roles to intra-Trinitarian roles is inappropriate and unbiblical. Goligher writes, “To use the intra-Trinitarian relations as a social model is neither biblical nor orthodox.” Likewise Trueman, “Analogies of intratrinitarian relations to human notions of submission [are] inappropriate.” The problem with these two statements is that they fail to recognize that Scripture itself makes the analogy! The Apostle Paul writes, “But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:3). The point is clear. The headship of God is in some sense analogous to that of man. The nature and extent of the analogy is certainly up for discussion and debate. But to pretend that some form of analogy is unbiblical is untenable—unless of course we dismiss the apostle Paul, but I don’t think either side of this debate wants to do that.

To which Carl Trueman posts a guest post from John Calvin, quoting what he says about 1 Cor 11:3:

He says, that as Christ is subject to God as his head, so is the man subject to Christ, and the woman to the man.  Let us take notice of those gradations which he points out. 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.

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