These sorts of theological debates, those between the Subordinationists like Bruce Ware at Southern Seminary and Wayne Grudem in Phoenix, reveal not only what one teaches under the sharpening knife of fellow theologians, but they also reveal how folks respond. It is sadly obvious here that the Subordinationists have very little interest in listening to their historically-informed and biblically-based critics. Par for the course for academics, I admit.
The politics, too, are obvious. TGC and the SBC leaders who are Subordinationists are like cats tied tail to tail on a fence. If one falls they all fall; so they are right now supporting one another. When Liam Goligher, Carl Trueman, Mike Bird, and Mark Jones are willing to throw down some very strong observations, why are the Subordinationists acting like this doesn’t matter?
Sometimes when theological debates arise voices suggest “Who cares?” or “See, Christians have diverse beliefs!” But this one is not likely to pass away because we are dealing here (1) with professional theologians (2) whose jobs could be on the line and (3) they are almost entirely among Reformed circles.
Let us reason together.
Michael Ovey comes out for the Subordinationists:
Accordingly, I have to conclude against Liam that:
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.
Hence I am reluctant to accept the suggestion that I am making things up about God and therefore should resign.
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.
Suggesting submission in the Godhead jeopardizes not only our doctrine of God, but also our doctrine of Christ.
Both of those, historically considered, would be deemed heretical.
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.
Speaking of names who disagree, now we add to these significant evangelical/Reformed voices, nothing less than patristic specialists Michel Barnes and Lewis Ayres, summed up by Mike Bird in this:
To be honest, I mean Bruce Ware and friends no ill, I think they are sincere, they’re trying their best to be faithful theologians and readers of Scripture, and wanting to pursue practical applications. But I just don’t know if it is possible to salvage the subordinationist argument for marital submission after Lewis Ayres and Michel R. Barnes have left nothing but debris in their wake. Let me add- and this was not at my behest or invitation – that when two of the biggest names in fourth century trinitarian theology graciously dismantle your theological argument for basing human relationships on a subordinationist trinitarianism, the game is over. Time to abandon the SS Subordinationism, man the life boats, look for a nice Nicene Island for refuge to land on, and find less complicated ways of arguing for complementarianism.
I have no confidence that Ware, Grudem, or Strachan even care that these voices are against them.