Subordinationism Stopped

Subordinationism Stopped June 15, 2016

The heavyweights have now weighed in about Subordinationism (eternal functional subordination of the Son to the Father), and this weighing in doesn’t even have to deal with the desire to connect male authority and female subordination/obedience to males to the Trinitarian relations, and by heavyweights I mean these names:

Bruce McCormack
Lewis Ayres
Michel Barnes

Along with:

Liam Goligher
Carl Trueman
Mike Bird
Fred Sanders
Scott Swain
Michael Allen

Fred Sanders has 18 theses on Father and Son, who speaks here of the dangerous gambit of connecting Trinity to male-female relations:

4. The Sender-Sent relation enacts and reveals an eternal relation of fromness. The Father sent the Son in the fullness of time, by grace, because the Father is the source of the Son in eternity, by nature. This eternal relation of fromness has traditionally been called eternal generation. It can also be called filiation (“sonning”), especially because it needs to be distinguished from the Holy Spirit’s own relation of origin which is revealed in his own sending.

7. Eternal generation does a lot of work in theology.  God’s unity is so fundamental for biblical doctrine that even face-to-face with the incarnation, and even after Pentecost, we have to admit how difficult it is to conceptualize what we have been shown and told. What kind of distinctions in the divine being could give us the one God incarnate and conversing as Son to Father? What realities in the very being of God must be showing themselves among us? What can we say that will not land us in Arianism (Sender is creator of Sent) or modalism (Sender is Sent, but different-like). The safest, surest, most biblical answer is that behind the incarnation of the Son and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit stand eternal generation and spiration. If you try to run trinitarian theology (2.0) without these, it will be very difficult to make distinctions that account for the relation of the Sender and the Sent.

8. To affirm the Trinity without affirming eternal generation is to affirm the results of patristic biblical reasoning minus the process and presuppositions that produced them. What is the result? The result is the belief that there is one God who exists eternally in three persons who are coequal, coeternal, and distinct from each other; one of these persons is the eternal Son who added to his divine nature an assumed human nature, which created nature is less than and lower than the Father. That is a pretty robust set of beliefs about the trinitarian-christological core of Christian faith. Critics should critique accordingly, with a sense of proportion. My own first line of criticism would be to point out that without eternal generation in place, the relations of these three to each other is still a thing to be sought. To that extent, all these orthodox statements remain brittle and abstract, crying out for explanation and application. Most explanations (eternal relationships of command and obedience, for example) and most applications (gender order) that suggest themselves seem poorly resourced and arbitrary.

10. The doctrine of the Trinity suffers equally from flattening out the distinctions among the persons and from over-drawing them. This is true in all epochs of trinitarian theology, but in our age, whenever trinitarianism is drawn into the orbit of gender politics we have two poles: An egalitarian round-dance of mutual affirmation by the anonymous three in their perichoretic commune of blissful sameness on the one hand, and a hierarchical committee in which the lower members are strictly observant of the proper channels for carrying out the deliverances of the senior members on the other. Okay, nobody’s doctrine of God reaches these extremes. But we seem to feel the pull of the poles. And we can tell which extreme any particular theologian most dreads by whether they feel reassured by adding or subtracting hierarchy.

13. Connecting Trinity to gender roles is a dangerously distracting pedagogical gambit. It bundles the doctrine of God with another set of commitments. To the extent that the doctrine of the triune God already seemed distant and abstract, this bundling strategy becomes the central importance of trinitarianism. I know students who learned nothing from Trinity lectures except that the doctrine does or does not support egalitarianism or complementarianism. Of course I can blame the students for selective listening and motivated non-retention. But it also makes me think that including this topic in Trinity lectures is a very bad idea. Catechesis is too short for these dalliances, and the Trinity is too busy to serve as the transcendent ground of gender.

Mark Jones to Subordinationist Owen Strachan:

As a pastor I recognize that we have to respond to people based on their knowledge and position of authority in different ways. When a new Christian says something heretical or wrong in Sunday School you would hope that patient instruction would be the most appropriate way to deal with non-willful ignorance. But some of these men with whom we are strongly disagreeing – so much so that I am prepared to say some of their beliefs are unorthodox – are not new believers in Sunday School class. They are men of authority; they occupy strategic positions in the kingdom; and, quite frankly, they should know better.

I have edited two books on intra-Reformed debates with my friend, Michael Haykin. Both of us recognize that within the Reformed tradition there have been some intramural debates. I’m all for diversity in the Reformed tradition. The introductory essay by Richard Muller in “Drawn into Controversie” speaks of how certain debates pressed in different ways the confessional boundaries of the seventeenth century. Not all debates rise to the level of calling someone unorthodox. But some do. And what we have here is not diversity but error – Trinitarian error.

This current Trinitarian debate is serious. It is not just a question of whether Adam’s reward was Heaven or continued life in the Garden; it is not a question of whether the Mosaic covenant is in some sense a covenant of works; rather, we are dealing with the doctrine of God and the Trinity. Whether we like it or not, the Nicene Creed is the point of unity.  Those who reject it are divisive. Those who claim that there is an inherent principle of subordination or submission in the ontological Trinity according to God’s ad intra necessary will are also making an argument that really has paltry historical support.

If your exegesis is so natural that it causes some of the best patristic, Reformation, and Post-Reformation scholars in the world to raise serious questions in response, maybe, just maybe, you need to re-think your exegesis in light of the rest of God’s word and the history of interpretation.

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