by Cindy Kunsman cross posted from her blog Under Much Grace
Having discussed this issue privately with Shirley Taylor, and as a continuation of this theme and topic, I include it here as part of our dialogue. In a post that will follow in a close to this theme, I will include Shirley’s summary statements concerning this theology and what those who find it problematic can do. Before hand, I will delve into the connection between holiness and marriage in subsequent post. It’s all so much to take in because it is so convoluted, and the Calvinist learning curve is steep.
The previous posts discussed statements made by Tim Keller in his book, The Meaning of Marriage. Along with many others who are held in high esteem within the Southern Baptist movement which embraces Covenant Theology and gender hierarchy, Keller professes the Doctrine of Eternal Subordination of the Son (ESS) to validate his views on marriage. Through a very convoluted interpretation of Scripture along with the extension of what I personally find to be the already dubious “Covenant of Redemption” by inserting hierarchy, Keller claims that marriage relationships are patterned after the love relationship between God the Father and God the Son.
NOTE: In this post, I refer via links, in particular , a website devoted to the study of the Trinity, though I may or may not agree with the information presented there. Links used here mean to give the reader some working understanding of the concepts in some depth. If needed, google the terms if you need a more basic summary of them, as rank and file folks don’t often use them in our common language.
The Theological Basis of ESS
Many people ponder how anyone could have ever followed this path of reasoning to support gender, though it is based in a particular way of understanding the Trinity — a tri-personal, monotheistic God as revealed to us through Scripture — but not with great detail. (I often think of the book Flatland, as though we are trapped in our perspective in this life which makes certain things about life, death, and religion mysteriously hidden.) Personally, I prefer Moreland and Craig’s “Trinity Monotheism” view as defended in their Philosophical Foundations for a Biblical Worldview, though you can read a shorthand summary and a critique HERE.
Keep in mind that not one particular approach is necessarily right or wrong but is a function of perspective and personality and how one makes sense of information. It is only wrong if it denies the basic and essential doctrines of Scripture. This is a conundrum of difference, and we will always have some tension because we are not identical people and think and understand information in different styles and manners.
Understanding of the Trinity
It may be helpful to look at the chart that I put together to better understand the two primary and different approaches to the Trinity embraced by Evangelicals.
The Trinity Monotheism view works to avoid the trappings and limitations of the two primary views of the Trinity that are generally followed in Evangelical Christianity today. Keller’s view favors the “Social” view of the Trinity which emphasizes the distinctives of each of the Divine Three — and it is embraced by most people who claim Calvinism, but not necessarily. It is accepted as the preferred view in many forms of Covenant Theology. The “Anti-Social” view of the Trinity emphasizes the oneness of God as opposed to the distinct persons. Both groups profess monotheism and embrace tri-personal aspects of the mystery of the identity of God, though being a mystery, we do take much by faith in ambiguity. This does not mean that God is unknowable, however, or that He is some “holy other,” nor is it a Roman Catholic view.
The pitfalls of the Social view include Tritheism (three Gods that are not one in tri-personal wholeness) and Arianism (Jesus becomes a lesser God which was first advanced by a 3rd Century ascetic Christian named Arius). Some evangelicals argue that ESS amounts to semi-arianism. Those who profess Social Trinitarian views often argue that personhood can only be defined and manifested in terms of a relationship, so they focus on the relationship aspects. The pitfalls for the Anti-Social view include Unitarianism (directly denies that Jesus is fully God in all His fullness) and Modalism (denies personhood to the Divine Three and views each manifestation of God as separate modes — such as water’s possible state as ice, liquid, and gaseous forms, depending on conditions). Note that all of these pitfalls, in one way or another, rob Jesus if His deity.
That which the Apostle Paul stated was a mystery which could but demonstrate concepts to us through marriage, this group of modern theologians claim as gender role religion and as a magical guide to understanding God. But in the end, they remain mysteries. We run into theological error when we extrapolate beyond that which Scripture solidly supports, no matter how badly we hope to understand, qualify, and even quantify a mystery. Personally, I believe that this theology attracts those who have difficulty tolerating ambiguity because it attempts to “relieve” Christians of that ambiguity and the tension that it creates.
The Extension of the Covenant of Redemption
In short, things happened this way:
- Covenant Theology: A Calvinist interpretive tool of systematic doctrine to better understand Scripture. It contrasts with the interpretive framework embraced by Dispensationalists in the way that God reached out to mankind. Covenant Theology identifies the origin of the church (the assembly) with God’s covenant with Abraham and sees subsequent events in the Judeo-Christian narrative as the unfolding of God’s plan which culminates in Jesus the Messiah’s sacrifice. The Old Testament Law is divided into three categories (moral, ceremonial, and civil), and only the moral law is said to apply today — though many disagree on what rightfully falls into which category.
- God reached out to mankind *theologically* through Covenants. (The Puritan Shop has a chart for sale.) The first was the Covenant of Redemption when God made the decision to redeem mankind. The second was the Covenant of Works which concluded when Adam sinned. The third way that God reached out to man was through the Covenant of Grace. According to Calvinists, we are still under the Covenant of Grace today. Both the Old Testament Law and the New Covenant in Christ is seen as an extension of the Covenant of Grace.
- The Covenant of Redemption is dependent upon a Social View of the Trinity which emphasizes the distinctive of each personality of each of the Divine Three
- Lesser known and questionable Reformation age individuals (hailed as visionaries at the questionable Doug Wilson’s New St. Andrews Seminary) claimed that there was a hierarchy among the Persons of the Godhead, but their assertions were never adopted because they tended towards Arianism and Tritheism.
- George Knight III (quoted in the previous post) proposed in the late Seventies that there was not only a covenant struck by God for man in the Covenant of Redemption, but there was also something of a division of labor discussed among the Divine Three. He went on to add that they were each bound to roles as individuals because of hierarchy based on their personalities and identities. The Son didn’t agree to be the Messiah because he was eternally the Son and sat in submission to the authority of the Father.
- This change in understanding of the theology was aided by the change in the use and understanding of language over time as well as the translation of language from not only ancient texts and translations from other languages used to define and qualify those ancient texts.
- Knight also asserted that, to prove a statement once made by RC Sproul (Sr) that all doctrine somehow flows from the Doctrine of God. Gender and gender related conduct thus becomes inextricably bound directly to God and His identity. Gender not only tells us metaphorically about aspects of what Christ did to redeem mankind, the Trinity stands as a concrete exemplar of relationship between husband and wife.
- The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood and individuals within it who were inclined towards Covenant Theology took this concept and ran with it. It eventually became known as the Eternal Subordination of the Son Doctrine.
- On this basis of the direct connection between gender and the identity of God, those who reject ESS have been said to be heretics who worship a false God, merely by rejecting the concept of gender hierarchy.
- ESS demands that a person understand God in terms of a Social Trinitarian view.
Additional posts supporting my understanding and documentation concerning ESS may be read HERE.
Cindy is a member of the Spiritual Abuse Survivor Blogs Network.
Cynthia Mullen Kunsman is a nurse (BSN), naturopath (ND) and seminary graduate (MMin) with a wide variety of training and over 20 years of clinical experience. She has used her training in Complementary and Alternative Medicine as a lecturer and liaison to professional scientific and medical groups, in both academic and traditional clinical healthcare settings. She also completed additional studies in the field of thought reform, hypnotherapy for pain management, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) that is often associated with cultic group involvement. Her nursing experience ranges from intensive care, the training of critical care nurses, hospice care, case management and quality management, though she currently limits her practice to forensic medical record review and evaluation. Most of her current professional efforts concern the study of manipulative and coercive evangelical Christian groups and the recovery process from both thought reform and PTSD.