Sunday, June 12, 2016

Gender and Trinity

This is a sequel to my previous post:

1. There are some interesting patterns to this debate, in terms how to classify the way people line up on different sides of the issue:

i) To some extent it looks like a debate between Baptists and Presbyterians. Baptists like Denny Burke, Bruce Ware, Wayne Grudem et al. v. Presbyterians like Carl Trueman, Scott Clark, Mark Jones, and Liam Goligher.

However, that's complicated by the fact that you have Baptists on the other side of the issue, viz. Richard Barcellos, Stefan Lindblad, Tom Chantry, Sam Waldron.

Likewise, Arminians (e.g. Fred Sanders, Tom McCall), Barthians (e.g. Bobby Grow), and Anglicans (e.g. Robert Letham, Roger Beckwith, Michael Bird) have weighed in on this debate.

ii) Some commentators have framed the issue as an intra-Calvinist debate. But that's questionable. For instance, Bruce Ware is an Amyraldian Molinist who denies divine impassibility. Likewise, I don't know if all the various contributors to One God in Three Persons: Unity of Essence, Distinction of Persons, Implications for Life are Calvinists. By the same token, I don't know if Denny Burke is a Calvinist. 

iii) In addition, I suspect many or most contemporary NT scholars reject eternal generation (and eternal procession) because they reject the traditional interpretation of the standard prooftexts for eternal generation (and eternal procession). If so, Calvinism is not the differential factor. 

iv) One common denominator seems to be that many opponents of Grudem et al. fall into the Confessional Calvinist camp. They object to the position of Grudem et al. because it rejects the eternal generation of the Son, pace historic creeds and confessions. 

2. Part of the appeal of the traditional paradigm is to supply a unifying principle for the Trinity. The persons of the Trinity are said to be one God because they share one nature, and they share one nature because the Father is the common source of the Son and the Spirit. 

However, a basic problem with that argument is that it's consistent with tritheism. To take a comparison, all men share a common human nature. That's what makes us human. But each of us is a property instance of a generic human nature. Separate exemplifications of the same nature. So that argument doesn't even work on its own terms. 

3. To my knowledge, it's common in Reformed theology to say the Son became incarnate rather than the Father because it was "fitting" for the Son to become incarnate rather than the Father. It was "fitting" for the Father to send the Son, rather than vice versa, because the Father generates the Son. 

If, however, you're going to argue that it would be unfitting for the Father to become incarnate, that there's no possible world in which the Father became incarnate, then that seems to commit you to a necessitarian principle of intra-Trinitarian subordination. A metaphysical hierarchy in which the Father must be the sender while the Son must be the sent.

With that in mind, I don't see that critics of Grudem et al. who subscribe to eternal generation (and eternal procession) are in any position to denouce the notion of eternal subordination. If they think there's an order in the Trinity which requires the Son rather than the Father to be sent, then what is that if not eternal subordination? I think their Confessionalism blinds them to the parallel. 

4. Perhaps part of the objection is to the connotations of "eternal" subordination. Maybe, when some people see that adjective, they think that means the Son qua Son is constantly submitting to the Father qua Father, whereas they allow for a one-time economic submission. If, however, God is timeless, then eternal subordination doesn't mean the Son is always submitting to the Father. That "one-time" economic submission is eternal or timeless. 

5. As someone who's debating many Catholic apologists and not a few Orthodox apologists, I'm struck by the unguarded way that Confessional Calvinists default to the Nicene creed as an unquestionable benchmark. I wonder how their appeal to patristic authority and conciliar authority would fare if they ever got into a debate with a Catholic or Orthodox apologist. Where do they draw the line? Their selective deference to church councils represents an unstable mediating position. It paves the way to Rome or Constantinople. 

6. Apropos (5), Barthian Bobby Grow unwittingly illustrates the dilemma when he says:

...they are at some level repudiating the confessional position of the historic orthodox church, provided voice, in particular, in the ecumenical councils of Nicaea-Constantinople-Chalcedon, and attempting to innovate in a way that violates the very mind of the church. It is one thing to work constructively within the boundaries of the ecumenical grammar on the Trinity, as Karl Barth does, which Hunsinger labels the ‘chalcedonian pattern’; but it is altogether another thing to work outside of those norms in order to bolster one’s position on a social issue such as complementarianism.

But that's special pleading. Although I don't agree with Grudem's position, the "mind of the church" didn't terminate with the church fathers or Greek Orthodox councils. Modern-day Baptists like Wayne Grudem, Denny Burke, Jim Hamilton et al. have at least as much claim to represent the "mind of the church" as our distant theological forebears. There's no magic cutoff, as if pre-Reformation theology represents the mind of the church while post-Reformation theology does not. 

7. In the same post, Grow supplies this quote:

Khaled Anatolios says it this way when commenting on the patristic church and its understanding of God and revelation: 
As Creator, God is both radically other than his creation and positively related to it. The difference between God and world is such that creatures can only know God through his free self-revelation. Any attempt by creatures simply to infer the nature of the divine on the basis of creaturely realities will inevitably amount to a projection of created features onto the divine and will thus amount to a mythology (Athanasius).

i) That does address a genuine danger. When we extrapolate from creatures to God, there's a serious risk of failing to make due allowance for the disanalogies between God and creatures. Indeed, I think Grudem et al. are guilty of that. By the same token, I think Christians who infer eternal generation from fatherhood/sonship metaphors are equally guilty of the same error.

ii) That said, the Bible uses many theological models and metaphors for God that are drawn from creation. This presumes some degree of analogy between God and creatures. Although, in the order of being, God is prior–in the order of knowing, analogues drawn from the created order are a necessary bridge to forming concepts about God. Scripture itself does that all the time.

iii) So this becomes a question of theological method. Scripture makes statements about God's transcendent nature that delimit the boundaries of these theological metaphors. 


  1. Not that my musing are of any importance, here's my spiel.

    I'm on record saying I'm open to various Trinitarian formulations. Maybe "monogenes" means something like "one and only" or "unique" rather than "only begotten," nevertheless the modern arguments in favor of "unique" smells like they might be committing the etymological fallacy of assuming that a word's etymology can guarantee its meaning later down the line historically.

    While I'm open to Christ and the Holy Spirit being autotheos such that neither their persons nor their essence derives from the Father, it is interesting that the designation of Father and Son (and the language of fatherhood and sonship) for the first and second persons of the Trinity is used in Scripture as if such a relationship existed before the incarnation (and possibly even before creation). In which case, it seems to me the Unitarian question has some (slight) force when they ask, "If the Trinity is true, then why didn't God reveal Himself as an eternal triplet brotherhood? That would ensure equality in ontology, status and function (at least prior to incarnation)."

    For myself, for the sake of being able to better appeal to Unitarians and out of some respect for Trinitarian tradition (both patristically and from the Reformation) I slightly favor in some sense the eternal generation and procession of the 2nd and 3rd persons of the Trinity (whether of person only or both person and substance) and so an eternal functional subordination within the Trinity. With the subordination revealed in redemptive history reflecting that prior (sans creation) intra-Trinitarian subordination.

    IMO, we shouldn't be dogmatic on these issues since the Biblical evidence is clearly underdeterminative (by God's intention and design). It's sufficient (at least to me) to know that males and females have different functions and roles because Scripture say so, without having to underpin it based on Trinitarian speculations. Having said that, I think 1 Cor. 11:2-9 better fits with intrinsic intra-Trinitarian subordination. Paul seems to be saying that man is head of woman because woman originally derived from man. By parity of argument, then the Father is head of Christ because Christ is derived from the Father (i.e. eternal generation). That's why the Father can be head of Christ even though they are ontologically equal (as to Christ's divine nature), why Christ and man/woman can be equal (as to Christ's human nature) even though at the same time man is head of woman though they are ontologically equal. While I'm open to Christ and the Spirit being autotheos, it would seem that their being autotheos would be better in keeping with egalitarianism.

    1. If I understand Grudem's view correctly, there seems to be an inherent instability to his view. On the one hand he wants to affirm eternal sonship yet reject eternal generation all the while affirming an intrinsic subordination within the Trinity. Sic et non, which is it?

    2. "By parity of argument, then the Father is head of Christ because Christ is derived from the Father (i.e. eternal generation)."

      That suffers from a fatal equivocation between Christ and the Son. No one denies that Christ is subordinate to the Father, That's a separate question from whether the Son qua Son (in distinction to the Son qua incarnate) is subordinate to the Father. Moreover, as Beale explains, Paul is discussing Christ as the Last Adam. That has nothing to do with "intrinsic intra-Trinitarian subordination".

    3. Moreover, as Beale explains, Paul is discussing Christ as the Last Adam.

      I'm sure Beale has a good explanation as to how Paul could be referring to Christ as the Last Adam even though Paul doesn't allude to the concept until later on in the epistle (ch. 15).

      It's not my intention to argue this in-house Trinitarian debate.
      Admittedly, my interpretation of 1 Cor. 11:2-9 might be flawed.

      Nevertheless, other reasons why I'm inclined to believe in intrinsic intra-Trinitarian subordination (not ontological subordinationISM) include:

      - Prior to the incarnation the Son is the Logos of the Father, rather than the Father being the Logos of the Son. Also, the "Word of Jehovah" in the OT probably being the pre-incarnate Jesus.

      - God (i.e. the Father) is consistently taught to have created the world *through* the Logos/Son (Col. 1:16; 1 Cor. 8:6; John 1:3; Heb. 1:2) rather than vice versa, or as if the Father and Son were exactly equal agents (in every way) in creating the world.

      - Prior to the incarnation the special Angel of Jehovah (who is probably the pre-incarnate Christ) seemed to be subordinate to God (the Father). Nowhere is the Father ever the Angel/Messenger of the Son. Even inter-testamental Jews mysteriously referred to the "greater" and "lesser" YHWH.

      - The many many passages in the gospels (especially in John) where Jesus says he was "sent" by God suggests a subordination and obedience of the Son prior to incarnation that continued on Earth (e.g. John 4:34; 5:30; 6:38 cf. Heb. 10:5-7; Gal. 4:4). More passages in John where Jesus is said to have been sent by the Father include: John 3:17, 34; 4:34; 5:23-24, 30, 36, 37, 38; 6:29, 38-39, 44, 57; 7:16, 18, 28-29, 33; 8:16, 26, 29, 42; 9:4; 10:36; 11:42; 12:44-45, 49; 13:16, 20; 14:24; 15:21; 16:5; 17:3, 8, 18, 21, 23, 25; 20:21

      - Sons are normally subject to their fathers and the NT doesn't shy away from applying fatherhood/sonship language between the 1st and 2nd persons of the Trinity in contexts prior to the incarnation.

      - All things (like authority, God's name, judgment etc.) are given or delivered to the Son by the Father (e.g. Matt. 11:27; Luke 10:22; Phil. 2:9; Matt. 28:18; John 5:27; 17:2 etc.) and the Son will eventually deliver the kingdom to the Father (1 Cor. 15:24-28). These and similar passages could be dismissed as only referring to their relationship since the incarnation, true. But such passages are so numerous and pervasive that it suggests (at least to me) something deeper and prior to the incarnation.

      - It's not clear that Jesus' statement "The Father is greater than I" (John 14:28) merely refers to the the relationship between the Father and Son on account of the incarnation.

      - The Father approves of His Beloved Son in a way that suggests real intrinsic subjection and loving reverence of the Son and intrinsic headship of the Father (Matt. 3:17; 17:5; Mark 1:11; 9:7; Luke 3:22; 2 Pet. 1:17 cf. John 14:31).

    4. i) The Logos is an economic title. God's creative word.

      ii) You fail to explain how creating something through the agency of another entails inequality between the two parties.

      ii) Unless the entire Trinity were to become incarnate, only one person will be sent. And unless you think the Son was drafted, that's voluntary on his part. He's not a conscript.

      iii) You keep pushing the notion of subordination/obedience "prior" to the incarnation, but we're discussing a redemptive role which the Son assumes *with a view* to the Incarnation. It's an economic role. It's simply the plan that's antemundane.

      iv) To say "sons are normally subject to their fathers" illustrates the dangers of unrestricted extrapolations from human analogies. Even at a human level, was King David still obedient to Jesse? Was Jesse the power behind the throne?

      v) I've discussed Jn 14:28 in response to Dale Tuggy. You're rehashing unitarian arguments.

      vi) How does approval imply "real intrinsic subjection"? Is an approving wife her husband's superior?

      Moreover, you're retrojecting the economic mission of the Son into eternity past.

    5. All great responses which I was aware of prior to my posting my comments. That's why I'm not dogmatic on these deeper Trinitarian issues since the Bible just isn't clear on the topic.

      ....but we're discussing a redemptive role which the Son assumes *with a view* to the Incarnation.

      I definitely think there's some truth to this. However, it can also be used as a theological filer to such an extent that a position like yours becomes virtually non-falsifiable and the traditional Trinitarian position non-verifiable no matter how strong the suggestive evidence is for an intrinsic functional (not ontological) subordination of the Son and Spirit to the Father (maybe even of the Spirit to the Son were one to accept the filioque).

    6. And your position could be used to erase any distinction between the immanent Trinity and the economic Trinity.

    7. You have no direct exegetical evidence for eternal subordination. You have texts about economic subordination that might be consistent with eternal subordination, but no texts that state or imply eternal subordination.

      In addition, we have passages that do talk about the attributes of members of the ontological Trinity.

      BTW, there's no meaningful distinction between "intrinsic function" subordination and ontological subordination.

    8. You have no direct exegetical evidence for eternal subordination. You have texts about economic subordination that might be consistent with eternal subordination, but no texts that state or imply eternal subordination.

      In addition, we have passages that do talk about the attributes of members of the ontological Trinity.

      BTW, there's no meaningful distinction between "intrinsic function" subordination and ontological subordination.

  2. Steve, I had an iPhone crash. No longer have your email.

    "Likewise, Arminians (e.g. Fred Sanders, Tom McCall), Barthians (e.g. Bobby Grow), and Anglicans (e.g. Robert Letham, Roger Beckwith, Michael Bird) have weighed in on this debate..."

    Bob Letham isn't Anglican. Was my OPC pastor for many years prior to moving to Wales.

  3. Dear Steve,

    Denny Burk is, as far as I know, a Calvinist.

  4. For those interested:

    Relations of Authority and Submission among the Persons of the Godhead. A Debate between Bruce Ware and Wayne Grudem VERSUS Thomas H. McCall and Keith Yandell

    The Trinity and Gender, A Dialogue between Dr. Kevin Giles (egalitarian) & Dr. Fred Sanders (complementarian).

  5. Just been reading D. Glenn Butner Jr.'s JETS article on this debate, critiquing EFS. Here are my thoughts.
    1. Butner rightly (in my view) upholds the eternal generation of the Son, but in so doing neatly sidesteps naming the real culprit behind the denial of this doctrine: Calvin and his "triple autotheos". Eastern Orthodox authors, who make the same argument, are not so reticent! Butner should have had the courage to name the real culprit.
    2. Butner admits that the 4th/5th century fathers make statements to the effect that the Son is eternally in submission to the Father, but argues that is so doing they were inconsistent due to the fact that Trinitarian metaphysics had not been fully developed, which allegedly happened with the monothelite controversy. Refreshing honesty, but I would reply: (a) no doubt Athanasius (say) was inconsistent on some points; but so surely was Maximus, and (b) it is doubtful whether there is only one, logically inexorable direction in which Nicene Trinitarianism could be developed. Oriental Orthodoxy, for instance, represents a different direction. To take a particular metaphysical understanding of the Trinity, and condemn all others as heretical, is to turn mere speculation into dogma in a most absurd manner.
    3. On Butner's (and Maximus's view), we have to understand Jesus' statement that he came not to do his own will, but the will of the one who sent him (the Father), as, "I came not to do my human will, but to do my divine will which is the same will as that of the one who sent me". That is a completely implausible, contrived, and Nestorian interpretation of scripture. Once you get to that point, it's time to give the game away.
    4. The argument that he uses, derived from Maximus, that Jesus must have two wills, seems to me quite flawed. It actually seems to be a reductio ad absurdum of Chalcedonian orthodoxy. He argues that the will must belong to the nature, because if Jesus did not have a human will, then there was something human he did not assume. But surely there must be something that comprises personhood, rather than nature. There must be some ontological grounds for personhood. Let us call that thing X. That is, the possession of X is what makes a person a person. X is what belongs to the person. Now we can apply Maximus's argument in the same way to show, on the contrary, that X can't belong to the person! We proceed as follows: X must belong to the nature, not the person, because if Jesus didn't have a human X, then there was something human he did not assume. Which leaves us with the concept of "person" being completely empty and vacuous. I suppose you could try to argue that personhood has no ontological grounds at all, but is purely functional, but the flaws with that (nominalist) view are so massive I'll leave them aside. Maximus's argument would mean that there is no logical space for Chalcedonian orthodoxy at all.
    5. The sixth council was in error, just as the Butner himself admits the seventh was. Arguments about the majority view of the "church" involve a subjective theological judgement about who and what the church is. The argument that three wills requires three natures/substances, is circular as it depends on the same flawed metaphysics.
    6. Rahner was correct to say that the economic Trinity is the immanent Trinity, and vice-versa. The inner relationships of the Trinity are revealed to us in the gospel accounts of Jesus interacting with his Father. The Trinity is not (as Liam Goligher would have it) a distant, hidden, unknown God; it is revealed in its innermost detail in the incarnation. Opponents of eternal submission are forced to read many passages of scripture in an implausible and Nestorian manner.
    7. I hold to eternal hypostatic submission, not eternal functional submission, as the functional submission of Son to Father is grounded in the begetting of the Son by the Father. The Father acts as a Father because he is a Father, and the Son acts as a Son because he is a Son.