Results tagged “Trinity; Subordinationism; Doctrine of God” from Reformation21 Blog

In this final part of my series on the debate concerning the eternal subordination of the Son (ESS), I will identify a few more of the issues that the debate has brought to the surface.

The Quest for a Deep Structure for Complementarianism

The emergence of the ESS position in its current form is in large part an attempt to provide a 'deep structure' for a complementarian position. It seeks to demonstrate that the biblical teaching concerning the complementarity of the sexes is not arbitrary, but is grounded in something beyond itself.

Unfortunately, this quest for a deep structure is, I suspect, often the flip-side of an ideologization of complementarity. What was once an organic part of Christian social teaching, practice, and imagination, recognized as naturally grounded and inseparably bound up with the broader fabric of Christian and human existence--a creational and empirical reality--has been reframed as a theory, ideology, or social programme. In the process it has been uprooted from the broader creational and scriptural context to which it belongs.

Having abandoned or lost much of its proper grounding--not least as people have sought to restrict its import as much as possible to the pulpit and the marriage bed--this more abstract ideology has needed to discover a new theological rationale for itself. In a context where it is under threat, it must defend itself against the charge that it is contrary to the general tenor of Christian teaching and imposes arbitrary expectations. ESS looks like a promising solution to this problem, yet ends up causing more difficulties and provoking more contention than it resolves. In the past, teaching about the complementarity of the sexes wasn't an 'ism' or ideology. Even when ESS was referenced in connection with it, considerably less weight was placed upon the analogy, and certainly not the sort of weight that would press theologians more in the direction of univocity.

The quest for deep structure is not entirely misguided. However, that deep structure is primarily to be found in the concreteness of nature itself as created by God. Scriptural teaching on the sexes is chiefly descriptive, rather than prescriptive or narrowly ideological. This natural deep structure is fitting to humanity's being in the image of God and in its reflection, representation, and bearing of God's creative rule within the world. That we are male and female is not in Scripture an arbitrary or indifferent fact, but something that fits us for the purpose for which we are created, for fellowship with God, representative service and rule of his creation, and manifestation of its beauty and delight. It also provides a symbolic framework that God uses for certain dimensions of his self-revelation. There are not, however, the sort of direct correspondences that ESS supporters advocate.

Accommodated but Real Revelation

Within these debates, there has been a consistent attempt among the critics of the ESS position to protect the Trinity from accounts which both break with the orthodox doctrine and which speculate and project into the divine nature. A robust Trinitarian theology will constantly expose the limits of our language and concepts of God and resist any straightforward reading back of God's accommodated self-revelation in the context of a fallen creation into his eternal being. God surpasses our understanding, our language, and our concepts.

Yet there are genuine dangers on the other side here. In resisting univocal accounts of God's eternal being and accounts which fail to take seriously the reality of divine accommodation (as God reveals himself to us under the conditions of creation and sin in a manner appropriate to the limits of our understanding), we should beware of dismissing the possibility and the fact of divine self-revelation.

The submission of the incarnate Son to the will of the Father should not be projected back into the eternal being of God. However, even when constrained within the limits of orthodox Trinitarian theology, some important relation remains. No, we cannot posit separate wills or centers of consciousness in God, nor speak as supporters of ESS do of authority and submission in the Trinity. Yet there remains a profound fittingness to the fact that it was the Son who became man, a fittingness that gives us some truthful apprehension of the eternal relation between Father and Son. Although this relation is not one of authority and submission and any notion of eternal obedience is excluded, the manner of the incarnation is revelatory of divine taxis.

Appropriate resistance to the careless employment of univocal predication can overshoot, leading us to resist analogical predication and the truthfulness of accommodated revelation. Indeed, an unprincipled apophaticism can be used precisely in order to escape the unwelcome force of accommodated revelation. The egalitarian side of this debate may be especially vulnerable to this, as the asymmetry of the divine taxis is perceived by some to be incongruent with egalitarian values. Likewise, masculine language and images for God are often resisted for similar reasons. Terms like 'Father' and 'Son' used of the Triune hypostases should not be collapsed into notions of human sonship and fatherhood, but nor should they be hermetically sealed off from each other. Some analogical--and revelatory--relation remains.

In their different ways, both radical apophaticism and univocal predication can involve the subjection of the doctrine of God to human categories and demands. The seeming humility of radical apophaticism can actually function as a wilful attempt to carve out realms of autonomy upon which divine revelation cannot infringe. Univocal predication, on the other hand, trespasses beyond the appropriate bounds of our creaturely state.

Structural Defects in Contemporary Evangelical Theology

These debates have exposed extensive structural problems in contemporary evangelical theology. The ESS position is not an entirely novel one, as many of its critics would like to suppose. It has been gaining prominence for a number of decades in evangelical circles. Its rise has doubtless been powerfully catalyzed by the gender debates, yet it cannot be entirely attributed to these and the position has appeared in various forms outside of contexts shaped by them. Many of the people teaching the ESS position do not regard themselves as theological innovators: they were taught the ESS position in their own theological training. It is important that we do not make them the scapegoats for an error that we have harbored in our midst for quite some time. The doctrine for the Trinity has suffered relative neglect in evangelical circles for quite some time; part of our task in recovering it must be the removal of the dust, cobwebs, and grime of error that have accumulated upon it.

Besides this exposure of Trinitarian error, serious and extensive cracks between the disciplines of systematic, historical, and biblical theology have been revealed. Systematic theologians struggle to handle Scripture and biblical theologians manifest a poor acquaintance with orthodox Trinitarianism and historical theology. These breaches between the disciplines must be addressed as a matter of some urgency.

Even among those who hold an orthodox doctrine of the Trinity, that doctrine may be much diminished in its role within the broader firmament of Christian truth, not least on account of a failure to explore its capacity to illuminate and enrich our reading of Scripture. Rather than functioning as an integrating and coordinating doctrine, one of the fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith that permeates and relates all else, it risks operating in a manner detached from the rest of Christian truth, chiefly concerned with maintaining its own integrity. Yet the true integrity of the doctrine of the Trinity cannot be maintained where a commitment to pursuing its theologically integrating function is absent.

Should we take the various lessons of these debates to heart, I believe that they will have proved to be profoundly worthwhile, serving both the health and the growth of the Church in the future.

*This is the final post in a series that Alastair began running at Reformation21 last June. You can find the previous posts in this series here

In an online context, where conversations move at a breakneck speed, we so often fail to carve out time for proper deliberation and reflection. After the firestorm of one debate has passed, we can swiftly move on to the next dispute, failing to reflect upon the lessons that can be gleaned from the conversation that we have just had. Disciplined and patient retrospection is, however, a rewarding activity and our neglect of it robs us of much of the potential profit of experience.

In this article, I want to offer an unapologetically 'cold take', a reflection at some distance in time upon some of the principal points that we can take forward from the conversations surrounding the eternal subordination of the Son (ESS).


The prominence of the ESS position owes a great deal to a theological preoccupation with the notion of authority and the relations appropriate to it. Authority has long been a prominent category in evangelical thought, not least in debates about the place of Scripture in the Church. However, as a category it has often been attended by many unconsidered assumptions and has also often been at risk of occluding much else. Both the unconsidered assumptions and the narrow preoccupation have implications for conceptions of divine relations, relations between the sexes, and understandings of Scripture's place in the Church. They represent a constriction of the imagination that often produces damaging and stifling understandings and practices.

For instance, authority is overwhelmingly conceived of both as an authority over and as an authority that exists over against others. Yet there are other ways of conceiving of authority. Authority can be an authority for or involve an authorizing of others. Authority is not a zero sum game in which we are weakened by the authority of another in relation to us. For instance, when speaking about the 'authority of Scripture', we may be inclined to think of that authority purely as something exercised over us to which we must be obedient. We may forget that Scripture is a manifestation and exercise of God's authority for the sake of his saving purpose, a dimension of the ministry of the Father's Word in the power of his Spirit to redeem and renew humanity and the creation. We can also forget that Scripture is an authorizing word, a word that commissions, empowers, and equips us to be God's fellow workers. Similar things could be said about gender relations, where so often an emphasis upon the authority of the man has been at the expense of, rather than in service to, the woman.

Complementarian Diversity

The recent ESS debate has exposed significant diversity among complementarians. All too often, the term 'complementarian' has functioned chiefly as a rallying label and shibboleth, serving the purpose of aligning people with one or the other party in gender debates. Indeed, the terms 'complementarian' and 'egalitarian' (and the polarized group dynamics that they fuel) have often so dominated the debate that it has been difficult to discover the actual diversity of positions beneath them.

This debate has made it more apparent that the term 'complementarian' applies to a diverse range of positions, whose differences are sometimes quite significant. It has also revealed that, on certain issues of deep theological importance with secondary relevance to the gender debates, the actual alignments that matter may cut across our divisions in the gender debates, dividing us from people we may have considered to be in our own camp and joining us with people with whom, in the gender debates, we find ourselves in disagreement.

The need to maintain a unified stance in the face of the external challenges of egalitarianism and the shifting sexual and gender norms of contemporary culture has often led to some degree of a self-imposed stifling of disagreement within the complementarian camp. However, a besieged mentality can produce dangerously brittle and unexamined systems of thought and practice and encourage us to turn a blind eye to serious errors. As the polarizing magnetism of party designations is weakened, a far more complicated picture emerges, along with promising possibilities for progress. Complementarians have always had internal debate, but this and other recent debates further unsettle notions of a shared 'party line' and have thereby expanded the scope of such intramural discussion.

The potential of this space remains ambivalent. It could lead to a fracturing and weakening of the complementarian position in general, as people divide into various squabbling camps. Concerns about this possibility may be heightened by the fact that party mentalities are often still very much in evidence among complementarians on either side of these debates. Alternatively, it could make possible a shared commitment to a challenging conversation among complementarians, through which all of our positions are honed and certain errors are rooted out, even if we do not finally align. Within such a space, it is possible to articulate more developed proposals, as we are no longer primarily concerned with defending a narrow party line.

The Crosswinds of the Gender Debates

Throughout the debate surrounding ESS, it has been concerning to witness the degree to which theological and exegetical argumentation has been caught up in the politics, the antagonisms, and the concerns of the broader gender debates. Reading many egalitarians and complementarian critics of ESS, it has often been difficult to tell what is driving the arguments--genuine concern about the proper handling of the doctrine of the Trinity, or animus against the supposed wrong sort of complementarians. My suspicions that this debate has been peculiarly afflicted by motivated and politicized reasoning have been intensified, as people who have not otherwise shown any interest in or extensive study of the doctrine of the Trinity have exhibited a peculiar concern in this particular case, often while still ignoring related errors in their own contexts. This is a time for all of us to examine our motives, to ask whether we are as alert to error in Trinitarian doctrine when those errors are harnessed to the service of doctrines that we ourselves favour. Is Trinitarian orthodoxy merely being weaponized for our squabbles about the theology of gender?

As I have become more acquainted with the writings in support of ESS in the course of this debate, it has been deeply troubling to see the way in which a framework of authority and submission has become almost programmatic for an understanding of the Trinity for some theologians. While there are instances in which the language of authority and submission is employed of the Trinitarian relation between the Father and the Son in the more recent tradition, the prominence that this has assumed more recently--a prominence that threatens to occlude so much else--is, I believe, unprecedented. It is also, in my assessment, a development that almost certainly has been catalysed by the gender debates.

The intense institutional politics and personal feelings that attend the gender debates make it incredibly difficult to have productive conversations and to reason in a balanced and consistent manner on issues that impinge upon them. It should be a matter of considerable concern that the doctrine of the Trinity has been blown off course in the manner that it has, but also that the integrity of the motives of critics of ESS can so often be in doubt on account of party mentalities. Both this distrust and its corresponding untrustworthiness contribute in their own way to the perpetuation of the problems, as most voices that will be raised against it are compromised or easily dismissed.

The progress that has been made in this debate has primarily occurred as the debate has been removed from a realm dominated by the fickle, capricious, and frequently untrustworthy reasoning of partisan antagonists, and has occurred in contexts sheltered from or opposed to such dynamics. It has also revealed the importance of and need for persons who can stand above partisanship and demonstrate the intellectual integrity necessary to criticize their own colleagues and friends. Where such integrity and courage has been lacking, it is not surprising that even genuine warnings of error have been unheeded.

The proper authority of dogmatic theology is legitimized through the regular demonstration of its truth and power. This can only occur as the authority of dogmatic theology is consistently and repeatedly shown to arise out from and practically to strengthen and actualize the Scripture's own authority. At its best, dogmatic theology proves itself as it brings into focus and clarity elements of the scriptural witness that are unclear. It proves itself when it enables us to grasp the grand unifying themes and fundamental truths that give coherence to the whole of Scripture and strengths the grasp of those great truths upon us. Where such demonstrations are absent, dogmatics will implicitly frame itself as abstract and abstruse, self-referential and largely absorbed in problems of its own creation.

What is required is, I believe, a marked shift of posture from many dogmaticians in their relation to Scripture, and most particularly in relation to the doctrine of the Trinity. The relationship that dogmaticians have all too often maintained between Scripture and the doctrine of the Trinity has been one overly mediated by the 'proof-text'. The purpose of the 'proof-text' is primarily and narrowly the justification of Trinitarian doctrine itself. The concept and the practical functioning of proof-texts can encourage a perception of Trinitarian doctrine as akin to a large balloon tethered to the earth by slender cords, each of which must be guarded at all costs.

Such an approach focuses our attention upon isolated texts and concentrates our efforts upon the task of finding the doctrine in the Scriptures, conceived of as a collection of individual texts. However, this is, I believe, the wrong place and manner to look. As I mentioned in a previous article in this series, the doctrine of the Trinity isn't primarily seen at odd points in the text, but through the text in its entirety. It is not so much about particular pieces in the jigsaw puzzle, as it is about the picture on the front of the box. Although reflection upon individual texts is a necessary part of this recognition process, they are, as it were, only footholds on a climb to a commanding vantage point from which the whole terrain of biblical revelation unfolds as a vast and glorious vista beneath us.

The 'proof' of Trinitarian doctrine is not principally found in self-regarding moments, as it catches a passing glimpse of its reflection in the text. Rather, its proof is found as, regarded from the vantage point it offers, the greater realm of the Scriptures comes into view, and, conversely, as the heights of the doctrine of the Trinity are discovered to be a landmark from which we can get our bearings wherever we find ourselves.

It is crucial to appreciate that enjoying the full significance of this vantage point isn't a possibility for the dogmatician who is simply airlifted onto it. Rather, this vantage point is properly reached through a lengthy scriptural itinerary, a difficult and often visually obscured passage through the territory that only later unfolds beneath us. Appreciation of the significance of the vantage point that the doctrine of the Trinity offers belongs to those who have trodden the paths that lead up to it--paths marked out, signposted, and fenced for safety by former travelers---and who pay close attention to the warnings at its summit, where careless steps may cause people to fall to their deaths. Only the careful traveller who walks the full path can appreciate the power of the mutually revealing perspectives they have enjoyed in their journey.

At its best, what dogmatic theology holds forth is the greater grammar of the entire biblical witness. Without some apprehension of this grammar, all interpretation will fall short, as the broader import of the Scriptures become less coherent. In my earlier post, I noted the contrast between the relationship that Francis Watson draws between Trinity and creation and that in John Webster's paper on the subject. Watson's approach takes its bearings from a reading of Genesis 1, noting that there are three different modes of divine creative work and relation to the creation within that text: transcendence (divine authoring of speech), bodily involvement (divine fashioning), and dynamic indwelling (the empowering of God's life-giving breath). He observes that particular creative actions are at various points attributed to each of these modes of divine action. However, what might otherwise be nothing but a series of narrative peculiarities or conundrums are given a greater coherence when viewed from the vantage point of the reality of the Trinity that enables us to perceive features from above that weren't so clear on the ground. Watson remarks:

Traditional Trinitarian terminology helps to clarify this situation. Specific appropriations of a divine act to a divine person may be made, but only within the constraints of the principle that opera trinitatis ad extra sunt indivisa ... and we are not to think of three separate agents who sometimes work in concert and sometimes separately. Thus every act of creation involves the word of command issuing from God's mouth, the wisdom or skill ... and the strength of God's hands, and the dynamic indwelling of God's breath.

While I do not agree with all aspects of the reading that Watson offers, this is precisely the sort of 'proof' that Trinitarian theology needs: the kind of 'proof' that is found in the pudding of broader scriptural interpretation, the kind of proof that allows us to see new features of a familiar territory as we are granted a new vantage point upon it. The doctrine is proved by the light that it sheds upon our reading of Scripture and, in turn, the reading of such passages sheds light on the doctrine.

It is heartening to see various theologians who are currently pushing against the polarization of exegesis and dogmatic theology, establishing a fruitful, mutually receptive, respectful, and illuminating dialogue between them. Wesley Hill's recent work, Paul and the Trinity: Persons, Relations, and the Pauline Letters, is one good example of a healthy dialectic of close historical reading of the biblical text and orthodox Trinitarian insight, in which both endeavors are enriched by their interaction.

The Trinitarian doctrines under discussion are significant precisely because, where they are misconstrued, the underlying grammar of the biblical narrative and of our faith more generally is distorted, whether subtly or not so subtly. What is really at issue here is not the legitimacy or accuracy of some artifact of dogmatic or creedal theology but, rather, the more pressing question of how we are to understand the relationship between the Son and the Father throughout our reading of Scripture and practice of our faith. Getting the doctrine of the Trinity wrong will lead us to tell the entire story incorrectly in important ways. It is quite unfortunate that this point has often been neglected or missed in the debates, leaving opponents of the eternal subordination of the Son position vulnerable to the charge of theological pedantry.

Within my next post, I will turn to some of the texts that have been at issue in the debate.

The current debate surrounding the eternal subordination of the Son (ESS) has highlighted a number of existing tensions in evangelical theological circles. Perhaps one of the most significant of these is the tension between dogmatic and biblical theology.

The dogmaticians and systematic theologians have principally made their case through appeal to the creeds, patristic sources, and other important theologians from the tradition. They have discussed the deeper logic of orthodox Trinitarian theology, and have shown the ways in which the ESS position departs from it. However, their engagement with Scripture itself has been relatively slight. By contrast, Scripture has played a very prominent role in the arguments in favour of ESS.

It is noteworthy that the egalitarian theologians with the greatest sympathies for an ESS position have been exegetes and biblical scholars, people like Craig Keener and Andrew Perriman. There have been accusations and counter-accusations. For instance, Perriman claims that theologians are attempting to 'retrofit their worldview on scripture under the guise of an epistemologically privileged Trinitarian hermeneutic,' criticizing such an approach for failing to attend properly to history, or to grant it its proper priority.

While I doubt any of the complementarian advocates will favour Perriman's broader approach, Perriman isn't the only person complaining about the role that systematic or dogmatic theology are permitted to play in these debates. Owen Strachan insists that the philosophical and historical Trinitarian arguments 'must ultimately kneel before exegesis-and-theology' and warns of the danger of a 'New Scholasticism', where doctrine becomes the preserve of 'arid scholars', leaving laypeople feeling unqualified to understand the Bible for themselves.

Mark Jones' response to Strachan pulls no punches. Strachan's criticisms of systematic and dogmatic theologians are comparable to the naïve 'anti-metaphysical Biblicism' of the Socinians. Appeals to the plain reading of the Bible have long been the refuge of heretics, who have pitted exegesis against the philosophizing of orthodox theologians. Besides, when actually examining the 'plain readings' that Strachan and others champion, one is all too often disappointed to discover lazy exegesis, which also departs from mainstream historical readings of the texts in question.

There is a palpable and not unjustifiable frustration on both sides here, a frustration occasioned by a breach between dogmatic and biblical theology and by an unhealthy relationship between systematic theology and exegesis. This frustration is particularly pronounced for the doctrine of the Trinity, which, on account of its dogmatic centrality, makes strong demands of exegetes, without seeming to be open to exegetical correction and clarification itself.

There appears to be a widespread sense among biblical theologians that the doctrine of the Trinity was propelled into a faulty dogmatic orbit through various miscalculations in the Church Fathers' exegesis and their failure to compensate for the gravitational pull of Greek philosophy. While ESS advocates may generally affirm and value the doctrine of the Trinity, they often seem to have a suspicion that the flawed trajectory of the doctrine must be addressed and that the coordinating function of the doctrine, while largely serviceable, is nonetheless somewhat compromised. Engaging with dogmatic theologians heightens their impression that the doctrine, unless its faulty course is corrected, is at risk of leaving the orbit of Scripture and spinning off into the deep space of speculative philosophical theology.

Of course, many of the prominent advocates of the ESS position are systematic theologians themselves. However, they typically lean heavily on the plain sense of Scripture in their arguments and, where they diverge from the stances of traditional Trinitarian orthodoxy, argue that they cannot see the doctrines in question within Scripture. Bruce Ware, for example, has formerly cast doubt upon the doctrines of the eternal begetting of the Son and the procession of the Spirit, claiming that they seemed 'highly speculative and not grounded in biblical teaching' (Father, Son, & Holy Spirit, 162n3).

Whatever the merits of classic Trinitarian doctrine itself, Ware's claim has something of the sting of truth when applied to the arguments of many of its advocates. Dogmatic theologians--even the best ones--often don't do a great deal of helpful work with Scripture, perhaps especially on the subject of the Trinity. In a debate where scriptural texts like 1 Corinthians 11:3 have been prominently featured on the side of the ESS position, beyond highlighting the readings of key figures from the tradition, remarkably few of the defenders of classic Trinitarian orthodoxy have closely engaged with this and other texts or provided alternative readings. It is far more commonly insisted that the texts cannot mean what ESS advocates say that they mean, as such meanings conflict with orthodox Trinitarian doctrine.

The neglect of Scripture is common even in the work of the most able dogmaticians. For instance, I recently read Webster's superb treatment of Trinity and creation, and was struck by how it largely functions in a manner independent of exegesis, or reflection upon the biblical narrative (I would have loved to have seen Webster engage closely with something akin to Francis Watson's suggested Trinitarian reading of Genesis 1 in Text, Church, and World). ESS is, more than anything else, about the reading of key biblical texts, rather than about the parsing of a theology of God that, no matter how orthodox, increasingly floats free of the text.

When readings of Scripture that have a prima facie plausibility to many readers are met with forceful objections from Trinitarian doctrine, but little by way of careful alternative exegesis, it is unsurprising that tensions will arise between exegetes and dogmaticians. Indeed, there is a danger that dogmatics may come to be regarded chiefly as the creator of obstacles, burdens, and Kafkaesque demands for interpreters of Scripture.

If this were to happen, it would be deeply unfortunate. Although the standard of orthodox dogmatics must be authoritative (even if not the final authority) for interpreters of Scripture, once again we face the question of how such authority is to be conceived and handled. Does the authority of dogmatics justify it lording over exegesis, or is its authority primarily given to serve exegesis, which will be empowered and flourish as it heeds its guidance?

In my next post, I will articulate a vision for the fruitful interaction of dogmatics and scriptural interpretation.

I Am (Still) A Complementarian

My good friend, Todd Pruitt, recently wrote a post in which he gave several reasons why he no longer considers himself a complementarian. I must admit, there is much in Todd's article with which I agree. I share his concerns about the way in which the term complementarian has been sometimes been "freighted with unacceptable doctrine." Additionally, I have found the recent debate on the Trinity to be both helpful and insightful. Theology is ultimately a study about God; and, if we miss the mark on who the Triune God is then everything downstream from it (and everything is downstream from it) is ultimately affected. The doctrine of the Trinity must be carefully defined and defended.

I also agree with Todd about the necessity to be Confessional. I spent several great years on staff with a large parachurch campus organization. I ended up leaving because I couldn't handle the pragmatic and progressive ways in which the Bible was being treated by many of those with whom I labored. Then I read Carl Trueman's The Creedal Imperative and breathed a sigh of relief. I learned that there was someone who could actually articulate, in an intelligent fashion, the rationale for the angst I was feeling. We had handled the Scriptures as if they were no longer wedded to the traditions of the Church Catholic. There was no place for the historic creeds and confessions of the Church. Consequently, the interpretation of Scripture could swing wildly, depending on the particular needs of the moment. Though often well-intended, the organization with which I served was developing policies and strategies that were simply unbiblical.

The Creeds and Confessions of historic Protestantism serve as the guardrails for our interpretation; and, as Todd pointed out in his recent post, our denomination holds to a Confession of Faith and a Book of Church Order that addresses a myriad of issues affecting the church today. The pilgrim path Christians must navigate today is perilous and treacherous. Now is a time when I am especially grateful to be hemmed in and protected by these guardrails. I, too, am Confessional.

But I am still a complementarian. While I share Todd's concerns about the Trinity, I think there is still much value in the term complementarian. I don't think we should jettison it just yet. Let me explain by way of analogy. I am a Presbyterian. Sometimes when I speak to people about being a Presbyterian there comes a point where I have to say, "I'm not that kind of Presbyterian." In the minds of most people, the term Presbyterian is equated with the liberal mainline denomination. Perhaps there will come a day when I think it necessary to ditch the term "Presbyterian," but I'm not there yet because it still describes who I am. There is still greater benefit than liability in using the term. It might require some explanation, but the term is still valuable enough to keep it. I don't believe that the term complementarian has become so synonymous with the doctrine of the Son's eternal subordination to the Father as to be rendered useless.

With our culture's continued march toward sexual anarchy, the term complementarian still helps explain what the Bible teaches about men and women. And it does so by standing together with other brothers and sisters who labor to teach a Biblical understanding of sex and gender. The church's united articulation of what means to be made, male and female, in the image of God is crucial and one of the principle battlefields for the hearts and minds of the lost. The prevailing culture is striving to convince us from our elementary schools and up that there is no real difference between male and female other than a social or personal construct. Yet the Scriptures affirm that our being male or female is part of our created nature. The distinction of the two sexes honors the way in which God has made us in His image. It is through these two sexes that God has ordained for the propagation of all mankind. Societies are constructed of the building blocks of families. If this is true, then our maleness and femaleness goes beyond the doors of the church and the doors of the home. And it would be beneficial for the church to have language to address this and to defend it from attack. I think complementarian succinctly addresses this void, even if imperfectly.

Might the term need clarification? Absolutely. Will we need to make some distinctions? Probably. Might there come a day when I feel the need to abandon it? Possibly. But to the vast majority of people who are familiar with the term, it describes one's view on what the Scripture teaches regarding male/female roles. While some high profile proponents of complementarianism have arguably adopted a non-Nicene view of the Trinity, the usefulness of the term complementarian has not completely passed. Broadly speaking, the term still addresses what the Bible says about men and women in their respective God-given roles and less so an aberrant view of the Trinity. And our sexually confused world needs to hear clarity about what it means to be a man or a woman in the world and in marriage. The challenges of the day, therefore, compel me to still consider myself to be a complementarian.

Most criticisms of the eternal subordination of the Son (ESS) position have focused upon deficiencies in its Trinitarian theology. In my last post I commented upon some of the problems with the term and concept of subordination. Within this post, I will sketch some of the contours of Trinitarian theology, to make clearer some of the areas where it may be at risk of being compromised.

Perhaps the most basic distinction that frames such a discussion of the Trinity is that between the 'immanent' and the 'economic' Trinity and the related terminology of ad intra and ad extra. Darren Sumner makes some helpful observations concerning this distinction. The term immanent Trinity refers to God with respect to his own eternal life; the term economic Trinity refers to God with respect to his action in creation and redemption.

The economic Trinity, as Karl Rahner insisted, is the immanent Trinity: there aren't two different Trinities. God isn't lurking behind a mask, but truly is present and revealed in his work and word in creation. However, the economic Trinity is God revealed under the conditions of time, sin, and incarnation. God himself is present and known, but in a manner refracted by temporal realities. While we can be confident in God's presence with us and self-revelation to us, then, an understanding of the immanent Trinity--of God as he is in his own inner life, without respect to creation--cannot simply be arrived at through a retrojection from the ad extra works and revelation of God in the economy.

This distinction may not be quite so clear in the case of God's actions and determinations 'before the foundation of the world' or of those events that occur at or after 'the end' (for instance, as Christ delivers the kingdom to his Father). Some have unhelpfully used the language of 'eternity past' in this context. It might be more appropriate to speak of aeviternity, the higher, yet still created, time of the heavenly realm, which precedes, surpasses, and endures beyond terrestrial time. However, as Sumner stresses, this still pertains to the economic rather than the immanent Trinity. The same is true of the relation that existed between Father and Son before the Son took on the form of a servant in coming as a man. So, for instance, Jonathan Edwards can speak of a 'natural'--presumably immanent--order of the Persons of the Trinity, an economic order, and, further, the subordination that the Son came into by virtue of the covenant of redemption. These orders are congruent and fitting with respect to each other, but they are not to be conflated.

The immanent/economic distinction is blurred in the arguments of Craig Keener and others who don't seem to have a clear account of the eternal Trinity--the immanent Trinitarian self-existence of God beyond and above all created time, whether heavenly or earthly--operating instead only in terms of the aeviternal Trinity--the unending existence of the economic Trinity in a higher heavenly time, stretching out both before and after our terrestrial time. When God is so conceived, the immanent can easily collapse into the economic and God's being never truly exceeds the horizons of the cosmos he created.

The manner in which various ESS positions speak of the relations between the persons of the Trinity and of the persons more generally is a further area of concern for critics. Within the ESS position there often seems to lurk at least an incipient social Trinitarianism. Social Trinitarianism conceives of the persons of the Trinity as if they were three distinct subjectivities--three 'I's--in communion and speaks of their relations accordingly.

This is a significant departure from the Church's historic doctrine of the Trinity, within which the language of 'person' functions rather differently and does not carry the meaning that it does in popular parlance. The 'persons' of the Trinity are not three distinct centres of consciousness or agencies--which would suggest something resembling tritheism and undermine the oneness (and the simplicity) of God. The persons, or hypostases, are three instantiations of the one divine nature. However, most of the things that we would associate with personhood--knowledge, will, love, wisdom, mind, etc.--are grounded, not in the three hypostases, but in the one divine nature. In this respect, if we were working in terms of our modern usage of the term 'person', in some respects God might be more aptly spoken of as one 'person' with three self-relations, rather than as one being in three persons. This language still falls far short, though.

When the divine persons are conceived according to an analogy with human persons, there is a dangerous resulting tendency for the doctrine of the Trinity to become entangled with our social theory and agenda, often leading to projection of our social ideals into the Triune life of God. While this has been a huge trend in theology over the past hundred years (Jürgen Moltmann, John Zizioulas, Miroslav Volf, Leonardo Boff, etc. all hold social Trinitarian positions, or positions that tend in that direction), it is something that theologians such as Stephen Holmes and Karen Kilby [doc file] have strenuously opposed, demonstrating its departure from the tradition. As I've already noted, some prominent egalitarian critics of ESS such as Millard Erickson and Kevin Giles have advocated distinctly social Trinitarian viewpoints in the past and connected such visions to their egalitarianism (although Giles at least seems to have moderated his stance somewhat).

A number of the criticisms of ESS can be traced back to this point. For the ESS position to work, its critics suggest, it depends upon conceiving of the three hypostases as if akin to persons in the more modern sense of the term--as three distinct agents and centres of consciousness. Yet, from the standpoint of the tradition, this clearly will not do.

This problem is keenly felt when talking about the wills of the Father and the Son. For eternal relations of authority and submission (ERAS) to exist, it would seem to be necessary to hold that the three divine hypostases are in key senses like persons in the modern sense of that word, which is not the orthodox position. It is to this problem and the question of the eternal generation of the Son that I will turn in my next post.

The Eternal Subordination of the Son Controversy: Subordination

Teasing out the many different threads of the current eternal subordination of the Son (ESS) debate is a daunting task. The sheer range of different positions and issues represented within the conversation can be bewildering. Perhaps one of the most immediately pressing ground-clearing tasks is that of clarifying terms and disaggregating some of the positions under discussion.

The term 'subordination(ism)' hasn't done us many favors here. For most egalitarians, subordination necessarily connotes inferiority. No matter how strongly a complementarian might protest that they aren't speaking of a lower rank or status, most egalitarians cannot believe them and the legitimacy of an unchanging order of relations within which one party is 'subordinate' to another won't even be entertained. Complementarian affirmations of the equality of the Triune persons in such a context will appear to be begging the question, as enduring subordination is perceived to involve inequality by very definition. Complementarians could not unfairly charge egalitarians of the same thing, as patient and careful arguments for the incompatibility of equality with the subordination complementarians propose are typically far less forthcoming than direct assertions.

Some ESS proponents such as Bruce Ware have adopted 'eternal relations of authority and submission' (ERAS) to replace 'eternal subordination' terminology. Others speak of eternal functional subordination (EFS), to clarify the form of subordination envisaged. Robert Letham suggests that the language of subordination is inappropriate in such a context as such language 'entails that the one subordinated has no choice but is subjected by his superior' (One God in Three Persons, 122). Letham favors the language of 'submission', by which he refers to a loving yielding to another, challenging Giles' assumption that submission is synonymous with subservience.

'Authority', employed in such a context, is another term whose very definition seems to preclude Trinitarian equality for many minds. It is telling that, in contrast to others like Ware, 'authority' doesn't really feature in Letham's account of the eternal relation between the Father and Son. A free submission of the Son may be more congruent with a non-subordinationist account of the Triune relations than an authority-submission pairing, which seems to imply rank, although that suggestion may be firmly resisted. There are more benign definitions of 'authority' to be found, but within the subordinationist cast of most ESS positions, they don't seem to invite themselves (by contrast, New Testament teaching concerning the 'command' of the Father in relation to the Son are often more suggestive of the Father giving his full authorization to the Son than merely of the Son being under the Father's authority). At this point I will note in passing that biblical teaching about the relations between the sexes mentions the submission of the wife on several occasions, but lacks a strong corresponding emphasis upon the husband's authority over her.

Alternative terms such as 'asymmetry,' 'order,' and 'difference' are also treated warily by critics. Egalitarians--not without justification in many instances--suspect that, rather than adopting such terminology to qualify or replace their infelicitous and injudicious 'subordination' language, complementarian ESS advocates are merely dissembling their objectionable positions beneath them. There are many potential forms of differences, asymmetries, and orders. The onus is on complementarians to speak with greater precision here.

Equivocation in the use of the term 'subordination' is a problem on all sides of this debate. In his remarks upon the controversy, Michel Barnes observes that 'subordinationism' has become a blunt and unserviceable 'scare word' that theologians and church historians increasingly try to avoid or replace. He suggests that 'orthodox Trinitarian theology, pre and post Nicene, has always had some kind of "subordinationism"--whatever that word means--to it.' Lewis Ayres fills out Barnes' point, observing the way that the tradition has spoken of an order in the Trinity.

In certain instances, defenders of ESS don't seem to be asserting much more than the claim that there is a correspondence between the taxis of the immanent Trinity (relating to eternal generation), the 'priority' of the Father as the one sending the Son, and the obedient form of Christ's life lived out in the form of a servant. In Kyle Claunch's essay in One God in Three Persons, for example, he steps back from eternal subordination of the Son terminology, while maintaining that 'the one eternal will of God is so ordered that it finds analogical expression in a created relationship of authority and submission' (91).

This is very far removed from the 'subordination' of an Arian or Homoian. However, it also contrasts sharply with the 'subordination' of someone such as Grudem, who questions eternal generation, rejects inseparable operations (see Grudem's opening essay in One God in Three Persons), and speaks of eternal divine self-differentiation in terms of authority, submission, and subordination. While Grudem may appeal to earlier uses of the language of subordination, in his account of ESS, a marginal and disputed position in Trinitarian theology appears to have displaced and substituted for some elements that have traditionally been at its heart.

When assessing such a theology, a wide angle lens is necessary, with attention not only to the terminology employed and particular theological assertions made, but also to how everything is related together and how the doctrine is employed. This is especially the case when a doctrine, even in its more chastened forms, seems to be evolving in no small measure under the intense stress of a discussion that is at most only tangentially related to it.

The key terms at the centre of the ESS debates--subordination, authority, and submission--also seem to be at the centre of a number of their advocates' doctrine. There is no reason why this need be the case, and it raises the question of the aptness of the terms in question for their purposes. Characterizing a relationship as involving subordination is one thing; defining the relationship as subordination is quite another. Likewise, authority and submission can be one dimension among very many of a given relationship. However, when such a dimension is accorded centrality, the character of the relationship can change significantly.

Even if we were to grant the legitimacy of the ESS or ERAS positions for the sake of argument, we still must ask how useful such terms are for characterizing the relations in question and how this can be squared with the prominence that is accorded to them by their advocates. When characterizing the relationship between the Son and the Father in the New Testament, for instance, subordination, authority, and submission aren't necessarily the most obvious or promising terms to focus upon. Love, revelation, sent, gift, word, or image are a few of the many other terms that might prove more illuminating in this context (without shedding such a sense, the term 'head' might also be discovered to be rather richer than the definition 'authority over' might suggest). The more that terms such as subordination, authority, and submission dominate our account of the relation between the Son and the Father, the more distorted our Trinitarian doctrine can become.

It is this same dangerous tendency to present a one dimensional and reductive account of a richly multifaceted relation that egalitarians can react against in some complementarian accounts of relations between men and women. Within such a one dimensional account, it is indeed hard to see how subordination does not entail inferiority. Unfortunately, this reductive tendency has been encouraged by the fact that complementarian accounts of the sexes have--like egalitarian accounts--largely been developed in the context of controversy, against the foil of and in conflict with the opposing camp's position. The result has been a centralizing of controverted points and a relative neglect of that which exists outside the scope of the controversy. Accounts of the relations between the sexes have become narrowly framed by the question of authority. Without neglecting this question, much could be gained from confining it to its proper place.

There is, furthermore, a great gulf between occasional appeals to a relatively uncontroverted (albeit theologically erroneous) ESS position as a useful counter-example to egalitarian claims that subordination necessarily entails inequality on the one side and determined advocacy of ESS as a disputed doctrine that grounds the submission of women to men upon the submission of the Son to the Father on the other. The second approach unhelpfully entangles our doctrine of the Trinity with our account of relations between the sexes and overloads isolated texts like 1 Corinthians 11:3--a slender bridge that must now support heavy theological traffic--in the theological formulation of both of these positions.

Egalitarians have developed various highly speculative doctrines of the Trinity that conform to their assumptions about ideal communal relations. Such doctrines often weaken the unity of the immanent and the economic Trinity and struggle to do justice to the relational order of taxis. Complementarians are far better placed to criticize egalitarians at these points when they themselves are not invested in tendentious doctrines of the Trinity that supposedly ground their own stance on the sexes.

There are, I believe, genuine grounds for concern that the desire for complementarian co-belligerency and visible consensus against the threat of egalitarianism is preventing some complementarian advocates of ESS from forthrightly addressing serious theological divergences within their own camp. This recent controversy--even though marred by partisanship--has demonstrated that, at its best, the family of complementarian viewpoints can be robust and mutually sharpening in its self-criticism. However, fruitful self-criticism is considerably less likely to occur the more that we are encouraged to circle the wagons and as conflict with non-complementarian opponents dominates our theological horizons.

In the next post in this series, I will proceed to explore some of the matters of Trinitarian theology that are at issue in this debate.
[Editorial Notes: Out of our respect for Dr. Wayne Grudem and a desire to continue the ongoing debate regarding Trinitarian distinctions, we are pleased to have Dr. Grudem respond to some recent criticisms that have been leveled at him. As we noted in Dr. Ware's post, the views expressed in this post do not necessarily represent those of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals or of Reformation 21].

Let me be clear as to what, from my perspective, the recent Trinitarian dispute is about. It is not about whether I (and others such as Bruce Ware and Owen Strachan) hold to the doctrine of the Trinity as expressed in the Nicene Creed (325 A.D., revised 381 A.D.). I am happy to affirm both the full deity of the Son and that the Son is eternally "begotten of the Father before all worlds," provided that "begotten of the Father" is understood to refer to an eternal Father-Son relationship in the Trinity that includes no superiority or inferiority of being or essence. Up to that point, I think all sides agree.

But what kind of eternal Father-Son relationship is this? That is the point of difference. Bruce Ware and Owen Strachan and I have understood it in terms of the eternal authority of the Father and the eternal submission of the Son within their relationship. That seems to us to best account for the very names "Father" and "Son" as they would certainly have been understood in the ancient world, and also to best account for multiple passages of Scripture that show a consistent pattern of the Father who elects us in the Son (Eph. 1:4-5), creates the world through the Son (John 1:2, 1 Cor. 8:6, Heb. 1:2), sends the Son into the world (John 3:16), and delegates judgment to the Son (Rev 2:27), while the Son comes into the world to do his Father's will, not his own (John 6:38), after his ascension sits at the right hand of the Father (Acts 2:32-35), receives from the Father the authority to pour forth the Holy Spirit in New Covenant fullness (Matt 28:18; Acts 2:33), makes intercession before the Father (Heb. 7:25), receives revelation from the Father to give to the church (Rev. 1:1), and will eternally be subject to the Father (1 Cor. 15:26-28). These activities between the Father and Son are one-directional and they are never reversed anywhere in Scripture.

Liam Goligher and Carl Trueman have not provided an alternative explanation for these verses. However, they have claimed that our understanding of "begotten of the Father before all worlds" in the Nicene Creed is incorrect, and that instead of saying it implies an authority-submission relationship, we should say that it refers to the "eternal generation of the Son."

But just what is meant by "eternal generation"? In what they have written, I cannot discover what they mean. To substitute the words "paternity" and "filiation" provides some Latinized terminology but those terms simply mean "existing as a father" and "existing as a son," which tells us nothing more. Quite honestly, I find it impossible to say whether or not I agree with "eternal generation" until someone explains, in ordinary English, what he means by it (not just what it does not mean). (If "eternal generation" simply means "an eternal Father-Son relationship," then I am happy to affirm it.)

However, what is surprising to me, and I think quite uncalled-for, is that Goligher and (apparently) Trueman are insisting that those who disagree with their particular interpretation of the Nicene Creed should have no teaching office in the church.

My response is to say that I have simply understood the Nicene Creed in the sense that many widely-respected evangelical scholars have understood it, including the great Princeton theologian Charles Hodge, the great church historian Philip Schaff, and the highly regarded historian Geoffrey Bromiley (see the quotations at the end of this article). They all used the language of "subordination" of the Son to the Father in relationship, but not in essence or deity.

By way of further response, I have listed below some quotations from thirteen additional evangelical theologians from a broad spectrum of denominational backgrounds who affirm the eternal submission (or subordination, both terms are used) of the Son to the Father in relationship but not in deity or essence.

According to Goligher's and Trueman's standards, these thirteen that I list (along with the five others that I include at the end, for a total of 18) would also be excluded as guilty of heresy and deprived of any teaching office in the church. I strongly disagree with their conclusion, and I find their claim highly inappropriate. Personally, I am proud to stand in the in the company of these wonderful servants of God in the list below.

Finally, I want to reemphasize what I asked in my first article: Where in the entire history of recognized evangelical Protestant theology has anyone ever agreed with what Goligher and Trueman are saying--namely, that anyone who affirms both the full deity of the Son, and the eternal submission or subordination of the Son to the Father in their relationship, should "certainly" be excluded from "holding office in the church of God"? They have provided no answer.

Their claim that their interpretation of the Nicene Creed should be the only one allowed, not our orthodox Trinitarian belief, is what is unprecedented in the history of the church.

Here are the thirteen additional quotations, followed by the original five:

1. J. I. Packer, Knowing God (1973). (Packer is probably the best-known living evangelical theologian, and is sometimes called "the gate-keeper of evangelicalism.")

"Part of the revealed mystery of the Godhead is that the three persons stand in a fixed relation to each other....It is the nature of the second person of the Trinity to acknowledge the authority and submit to the good pleasure of the first. That is why He declares Himself to be the Son, and the first person to be His Father. Though co-equal with the Father in eternity, power, and glory, it is natural to Him to play the Son's part, and find all His joy in doing His Father's will, just as it is natural to the first person of the Trinity to plan and initiate the works of the Godhead and natural to the third person to proceed from the Father and the Son to do their joint bidding. Thus the obedience of the God-man to the Father while He was on earth was not a new relationship occasioned by the incarnation, but the continuation in time of the eternal relationship between the Son and the Father in heaven." Knowing God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1973), 54-55.

2. Carl F. H. Henry (1982). (Henry taught at numerous evangelical seminaries and was often referred to as "the dean of evangelical theologians" in the last half of the 20th century.)

"The creeds speak of the subordination, distinction and union of the three persons without implying an inferiority of any; since all three persons have a common divine essence they affirm the Son's subordination to the Father, and the Spirit's subordination to the Father and the Son. This subordination pertains to mode of subsistence and to mode of operations" (God, Revelation and Authority (Waco, Texas: Word, 1982), vol. 5, p. 205.)

"Christians must . . . avoid claiming supernatural authority for one or another interpretation that seems to resolve the problem of persons and essence in the Trinity" (p. 210).

3. Jonathan Edwards (1740). (Edwards (1703-1758) is commonly recognized as one of the greatest, if not the greatest, theologian in the history of America.)

"1. That there is a subordination of the persons of the Trinity, in their actings with respect to the creature; that one acts from another, and under another, and with a dependence on another, in their actings, and particularly in what they act in the affair of man's redemption. So that the Father in that affair acts as Head of the Trinity, and Son under him, and the Holy Spirit under them both.
2. 'Tis very manifest that the persons of the Trinity are not inferior one to another in glory and excellency of nature...

4. Though a subordination of the persons of the Trinity in their actings be not from any proper natural subjection one to another, and so must be conceived of as in some respect established by mutual free agreement...yet this agreement establishing this economy is not to be looked upon as merely arbitrary...But there is a natural decency or fitness in that order and economy that is established. 'Tis fit that the order of the acting of the persons of the Trinity should be agreeable to the order of their subsisting: that as the Father is first in the order of subsisting, so he should be first in the order of acting...therefore the persons of the Trinity all consent to this order, and establish it by agreement, as they all naturally delight in what is in itself fit, suitable and beautiful. Therefore,
5. This order [or] economy of the persons of the Trinity with respect to their actions ad extra2 is to be conceived of as prior to the covenant of redemption...
6. That the economy of the persons of the Trinity, establishing that order of their acting that is agreeable to the order of their subsisting, is entirely diverse from the covenant of redemption, and prior to it, not only appears from the nature of things, but appears evidently from the Scripture..."
1062. "Economy of the Trinity and Covenant of Redemption," from Jonathan Edwards [1740], The "Miscellanies," 833-1152 (WJE Online Vol. 20), Ed. Amy Plantinga Pauw.

4. Geerhardus Vos (1896). (Vos was professor of biblical theology at Princeton from 1892-1932, and his Biblical Theology was required reading in my classes at Westminster Seminary.)

"Although these three persons possess one and the same divine substance, Scripture nevertheless teaches that, concerning their personal existence, the Father is the first, the Son the second, and the Holy Spirit the third . . . . There is, therefore, subordination as to personal manner of existence and manner of working, but no subordination regarding possession of the one divine substance." Reformed Dogmatics, translated and edited by Richard B Gaffin, Jr. (Bellingham, Washington: Lexham Press, 2012-2014, from hand-written lectures in 1896), vol. 1, p. 43.

5. Robert L. Reymond (1998). (Former professor of theology at Knox Theological Seminary in Fort Lauderdale, Florida and at Covenant Seminary in St. Louis Missouri.)

"We know also that his Sonship implies an order of relational (not essential) subordination to the Father which is doubtless what dictated the divisions of labor in the eternal Covenant of Redemption in that it is unthinkable that the Son would have sent the Father to do his will." A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1998), 336.

6. Robert Letham (2004). (Letham is professor of theology at Union School of Theology, Oxford, UK (formerly Wales Evangelical School of Theology) and adjunct professor at Westminster Theological Seminary.)

"The Son's submission to the Father is compatible with his full and unabbreviated deity. Therefore, we may rightly say that the Son submits in eternity to the Father, without in any way breaking his indissoluble oneness with the Father or the Holy Spirit, and without in any way jeopardizing his equality. Being God, he serves the Father. Being God, the Father loves the Son and shares his glory with him (John 17:1-4, 22-24). The Holy Trinity: In Scripture, History, Theology, and Worship (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2004), 402.

7. Bruce Ware (2005). (Ware is professor of theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY. Though he is a participant in the current discussion, I did not quote him in my earlier brief list, so I include him here.)

"...the Son is the eternal Son of the eternal Father, and hence, the Son stands in a relationship of eternal submission under the authority of his Father" Father, Son and Holy Spirit: Relationships, Roles, and Relevance (Crossway 2005), p. 71.

8. Norman Geisler (2003). (Geisler is a well-known professor of theology and apologetics who has taught at several evangelical seminaries and now teaches at Southern Evangelical Seminary.)

"One final word about the nature and duration of this functional subordination in the Godhead. It is not just temporal and economical; it is essential and eternal. For example, the Son is an eternal Son (see Prov. 30:4; Heb. 1:3). He did not become God's Son; He always was related to God the Father as a Son and always will be. His submission to the Father was not just for time but will be for all eternity." Systematic Theology vol. 2 (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2003), 291.

9. Charles Ryrie (1986). (Ryrie was for many years professor of theology at Dallas Seminary.)

"The phrase 'eternal generation' is simply an attempt to describe the Father-Son relationship in the Trinity and, by using the word 'eternal,' protect it from any idea of inequality or temporality...Priority without inferiority as seen in the Trinity is the basis for proper relationships between men and women (1 Cor. 11:3)." Basic Theology (Wheaton: Victor Books, 1986), 54, 59.

10-11. Gordon Lewis and Bruce Demarest (1987). (Lewis and Demarest taught theology for many years at Denver Seminary.)

"Alongside the essential equality of persons there exists an economic ordering or functional subordination. Paul implies that, within the administration of the Godhead, the Father has the primacy over the Son...and over the Spirit...And the Son has priority over the Spirit....the ordering relation is eternal and not limited to Christ's state of humiliation." Integrative Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1987), vol. 2, pp. 266-267.

12. Malcolm B. Yarnell III (2016). (Yarnell is professor of theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Ft. Worth, Texas.)

"John [in Revelation] has splendidly portrayed Christological monotheism in its eternal and historical dimensions...He has brought together the titles, the functioning, and the worship that indicate Jesus's equality with, yet subordination to, the Father in the one place where we can view them simultaneously, the eternal throne of God...

"There is an eternal subordination in John's portrayal of the three. God receives upon his throne the victorious Lamb through whom he sent to be a sacrifice. And the Spirit is sent from the throne into all of creation through the Lamb in order to reveal God and the Lamb. There is no hint here that the subordination of the Lamb and the Spirit is merely historical or merely functional. This is an eternal setting....There is eternal equality in John's portrayal of the three, too." God the Trinity: Biblical Portraits (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2016), 211, 217.

13. Mike Ovey (2016). (Ovey teaches theology and serves as principal at Oak Hill Theological College in London. Although I have only quoted published books for the first twelve authors listed here, I am adding a quotation from Mike Ovey's blog post on June 10, because his new book Your Will Be Done: Exploring Eternal Subordination, Divine Monarchy and Divine Humility has not yet reached me.)

After quoting Athanasius and Hillary of Poitiers in support, Ovey writes:

"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." (Cited from

Finally, for the sake of completeness, here are the evangelical theologians that I cited in my earlier article, plus the statements on the Nicene doctrine from Philip Schaff and Geoffrey Bromley:

14. John Frame (2002). (Professor of theology and philosophy at Reformed Theological Seminary-Orlando):

"There is no subordination within the divine nature that is shared among the persons: the three are equally God. However, there is a subordination of role among the persons, which constitutes part of the distinctiveness of each. But how can one person be subordinate to another in his eternal role while being equal to the other in his divine nature? Or, to put it differently, how can subordination of role b e compatible with divinity? Does not the very idea of divinity exclude this sort of subordination? The biblical answer, I think, is no." (The Doctrine of God (2002), 720; see also his Systematic Theology (2013), 500-502).

15. Louis Berkhof (1938). (Professor at Calvin Seminary 1906-1944; his Systematic Theology was perhaps the most widely-used text for Reformed theology through much of the 20th century):

"The only subordination of which we can speak, is a subordination in respect to order and relationship....Generation and procession take place within the Divine Being, and imply a certain subordination as to the manner of personal subsistence, but not subordination as far as the possession of the divine essence is concerned. This ontological Trinity and its inherent order is the metaphysical basis of the economical Trinity." (Systematic Theology, 88-89).

16. A. H. Strong (1907). (President of Rochester Theological Seminary; his Systematic Theology was for many decades perhaps the most widely-used text for evangelical Baptists):

"...Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, while equal in essence and dignity, stand to each other in an order of personality, office, and operation...The subordination of the person of the Son to the person of the Father to be officially first, the Son second, and the Spirit third, is perfectly consistent with equality. Priority is not necessarily superiority. The possibility of an order, which yet involves no inequality, may be illustrated by the relation between man and woman. In office man is first and woman is second, but woman's soul is worth as much as man's; see 1 Cor 11:3." (Systematic Theology, 342).

17. Charles Hodge (1871-1873). (the great Princeton theologian whose Systematic Theology, 100 years after its publication, was still the required text for at least one of my theology classes as a student at Westminster Seminary):

"The Nicene doctrine includes...the principle of the subordination of the Son to the Father, and of the Spirit to the Father and the Son. But this subordination does not imply inferiority....The subordination intended is only that which concerns the mode of subsistence and operation ....The creeds are nothing more than a well-ordered arrangement of the facts of Scripture which concern the doctrine of the Trinity. They assert the distinct personality of the Father, Son, and Spirit...and their consequent perfect equality; and the subordination of the Son to the Father, and of the Spirit to the Father and the Son, as to the mode of subsistence and operation. These are scriptural facts, to which the creeds in question add nothing; and it is in this sense they have been accepted by the Church universal." (Systematic Theology, 460-462).

[Additional statement on 1 Cor. 15:28:] "We know that the verbally inconsistent propositions, the Son is subject to the Father, and, the Son is equal with the Father, are both true. In one sense he is subject, in another sense he is equal. The son of a king may be the equal of his father in every attribute of his nature, though officially inferior. So the eternal Son of God may be coequal with the Father, though officially subordinate. What difficulty is there in this? What shade does it cast over the full Godhead of our adorable Redeemer? . . . . The subjection itself is official and therefore perfectly consistent with equality of nature" (Hodge, 1 and 2 Corinthians (Wilmington, Del.: Sovereign Grace, 1972 reprint of 1857 edition), 185- 186.

18. John Calvin (1559):

Regarding Calvin, church historian Richard A. Muller, in his massive Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics writes that "Calvin certainly allowed some subordination in the order of the persons . . . But he adamantly denied any subordination of divinity or essence" (Vol. 4, p. 80).

Here are Calvin's own words:

"It is not fitting to suppress the distinction that we observe to be expressed in Scripture. It is this: to the Father is attributed the beginning of activity, and the fountain and wellspring of all things; to the Son, wisdom, counsel, and the ordered disposition of all things; but to the Spirit is assigned the power and efficacy of that activity....The observance of an order is not meaningless or superfluous, when the Father is thought of first, then from him the Son, and finally from both the Spirit." (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion 1:13.18, ed. John T. McNeill, 2 vols., trans. Ford Lewis Battles (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1960), 1:142-43.)

[Commentary on John 6:38, "For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me":] "Faith is a work of God, by which he shows that we are his people, and appoints his Son to be the protector of our salvation. Now the Son has no other design than to fulfill the commands of his Father." (John Calvin, Commentary on the Gospel According to John, translated by William Pringle (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2005), 252.

Interpretations of the Nicene Fathers (4th century AD):

Historian Philip Schaff (1819-1893), author of the eight-volume History of the Christian Church (1910), editor of the standard reference work Creeds of Christendom (3 vols., 1931), and also editor of the 23-volume series Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers. wrote this about the Nicene fathers:

"The Nicene fathers still teach, like their predecessors, a certain subordinationism, which seems to conflict with the doctrine of consubstantiality. But we must distinguish between a subordinationism of essence (ousia) and a subordinationism of hypostasis, of order and dignity. The former was denied, the latter affirmed." (History of the Christian Church, 3:680).

Philip Schaff is not alone in his assessment of historic Christian orthodoxy and the Nicene Creed. Historian Geoffrey W. Bromiley, author of the textbook Historical Theology (1978), editor of the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, translator of Kittel's Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, and translator of Karl Barth's Church Dogmatics, wrote:

"Eternal the phrase used to denote the inter-Trinitarian relationship between the Father and the Son as is taught by the Bible. "Generation" makes it plain that there is a divine sonship prior to the incarnation (cf. John 1:18; 1 John 4:9), that there is thus a distinction of persons within the one Godhead (John 5:26), and that between these persons there is a superiority and subordination of order (cf. John 5:19; 8:28). "Eternal" reinforces the fact that the generation is not merely economic (i.e. for the purpose of human salvation as in the incarnation, cf. Luke 1:35), but essential, and that as such it cannot be construed in the categories of natural or human generation. Thus it does not imply a time when the Son was not, as Arianism argued ....Nor does his subordination imply inferiority....the phrase....corresponds to what God has shown us of himself in his own eternal being....It finds creedal expression in the phrases 'begotten of his Father before all worlds'" (Nicene) and "begotten before the worlds" (Athanasian). Geoffrey W. Bromiley, "Eternal Generation," in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, ed. Walter Elwell (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1984), 368).

In addition, Harold O. J. Brown (former professor of theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School), in his massive study of the history of Christian heresy and orthodoxy, concluded this about the language of "eternally begotten of the Father" in the Nicene Creed:

"Nicaea clearly affirmed that the distinction between the Father and the Son is not ontological or substantial, inasmuch as both are God. It did not clearly specify wherein that distinctiveness does lie. Inasmuch as it is not ontological, it must be relational, as the language of the Bible continues to assert even when we have stripped "begetting" of its ontological implications. At this point, in order to distinguish the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit from one another, the language was allowed to carry its economic implications; that is to say, the Persons of the Trinity were seen to differ in the relationship of commissioner and commissioned, the one sending and the one sent (John 3:16, 14:16). Here, finally, the distinction was allowed to rest; the Son, under (sub) the orders of the Father is clearly subordinate in the relationship, although not by nature; the same holds true for the Holy Spirit." (Harold O. J. Brown, Heresies: the Image of Christ in the Mirror of Heresy and Orthodoxy from the Apostles to the Present (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1984), 133.

Conclusion:  Are all 18 of those theologians (19 if you include me) really teaching a "different God" than found in Scripture, as Goligher claims? Should they all have been excluded from a teaching office in the church, as Goligher claims? Think of how much weaker the work of God's kingdom throughout the earth would be today without the teaching and writings of those 18 theologians, and without the continuing influence of the millions who were taught by them.   Therefore the accusations of unorthodoxy stated by Goligher and Trueman still seem to me to be unjustified, intemperate, and unprecedented in the history of the church.