A Response to Strachan

Thanks to social media, everyone that has an opinion can post it as authoritative without any thought to who is on the receiving end. Many times, those without any education (formal or informal) on a particular topic are the ones who hold the strongest convictions. Too often, sites like Twitter and Facebook become an echo chamber where everyone falls in line with whatever their favorite teacher says without having investigated the issue for themselves. Dr. Owen Strachan has been on the receiving end of such treatment as he has received charges of Arianism. As he rightly points out, “it is easy to pontificate on Twitter about the Godhead. This is not hard. What is hard is the work of theology.”[1] Amen to that.

In his recent post, Dr. Strachan has sought to give a brief defense of his position on the Eternal Authority of the Father and Eternal Submission of the Son (hereafter ERAS) while also warding off charges of Arianism. A helpful principle that I was taught in seminary is that while you may believe a person’s position may lead to a certain conclusion (such as Arianism), that person may outright deny and condemn that theological conclusion. Perhaps better stated, don’t assign a theological position to an opponent that they are not willing to identify with or own. That can be tricky, but for the sake of this post, that’s the tactic I’m going to take. Although I think Dr. Strachan’s position leads to Arianism, he has clearly condemned the Arian heresy and does not own that position. Therefore, at this point, I have no interest in discussing that matter.

What I would like to respond to (with much fear and trembling), is his understanding of the texts he lists in defense of ERAS. Specifically, I’d like to focus upon 1 Corinthians 15:28:

“When all things are subjected to Him, then the Son Himself also will be subjected to the One who subjected all things to Him, so that God may be all in all.”[2]

In Dr. Strachan’s brief comment on this section, he states that “In another little-discussed reality, everyone who believes Scripture must confess the Father’s headship over the Son to some degree. It does no violence to the Son—truly God, truly man—to be “subjected” to the Father in eternity future. Clearly, this indicates that submission is not a negative reality with regard to the divine nature of Christ.” This is simply incorrect on a couple of levels. First, although I would readily affirm an economic submission of the incarnate Son to the Father (a la submission to “some degree”), I am not led by this passage to continue that submission into eternity (past or future). Of course, anyone can take a single verse and make it fit into any theological system, but as Dr. Strachan has already said, what is hard is the work of theology. That requires a proper exegetical method. To read that text as promoting ontological subordination is unnecessary.

Once we look at the text in its wider context, we see that Paul is speaking of Christ’s work of redemption within his messianic venture as the mediator. As the incarnate redeemer, he has died for his people and then rose again, promising to one day raise his people and destroy death once and for all. The authority spoken of in this text is a mediatorial authority over all creation that we see in Psalm 8, and not the natural authority that comes by virtue of his divinity. The incarnate Son declares to his apostles that “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth” (Matt. 28:18). This is an authority that is “according to his particular station within the economy.”[3]   Hebrews 2:9 picks up on this when it states that Christ was “made for a little while lower than the angels…” This is why the dominion over the world that Son executes comes to an end.[4]

Notice that Paul speaks of the Son presenting the kingdom to the Father, yet in verse 28 he says that all of this will be so that “God may be all in all” (Italics mine). The subtle change from Father to God is not without theological implications: This interpretation of 1 Corinthians 15:24-28 thus draws upon the eighth psalm’s eschatological portrait of the Son of man having dominion over all creation, humanity’s original vocation, showing that this dominion is fulfilled in Christ and nevertheless subordinate to that dominion belonging to the undivided Trinity.[5]

Contrary to what Dr. Strachan says, to read this as ontological authority and submission actually does do violence to the Son. It actually takes away the mediatorial glory that is due to the Son for a particular economic role he has undertaken, and it takes away the ontological equality of glory that he has with the Father. Charles Hodge, although wrongly employed by ERAS proponents, shares this perspective:

"The subjection here spoken of is not predicated of the eternal Logos, the second person of the Trinity, any more than the kingdom spoken of in v. 24 is the dominion which belongs essentially to Christ as God. As there the word Christ designates the Theanthropos, so does the word Son here designate, not the Logos as such, but the Logos as incarnate…so is the subjection here spoken of consistent with his eternal equality with the Father. It is not the subjection of the Son as Son, but as of the Son as Theanthropos of which the apostle here speaks."[6]

We must be careful to do full justice to the biblical text and its usage of language. Unfortunately, I believe that those who hold to ERAS are guilty of collapsing the immanent with the economic.

One question to Dr. Strachan and those who hold to ERAS is, what is your understanding of divine processions and of reciprocity? Perhaps a more robust doctrine of these two subjects would safeguard against such grave error. These doctrines are consistent with the catholic church and therefore, imperative to understand to those who teach in the church.

My aim in writing this response is not to take unnecessary potshots, make a name for myself, or charge anyone with Arianism. On the contrary, my aim has been to open the door for Christian debate and dialogue as well as help inform the lay leader why these issues are so important. I know that Dr. Strachan is a man of great reputation, high intellect, and from what I’ve heard, a man of great Christian character. I also know that I responded to a brief blog post and not his full exegetical argument. Therefore, he may not have the time or inclination to respond to me. However, the door is open.

“Holy, holy, holy

Lord God almighty

All Thy works shall praise Thy name in earth and sky and sea

Holy, holy, holy

Merciful and mighty

God in three persons, blessed Trinity!”

Derrick Brite serves as pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Aliceville, Alabama. He received his MDiv from Reformed Theological Seminary in Atlanta and is currently pursuing a PhD in systematic theology at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Related Links

Podcast: "Unmanipulated Trinity"

"Is the Son Eternally Begotten?" by Ben Franks

"The Eternal Subordination of the Son Debate," a series by Alastair Roberts

Knowing the Trinity by Ryan McGraw [ Paperback  | eBook ]

The Holy Trinity (Revised and Expanded) by Robert Letham


[1] https://owenstrachan.substack.com/p/the-danger-of-equating-eternal-authority?justPublished=true (access date: November 10, 2021).

[2] All scripture reference from the NASB unless otherwise noted.

[3] Tyler R. Wittman, “Dominium naturale et oeconomicum: Authority and the Trinity,” in Trinity Without Hierarchy: Reclaiming Nicene Orthodoxy in Evangelical Theology, ed. Michael F. Bird and Scott Harrower (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic, 2019), 155

[4] Much of the next three paragraphs come from an upcoming journal article that will be published in the January 2022 edition of the Puritan Reformed Journal: Derrick Brite, Second in Order But Not in Rank: An Evaluation of 1 Corinthians 15:20-28

[5] Ibid.

[6] Charles Hodge, I&II Corinthians (Edinburgh, Scotland: Banner of Truth Trust, 1988), 333.