Monday, December 26, 2011

Egalitarianism, Subordinationism and the Trinity

I have just stumbled upon an interesting article by the Christian Post on the Trinity here. It seems that there are some people who have read egalitarianism into the Trinity and insist that any mention of subordination is de facto subordinationism, and these proclaimed Evangelicals have come out with a statement "An Evangelical Statement on the Trinity" here. I would briefly interact with the popular statement here and deal with the academic statement later.

The statement reads as follows:

We believe that the sole living God who created and rules over all and who is described in the Bible is one Triune God in three co-eternal, co-equal Persons, each Person being presented as distinct yet equal, not as three separate gods, but one Godhead, sharing equally in honor, glory, worship, power, authority, rule and rank, such that no Person has eternal primacy over the others.

The Athanasian Creed is one of the most comprehensive statements of the early church on the doctrine of the Trinity. On the topic of the relations of the Trinity, it is stated thus:

And the Catholic Faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity


But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, is all one: the Glory equal, the Majesty coeternal. Such as the Father is: such is the Son: and such is the Holy Ghost. The Father uncreate [uncreated]: the Son uncreate[uncreated]: and the Holy Ghost uncreate [uncreated]. The Father incomprehensible [unlimited]: the Son incomprehensible [unlimited]: and the Holy Ghost incomprehensible [unlimited, or infinite]. The Father eternal: the Son eternal: and the Holy Ghost eternal. And yet they are not three eternals: but one eternal. As also there are not three uncreated: nor three incomprehensibles [infinites], but one uncreated: and one incomprehensible [infinite]. So likewise the Father is Almighty: the Son Almighty: and the Holy Ghost Almighty. And yet they are not three Almighties: but one Almighty.


And in this Trinity none is afore, or after another: none is greater, or less than another[there is nothing before, or after: nothing greater or less]. But the whole three Persons are coeternal, and coequal.

As it can be seen, the statement in and of itself seems to teach the same thing as what the Athanasian Creed teaches. Indeed, within the Godhead all the persons are co-equal; distinct and yet one God. There is also no eternal primacy of one person over the others, if by that we mean that one person is superior to the other persons of the Trinity. Also, the Trinity does share equally in "honor, glory, worship, power, authority, rule and rank," if by that we mean that all persons of the Godhead receive them so that none receives them more than the others.

The problem however seems to lie in the details, as an analysis of the Academic Statement will reveal. Yes, the Trinity are equal, but does their equality means that there are no differences in how they interact with each other (i.e. functionally)? Does the equality mean that the receiving of "honor, glory, worship, power, authority, rule and rank" are the same for all three persons?

We can see that there seems to be much misunderstanding of the position they seem to be responding to, ie. the position of people like Bruce Ware who wrote a book on the Trinity entitled Father, Son and Holy Spirit: Relationships, Roles and Relevance (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2005). I have seen accusations of subordinationism hurled at the book and its writer. After reading the book personally myself, I think the accusations are baseless.

On the Trinity Statement website, the following endorsement by a certain Dr. Philip Carey, a Professor of Philosophy at Eastern University, was placed on the front page. It is worded as follows:

In his new book, Jesus and the Father: Modern Evangelicals Reinvent the Doctrine of the Trinity (Zondervan, 2006), Giles shows how a whole generation of conservative evangelicals has embraced a new-fangled version of the ancient Trinitarian heresy of subordinationism. They do not hide their motives. They are determined to see in God what they wish to see in humanity: a subordination of role or function that does not compromise (they insist) an essential equality of being. Therefore, they teach that just as woman is created equal to man but has a subordinate role at home and in church, so the Son of God is coequal with the Father in being or essence but has a subordinate role in the work of salvation and in all eternity. They even think—quite mistakenly, as Giles shows—that this is what the Bible and Christian orthodoxy have always taught.”

Assuming that the endorsement for Giles' book applies to this issue, we can see that, as it applies to the position of Bruce Ware, the accusations of subordinationism is false. It is true that the biblical manhood and womanhood movement is against the heresy of egalitarianism, and therefore they teach "a subordination of role or function that does not compromise... an essential equality of being." It is also true that we see a certain subordination in the work of salvation. I however have no idea what Carey means by "in all eternity." If by that it means that the subordination of the work of salvation continues throughout eternity, that is false because the work of salvation is completed by the time of the Final Judgment. If by that it means that it is eternally true that God the Son has submitted to the Father in His ministry for us, then that is true.

We will next look into the academic statement produced by this group.


Deb said...

Hi Daniel,
I have hesitated to respond, but this question continues to be unresolved in my understanding. I thought I'd ask you about this, because I was really impressed with how you handled your debate with Frank Turk! I thought that was awesome.

Okay, I consider myself a complimentarian, but I have been greatly troubled by some of the arguments coming from YRRs, including some involved with the CBMW.
Denny Burk in a recent issue of the CBMW Journal argued for the ETERNAL SUBORDINATION of Christ in this article (which appears alongside Ware's article):

Yet, any number of commentaries on and translations of (Calvin, Henry, Barnes, etc..) Phil. 2:6 that I've come across show this particular passage as "proof" of Christ the Son's equality with the Father. (Jehovah's Witnesses actually use the same arguments that Burk uses). Burk's position, imo, seems to be outside what most church fathers (Augustine, Athaniasious, etc.) have taught as well.

Here is a quote from Calvin that I believe refutes the unbiblical position of eternal subordination of Christ:
"The consideration of the divine grace and wisdom herein the apostle proposeth unto us, Phil. 2:6-8 . . . Adam being in the form--that is, the state and condition--of a servant, did by robbery attempt to take upon him the 'form of God,' or to make himself equal unto him. The Lord Christ being in the 'form of God'--that is, his essential form, of the same nature with him--accounted it no robbery to be in the state and condition of God, to be 'equal to him;' but being made in the 'fashion of a man,' taking on him our nature, he also submitted unto the form or the state and condition of a servant therein. He had dominion over all, owed service and obedience unto none, being in the 'form of God,' and equal unto him--the condition which Adam aspired unto; but he condescended unto a state of absolute subjection and service for our recovery.. Wherefore it is said that he humbled himself unto it, as Adam would have exalted himself unto a state of dignity which was not his due. . . ."

As a complimentarian, I note that Calvin's above argument for Christ's co-equality with the Father also describes the precondition for real submission.

I'd be very interested in your thoughts...

Daniel C said...

Hi Deb,

Burk's article is interesting.

I would say that I agree with Burk that "'form of God' and 'equality with God" are not semantic equivalents. In other words, grammatically, the Greek does not make them equivalent.

Where I disagree with Burk is that just because the grammer does not indicate an anaphorism does NOT mean that the passage itself does not indicate that the two phrases are not in some sense equivalent. Grammer is not everything. Contextual reasons would show us that they are parallel.

I can see why it can be disturbing as the language used seems to indicate some form of eternal subordination. Yet, Burk does mention in various places within the article that the subordination is functional. In the interest of charity, it seems that he is not really arguing for eternal subordination but rather functional subordination. He probably should nuance his language however.

I hope this helps. Do note that is is "complEmentarianism," not "complImentarianism." =)

Deb said...

Thank you Daniel!

I agree that Burk's argument for the grammatically difference is one that may be easily granted. And I also agree, he is focused on functional suborination. However, more specifically, the concern is that his focus is 'eternal functional subordination'. That was what concerned me.

I've heard other complementarians argue that Christ's functional subordination need not be eternal in order to make the case for biblical manhood/biblical womanhood. And those same pastors also believe that when CBMW and others put too much effort into arguing for the somewhat dubious concept of eternal, functional subordination, they do harm to our position. So, I still struggle to get past this point.

I thank you for taking time to look at Burk's article and for answering me. It has been very helpful. Have a blessed new year.

Daniel C said...

Hi Deb,

you're welcome.

It depends on what is meant by "eternal, functional subordination." If by that we mean that Christ is always subordinate to God in rank, then we should reject it. If by that we mean that Christ submits to the Father in the eternal plan of salvation, I have no problem with that.

I do think nuancing here would be indeed helpful.