What kind of "roles" and "relationships" distinguish the persons? ... EFS's answer: a society of authrity and submission. A relational community of hierarchy inside God. [Matthew Barrett, Simply Trinity: The Unmanipulated Father, Son, and Spirit (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2021), 217]
LESSONS FOR OUR LIVES AND MINISTIRES FROM THE RELATIONSHIPS AND ROLES OF THE TRIUNE GOD
2. Eternal relationality calls for and calls forth a created community of persons. [Bruce A. Ware, Father, Son and Holy Spirit: Relationships, Roles, and Relevance, 132-3]
Matthew Barrett sincerely thinks that the doctrine of the Trinity needs retrieving. According to Barrett, the doctrine of God has been distorted and manipulated towards our modern times, and we really, desparately, need to get it back. That sounds like a laudable sentiment, but the details is where we see what he means by that, and what we see is not very nice at all.
In chapter 8 of his book Simply Trinity, Barrett pulls no punches as he goes after the supposed "heresy" of EFS (Eternal Functional Submission) with a vengeance. The vehemence with which he does this is a sight to behold. It also gives us clear statements of what many of the classical theists might have believed but have not expressed in such a clear manner. Barrett's vehemence gives us a fixed critique of EFS, and therefore makes it easy for those of us who hold to ESS to address.
In this light, here is part 1 of my examination of Barrett's strongly worded critique of EFS (also better called ESS - Eternal Submission of the Son).
In the first statement of Barrett's attack on ESS, he states that ESS believes in a relational society within the Trinity where there is a "community of hierarchy inside God." There are two accusations here: (1) ESS believes that the Trinity is a relational society, (2) ESS believes there is a community of hierarchy inside God. Is that true? We will look at the first part of the accusation here.
Barrett has made an accusation. In response, we should ask, "Upon what basis do you say that ESS believe that God is a relational community?" We see here in the endnotes that Barrett references Bruce Ware's book Father, Son and Holy Spirit, a book that I myself had find problematic and had reviewed here. Nonetheless, while I found certain parts of his book problematic, it is illuminating that (1) Barrett dedicates most of his endnotes in chapter 8 to that book, as if that particular book by Ware is representative of all who hold to ESS, and (2) Barrett refuses to let Ware speak for himself.
One thing that one must understand as it deals with hermeneutics is that the authorial intent is the most important. One is not free to read any book, and read things into the book that is not there. In seminary, all of us learn this about the Scriptures. But this does not pertain just to the Scriptures but to all literature. After all, would you want someone to read your book a meaning that you did not intend? I hope not. That is a most basic element of engaging others, which unfortunately Barrett does not respect.
To promote the view that ESS teaches that the Trinity is a relational society, Barrett refences Ware's book Father, Son and Holy Spirit, as follows:
Ware presented the Trinity with a strong social emphasis, defining the Trinity as "triune persons in relational community."10 "Eternal relationality calls for and calls forth a created community of persons."11 As a society itself, the Trinity is the model for human society. Sometimes Ware even looked to human society to define the Trinity.12.
10. Emphasis added. This phrase is used throughout chapter 6 of Ware, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
11. Ware, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, 133; c.f. 134
12. Ware, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, 134.
When we look at the source material, we notice the following: Chapter 6 of Ware's book is the last chapter of his book, and it is clear from his book that he is trying to draw analogies and practical lessons from all that he has said in the previous 5 chapters of his book. Endnote 10 of Chapter 8 of Barrett's book is indeed correct that the phrase is used throughout chapter 6, but what is missing is a discussion of the context, which is that Ware is trying to use the Trinity as an analogy for lessons for us. Whether one thinks that should be done or not is not the point; what is the point is that Ware is not defining the Trinity as "triune persons in relational community" but using the phrase for analogy and practical applications.
We see the issue again in endnote 11, where Barrett rightly cites the sentence but divorces it from its context. In context, Ware uses that as a subeading under the heading "lessson for our lives and ministries from the relationships and roles of the triune God." Note the preposition "from." Ware is not defining the Trinity relationally, but asking us to apply to our relationships lessons we can learn from the Trinity. This is the same problem for endnote 12 where the direction is the exact opposite of what Ware is advocating. Here is what Ware is advocating for in chapter 6 of his book:
In our own relationships in the home and in ministry, we should endeavor, by God's grace, to model our work and worship in ways that reflect the trinitarian unity expressed through harmony. (Ware, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, 136)
So what shall we make of Barrett's accusation here? First of all, it is false that Ware "presented the Trinity with a strong social emphasis, defining the Trintiy as 'triune persons in relational community,'" as we can see from the source material. The use of the subheading in page 134 of Ware's book is misleading, and Ware does not look to human society to define the Trinity. As seen from the actual source material, nothing could be further from the truth. Again, Ware said that "we should endeavor, by God's grace, to model our work and worship in ways that reflect the trinitarian harmony expressed through harmony." Put the two side by side and you see how badly Barrett has misrepresented Ware. Whereas Ware is asking us to model the trinitarian harmony in our social relationships, Barrett acccuses him of defining the trinity as "triune persons in relational community"!
As I have said, one has to represent one's opponents correctly. Failure to do so is wrong, and failure to do so after repeatedly being corrected is sin. Barrett has misrepresented Ware here, and this is just but the tip of the iceburg.