Sunday, December 05, 2021

My reflection on 2016, EFS and "The Rise and Fall of the Complementarian Doctrine of the Trinity"

Egalitarian Kevin Giles has published an interesting narrative book entitled "The Rise and Fall of the Complementarian Doctrine of the Trinity." The book is Giles' narration of the history of the EFS (Eternal Functional Subordination/ Submission) debate, leading up to 2016 and then the fallout from the controversy. The book is helpful for those who want to know the background behind the EFS controversy as well the response to it.

Speaking from my own personal experience, I have held to divine simplicity, immutability, and some version of inseparable operations back when I was in seminary from my doctrine of God class (around 2011-2). I have never once seen any dissonance betweeen these doctrines, and EFS. For me, it was always the fact that there is a difference between God in His being, and God in relation to us. As a Christian, I have experienced God in worship, Bible reading and prayer, although I do not normally talk about my experiences. Experience are after all subjective, therefore I have no wish to base any truths upon them. Yet, the FACT that part of the Christian life is a personal encounter with the living God, and that God is not some abstract metaphysical sovereign, is an objective fact and something I have always held to be true. Therefore, while not being Charismatic, I do believe that part of the Christian life is that Christians actually have real communion with Christ, and that includes feelings of encounter with the living God.

Fast forward to 2016. The eruption of the EFS controversy caught me by surprise. I was intially open to all sides on the topic, but was shocked and dismayed by the conduct of Liam Golligher and Carl Trueman, both men esteemed in the Reformed churches. As someone who was once involved in the whole online discernment ministries (ODM) thing through Christian Research Network under the late Pastor Ken Silva, I have seen how online polemics got out of hand. I agree with discernment and pointing out errors, but all conduct is to be biblical, including the pointing out of heresy and rebuking it. The nasty blowback to this by manifestly slanderous websites like CRN (dot info) is something we have to take yet we cannot dish out in kind, for the violation of Scripture by the other side does not give us the right to do so on ours. Of course, this is easier said than done. At that time (2007-2010), the impression I get is that the more established pastors assert that one should not be involved in such polemimcs, and that godliness is not about pointing out the errors of those whom you meet online. With years in the ministry and high credentials, they have the moral high ground on this issue, don't they?

Again, fast forward to 2016, and all these esteemed pastors and theologians were behaving exactly like those involved in the ODM or worse, the anti-ODM movements. So it seems that when they claim that one should not be waxxing polemical on the errors of those whom you meet online, what they actually mean is that the "unwashed masses" should not be waxing polemical about doctrinal errors, but only they the "superior," "credentialed," "experienced" pastors and theologians are allowed to wax polemical AGAINST other pastors and theologians. Only they are allowed to call others heretics and go on "heresy hunting." Only they are allowed to be harsh, rude, and full of insults against their opponents. Only they are allowed to think the worst of their opponents, and insist their opponents hold to certain positions even when their opponents did not say they believe in those certain positions. Needless to say, while I did not necessarily agree with the EFS side, specifically with regards to their biblicism, the conduct of those attacking EFS put me off.

The sad thing is that, as time went on, it became abundantly clear that the other side has already made up their minds. EFS is semi-Arian, and no amount of stating fidelity to the Nicene Creed by EFSers will convince them otherwise. I began to point out the problems with some of what they have said, showing how their version of Trinitarianism (which I know now is Thomistic Classical Theism) has lots of unanswered questions and questionable answers. But as I continue blogging about the issue, I let my feelings of outrage over the injustice of 9th commandment violations by the Thomists surface, culminating in an open accusation that Trueman et al have lied. A prominent West Coast Reformed Baptist pastor-theologian was not happy about that, and engaged me on the issue. By "engage," I mean he asked me to stop while I responded by challenging him to prove me wrong. Needless to say, the escalation that forced me to withdraw the accusation at that time was, I would think, a perverse abuse of pastoral authority. Without stating specifically what happened, I will say that church authority is valid, but it should not extend to under-handed pressure to withdraw a legitimate accusation based upon Scripture. It is a fact that many EFS critics misrepresent EFS, as I have shown in my book reviews of books on EFS. I have read EFS material after all, and I interpret their works not according to a hermeneutic foreign to EFS but one derived from the EFS books themselves. In other words, I hold to authorial intent and the necessity of letting the authors determine the meaning of their own words.

Reading Giles' book showed me a bit more of the background behind the issue as well as the responses by some to the controversy. Needless to say, keeping up with the tons of blog posts and stuff at the height of the controversy was next to impossible, although I tried. It was interesting for me to see how the accusation that EFS teaches subordination in the immanent Trinity came into being, as differing theological vocabularies result in a breakdown of communication prior to the 2016 fiasco. In line with the growing trend in Reformed circles towards theological retrieval and ressourcement, I can see why the controversy was inevitable now but not back in the 1980s. I of course have nothing against adopting a vocabulary more in line with the catholic (small 'c') tradition (assumming they are adequate to the task). What I am opposed to is demanding that everything must be understood in light of the vocabulary of that tradition and that alone. It is analogous to how one can be a supporter of the COVID19 vaccines while being opposed to vaccine mandates, while Thomists are more like those promoting vaccine mandates.

Giles showed how EFS proponents had tied EFS to their teaching of complementarianism, even though there is absolutely no need to neither it is logically warranted. This kind of rhetorical leveraging to short cut argumentation damages complementarianism, and the fallout from the 2016 EFS fiasco confirms that, something which Giles, as an egalitarian, is very happy about. Already, we see the 'Reformed' feminism of Rachel Green Miller and Aimee Byrd take shape, even though it is true that there is no proof that their feminism came about due to their rejection of EFS. It is also true that EFS proponents can learn to understand their opponents' concerns better, despite the fact that the other side is just as guilty of shutting their ears and monologing into their echo chambers. If one wants to be biblical, rigorous and even Reformed, one must not be content with simplistic formulae on the Trinity, but plunder the ancients as well as the moderns for a better understanding of the Trinity.

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