Friday, November 03, 2006

Functional Subordination within the Trinity


Is eternal functional subordination within the Trinity a heresy? Is the Son eternally subordinate to the Father in function? In my mind there is no doubt that there is ontological equality, but I don't see a prima facie problem with functional subordination. The reason I say this is because I'm doing a review of Kevin Giles' book Jesus and the Father at ETS in two weeks time. Ben Witherington has an exert out of Giles' book for those interested (here). My initial thoughts are that this debate has been hijacked by those who are using intra-Trinitarian relations to fight the gender wars in North America. I think subordination is consistent with Phil 2.6, John 5.18 and quite explicit in 1 Cor. 15.28. But those who want to use the Son's willing submission to the Father as a theological rubric for complementarianism are barking up the wrong tree. There may be "priority" or even "rank" in the Trinity, but there is nothing from the intra-Trinitarian relations that dictates that "rank" is determined by gender. The women-in-ministry issue must be settled on other grounds and appealing to the Trinity to justify any particular view of gender or social equality is misguided.

I would add that Craig Keener has written a fine article on the subject and he comes out in favour of subordination, even though he's a committed egalitarian Is subordination within the Trinity really heresy? A study of John 5:18 in context TrinJ (1999).

There is a good bibliography of the topic at the Theology Matters matters blog and another blog, Kruse Kronicle offers some reflections on the debate too.

I think I'll stick to NT stuff after this presentation, or better yet, let the erudite Ben Myers figure it all out for me.

10 comments:

Jim Hamilton said...

Mike,

Thanks for this post. I hope I can make it to your paper, but I might be following some of your other ETS suggestions. . .

I think those who speak of the functional subordination within the Trinity only bring this up to show that functional subordination does not imply ontological subordination.

This is generally a response to those who say that anyone who doesn't allow women to do everything men do is automatically demeaning women. No, we reply, look at Jesus and the Father: Jesus is just as much God as the Father is, and women are just as much in the image of God as men are. But just as Jesus has a role that is different from the Father's, so women have roles that differ from those given to men.

This analogy is, I think, helpful.

Blessings!

Jim

Michael F. Bird said...

Jim,
In the sense that subordination does not entail ontological inferiority I agree. In fact, you could cite 1 Cor 11.3 to such an effect. God is the head of Christ, but in no sense is he less God than the Father. A wife may be subordinate to her husband, but she is no less human than her husband. Although, I think that Grudem and Knight are trying to claim a bit more than this. That does not mean that their conclusion is false, but the Trinitarian arguments that they muster are questionable in my thinking.

Michael W. Kruse said...

Thanks for the link to my review of the book.

I intend (eventually) to post something about the Keener article you referenced. The issue I have with Keener's article is that he does not engage the creeds or the theologians throughout the centuries who have sought to carefully avoid any sense of eternal subordination. Father, Son and Spirit are of such one mind and will they cannot act truly independently, therefore be truly subordinate.

Giles himself observes that any competent theologian can examine the scripture and make a compelling case for multiple articulations of the Trinity, even on the side of subordination. That is what made Nicea so contentious. Nicea was an effort to come to agreement on the parameters and those parameters been have reinforced through the centuries. If we are unwilling to give the saints a vote (not necessarily the determinative one) then we are simply doomed to repeat the same arguments and divisions of the past.

Keener makes a reasonable case but to sway me, he has to show why the Church through the ages has rejected his articulation. Until, I want him burned at the stake! *grin*

(BTW, I don’t know if I have ever commented here before but I love your blog and the resources you assemble here! Thanks!)

Anonymous said...

Michael, thanks for mentioning my post!

Michael Kruse,

Since Keener’s goal in the article is to focus on how a passage in John’s gospel is relevant to the current debate within the Trinity, it seems a bit unfair to wish he would have written something else (or some other kind of article). As a NT scholar, he chose to examine the Scriptures – the primary starting point for evangelical theology.

He does, however, cite Steven D. Kovach’s article in a footnote, “Egalitarians Revamp Doctrine of the Trinity,” (CBMW News 2 [1996] 3 n 3) and writes: “Those who would call any claims of submission within the Trinity heretical (as even some of my complementarian friends have) would need to consider a large number of historically orthodox theologians ‘heretical’” (p. 39).

To say that “theologians throughout the centuries…have sought to carefully avoid any sense of eternal subordination” is misleading (emphasis mine). The debate at Nicea was one of ontology. They were not debating the same sort of thing we are today. Their nemesis was arianism, so it should come as no surprise that one finds in their writings great emphases on the ontological equality of the Father and the Son.

Subordinationism and the economic or eternal functional subordination of the Son to the Father are not the same thing. The former is a heresy both complementarians and egalitarians reject.

Yet as Grudem points out, a good case can be made historically that many who held to the ontological equality within the Trinity nevertheless recognized an irreversible ordering of the relationships within the Trinity (Evangelical Feminism and Biblical Truth [Sisters, OR: Multnomah, 2004], pp. 405-428).

I like the way Keener concludes his article; egalitarians should take note: “Regardless of one’s view of gender roles, one can make a case for the Son’s subordination to the Father, probably even in some sense for his eternal subordination. Nevertheless, labels like ‘heresy’ and ‘tampering with the Trinity’ are inappropriate for either side of this debate, and are best reserved for sects that genuinely subvert biblical Christology such as Jehovah’s Witnesses or Mormons” (p. 51).

Your brother in Christ.

Anonymous said...

A helpful resource on the topic is Bruce Ware's (most recent) faculty address at Southern seminary., "Equal in Essence, Distinct in Roles: Eternal Functional Authority and Submission among the Essentially Equal Divine Persons of the Godhead" . To listen to the presentation online go to this website : http://www.sbts.edu/resources/Audio_Resources/Faculty_Addresses.aspx


hope that helps!

Celucien

Michael W. Kruse said...

Hi Jorge,

I may not have been clear. Keener's article deals with John. I take no issue with that. You can possibly make the case that a legitimate case for subordination can be made from John. I take no issue with that. However, when we say that a doctrine of subordination is a legitimate perspective because we can make a case for it from John, that it is where I object. This is precisely how Keener's article is being employed in the debate. Scripture interprets Scripture and John does not stand alone.

My point isn't that you can't come up with some very plausible subordination paradigms from scritpure. My point is that many counter arguments can just as legitimately be made for other perspectives. This is why the creeds and past teachings are important. It isn’t like we haven’t been here before. Yes, I am aware of Kovach’s article, and others assertions that theologians have held these positions in the past. At the risk of being intemperate, that assertion is just flat out false.

Some of the problem, I think, is semantics. There is frequent mention to an “ordered” Trinity over history. CBMW scholars are reading hierarchically ordered into a historical notion of “order” that has nothing to do with hierarchy. It rather goes to the distinctiveness of the three indivisible persons of the trinity. I haven’t investigated every alleged example of these past historians teaching subordination but in the one’s I have, every time they make very clear, sometimes within the same breath of the passage CBMW folks are citing, that what is being talked about is not a hierarchical superior/subordinate relationship. (One exception to this is Princeton’s Charles Hodge who was resoundingly repudiated by his successor, B. B. Warfield.) The three function out of one unified mind and will that cannot be divided into a order giver and order follower. Subordination by definition divides the Trinity into separate entities that violate the Nicene understanding that has stood for centuries.

I regret that I am really pressed for time right now and may not be articulating well. Gile’s book isn’t the only thing I have taken into account. However, he provides a well documented summary that represents my concerns. If you haven’t read it I would highly recommend it.

As to “heresy” and “tampering with the Trinity,” it is not my intent to be inflammatory but I am not going to be dishonest with you. “Heresy” is exactly what I fear has happened and that this constitutes a subversion of biblical Christology comparable to the cults. I am not going to motives but end results. Again, I don’t intend to be belligerent but rather wish to emphasize how deeply disturbing and profound I think this is. I am far from alone.

Peace.

Mark Baddeley said...

Michael Kruse,

I'm sympathetic to much of what you are concerned about - I think there is a possible problem growing among complementarians towards some kind of three wills in the Godhead, and I agree with you that these debates over 'subordination' are showing that (at least) one side is moving towards a profound wrong view of the Trinity. But I'm very unsure as to your claims.

We'll start with Giles. You said:

I regret that I am really pressed for time right now and may not be articulating well. Gile’s book isn’t the only thing I have taken into account. However, he provides a well documented summary that represents my concerns. If you haven’t read it I would highly recommend it.

I cannot agree. If your views about historic orthodoxy have been shaped by Giles at all I think you will need to be very careful. I reviewed Giles' first book for RTR a few years ago (I'm the Mark Baddeley that Giles spends several pages attempting to refute in the current book). I think any straightforward reading of Barth and Rahner - neither of whom are Evangelicals - results in a position that is frankly incompatible with an egalitarian Trinity of the kind Giles is suggesting. Further Giles misreads them badly as arguing for the opposite of what they were stating in the texts he was quoting.

This is not an anomaly. Giles's quotation practices did not fit what I would consider to be a basic level of academic standard - words are changed or dropped out or added. On several cases this results in an inversion of the original author's intentions - Athanasius' quotation of an Arian position is quoted as though it is Athanasius' own position (!). Calvin's own statement of the Father as the source is quoted as though it is the view of Calvin's heretical opponents. And one of the Cappadocians has their statement completely mangled by the persons being mixed up. (There is also a bizzare incident where Giles joins together two statements from two different Orations - a funeral sermon and a baptismal sermon from memory - with only elipses to indicate the join).

You say Giles isn't the only thing you've taken into account. If you have taken it into account at all I think you'll need to do a rework.

As far as I can see, this complementarian view is shared by Catholicism and Orthodoxy. St Vladimir's Journal, a bit of a touchstone for Orthodoxy, in the only issue on the gender debate ran an article by Hopko that was essentially complementarian in its position. It seems the Orthodox too don't understand their Nicaea. :-) Miroslav Volf (himself a egalitarian), in After Our Likeness shows that both the Orthodox Zizoulas and the current Pope see the relationship of Father to Son/Spirit as analogous to the relationship of Bishop to congregation – a non-egalitarian understanding of the Godhead.

So, for the most part, the only Christians who read historic orthodoxy as egalitarian are those Protestants who have accepted the Enlightenment’s egalitarianism.

Yes, I am aware of Kovach’s article, and others assertions that theologians have held these positions in the past. At the risk of being intemperate, that assertion is just flat out false.

I disagree. With a few exceptions, egalitarian Protestant theologians explicitly or implicitly reject the Nicene Creed - starting with Warfield.

Some of the problem, I think, is semantics. There is frequent mention to an “ordered” Trinity over history. CBMW scholars are reading hierarchically ordered into a historical notion of “order” that has nothing to do with hierarchy.

I'm happy to offer a number of quotes, particularly from Athanasius , that I think would be hard to square with egalitarianism as to the Father-Son relationship.

I haven’t investigated every alleged example of these past historians teaching subordination but in the one’s I have, every time they make very clear, sometimes within the same breath of the passage CBMW folks are citing, that what is being talked about is not a hierarchical superior/subordinate relationship.

Agreed - and a recurrent clumsiness in complementarian accounts can often give the impression that you are critiquing. But we may need to find some kind of term to speak of an order that is not superior/subordinate but where the Father is the source of the operations of the Godhead and the Son is the agent of the Father's will. That is certainly the view of Athanasius (and hence Nicaea) and is not compatible with egalitarianism.


The three function out of one unified mind and will that cannot be divided into a order giver and order follower. Subordination by definition divides the Trinity into separate entities that violate the Nicene understanding that has stood for centuries.

And in my experience egalitarianism denies the homoousious, that the Father is the source of the Son and of the Son's operations.

You are sensitised to complementarians tendency to tritheism and I agree. But I think the kind of view that Giles, Warfield and others put forward struggle to say what is Fatherly about the Father, Sonly about the Son etc and tends towards either modalism or a different kind of tritheism.

Hence this part of your post:

As to “heresy” and “tampering with the Trinity,” it is not my intent to be inflammatory but I am not going to be dishonest with you. “Heresy” is exactly what I fear has happened and that this constitutes a subversion of biblical Christology comparable to the cults. I am not going to motives but end results. Again, I don’t intend to be belligerent but rather wish to emphasize how deeply disturbing and profound I think this is. I am far from alone.

I am in full agreement with.

Mark D Thompson said...

I am very glad that this discussion is under way. Thanks for the post Mike.

I think we need to be careful about throwing the words 'heresy' and 'heretics' around without quite detailed exploration of the views presented and their implications. I do remember Colin Gunton once insisting, 'I don't have to be a heretic. I might just have been mistaken.'

As for the views expressed by Kevin Giles in his two books, I am afraid I find myself dismayed that anyone is taking them seriously. His scholarship is so significantly questionable at point after point (see the review by Mark Baddeley in RTR and those of others elsewhere) that his conclusions are at best unreliable. A number of people have sought to point out to him where he has misquoted others or drawn invalid inferences but it seems to have made little difference in his second book.

I am particularly disturbed by the view of Scripture and its relation to the classical theological tradition that emerges from his work. I am not convinced there are rival and equally valid interpretations of the biblical teaching on the relation of the Father and the Son and that the early Church Councils saw themselves as deciding between these. The entire reason why the negotiations prior to and following on from Nicaea were so fraught with tension and acrimony was that the Nicenes insisted that they were affirming the teaching of Scripture and that Scripture itself excluded what their opponents were trying to say.

The Reformation would later insist that the creeds are a presentation of the teaching of Scripture and remain subject to the authority of Scripture. There is more than a little danger that we might elevate the creeds above the Scripture and therefore misconstrue both what the framers thought they were doing and what subsequent theological reflection has insisted was the case. Of course this is not for a moment to deny that the Creeds are a highly significant source for theological reflection.

However, I think you'll find the classical theological tradition is replete with references to a relationship of assymetrical order between the persons of the Trinity. A number of us compiled a list of such references a few years ago and they include statements from East and West amongst Protestants and Catholics.

What is critically important is the insistence that there is absolute ontological equality between the persons — Nicaea was right to insist on the homoousion. Any suggestion that this equality is compromised by a genuine and continuing order between the persons (the Father remains the Father, the Son remains the Son, the Father sends the Son, the Son does not send the Father, etc.) needs more careful argumentation than that provided by Giles to this point.

The interesting thing to note is that Giles makes perfectly clear his interest in this topic arises from decades of campaigning for the ordination of women in the Anglican Church of Australia. He admits that he cannot easily extract himself from that context. He is unable to conceive of how a continuing relationship of headship (modelled upon that of Christ) and the willing acceptance of headship (also modelled upon that of Christ) can be anything other than a superior-inferior relationship. Those who disagree with him insist that there is never the slightest hint of superiority or inferiority and point to the intratrinitarian relations as the proper model. Their warrant for drawing that connection is 1 Cor 11, Gen 1 and other places as well.

In a debate that has tended to be highly emotive, it is good to find a place where the issues can be thrashed out, rigorously argued, and where opposing views can be treated with courtesy. It is important that we try to deal with those with whom we disagree at the point of their strongest arguments. Unfortunately Kevin Giles' caricatures do not help us here.

Anonymous said...

I have to say that I find the previous two comments singularly unhelpful, especially when declaring:

[quote] In a debate that has tended to be highly emotive, it is good to find a place where the issues can be thrashed out, rigorously argued, and where opposing views can be treated with courtesy.[unquote]

As someone who is well acquainted with Giles' work (and his style of presentation), I find it very disappointing to observe the dismissive and patronising treatment reflected in the attempts to review and rebut his arguments. I have read the review by Baddeley (and others associated from similar quarters), and find them ill-directed and lacking in substance. Anyone can go through pretty much any academic tome and find fault with a quote out of context or other relatively petty errors here or there, and while they are worth raising, they do not constitute anything like the weight of derogatory comment they were given.

Quite frankly, the reviews reflect more on the reviewers (poorly at that) than the scholarship of Giles, or the broader substance of his argument. He deserves- and is gaining- much greater respect as a dialogue partner than the previous two comments would allow. And he is certainly worth reading and engaging with in his own right, not just relying on caricatured and clichéd spins on his views by those who dismiss him out of hand.

For what it is worth, I believe his second work is a significant advance on the first, and that the detail and care taken to clarify issues rather than blur them with superficial clichés needs to be read first hand. Giles has mounted a significant case, and in the main a valid one. Even those who ending up choosing to differ from him will benefit much from reading and engaging with this material.

And to be candid, I find the advice from those who would say don't bother to read Giles (or the like) an insult to our intelligence. We are quite capable of reading stimulating work for ourselves, and coming to our own conclusions. There is no doubt Giles has raised serious questions, and articulated a detailed case. It is about time responses focused on substance, not cheap slurs.

That said, I found the earlier comments in this blog entry very helpful and a good model of engaging with specifics of the issues.

Stephen said...

Hi Michael,

I know this post is 4 years old but you said

"The reason I say this is because I'm doing a review of Kevin Giles' book Jesus and the Father at ETS in two weeks time."

Is there any place where I can read/watch/listen to this?

Thanks
STEVE