Monday, October 13, 2008

Trinitarian Debates at Trinity

CT and Andy Naselli report on debates about the Trinity at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Central to the debate has been the subject of whether the Son eternally submits to the Father. Together Wayne Grudem and Bruce Ware argued that relations of authority and submission do indeed exist among the persons of the Godhead, while Tom McCall and Keith Yandell argued against this proposal.

Ironically, myself and my systematics colleague Dr. Robert Shillaker have an article coming out on this very topic in Trinity Journal published by TEDS! A few thoughts:

I argue that the dynamics of the Father-Son relationship in the Fourth Gospel and key Pauline texts (e.g. Phil. 2.5-11, 1 Cor. 11.1-3, 15.28) all imply the functional subordination of the Son to the Father. If we hold to Rahner's axiom that the economic Trinity corresponds to the immanent Trinity, then these relations are rooted in the eternality of God and the Son is eternally sent by the Father. The incarnation of the Son (as opposed to the Father or the Spirit) was singularly appropriate to the Son in view of his eternal relationship the Father. The Son is of the same substance of the Father and Spirit, but has a different function within the Godhead.

Nonetheless, I would make several important qualification. (1) I do not like the term "subordination" because, whether you like it or not, you're beginning to edge yourself towards the categories of Arrianism. Instead, following Pannenberg, I prefer to speak of the Son's obedient self-distinction from the Father which is eternal. (2) I am concerned that a debate about intra-Trinitarian relations is being rigorously and inappropriately applied to gender roles within the church. Grudem and Ware are both avid complementarians and their interest in the debate is the application of the same principle (equal in being but subordinated in rank) to male/female relationships. My response is: (a) Yes, it is fine to have equality in being and subordination in rank, but there is nothing about the Trinity that tells you that rank is determined by gender; (b) the Trinity has three persons so it's application to marriage or ministry strikes me as exceedingly limited (unless you're marriage consists of some bizaar love triangle); (c) 1 Cor. 11.3 does relate divine headship to male/female relations, however, Paul does not say that man is the head of woman because the Father is the head of Christ, instead, he provides three analogies of headship to make the point that women and men must respect their respective heads! (d) The issue of gender roles in the home and women-in-ministy should be settled on more firmer exegetical ground than be based on the selective and slippery application of Trinitarian relations within the God-head. In fact, I think I could easily develop a Trinitarian argument based on subordination for the role of women in pastoral ministry if I had too! (e) As a result I would kindly ask all theologians, be they egalitarian or complementarian, to cease and desist from using the Trinity in any gender debates because the arguments are informed by other theological questions, by competing cultural ideas of gender and personhood, and denominational battles over the qualifications for pastoral ministry.

7 comments:

Geoff Smith said...

Thank you.

D.C. Cramer said...

I was at the debate and found that another important distinction is in order: eternality vs. necessity. It appears that on your view, some sort of authority/submission relation is eternal, but it is still another question whether it is necessary (i.e. essential). To me the latter (which Ware and Grudem endorse) comes even closer to Arianism (despite Ware/Grudem's protests).

Joe Rigney said...

Mike,

Wouldn't you say that part of the reason that the Trinity has been brought into gender debates is because egalitarians insist that it is impossible to have a relationship in which two parties are equal in being and subordination in role/rank?

In my reading of egalitarians, there is a fundamental presupposition that says that relationships of headship and submission necessitate inequality in being. It is this assumption that men like Ware and Grudem are challenging by appeal to the Trinity.

So while your point (a) above is certainly true (the Trinity doesn't tell us that headship/submission is gender-specific), preserving the Son's eternal, obedient self-distinction from the Father is vitally important because it undercuts this fundamental egalitarian assumption. It forces us to actually exegete texts rather than simply dismissing the affirmations of role distinction in the home and the church.

"We know that Paul believed that men and human are equal in Christ (Gal 3:28); therefore, this passage in Ephesians 5/1 Timothy 2/Colossians 3 etc simply can't mean that wives are to submit to their husbands (or, that the role of elder is restricted to men) because we know that if men and women are equal, then there can't be any distinction in role between husbands and wives."

If ultimate reality (the Trinity) contains equality in being and distiction in role, then we can't simply assume that all role distinctions imply inequality. We have to actually go to the texts and see what they say.

Thoughts?

Michael F. Bird said...

Joe,

1. On the question of "who started it?", I think egalitarians like Bilizekian and Giles were responding to earlier works by Bob Letham and others (more recently Wayne Grudem) who saw in the Trinity an analogy to back up the "equal in being but subordinate in role" principle applied to male/female relations. Notably some egalitarians like Craig Keener detect this same pattern in John's Gospel!

2. My TrinJ article is largely a critique of Kevin Giles (sadly, a fellow Aussie), so I'm all in favour of cutting out the legs from underneath a bad egalitarian argument. But truth be told, I think ALL arguments that try to squeeze the Trinity in order to bolster a certain view of gender are ill fated and tinker with the Trinity too much for my liking. I'm not convinced that Bruce Ware is an Arian and Kevin Giles is a Sabellian.

Joe Rigney said...

Mike,

Thanks for the response. I'm still a little confused about what exactly you're objecting to.

Help me understand what you mean by these two statements:

1. 1 Cor. 11.3 does relate divine headship to male/female relations, however, Paul does not say that man is the head of woman because the Father is the head of Christ, instead, he provides three analogies of headship to make the point that women and men must respect their respective heads!

2. I think egalitarians like Bilizekian and Giles were responding to earlier works by Bob Letham and others (more recently Wayne Grudem) who saw in the Trinity an analogy to back up the "equal in being but subordinate in role" principle applied to male/female relations.

I'm hearing you say that it is legitimate to note the analogy between Trinitarian relations and male/female relations (a la 1 Cor. 11), but then I'm hearing you say that Grudem and Ware should keep the Trinity out of gender debates (i.e they shouldn't use the Trinity as an analogy for the gender discussion).

So, is it legitimate to use the Trinity to argue, BY ANALOGY, for the PRINCIPLE of "equal in being, distinction in role/rank" with respect to gender roles? (Sorry for the caps, I've never been able to figure out the html tags for italics)

Thanks!

James Gordon said...

I wrote a response to an objection to the McCall/Yandell argument here.

Patrick said...

Another text to consider is 1 Peter 1:2. I believe most translations get this wrong by understanding obedience as an action believers take part in. However, the structure of the verse is such that I think it is Jesus' obedience and sprinkling. You can see Agnew, "1 Peter 1:2" Catholic Biblical Quarterly 45 (1983): 68-73.