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.