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Evangelicals and the Trinity

835551271In recent years there has been a heated debate amongst English-speaking evangelicals about the Trinity, particularly concerning the nature of relationships within the Trinity and whether these shed any light on human relationships. Despite some difficult moments, this debate in some ways offers an example of ‘good disagreement’: different parties haven’t held back from the strength of their convictions, and yet there has been continued vigorous engagement. The latest of these happened at the meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) in San Antonio in November 2016, and seems to have led to the beginnings of new agreement.

I post here the paper given by Kevin Giles, who has been a key figure in these debates, given at the plenary forum. The other speakers were Dr Bruce Ware, Dr Millard Erickson and Dr Wayne Grudem; Dr Sam Storms presided. The paper is long, but is fascinating, and well worth reading.


The Nicene and Reformed doctrine of the Trinity

In putting my case this afternoon I am going to speak very forthrightly and unambiguously, as from past experience I am sure Dr Grudem and Dr Ware will do.[1] Dr Erickson who stands with me in opposing Dr Grudem and Dr Ware’s teaching on the Trinity I am sure will be the clearest in what he says and the most gracious. I speak bluntly because the issues we are discussing are of monumental importance for the evangelical community. I believe what Dr Grudem and Dr Ware teach on the Trinity, and now very large numbers of evangelicals believe, contradicts what the Nicene creed, the Reformation and post-Reformation Protestant confessions and the ETS doctrinal statement teach.

To begin my presentation, I make three matters perfectly clear. First, I have no distinctive doctrine of the Trinity. My exposition of the Trinity which follows is simply an outline of what I consider to be the historic, orthodox doctrine of the Trinity as spelt out in the Nicene Creed. I know absolutely nothing about a so-called “evangelical egalitarian doctrine of the Trinity”

What this means is that I have basically the same understanding of the Trinity as the many complementarian confessional Reformed theologians who have “come out” in opposition to Dr Grudem and Dr Ware’s teaching on the Trinity.[2] What this immediately reveals is that the divide on the Trinity is not between evangelical egalitarians and complementarians but between creedal and confessional evangelicals and non-creedal and confessional evangelicals.

Second, I want to state clearly and unambiguously that I think the doctrine of the Trinity has absolutely nothing to say about the relationship of the sexes. I personally do not ground my gender egalitarian commitments on the Trinity and virtually no evangelical egalitarian does. I have been publishing on women in the Bible since 1975 and I have never appealed to the Trinity to support the substantial equality of the two sexes.

The gender complementarian, Fred Sanders, who is giving the lecture on the Trinity after this forum confirms what I say. On his blog and in a personal email to me he says, “I have not been able to find one sentence where Kevin Giles works to secure his own [gender] egalitarian position by appeal to the Trinity.”

I do not appeal to the doctrine of the Trinity because I believe the doctrine of the Trinity is our distinctive Christian doctrine of God, not our social agenda, but why and how the doctrine of the Trinity might inform our doctrine of the sexes, whatever that may be, completely escapes me. The Trinity is three divine persons, all analogically spoken of in male terms. Why and how we must ask, can a threefold analogically all “male” relationship inform a twofold male-female relationship on earth? No analogical correlation is possible. The argument just does not make sense. The logic of this argument is that threesomes are the ideal, or male-male relationships are the ideal!! None of us I image would affirm these deductions!

The impossibility of correlation is made clear by Dr Grudem in his Systematic Theology. On page 257 in an attempt to make a connection, he likens the Trinity to dad, mum and their one child. In doing so he feminizes the Son – the Son becomes an analogue of the woman. Worse still, this family picture of God has nothing to do with the revealed doctrine of the Trinity. It sounds more like Greek mythology.

This observation takes us right to the heart of what I believe is the fundamental and inherent error in Dr Grudem and Dr Ware’s doctrine of the Trinity; depicting God in human terms, instead of how he is revealed in Scripture.

My consistent argument for nearly twenty years has been that that if we evangelicals want to get right our doctrine of the Trinity, the primary and foundational doctrine of the Christian faith, we must sharply and completely separate out doctrine of the Trinity and our doctrine of the sexes. They are in no way connected and when they are connected both doctrines are corrupted.

I have not time to discuss 1 Corinthians 11:3 in any detail but I am sure this one text does not justify connecting the doctrine of the Trinity and our doctrine of the sexes. This is not a trinitarian text; the Spirit is not mentioned, and it would seem that the Greek word kephale (Eng. “head”) almost certainly carries the metaphorical meaning of “source”. Woman comes from man (Adam) (1 Cor 11:8, 12) and the Son comes “from” the Father.

Now my third point by way of introduction. In my presentation, this afternoon I am arguing that what Dr Grudem and Dr Ware teach on the Trinity is a sharp and clear breach with historic orthodoxy as spelt out in the Nicene Creed.

There can be no denying that we have starkly opposing doctrines of the Trinity. Dr Grudem and Dr Ware argue on the basis of creaturely analogies for a hierarchically ordered Trinity where the Father rules over the Son, claiming this is historical orthodoxy; what the church has believed since 325 AD. I argue just the opposite. On the basis of scripture, I argue that the Father and the Son are coequal God, the Father does not rule over the Son. This is what the church has believed since 325 AD. You could not have two more opposing positions. There is no middle ground.

When it comes to the doctrine of the Trinity we are not discussing a theological question where one side can assert something and the other side the opposite and resolution is not possible. In this case, there is absolutely no uncertainty as to what constitutes trinitarian orthodoxy. No other doctrine has been more clearly articulated by the great theologians of the church across the centuries and none more clearly and consistently spelt out in the creeds and confessions of the church.

The Nicene Creed is the definitive account of the doctrine of the Trinity for more than two billion Christians. It is binding on all Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Anglican, Lutheran, Presbyterian and Reformed Christians. These 2 billion believers agree that anyone who denies what is taught in the Nicene Creed stands outside the catholic faith, and any community of Christians that rejects what the Nicene Creed teaches is by definition a sect of Christianity. On this basis, we do not accept Jehovah’s Witnesses as orthodox Christians because they cannot confess this creed, even though like us evangelicals they uphold the inerrancy of Scripture.

Be assured, I do not place this creed or any other creed or confession above Scripture in authority or on an equal basis with Scripture. For me, and for 2 billion Christians, this creed expresses what the church has agreed is the teaching of Scripture. I believe every single statement in this creed reflects what the Bible says or implies. In my view, we have in this creed the most authoritative interpretation of what Scripture teaches on the Father-Son relationship. 


The Nicene Creed of 381

In this creed, the Son is communally confessed in these words. Note the “we” – we Christians:

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only (monogenes) Son of God, eternally begotten (gennao) of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten (gennao) not made, of one being (homoousios) with the Father. Through him all things were made. For us and our salvation he came down from heaven, by the power of the Spirit he was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man.

Let me now highlight seven things this creed says clearly and unambiguously about the Son of God.


First, “We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ.” These words reflect exactly 1 Corinthians 8:6. In this verse as you all know, Paul makes the Jewish Shema (Deut 6:4), which is a confession that God is one, a confession that the one God is God the Father and God the Son. Again, as you all know Lord/ Kurios is the name of God in the Greek OT. In this confession, we are therefore saying we believe the “one Lord”, identified as Jesus Christ, is God without any caveats, yet not a second God. In other words, we are confessing Jesus Christ to be Yahweh, omnipotent God.

In the New Testament Jesus Christ is confessed as “Lord” over 600 times. The title Lord excludes the thought that Jesus Christ is eternally subordinate or submissive God.

This first clause in the Nicene Creed immediately draws to our attention the logical impossibility of confessing Jesus as Lord and at the same time arguing he is set under God the Father and must obey him. If the Father and the Son are both rightly confessed as Lord, the supreme co-rulers over all, then they are not differentiated in authority. They are one in dominion, rule, power and authority.

Let me illustrate the point I have just made. After hearing an Anglican complementarian theologian in Australia put the case that the Son must obey the Father, I asked him how he could confess Jesus as Lord on Sundays in church and then during the week teach that the Son is eternally subordinated to the Father and must obey him? He replied, “ I see no contradiction, the Son is just a little bit less Lord than the Father.”

In arguing unambiguously and repeatedly that the Father and the Son are essentially and eternally differentiated in authority, Dr Grudem and Ware contradict the first clause of the Christological confession in the Nicene Creed


Second, the Nicene Creed says, “We [Christians] believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only (monogenes) Son of God, …. Again, we all know that the word monogenes means “only” in the sense of “unique”; “one of a kind”. The Greek church fathers of course as Greek speakers also knew it meant “only” in the sense of “unique”; “one of a kind”. None of them thought it meant “only begotten”. What is more, none of them appealed to this word or the texts in which it is found as the basis for their doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son.

John uses the word monogenes of Jesus Christ five times (Jn 1:14, 18, 3:16, 18, 1 Jn 4:9). This designation of the Son was deliberately included in the creed because it explicitly excludes the disastrous error made by all the Arians of various brands, namely that human sonship defines divine sonship. All the Arians argued that because Jesus Christ is called the Son of God he is like a human son, he is subordinate to and must obey his father.

What this clause in the creed is saying is that Jesus’ sonship is not like human sonship. There is something about his sonship that is absolutely different to creaturely sonship.

In saying Jesus’ sonship is not like human sonship I am not saying anything novel. The best of theologians across the ages with one voice have insisted that human relationship and human language cannot define God. Our creaturely language is adequate to speak of other creatures but inadequate to speak of the Creator. The fourth Lateran council (1215 AD) made this point very starkly:

For between Creator and creature, no similarity can be expressed without implying greater dissimilarity.

What this means is that human language used of God is not to be taken literally, “univocally”, but analogically.

To argue that human language can define God is possibly the most serious theological error any one can make. It leads to idolatry; making God in our own image. We evangelicals should not define divine fatherhood and divine sonship by appeal to human experience as liberal theologians are wont to do. We should define divine fathership and sonship in the light of scriptural revelation.

In the New Testament Jesus Christ is called the Son/Son of God to speak of his kingly status, not his subordination. The Reformed theologian and “complementarian”, John Frame, says,

There is a considerable overlap between the concepts of Lord and Son. … Both [titles] indicate Jesus’ powers and prerogatives as God, especially over God’s people: in other words, [the title Son speaks of his] divine control, authority, and presence. [3]

I agree completely with Dr Frame. I believe the NT calls Jesus Christ “the Son of God” to speak of his kingly status NOT his subordinate status.

Dr Grudem and Dr Ware again in stark contrast to the Nicene Creed’s confession that Jesus is the Son in a unique way, constantly and consistently argue that Jesus Christ is to be understood like any human son and as such is subordinate and necessarily obedient to his father. Note very carefully their theological methodology; they define God in creaturely terms, not by what is revealed in Scripture.

In absolutely rejecting Dr Grudem and Dr Ware’s theological methodology I follow the gender complementarian, Dr Robert Letham. He roundly condemns Drs Grudem and Ware in One God in Three Persons, for predicating their understanding of the Son of God on fallen human relationships. He says, this is an Arian argument that must be categorically rejected. He writes,

The Arian argument that human sons are subordinate to their fathers led to their contention that the Son is subordinate to the Father. The church rejected the conclusion as heretical and opposed the premise as mistaken. Rather, [it taught], the Son is equal with the Father in status, power and glory.[4]

Let me say it very clearly; to confess Jesus Christ as the monogenes, the unique Son, is to say I believe he is not like any human son. He is more dissimilar than similar to all human sons.


Third, the Nicene Creed says, We [Christians] believe …the unique Son of God, is “eternally begotten (gennao) of the Father.”

Now we come to what is called “the doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son”, what I and most other orthodox theologians believe is the foundational element in the doctrine of the Trinity. You can see how important it was to the Bishops who drew up this creed because they have us confessing twice the generation of the Son, once at the beginning and once at the end of the christological clause. This doctrine is like two book ends. I have put the words in bold in my Power Point. Remove these words from the creed and there is nothing to support what stands in the middle.

The doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son is affirmed in the Nicene and Athanasian Creeds and by all the Reformation and post-Reformation confessions of Faith and by virtually every significant theologian over the last 1800 years.

The doctrines of the eternal generation of the Son and the eternal procession of the Spirit seek to explain threefold eternal self-differentiation in the life of the one God. It does this by noting that the Bible speaks of the “begetting” of the Son “from” the Father, and the “procession” of the Spirt” “from” the Father. It is a doctrine arising out of Scripture that explains so much in Scripture. It is an eloquent doctrine. It has very solid biblical support. To argue that the greatest theologians across the centuries have taught a doctrine for which there is no biblical warrant is mind boggling. It is implausible.

For the authors of the Nicene Creed, and virtually all orthodox theologians, the primary basis for distinguishing and differentiating the Father and the Son is that the Father eternally begets the Son, and the Son is begotten of the Father. This is the only difference between the Father and the Son the Nicene Creed mentions and allows, and this difference is essential to the doctrine of the Trinity.

Both Dr Grudem and Dr Ware openly reject the doctrine of eternal generation. Dr Grudem says it would be best if the words about the begetting of the Son were deleted from the Nicene Creed and from all “modern theological formulations”’ of the doctrine of the Trinity.[5] Dr Ware says, this “doctrine is highly speculative and not grounded in biblical teaching”.[6] At this point there is no ambiguity; both Dr Grudem and Dr Ware undeniably say they reject the doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son as it has been understood for 1800 years and thus deny what indelibly and eternally differentiates the Father and the Son.


Fourth, we note that immediately after the confession of the eternal begetting of the Son the Nicene Creed says the Son is, “God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God”. What these words assert is that on the basis of his eternal generation the Son is everything the Father is but he is not the Father but the Son. Derivation does not imply any diminution of the Son in any way, or any division or separation between the Father and the Son. These words are in the creed to say emphatically that while the Son is “begotten of the Father”, and “from” the Father he is no way less than, inferior to, eternally subordinated to or submissive to the Father in any way.

To argue that the Nicene Creed speaks of the eternal begetting of the Son to teach the eternal subordination of the Son, as Dr Grudem and Ware do,[7] is to put it very bluntly perverse. For the bishops who promulgated this creed and all orthodox theologians across the centuries the eternal generation of the Son teaches that the Son is “God from God, light from light, True God from True God.” The doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son rather than teaching the eternal subordination of the Son teaches the eternal co-equality of God the Father and God the Son.


Then fifth, follows the knockout blow. We believe the Son is “one being/homoousios with the Father”. This is not a word the Bible uses of the Son. It is an implication drawn from the confession that the Son is “God from God”. Let me explain the force of the Greek word homoousios.

All of us share the same human being but we are not one in being. The Father and the Son uniquely are one in being. They are both God in all might, majesty and glory without any caveats whatsoever.

If the Father and the Son are one in being this means that they cannot have three wills; they cannot be separated in what they do, the one God cannot be divided into the Father who rules and a Son who obeys, and their glory is one. The word homoousios allows for no dividing or separating of the divine persons. It excludes absolutely any possibility that the Son can be eternally subordinated to the Father and thus other than the Father in might, majesty, dominion, authority and glory.

None of the various schools of Arian thought in the fourth century could endorse the word, because as fourth century men living in a Greek culture they understood that to confess that the Father and the Son are one in being meant the Father and the Son cannot be divided or separated in any way. Modern day evangelicals who separate and divide the Father and the Son, setting the Father above the Son, accept the term because they do not understand its force. They think it means simply that they have the same divine being.

Both Dr Grudem and Dr Ware say that they affirm that the Father and the Son are one in being but at the same time they sharply separate and divide the one God into the Father who rules and the Son obeys, implying two wills in God, and thus in reality deny that the Father and the Son are one being.


Six, the Nicene Creed says, of the Son that, “Through him all things were made”. These words reflect exactly the words of scripture (1 Cor 8:6, Jn 1:3, Heb 1:2, cf Col 1:16). For the Nicene fathers the most fundamental division in the whole universe is between the creator and what he creates. These words are thus included in the creed to make the point emphatically that the Son is the omnipotent co-creator, yet as in all things, he and the Father contribute to this work distinctively as the Father and the Son. In this instance, the Father creates through or in the Son (Col 1:16).

In contrast, Dr Grudem says, the Son in creation is simply “the active agent in carry out the plans and directions of the Father”[8] – which is exactly what Arius taught. Dr Ware, says the Son “creates under the authority of the Father”.[9] I definitely see no support for these assertions in the Nicene Creed and indeed I think the wording of the scriptures and the creed exclude the idea that the Son is the subordinate creator. Scripture speaks of him as the co-creator.

Before moving on I must digress for a moment. Because orthodox theologians seek to take into account everything Scripture says on the divine three persons they affirm “order” in divine life and actions. They agree that nothing is random or arbitrary in God. Scripture speaks of patterned ways God acts. One example that we have just noted is that he creates “through” or “in” the Son and not in any other way. More importantly from Scripture we learn that the Father begets the Son and sends him into the world. Such patterning differentiates the divine persons, not subordinates any one of them. Orthodoxy accepts order in divine life and actions but not hierarchical ordering. This conclusion is confirmed by noting that in the roughly 70 times where the New Testament writers associate together the three divine persons, sometimes the Father is mentioned first (Matt 28:19); sometimes the Son (2 Cor 13:13) and sometimes the Spirit (1 Cor 12:4-6).[10]


Seventh, the Nicene Creed says, We [Christians] believe that “For us and our salvation he [the Son] came down from heaven, by the power of the Spirit he was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man”.

In this phrase the creed reflects Philippians 2:4-11. Jesus Christ, God the Son, had “equality with God [the Father] yet he

…emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form he humbled himself, and became obedient to the point of death.

What Philippians 2 teaches is the willing and self-chosen subordination and subjection of the Son for our salvation. On this basis, orthodox theologians with one voice insist that the subordination and obedience of the Son seen in the incarnation should not be read back into the eternal life of God. To do so is huge mistake.

In the incarnate Son, we meet in the Gospels we see kenotic-God, self-emptied God; the Son of God who came down from heaven. To read back into the eternal life of God any of the human limitations of the kenotic Son, or his obedience to God the Father as the second Adam, is just bad theology.

With Athanasius, Augustine, Aquinas, and Calvin, I believe to interpret Scripture rightly we must recognize that in Scripture there is “a double account of the savior”, one in “the form of God” and one “in the form of a servant” and the two should not be confused. What these great theologians concluded is that the kenotic Son does not reveal fully the exalted Son. I agree.

The Arians of the fourth century read the Son’s incarnational self-subordination, obedience to the Father as the second Adam and his human limitations back into the eternal life of God. Dr Grudem and Dr Ware do exactly the same and thus sharply break once again with the Nicene Faith and virtually every major theologian who has written on the Trinity since 325 AD.


I leave the Nicene Creed at this point. Before concluding I need to comment specifically on Dr Grudem’s claim in his Systematic Theology, page 251, that the eternal role subordination of the Son has been the church’s doctrine at least since the council of Nicaea in 325.[11] This is simply not true.

“Role subordination” is definitely not found in the 325 or 381 versions of the Nicene Creed as we can see from the quotation on our screen. The word “role” does not appear, nor any synonym, nor the idea.

The very first person in history to speak of the role subordination of the Son was George Knight III in his 1977 seminal book, The New Testament Teaching on the Role relationship of Men and Women.[12] It was he who first introduced the concept of the Son’s “role subordination” into Evangelical theological circles. It was not known before this time. Many theologians across the centuries have spoken of the “subordination of the Son” but none have spoken of the “role subordination of the Son or the Spirit” before Knight. To have done so before late nineteenth century is impossible because the French word “role” appeared first in English in 1875 to speak of the part an actor plays, and first in the sociological sense to refer to characteristic behavior in 1913.[13]

The more general claim that the eternal subordination of the Son has been the teaching of the church since 325 is likewise objectively false. We have just seen, the Nicene Creed seeks to exclude the eternal subordination of the Son in a number of ways: relationally, the Father and the Son rule as the one Lord; temporally, the Son is eternally generated by the Father and as such is “true God from true God”, and ontologically, the Son is one in being with the Father. The Athanasian Creed is even more explicit. I wish I had time to outline what it teaches. This is summed up when it declares that the three divine persons are “co-equal” God.

Then we have all the Reformation and Post-Reformation confessions of faith that likewise seek to exclude the eternal subordination of the Son in a number of ways. With one voice they affirm that the three divine persons are “eternal” and importantly “one in being and power”. It is not just temporal and ontological subordination they reject but also relational subordination; they teach, the Son is less in power than the Father. The Second Helvetic Confession of 1564, clause 3, on the Trinity, is the most specific, adding that the Son is neither “subordinate nor subservient.”

The words “power” and “authority” often overlap in meaning in English like the words house and home but in both cases the words are not exact synonyms. However, when it comes to divine life the words “power” and “authority” in English and in Greek may be taken as synonyms. If the Son has all power then he has all authority and if he has all authority he has all power. Both terms speak of divine attributes shared identically by the divine persons. What is more, Paul insists that the Son who reigns over all has “all authority (exousia), power (dunamis) and dominion” (cf. Eph 1:21).

“Equality” in being and power, we should also note, is affirmed by the Evangelical Theological Society doctrinal statement to which we have all subscribed. We ETS members all confess the Father, the Son and the Spirit to be “one in essence/being and equal in power and glory”. To confess that the Father, Son and Spirit are equal in power of course means that one does not rule over the other in any way. The Father and the Son are God almighty, omnipotent God.

I also note that Dr Ware stands in opposition to the ETS doctrinal statement in that he rejects “equality in glory”. He says, the Father has “the ultimate supremacy and highest glory”.[14] For him, the Son is less in glory and for this reason must give “ultimate and highest glory to his Father”.[15] In saying this he not only denies the ETS doctrinal statement but also the teaching of scripture where the Father and the Son are alike glorified (1 Cor 2:8, Gal 1:3-5, Eph 1:3-5, Heb 1:3, Rev 5:12-13, 7:9-12, etc) and again the Nicene Creed which says the divine three persons “together” [are to be] “worshipped and glorified”.

To be faithful to our doctrinal statement we ETS members we must reject what Dr Grudem and Dr Ware teach on the Trinity.

Some of you may be tempted to dismiss what I have argued for one reason or another but please note that on my side now stand dozens of highly respected theologians, some gender complementarians some gender egalitarians, some evangelicals some not.

Kyle Claunch from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, speaking specifically of Dr Bruce Ware and Dr Wayne Grudem’s doctrine of the Trinity, agrees completely with me that what they teach is not historic orthodoxy. He says their doctrine of the Trinity entails a commitment “to three distinct wills in the immanent Trinity”, [16] an idea proscribed by orthodox theologians. And he adds more significantly that,

[Their] way of understanding the immanent Trinity does run counter to the pro-Nicene tradition, as well as the medieval, Reformation, and Post-Reformation Reformed traditions that grew from it. [17]

What could be clearer? Clyde Claunch, says explicitly that what Dr Grudem and Dr Ware teach on the Trinity “runs counter” to the Nicene Faith and the Reformation confessions.  This is exactly what I have argued. He and I agree absolutely.

I conclude: In the Nicene Creed seven wonderful affirmations about Jesus Christ, the Son of God, are made. I unequivocally endorse them all. I love them. These seven affirmations give content to my faith. I have written in the past and have spoken today to encourage us all to confess Jesus Christ as Lord in these words because this is the faith of the church; what the vast majority of Christians past and present believe is the teaching of scripture.


kevingilesPostscript

Kevin Giles adds: After I sat down Dr Ware spoke. He began by saying, “I have now changed my mind.” He then went on to tell the several hundred evangelical theologians present that he now endorses the doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son because he now recognizes it has good biblical support. After Dr Erickson had spoken, Dr Grudem spoke. He too began by saying that he now believed the doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son and that he would be correcting his Systematic Theology when he revised it.


[1] In my public presentation, I omitted this paragraph and the one on what Dr Fred Sanders wrote to me because of time constraints.

[2] Such as Robert Letham, Carl Trueman, Fred Sanders, Liam Goligher, Aimee Bird, Keith E Johnson, Stefan Linbad, Todd Pruitt, Michael Horton and Rachel Miller.

[3] John M. Frame, The Doctrine of God, Phillipsburg: P&R, 2002, 658. Italics added.

[4] “Eternal Generation”, in, One God, 122.

[5] Systematic Theology, 1234.

[6] Father, Son and Holy Spirit, 162.

[7] Systematic Theology, 251-252, 1234, Countering the Claims, 239-240, Evangelical Feminism, 210-213;

[8] Systematic Theology, 266.

[9] “Equal in Essence, Distinct Roles: Eternal Functional Authority and Submission among the Essentially Equals Divine Persons of the Godhead”, JBMW, 2008, 13.2, 49.

[10] See the very full account of this phenomenon by the complementarian theologian, Roderick Durst, Reordering the Trinity: Six Movements of God in the New Testament, Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2015.

[11] Systematic Theology, 251-252.

[12] Grand Rapids; Baker, 1977.

[13] www.dictionary.com/browse/role.

[14] Father, Son and Holy Spirit, 50, 65. In this book time and time again Dr Ware speaks of the “supremacy” of the Father and often of his “priority” and “preeminence” in the Godhead. For him the divine persons are not “co-equal’ as orthodoxy with one voice asserts.

[15] Ibid., 6755

[16] “God the Head of Christ”, in One God, 88.

[17] Ibid.


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32 Responses to Evangelicals and the Trinity

  1. Revd Dr Steven Underdown December 1, 2016 at 8:33 am #

    Sound! Good to hear.

  2. Pete Head December 1, 2016 at 9:00 am #

    Thanks Ian,
    Interesting as Kevin Giles usually is. I’m not too bothered with the specifics, but I have a question about point seven, which included the following comment:
    “What Philippians 2 teaches is the willing and self-chosen subordination and subjection of the Son for our salvation. On this basis, orthodox theologians with one voice insist that the subordination and obedience of the Son seen in the incarnation should not be read back into the eternal life of God. To do so is huge mistake.”

    It may be a mistake to read the incarnation BACK into the eternal life of God, but it is surely an essential requirement that we read the incarnation FORWARD into the eternal life of God.

    • Ian Paul December 1, 2016 at 10:48 am #

      Pete, that’s an interesting question. In an addition to his paper, Kevin relates further conversation with Ware:

      He accused me, as he had in his talk, for making an invalid distinction between the Son as he is revealed in history (his incarnation) and as he is in eternity. He said this implied that what was revealed in scripture was not a true revelation of the Father-Son relationship for all time. For him, he said, “everything” we learn of the Father-Son relationship in the Gospels speaks of what is true in eternity. In reply I asked him did he believe the Son in heaven got tired, was ignorant of certain things, went to the bathroom and could die? He replied, “Of course there must be some differences”. What this means is that we simply disagree on what in the revelation of the Son in history eternally true and what is not. I follow what is said in Philippians 2:4-1; in eternity the Son is “equal” to the Father in all things, in becoming man he took the “form of a servant” and became obedient to the Father to win our salvation. In eternity he is not a servant/slave. He rules as Lord and King.

      I think it is quite difficult to see the incarnation taking into the Trinity an eternal future relationship of subordination which was absent in the eternal past, isn’t it?

      • Pete Head December 1, 2016 at 4:52 pm #

        I guess I have sympathy with the view that we learn something crucial about God from Jesus.

        • Ian Paul December 1, 2016 at 10:51 pm #

          Yes, but the interesting question is: does Jesus teach us about Yahweh, the God of Israel (as per John Goldingay)? Or does Jesus teach us that God is not like Yahweh (as per Marcion)?

          • Pete Head December 2, 2016 at 12:34 pm #

            I’m not sure why you think that is an interesting question Ian. I think my question is bigger than your question.

          • Philip Almond December 3, 2016 at 10:54 am #

            The western concept of God has been deeply influence in the modern era by what might be loosely termed a ‘Marcionite revival’.
            An interesting straw in the wind recently came to light – a prophetic dream Arthur Conan Doyle once had:

            “In considering the future direction of the Church of England”, mused Holmes, “I draw your attention to a curious incident – the review by the Archbishop’s Council of a short article ‘Being a Christian’ by Baron Williams of Oystermouth, on the Church of England website”.
            “But, objected Watson, “ They haven’t made any changes”.
            “That is the curious incident”, said Sherlock Holmes.

            Phil Almond

      • Alastair Roberts December 1, 2016 at 8:22 pm #

        I think that it is very important to recognize the reality of continuing incarnation. The relation between the glorified incarnate Christ in heaven and the Father isn’t the same as that which existed during the period of his humiliation, but nor is it the same as that which exists between Father and Son in eternity.

        Here it is helpful to recognize the concept of ‘aeviternity’. I’ve written on this elsewhere:

        The economic Trinity, as Karl Rahner insisted, is the immanent Trinity: there aren’t two different Trinities. God isn’t lurking behind a mask, but truly is present and revealed in his work and word in creation. However, the economic Trinity is God revealed under the conditions of time, sin, and incarnation. God himself is present and known, but in a manner refracted by temporal realities. While we can be confident in God’s presence with us and self-revelation to us, then, an understanding of the immanent Trinity—of God as he is in his own inner life, without respect to creation—cannot simply be arrived at through a retrojection from the ad extra works and revelation of God in the economy.

        This distinction may not be quite so clear in the case of God’s actions and determinations ‘before the foundation of the world’ or of those events that occur at or after ‘the end’ (for instance, as Christ delivers the kingdom to his Father). Some have unhelpfully used the language of ‘eternity past’ in this context. It might be more appropriate to speak of aeviternity, the higher, yet still created, time of the heavenly realm, which precedes, surpasses, and endures beyond terrestrial time. However, as Sumner stresses, this still pertains to the economic rather than the immanent Trinity. The same is true of the relation that existed between Father and Son before the Son took on the form of a servant in coming as a man. So, for instance, Jonathan Edwards can speak of a ‘natural’—presumably immanent—order of the Persons of the Trinity, an economic order, and, further, the subordination that the Son came into by virtue of the covenant of redemption. These orders are congruent and fitting with respect to each other, but they are not to be conflated.

      • David Shepherd December 2, 2016 at 6:31 pm #

        Hi Ian,

        Beyond Christ’s humanity, the ‘form of a servant’ refers to Christ’s subjection to the law in order to fulfil its demands.

        There is an eternal future subordination of Christ to the Father, as expressed by St. Paul:
        ‘Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power.For he “has put everything under his feet.”Now when it says that “everything” has been put under him, it is clear that this does not include God himself, who put everything under Christ. When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all.’ (1 Cor. 15:24-28)

        The enduring purpose of this eternal subjection (that God may be all in all) represents the culmination of all that was accomplished through the unique redemptive efficacy of Christ’s incarnational subjection:
        “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; with burnt offerings and sin offerings you were not pleased. Then I said, ‘Here I am—it is written about me in the scroll. I have come to do your will, my God.’ (Heb. 10:5 – 7)

    • Bernard Randall December 2, 2016 at 12:59 pm #

      The Incarnation tells us about the character of God, but I’m not sure that it tells anything us about the eternal life of God – surely the point of the Incarnation is to change us. It wasn’t God who went astray and needed healing. God is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow.

  3. Philip Almond December 1, 2016 at 1:13 pm #

    Whoever is right in this disagreement about the Trinity, there are three reasons why the eternal Father-Son relationship should play no part in making a convincing male headship case.

    Firstly, the Bible nowhere says explicitly, ‘Wives be subject to your own husbands as the Son is subject to the Father’; but it does explicitly say, ‘Wives (be subject – clearly implied) to their own husbands as to the Lord, because a man is head (kephale) of the woman as also Christ is head (kephale) of the church, himself saviour of the body. But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives to their husbands in everything’. This also renders irrelevant the long-running controversy among the scholars about whether kephale should be translated ‘source’ or ‘head’; the point is that kephale is the reason for the church’s subjection to Christ and the wife’s subjection to her own husband, and so kephale in 1 Corinthians 11:3 must have the same implications for the man-woman relationship.

    Secondly, if the husband-wife relationship is to be modelled on the Father-Son relationship the wife is called upon to model her subjection to her husband on Christ’s subjection to his Father; and while the husband’s role as father to his children should be modelled on the Fatherhood of God, there is no obvious (to me at any rate) model for his relationship to his wife. Whereas Paul’s exhortation/command in Ephesians 5 calls upon the wife to model her subjection to her husband on the church and the husband to model his love, nourishing and cherishing of his wife (and, indeed, his metaphorical (usually) death for his wife) on Christ. Both parties to the marriage are called upon to act in different ways contrary to fallen human nature. Starting thus with Ephesians 5 enables the headship case to emphasise that the challenge to both husband and wife to obey Paul’s exhortations is equally strong and equally difficult, as both husband and wife seek by the Spirit to put to death their members on the earth, and of course the Ephesians 5 model fits with one of the sublime themes of the Bible, Yahweh the husband of his people and the church the Bride of Christ.

    Thirdly: I agree of course that kephale must have authority implications in 1 Corinthians 11 for the Christ-man and God-Christ relationships as well as for the man-woman relationship. But, as I see it, it is not necessary to insist that the Father-Son relationship of subjection in 1 Corinthians 11:3 is an eternal relationship. In this passage the God-Christ kephale could be a reference to the Son’s submission to the Father for the purposes of his redemptive mission: ‘For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me’.

    In my view the key part played by 1 Corinthians 11:3-16 in the headship case is to make clear (11:7-9, pointing to Genesis 2) that male authority (derived from kephale in 11:3) are a feature of God’s good pre-Fall creation, which is picked up in 1 Timothy 2 and supported in 1 Timothy 3.

    (If Ephesians 5:21 is appealed to as evidence that the husband-wife relationship should be one of mutual submission, I believe I have a convincing reply to that which I can produce if necessary).

    Phil Almond

  4. Will Jones December 1, 2016 at 4:22 pm #

    All sounds pretty convincing to me. Thanks for posting this, and it’s good to hear Grudem and Giles spoke of revising (at least some of) their position afterwards.

  5. Jonathan Tallon December 1, 2016 at 5:11 pm #

    A good paper, stating clearly what is obvious to almost everyone who studies the early church period seriously.

    But a question: how is good disagreement so easy on such a fundamental question as the Trinity, but so difficult on other issues? No-one seems to be thrown out of the Evangelical Alliance for their views on the Trinity, or told that they are not a true evangelical.

    • Ian Paul December 1, 2016 at 10:50 pm #

      I think because these views are complex, and are quite close to one another. No-one here has said ‘Parts of the Bible actually lie about the reality of who God is’ which is what Steve Chalke says. Oh, and no-one has called the other side ‘hateful’!

      • Jonathan Tallon December 2, 2016 at 12:50 pm #

        This wasn’t the reason given for Oasis Trust being thrown out of the Evangelical Alliance.

        As for the views being ‘quite complex’, you imply that the issues over same-sex marriage are simple.

        Let me suggest that the reverse is true. The Church had a debate effectively lasting over a hundred years over key characteristics of the Trinity. The settled position for the large majority of Christians since, including all the mainstream denominations, has been for the Father, Son and Spirit to be equal. As soon as I heard a variant on the subordination description of the Trinity, I thought ‘that’s Arianism’. It wasn’t (for those who know the field) a complex decision at all. This is something that the Church wrestled with, and decided upon.

        In comparison, the issue over whether the minority (2%ish) of the population who are same-sex attracted should be able to be in permanent, faithful, stable relationships – marriage – has only recently (since the 1970s effectively) been considered by any part of the Church. It is complex because the sexual understanding, categories, culture and practice of the ancient world are different from our own, so there is no straightforward ‘this is that’. Additionally, our understanding of the phenomenon has increased dramatically in the last forty years. The complexity can be seen in quite basic historical mistakes in the Living Out website (saying that Roman Society frowned upon pederasty from 300 BC is just flat-out wrong). It can be seen in Ed Shaw’s the Plausibility Problem (p.149) where he equates arsenokoites as meaning people who were gay. I can understand where the errors come from – it’s complex.

        One group is promulgating what the Church carefully considered, and decided was heresy. They get to stay ‘evangelicals’, to get ‘good disagreement’, and to be considered OK. Others get told they’re not real evangelicals (not just Steve Chalke, but also David Gillett), and that they can’t be evangelicals if they hold such views.

        Ironically, the principal of Oak Hill, one of the most conservative groups telling people that the Bible says same-sex attracted Christians need to stay celibate, also advances the eternal subordination of the son. Straining gnats and swallowing camels comes to mind.

        • David Shepherd December 3, 2016 at 8:29 am #

          So, Jonathan.

          How do you read 1 Cor. 15:24 – 28? How does ‘then the Son be made subject to Him who put everything under Him’ not connote eternal loving subjection?

          • Philip Almond December 3, 2016 at 12:27 pm #

            Warfield (‘Prophecies of St. Paul’, page 625, ‘Biblical Doctrines’) gives this view on 1 Cor. 15:20-28:

            ‘………………….We cannot enter into the many deep questions that press for discussion when this ineffable prediction is even approached. Suffice it to say that when we are told that Jesus holds the kingship for a purpose (verse 25), namely the completion of His mediatorial work, and that when it is accomplished He will restore it to Him who gave it to Him (verse 28), and thus the Father will again become “all relations among all creations”, – nothing is in the remotest way suggested inconsistent with the co-equal Deity of the Son with the Father and His eternal co-regnancy with Him over the Universe. Manifestly we must distinguish between the mediatorial kingship which Jesus exercises by appointment of His Father, and the eternal kingship which is His by virtue of His nature, and which is one with God’s own.’

          • David Shepherd December 3, 2016 at 1:23 pm #

            Hi Philip,

            In referring Jonathan to the passage in 1 Corinthians, there was no denial of the doctrine of the Trinity.

            Notwithstanding their co-equality and co-regnancy, the Son is eternally of the Father. the Son, not the Father of the Son.

            Christ is revealed through scripture as the effulgence of God’s glory (Heb. the image of the invisible God (Col. 1:15)

            Some time ago, in response to a similar post by Ian (‘The Trinity is not our social programme’), I wrote:
            ‘I found the former Cardinal Ratzinger’s (Pope Benedict) ‘Concerning the notion of person in theology’ to be one of most cogent explanations of the Trinity in modern times. He starts with Tertullian’s Adversus Praxean’, the I understanding of God revealed to be ever dialogical in being (‘Let us make man’, ‘the Lord said unto my Lord’) and that ‘person’ must be understood as relation. In Deo nihil secundum accidens dicitur, sed secundum substantiam aut secundum relationem’ said Augustine: ‘In God, there is nothing accidental, but only substance and relation’.
            The former cardinal wrote, ‘Relation, being related, is not something superadded to the person, but is the person itself. Put more concretely, the first person does not generate in the sense that the act of generating a Son is added to the already complete person, but the person is the deed of generating, of giving itself, of streaming itself forth. The person is identical with this act of self-donation.’

            The language here is not describing essential substance, but describing one being who is relational in essence: ‘God is love’. In contrast, human relations involve the interaction between individuals who are completely diverse and delimited from each other.

            The supreme majesty of the transcendent Father’s utter self-donation streams outward from eternity past through the Son’s pure revelation: discernible to the mind through the creation, perpetuation and eventual full redemption of the universe.

            However, we are called to emulate the mind of Christ in His incarnation: the Messiah’s condescension to don full humanity, by which He veiled the overt manifestation of His divine nature. Jesus’ humanity veiled those attributes from immediate recognition of Him by all to be the ‘outshining of God’s glory’ (Heb. 1:3) and the ‘unapproachable light whom no man has seen nor can see’ (1 Tim. 6:16)’

  6. Alastair Roberts December 1, 2016 at 8:43 pm #

    While I largely side with Giles here and am thankful for the work that he has done on the subject, I’ve had concerns about some of his previous teaching on the subject, which has been out of line with orthodox Trinitarianism itself in various ways. I wrote here (as part of a series of posts, of which eight have been published so far):

    The examples of Giles and Erickson can provide a sense of some further complexities of the debate. As I’ve already noted, Erickson rejects the doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son, while Giles staunchly defends it. Although he now seems to be rather more reticent in advocating such a doctrine, seemingly preferring to advocate a ‘communal’ Trinitarianism, Giles has formerly aligned himself with Erickson’s social Trinitarianism: ‘The Trinity is a communion of three persons, three centers of consciousness, who exist and always have existed in union with one another and in dependence on one another.’ He has also presented such a doctrine of the Trinity as grounding an egalitarian social agenda, appealing to both Jürgen Moltmann and Leonardo Boff (see The Trinity & Subordinationism, 101ff.). Such a position would fall under many of the same strictures as ESS.

    Finally, more subtle differences in Trinitarian theology can sometimes surface in this debate between complementarians and egalitarians, even when both deny ESS. Characteristic of some forms of egalitarian Trinitarianism seems to be a minimalistic account of Trinitarian taxis and of the relationship between the economic missions and the processions of the immanent Trinity. Erickson, favourably cited by Giles, writes:

    “There is no permanent distinction of one from the other in terms of origination. While the Father may be the cause of the existence of the Son and the Spirit, they are also mutually the cause of his existence and the existence of one another. There is an eternal symmetry of all three persons” (The Trinity & Subordinationism, 103).

    It should be borne in mind that it is not only complementarians who are at risk of reading their ideals of community and relations into and out from the Triune life of God.

    One of my broader concerns with the Trinitarian scholarship of people like Giles, who often wear their egalitarianism on their sleeve, is their tendency to downplay taxis and order in the Trinity and the doctrine of appropriation, to present the Trinity in an overly symmetrical manner, which also seems to diverge from the tradition. This touches on the authority and submission debate. Although we should rightly resist reading submission back into the Trinity, this doesn’t mean that each person of the Trinity has authority in exactly the same manner.

    Here is a very long quotation from my (yet unpublished) next post in the series:

    This does not mean no economic differentiation between the persons can be spoken of here. As John Webster writes:

    Indivisibility does not disqualify personal differentiation or restrict it simply to the opera internae. It indicates that economic differentiation is modal, not real, and reinforces the importance of prepositional rather than substantive differentiation (‘from’ the Father, ‘through’ the Son, ‘in’ the Spirit). Modal differentiation does not deny personal agency, however; it simply specifies how the divine persons act. ‘[T]he several persons’, Owen notes, ‘are undivided in their operations, acting all by the same will, the same wisdom, the same power. Every person, therefore, is the author of every work of God, because each person is God, and the divine nature is the same undivided principle of all divine operations; and this ariseth from the unity of the person in the same essence.’

    Relating this to divine authority, we could speak of the Father as the source of authority and the authorizing One—authority comes from him. The Son is the entirely authorized One and the One through whom God’s authority is exhaustively effected. The Spirit is the One in whom authority is given, enjoyed, and perfected. Authority thus understood is singular, eminently assigned to the Father, yet the inseparable possession and work of the undivided Godhead.

    This in turn can serve to clarify our understanding of the incarnate Christ’s mission. Rather than understanding the Son’s relation to the Father in terms of a framework of authority and submission, this suggests that we should think in terms of different modes of a single, undivided divine authority. It is through the divine Son that the one authority of God is effected.

    The manner in which the Son brings about the authority of God in history is through the path of human obedience. As a man with a human nature and will Christ submits to and is obedient to the will of God. However, this obedience can only truly be perceived for what it is when it is seen against the background of the fact that he is the authoritative divine Son. He is the one who can forgive sins. He is the one who can command the elements, cast out demons, and heal the sick, exercising the authority of God as his own. He is the one who receives the Spirit without measure and the radiant and glorious theophanic revelation of God on the Mount of Transfiguration. We are left in no doubt of the divine authority of Christ. The obedience and humiliation of Christ is the (paradoxically) authoritative work by which he overcomes human rebellion, reconciles humanity to God, and defeats Satan.

    As we recognize this, it is possible to appreciate the work of Christ as revelatory of and congruent with the eternal relation between the Father and Son, without collapsing the necessary distinctions between the two and reading back Christ’s human obedience and submission into the being of God. This obedience and submission exists on account of the revelation of the Father-Son relation within the framework of the Creator-creature divide. However, when we look closer, what is seen is not just the Son’s self-rendering in obedience to the Father, but also the Father’s exhaustive donation of authority to his Son.

    This undoes any simplistic authority-submission polarity. God cannot be alienated from his authority nor give his glory to another. Yet God’s authority and glory are found precisely in Christ, the Son who bears the divine name (cf. John 8:58; Philippians 2:9). The Father and the Son are mutually defining (as the names ‘Father’ and ‘Son’ suggest). The Father is glorified as the authority of his Son is confessed, as the Father is who he is only in relation to his Son (Philippians 2:11). The Son is the one through whom the Father’s authority is effected; the Father is the one from whom the Son’s authority comes: the authority of Father and Son is the one indivisible divine authority.

    I think such an approach helps us to do better justice to the biblical teaching than the other options out there. Giles is absolutely right in most of the criticisms that he levels against the eternal subordination of the Son position. However, an appreciation of Trinitarian taxis and appropriation allows us to give weight to the biblical logic of Trinitarian relations, while holding firm to inseparable operations.

    • Bernard Randall December 2, 2016 at 9:40 am #

      This account of authority is surely correct, and can be compared to similar ways in which the Persons of the Trinity are classically thought to have this “modal differentiation.” Thus the Father “thinks the words), the Son is the Word spoken, and the Spirit is the breath of speaking – all required, all equally responsible, eternally co-operating but only one speech-act. Of we may say with Gregory of Nazianzus that in the baptism of Jesus, the Father anoints, the Son is anointed (“Christ”) and the Spirit is the anointing (and yet not three anointings but one, not three Christs but one, as the Athanasian Creed might put it). Of course, as I always say when giving accounts of the Trinity “It’s a bit like …, but we can’t give a perfect analogy in human, finite, language of the infinite God.”

      BTW, I don’t think we have these debates about the “orthodox” position if we used the Athanasian Creed a bit more often in our churches.

      • Alastair Roberts December 2, 2016 at 5:42 pm #

        Yes. One of the concerning things about the current situation is that a serious theological doctrine of the Trinity is so marginal to the worship and thinking of many churches. When it does make an appearance, it is far too often being used either to argue for or against something else, such as a position on gender issues.

        On the other hand, we have the Oprah-fied Trinity of Richard Rohr and William Paul Young.

  7. Rick Stordy December 1, 2016 at 10:43 pm #

    Fascinating and persuasive stuff. But assuming Bruce Ware still holds to his wider belief in Eternal Functional Subordination, will you be publishing his paper as a post too? Or is Giles the ‘right’ view?

    • Ian Paul December 1, 2016 at 10:48 pm #

      I think Giles’ is the most persuasive view, and the debate has been articulated well elsewhere…

  8. Matthew December 2, 2016 at 4:32 pm #

    This is a Nicene Creed related question, how is it the CofE use the filique clause in most services, but omits the phrase ‘and the son’ in ecumenical services?
    How can both be used, and when is it suitable to remove the son from this part of the creed?

    https://www.churchofengland.org/prayer-worship/worship/texts/psalter,-collects-and-other-resources/creeds.aspx
    An Alternative Text of the Nicene Creed

    This text of the Nicene Creed, which omits the phrase ‘and the Son’ in the third paragraph, may be used on suitable ecumenical occasions

  9. John Clapton December 3, 2016 at 9:30 am #

    While I am very much on-side with Giles, I am intrigued watching others see how far their head-work and logic can push the idea of Trinity into something that supports or justifies their complimentarian views of human relationships.

    I was told by a Church Historian once that heresy is very often the result of taking some truth and pushing it to its logical extreme. I think this aphorism holds true in most cases and what I see in this debate is people grasping hold of a truth – “That the Son obeys the Father” – and pushing it to a logical extreme by which they end up outside the boundaries of the orthodox faith as clearly outline by Giles.

  10. John Clapton December 3, 2016 at 9:31 am #

    I am very much on-side with Giles but I am intrigued watching others see how far their head-work and logic can push the idea of Trinity into something that supports or justifies their complimentarian views of human relationships.

    I was told by a Church Historian once that heresy is very often the result of taking some truth and pushing it to its logical extreme. I think this aphorism holds true in most cases and what I see in this debate is people grasping hold of a truth – “That the Son obeys the Father” – and pushing it to a logical extreme by which they end up outside the boundaries of the orthodox faith as clearly outline by Giles.

    • Philip Almond December 3, 2016 at 10:41 am #

      Maybe its the other way round. In any case those who have appealed to the Father-Son eternal relationship to support the male headship case have shot themselves in the foot. See my December 1 post above.
      Phil Almond

  11. Phill December 3, 2016 at 3:45 pm #

    Hmmm. Something strange has happened here, I thought I made a couple of (brief) comments and both of them seem to have disappeared into the ether?

    Just commenting here to test that it does actually work and I’m not going mad! (I might be going mad anyway, but still.)

  12. Peter Carrell December 4, 2016 at 6:50 pm #

    The interesting thing about the good disagreement aspect of this matter is that (finally) Giles has persuaded Ware and Grudem that they are wrong and they have graciously admitted so. Good disagreement, eventually, has become agreement.

    Thus the question is raised whether good disagreement rests on some underlying sense among the disagreeing parties that eventually agreement will be reached. On the matters of egalitarianism v complementarianism and same sex relationships, can we say we have that sense?

    • Jonathan Tallon December 6, 2016 at 9:21 am #

      Giles has persuaded Ware and Grudem that they are wrong about the eternal generation of the Son. I see nothing that suggests that they have changed their minds about the eternal subordination of the Son.

      • Ian Paul December 6, 2016 at 9:47 am #

        No, not yet. But Giles (in correspondence with me) says he thinks that that will follow in time, since the two doctrines are related—and perhaps the most significant thing is that they have changed at all. It is often a mantra that such conservative expressions of doctrine are the doctrine itself, and so are unchangeable.

        • Alastair Roberts December 6, 2016 at 3:56 pm #

          I would be interested to know whether Erickson has changed his mind on his former resistance to the doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son. One of the many ironies of this debate is that Erickson has formerly rejected the doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son in part on account of its supposed early connection with eternal functional subordination.

          The narrow focus on complementarians’ doctrine of the Trinity is not entirely helpful, as it disguises the fact that many leading egalitarian voices and other dominant theologians hold similar errors. One gets the impression that many people today are entering the debate late, oblivious to what went on before they entered the room. For instance, how many are acquainted with Karl Barth’s position on the eternal subordination of the Son and the way this played out in debates between figures such as Colin Gunton and Thomas Torrance? Barth’s doctrine is unusual and not the same as common complementarian positions, but it is important to take note of.

          Craig Keener, an important egalitarian voice, has come out in favour of the eternal subordination of the Son position in the past. Erickson has denied eternal generation. Giles has formerly articulated a sort of social Trinitarianism. Erickson is incredibly weak on taxis and also talks of the persons as ‘three centers of consciousness’. There are no shortage of egalitarians who treat the Trinity as their social programme. On the other hand, many complementarians are firm opponents of all of these Trinitarian errors.

          It seems to me that we could all, egalitarians and complementarians alike, benefit from taking the remedial class on the doctrine of the Trinity at this juncture in history. Although the connection between the eternal subordination of the Son and gender roles is a specifically complementarian form of error, the wider Trinitarian problems that underlie it are far from exclusive to complementarians. It is a little concerning that Trinitarian errors often only appear to become matters of great concern when they impact upon our specific social concerns.

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