Father, Son, Holy Spirit: Relationships, Roles, Relevance (Ware)

Ware, Bruce. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: Relationship, Roles, and Relevance. Crossway, 2005.

Thesis: “examine the ways in which the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit relate to one another, how they relate to us, and what difference this makes in our lives (Ware 14-15 emphasis original).

Ware begins with 10 principles for the Trinity and how it is relevant (15ff).

Ware’s Argument

The key to the Trinity, according to Ware, is the “authority-submission structure” (21).  In this structure

“the three Persons understand the rightful place each has. The Father possesses the place of supreme authority, and the Son is the eternal Son of the eternal Father. As such, the Son submits to the Father just as the Father, as eternal Father of the eternal Son, exercises authority over the Son. And the Spirit submits to both the Father and the Son.”

This is bad. 

“We can only distinguish the Father by his roles” (45).   He then lists three or four roles of the Father. Most of them are unobjectionable, even if they don’t prove his point. 

Ware wastes no time in applying the Trinitarian authority-submission structure to male-female relations: “Clearly, every married man is in this category” (59).  While it is true that “husbands should imitate their heavenly Father,” I can’t help but wonder if Ware is reading this paradigm backwards from earth to heaven.

Beholding the Wonder of the Son

True to his thesis–and I do give Ware credit for having a focused thesis–how do we distinguish the Son?  We distinguish him by his role (69). This is not what the Church has confessed. We distinguish the Son by his eternal generation from the Father.

Ware begins with the correct proposition that it is the eternal Son of the eternal Father.  From this he draws the inference that it is the eternally subordinate Son (72). He does note that the early church used the word “order” or taxis, but they did not make it a structuring principle.

Ware has several pages of discussion of the Son’s submission in his economy, but no one questions that so I will pass by it.

He is correct, quoting Augustine, that the differences in the person reflect differences in relations.  What Augustine did not say, and most certainly did not mean, is that differences in relations entail an authority-submission structure.  For Augustine the relations depended on the Filioque. Given absolute divine simplicity, the only way we can distinguish the persons is through relations of origin.  That’s it.  

He faults egalitarians for not having anything to ground the eternal relation between Father and Son.  And what is so desperately needed: authority-submission. He writes, “There is no reason that the Father should send the Son” (82).  He hasn’t considered the pactum salutis.

He comes close to full Arian in saying that the “Father” and “Son” have to connote exactly that.  This is completely opposite of what the church has taught. Basil and Augustine settled on the term “person” because they didn’t know what else to say.  Reading human concepts back into God is polytheism. Per Father and Son we note “eternal generation” as something only non-physical. We can’t say anything more.  

Ware realizes that the Spirit’s casting Jesus into the wilderness comes close to refuting his position.  He counters by saying Jesus sends the Spirit. The only problem is that Jesus does so in his Incarnation (depending on how you want to gloss the Upper Room and Pentecost).  In any case, Ware hasn’t proven that “send” = “eternal authority over.” He just asserts it.

At every point he sees “sending” as implying “being in authority over/being in submission to, etc.”  Why must it be this way? None of these passages remotely suggest eternal submission. Even worse, as he correctly notes the Father and Son are co-senders of the Spirit, he then goes on to say that the Father is the ultimate sender (i.e., ultimate authority), which means the Son is the penultimate authority, which leaves the Spirit in a rather awkward place (97ff).  It gets worse. This means the Spirit is twice removed from the Father in terms of eternal submission. Ware has come right to the edge (if he hasn’t already crossed over) to Plotinus and Gnosticism (yes, I realize that Plotinus opposed Gnosticism).

Beholding the Wonder of the Holy Spirit

(Let’s get this over with.)

The structure of this chapter is similar to the previous two.  The only thing that distinguishes the Spirit is that he is his role. Unlike the Son, he is in Submission (gradation?) to two divine persons.

Things he gets right

Ware is attuned to the Trinitarian ordo, especially as it relates to worship (Eph. 1:3-14), even if he frames it in typically bad concepts (Ware 19). He understands that the persons of the Trinity are related to each other in a specific order, rather than just popping in and out of infinity. This applies especially well to our prayer life (151). In Christ we have access in one Spirit to the Father.  What Ware doesn’t realize is that this is an epistemological grammar, not an ontological one.

Ware correctly notes that Jesus does his miracles by the power of the Holy Spirit (Matt. 12:28).  There is a tendency to see Jesus simply zapping miracles left and right because he is God. That’s not actually how we see it in the text.

His stuff on the image of God is fairly good.  We are God’s representatives. His problem is that he immediately reduces it to roles of authority-submission in the human sphere (133).

Things Iffy

He speaks of a “unity of differentiation” (20). I think I know what he is getting at, but I shouldn’t have to guess in a popular work on the Trinity.

It’s dangerous to speak of the Trinity as a “community” of “society.”  Yes, there are multiple persons, but there is only one will. It doesn’t make sense to speak of a society of one essence and will.

Things Wrong

>>Ware seeks to distinguish the Persons at the level of function.  The historic church distinguished them by modes of origination.

>>Ware says Bishop Athanasius was the hero of Nicea with his defense of homoousios (37).  Athanasius in real life was not bishop at that early date. He might not even have been at Nicea.  He did not use homoousios as a construct until later. Later on, Ware says that the three Cappadocians, Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory of Nazianzus, and Basil of Caesarea, were “heroes” at the Council of 381.  Strictly speaking, this is inaccurate. Gregory of Nazianzus presided over the beginning of the Council, but left when the Council wouldn’t call the Holy Spirit “God.” Basil of Caesarea, while soon gaining legendary status, died two years before the Council.  How did Crossway not catch this?


But “Son” doesn’t always mean “lesser in authority.”  Jesus is called “The Son of Man.” Does that mean Jesus is inferior to the idea of men?  Jesus is called the Son of David. Does that mean he is inferior to David?

Let’s go back to the order of the Trinity: From the Father through the Son in the Holy Spirit.  According to the gradationist model, with each term there is a diminution of authority. Logically, then, the Holy Spirit should be the bottom-rung.  But if that is the case, then why is the Holy Spirit “casting Jesus” (εκβαλλω) into the wilderness (Mark 1:12)?  

Ware says that the hierarchical structure of authority is part of the essence of the Trinity (Ware 2005, 21), that it “marks the very nature of God.”  Millard Erickson points out the problem with this line of reasoning: if authority over the Son is an essential attribute, then the subordination of the Son is essential.  This means they are neither homoousion in essence or in relation.

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