Rise and Fall of the Complementarian Doctrine of the Trinity

Giles, Kevin.  The Rise and Fall of the Complementarian Doctrine of the Trinity. Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2017.

This is a great snapshot of the Trinitarian debate of 2016. Kevin Giles gives a good summary of the teachings of Ware/Grudem and the Nicene refutation of those teachings.  While this is certainly a five star book, it does have its shortcomings.  Giles sometimes gives the impression he is the star of this show.  To be fair, he stood against Evangelical Arianism when few would.  Further, the book repeats itself many times (usually in terms of quotations from blogs).

He defines complementarian as one who believes God differentiates man and woman on the basis of “roles,” primarily that of submission (footnote 1). An egalitarian is someone who believes that man and woman co-ruled before the fall.  Submission is a result of the fall.  I think the debate is a bit more nuanced than that, but it is workable for the moment.

Giles notes that some long-time advocates of ESS, men like Denny Burk, have finally broken rank with Ware and Co. 

Giles notes that George Knight III was the first person to speak of “role subordination” in the latter’s 1977 book, New Testament Teaching on the Role Relationship of Men and Women.  Knight argued that Kephale in 1 Cor. 11:3 meant a subordinating chain of hierarchy.  He then applied it to the Trinity (Knight 33).  This is almost word-for-word Neo-Platonism.  It comes very close to Arianism.

Giles’ main problem with “role” language is that its common examples aren’t relevant.  The early examples were that of a ship captain and a sailor.  Those, however, are due to training, expertise, etc.  If he wanted a closer parallel he would have to find superiority by birth: slavery, apartheid, etc. As Giles notes, “Some are born to rule. Some are born to obey.” That is a more relevant example.  We will come back to it.   

In 1991, the Danvers Statement took Knight’s use of “role” and coined the term, as far as I can tell for the first time, “complementarian.”  This was unfortunate, as almost everyone before then thought his view was “complementarian.”  But even in the Piper/Grudem book, the Trinity wasn’t that big a factor in the argument.  It wasn’t until 1994 when Grudem issued his Systematic Theology did it become a factor.

In an almost throwaway sentence in a section explaining Grudem’s beliefs, Giles nails it: “In the New Testament, the title ‘the Son’ when used of Jesus Christ speaks of his royal status and power, never his subordination.”

Giles’ theological takedown of ESS is certainly worth your time, but his telling of the 2016 story is even more fascinating.  By early June 2016, it had appeared that the Grudem/Ware camp had won.  Then two Reformed women, Byrd and Miller, began pointing out the semi-Arianism of this position.  This had a snowballing effect.  Carl Trueman got involved.  Finally, Michel Barnes and Lewis Ayres, the two leading Patristics scholars in the English language, buried ESS.  It was beautiful. When someone of Ayres’ stature refutes your work, the game is over.

According to Giles, Miller “fired the first shots that led to the civil war among complementarians.”

Giles raises a good question that is worth considering: why did many confessional theologians who are definitionally precluded from accepting ESS wait so long to condemn it?  I have some ideas.  Reformed people were fighting Shepherdism, FV, theonomy, etc.  Those are worthwhile conversations, but the Trinity didn’t figure into them.

The problem with “we just get it from the Bible:”  the main problem is that the Bible doesn’t say the persons are homoousios.  Yes, Jesus and the Father are “one,” but what does that even mean?  One in nature?  One in goals?  One in love?  A good Mormon apologist can run laps around that.  Rather, we need to submit to the structure and grammar of the text.

To be fair, many in the CBMW camp say that complementarianism doesn’t depend on the Arian view of the Trinity.  I don’t think they can get off that easily. For decades that’s exactly what it depended on.  They camped out at 1 Cor. 11:3 and never left.  I’m glad that most have repudiated their early erroneous Trinitarianism.  I do wonder, however, if it will come back up in future exegeses of 1 Cor. 11.

A note on 1 Cor. 11: What does being head over mean?  Does it mean “source” or “authority?”  Source makes more sense, since women are allowed to prophesy alongside men, and the office of prophet is just beneath that of prophet.  If you read kephale as source, then you get the doctrine of eternal generation thrown in (which you are obligated to believe per Nicea).

Ware says only functions and authority can differentiate the persons.  That’s simply false.  For one, I can distinguish between two persons without knowing which one is in charge.  In any case, the Fathers were clear you distinguish them by their modes of origination. Full stop.  If you project human authority structures back into the Godhead as a way to define the persons, you are a pagan.  That’s literally no different from Greek mythology.

And lest anyone appeal to “Rahner’s Rule,” with Giles we can say, “Why they so enthusiastically embraced this rule given by a liberal Roman Catholic; a rule he never explains, a rule that virtually no two theologians can agree on what it means,” is anyone’s guess.

Towards a Critique

There are many angles from which to critique the doctrine of ESS.  I’ll start with some observations.

(1) Complementarians cannot simultaneously claim the Son’s subordination is merely functional on one hand and eternal and person-defining on the other. The latter is ontological, which entails (not just implies) a difference in essence.

(1.1) Phil. 2:4-11 says the Son willingly chose this role in the economy.  If that’s the case, then it isn’t a matter of eternal function.

(2) ESS reads Christ’s state of humiliation back into eternity past.

(3) You cannot affirm the Westminster/LBC’s use of the persons of the Godhead being “equal in power and glory” and hold to ESS.  ESS specifically rejects that they are equal in power (since exousia and dunamis) can sometimes be used interchangeably.

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Politics According to the Bible (Grudem)

Old post from another blog

Grudem, Wayne. Politics According to the Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010.

This book was a pleasure to read. It combined warm piety with robust, pinpointing analysis. It addressed almost every relevant issue. As it was written in 2010, it is dated in a few respects, but even then it is quite interesting for the snapshot approach for where it sees America going. Indeed, I found myself reading the section on the Supreme Court, and Grudem’s passionate call for pro-life justices, at the same time that Justice Kavanaugh was being assaulted by the Principality of Moloch.

Grudem bases Govt in the Noahic covenant. There must be government to carry out the death penalty, as the family couldn’t do it. In God’s requiring death as the maximum possible penalty (demand a reckoning) he logically established the validity of lesser penalties for lesser crimes.

He somewhat cooks the evidence for a democratic govt. I believe there are cases where a democratic govt is wise, but the Bible ultimately doesn’t care. He is correct that popular involvement is a good thing in policy, but that can be found under a variety of systems. In any case, 50% + 1 of the population can tyrannize a minority as effectively as any monarch.

He has a great section on a godly patriotism. Nations are legitimate because: God has established nations on the earth (Gen. 10Acts 17:26Job 12.23). Nations divide and disperse govt power throughout the earth, providing a check against a one-world govt (110).

Patriotism is good because: A sense of belonging to a community. Sure, our primary sense of belonging is to the church. Gratitude for the benefits a nation provides. Gratitude is a virtue and should be practiced. A shared sense of pride in the achievements of others. This isn’t my glorying in their achievements, but my rejoicing in their achievements. A sense of pride for the good things a nation has done. A sense of obligation to serve the nation under the commonweal.

Ethic of Life

He has a moving defense of pro-life. He also deals with issues like ectopic pregnancies, which nuance is often beyond the typical AHA screeds.

My only quibble is that he never really defines what personhood is. He ties it indirectly with the image of God, and that’s true, but we really don’t have a definition. He also takes guys like Jim Wallis to task. When pacifists say, “Abortion is bad but we should care about all these life-issues,” what they are really doing is changing the subject and avoiding the question.

The reader is also encouraged to consult John Frame’s Doctrine of the Christian Life, pp.717-732, which Grudem also references.

Civil Govts Should Define Marriage for All Citizens

Govt is to restrain evil, bring good to society, and bring order to society (221). Marriage, therefore, falls under this rubric. Further, no other institution has the jurisdiction to do this for an entire society (221). Without such a definition, there would be a proliferation of children due to polygamy.

Economics

Thesis: The Bible defends a system where property belongs to the people (262). This is implied in 8th commandment.

“On reason why communism is so incredibly dehumanizing is that when private property is abolished, govt controls all activity. And when govt controls all activity, it controls what you buy, where you will live, what job you will have (and therefore what job you are allowed to train for, and therefore where you will go to school), and how much you will earn. It essentially controls all of life, and human liberty is destroyed” (262).

God’s giving property to human beings is found in our being in the image of God. Economic development is also tied into the image of God. We develop and produce more of the goods from a land. Materialism is bad, but material productivity is good. “When the wealth of a nation increases, it becomes easier to fulfill many of God’s commands” (271).

National Defense

Grudem gave the standard just war treatment. He also dealt with the thorny issues of pre-emptive strikes, wiretapping, and interrogation. Did a fine job. I’m not as bothered by wiretapping as others, simply because I have always known the govt did it.

I can even go with a more positive view of the CIA, provided we make a few provisos.

So what about “interrogation?” Simply causing “discomfort” to someone doesn’t count as torture. Here are several things that are always wrong to do to an enemy:

1. To commit actions that are in themselves always immoral, such as raping a prisoner, or cutting off fingers, toes

2.To deny medical treatment

3.To carry out acts of sadistic humiliation

4.To attempt to force a prisoner to violate religious convictions that pose no threat to the U.S. or its defense

5.To carry out actions that would shock the conscience of a U.S. court and cause lasting physical damage

Here are things that are acceptable:

1. Acute pain that causes no permanent damage (ie. pressure points, etc.) .The Bible approves of the infliction of pain to compel right action in children, why not terrorists? (Prov. 13:24; see also 22:15; 23:13–14; 29:15).

2. Sodium Pentathol

3. Waterboarding – performed on our own troops in SERE training, Senate rejected amendment to make illegal, no permanent damage caused when used within appropriate guidelines. Obama issued executive order to cease its use.

Problems with Grudem’s Analysis

He says that John Frame and Vern Poythress are theonomists (66). That is incorrect. They have published books criticizing theonomy, especially Poythress. Yes, they have stronger views on God’s law than say, RTS Jackson. But they aren’t theonomists.

In his otherwise fine chapter on the Supreme Court, Grudem bemoans that our founders would never have dreamed of such judicial activism (135). This isn’t entirely true. Certainly, even the more radical founders like Hamilton would have looked in horror upon a Ginsberg, but the Federalist Papers certainly give the Supreme Court that power, at least implicitly. Grudem restricts his analysis and never considers the pointed arguments of The Anti-Federalist Papers.

This book was written before the rise of ISIS, so much of his analysis on the future of the Middle East must be taken with a grain of salt. He argues that Muslim nations can function as democracies and that this would stop radical Islam. The problem is that the nations he mentions have long promoted terror and do not allow religious liberty to Christians (Turkey, Pakistan, etc.).

Carson: Showing the Spirit

Image result for carson showing the spirit

Carson, D. A. Showing the Spirit: A Theological Exposition of 1 Corinthians 12-14. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1987.

Carson steers a middle path between deistic cessationism and slappy clappy anything-goes charismania.  He endorses the substance behind Grudem’s thesis while calling particular details into account. This is the best, sane treatment of the charismatic movement.

While there are some nuances between “charismata” and “pneumatikon,” there isn’t enough to warrant a full doctrinal difference or application.

Notes and argument:

* The “perfect” in 1 Cor. 13 cannot refer to the completion of the canon, since that would have been anachronistic for Paul.

* Paul makes no distinction between regular gifts and super gifts (Carson 34).  12:7 links it all: each gift is for the manifestation of the Spirit. Each believer is given some manifestation and rather than divide it into super and regular, Paul’s argument does the exact opposite: don’t think one is better than the other.

* The ordering of the gifts doesn’t matter.  Paul changes the order every time (35ff).

*The chapter on tongues is interesting.  He leans towards their being actual languages, and hypothetically grants they continue today.  He hedges his bets by saying no one does it correctly. He draws upon an interesting article by Poythress and notes that the content of glossalia that tongue-speech is coded language (all languages have codes that repeat). So even if it is “gibberish,” if it has patterns then it still counts as a language.  Poythress gives the following example:

Praise the Lord, for his mercy endures forever.

Remove the vowels to achieve

Prs th lrd fr hs mrc ndrs frvr

This isn’t so strange, since some Semitic languages don’t have vowels.

Now we are going to remove the spaces

Prsthlrdfrhsmrcndrsfrvr

This still counts as a language, since most early languages didn’t have spaces.

Now we are going to add an “a” between each consonant.  It might sound gibberish, but it has all the necessary conditions for a language.  You can play with it and it will sound gibberish, but it still fits as a “language.”

Prophecy

Does Grudem’s view mean that each new prophecy means new revelation?  No.

  1. a) It doesn’t seem like Philip’s daughters thought they were adding to the canon.
  2. b) The parallel with OT false prophets really doesn’t work.  In the OT if a prophet were proved true, then he was good to go.  Sort of like tenure. Not so with NT prophets. Their oracles are to be carefully weighed (presumably again and again).

Were Tongues a Covenantal Sign?

It is true that Paul is probably alluding to Isaiah 28:16 in 1 Cor. 14:22ff.  Does this mean that each act of tongue-speaking in the church was a covenantal judgment on Jews for their unbelief?  It’s hard to see how that could be the case. Carson shows some problems:

  1. a) The “unbeliever” for Paul is a Gentile, not a Jew.  There is no way that this can function as a covenantal sign against the Jewish unbeliever.

Carson ends the book with a rather pointed critique of charismatic excesses.  That’s understandable, since he spent the previous 150 pages debunking cessationist exegesis.

Wayne Grudem: On Prophecy

Argument:  NT “prophets” are not equivalent to OT “prophets.”  This is so because the latter could claim divine infallibility and are always compared with NT apostles.

    1. Old Testament Prophets: Speaking God’s Very Words
      1. The Prophets are Messengers of God
      2. The Prophets Words ar Words of God
      3. The Absolute Divine Authority of Prophetic Words
        1. To disbelieve or disobey a prophet is to disbelieve and disobey God.
        2. The words of a prophet are beyond challenge (Grudem 24).
      4. Application for Today
    2. New Testament Apostles
      Argument: there is “little if any evidence for a group of prophets in the NT churches who could speak with God’s very words and who had the ability to write books of Scripture” (27)

      1. The NT apostles are messengers of Christ.  
        1. OT prophets are covenant messengers; NT apostles are ministers of the New Covenant.
      2. New Testament Apostles are connected with Old Testament Prophets
        1. The book of Hebrews contrasts Jesus with the OT prophets and calls him an “apostles” (Heb. 3:1).
        2. 2 Pet. 3:2 connects the holy prophets through the apostles.
      3. The Apostles Words are Words of God
      4. Paul distinguishes himself, an apostle, from those who are prophets.
        1. Anyone who disobeyed Paul disobeyed a command from the Lord, yet we do not see this kind of authority given to NT prophets.
      5. The NT uses the language of prophets as someone who can predict the future but not have divine authority (Titus 1:12; Luke 22:64; John 4.19).
    3. New Testament Prophets at Corinth
      Thesis: Speaking merely human words to report something God brings to mind.

      1. Prophecies need to be sifted (14.29).
      2. Some prophecies were intentionally neglected (14.30).  Contrast this with Jehoikam’s disregard for Jeremiah’s prophecy.  God gave him a death sentence for neglecting it. If NT prophecies were on the same field as OT, then we should make sure that all of this “potential canon” is gathered for the church.  Yet Paul is making sure that isn’t happening. Some prophets won’t even be able to speak (Grudem 63).
      3. “Revelation” doesn’t always imply divine authority.  We have a tendency to important later historical theology into NT concepts.  Revelation doesn’t mean binding communication from God. It means to “unveil” or “reveal.”
        1. God’s wrath is apokalypto against all unrighteousness.  When men would later talk about this, were their words “Bible?”
        2. In Eph. 1.17 we are to pray for a spirit of apokalypsis.  Does that mean what I speak under that is now canon?
      4. NT prophets have less authority than apostles, so they can’t be the same (14.37-38).

New Testament Prophets in the Rest of the NT

      1. Agabus (Acts 11.28).
      2. Acts 13.2.  There are numerous passages where the Lord speaks to someone and it isn’t prophecy: Acts 8.29; 10.19; 18.9; 15.28; 16.6-7; 16.9; 20.23; 23.9.  The common denominator in these passages is a subjective element.
      3. Agabus, again. 21.4.  “Through the Spirit they told Paul not to go.”  Yet Paul specifically disobeys this warning. And Agabus’s prophecy isn’t entirely accurate.  It was the Romans who bound Paul, not the Jews. The Jews didn’t deliver Paul over to the Gentiles.  Rather, the Romans saved Paul from the Jews! This means that Agabus got the gist of it right, but was wrong on the details.  
      4. Philip’s daughters.  Acts 21.9.

The Source of Prophecies

      1. 1 Cor. 14.30.  Must be based on a revelation from God.
        1. The revelation comes spontaneously (96).
        2. The revelation comes to an individual.
        3. The revelation is from god.
      2. The revelation gives insight to God’s perspective.
        1. They are able to see facts in light of God’s perspective.
      3. Prophets don’t know everything (1 Cor. 13.8-13).
        1. We prophecy in part because we are looking into a dim mirror.
        2. A mirror suggests incompleteness and indirectness.
        3. There are “dim” aspects, which is why Agabus was true, though he got a few facts wrong.

Duration of Prophecy

    1. I think we can all agree that “the perfect has come” in 1 Cor. 13 doesn’t refer to the closing of the canon.  For one, it’s circular reasoning. Secondly, when the perfect comes you will “know perfectly,” which isn’t true today.
    2. But what about prophecy is a sign-gift?  This is probably the most sophisticated response from cessationists.  But we respond:
      1. Almost everything in Acts is connected with the Apostles and is probably sign-ificant (see what I did?).    In that case, preaching the gospel is a sign-gift and doesn’t happen today, but that’s silly.
      2. Not all miracles in the NT were done by apostles.  James 5:14-15 expected healing to occur at the hands of the elders.  Further, “in the absence of the Apostle Paul, [it is Christ] who “works miracles among the Galatian churches” (205).
      3. Thirdly, Philip and Stephen weren’t apostles, yet they did miracles.

Review

Like all of Wayne Grudem’s books, this one is carefully argued and written with a warm, easy style. The thesis itself is only 228 pages.  The rest of the book is appendices containing responses, specific exegesis, and reprinted articles.

Grudem explains how the Old Testament used the cognate “prophet” and contrasts that with its usages in Koine Greek.  His thesis is the terms aren’t the same and when the latter is applied in the early NT church, they don’t act the same.  In the OT the words of a prophet are beyond challenge (Grudem 24), yet in the NT we are told to sift prophecies. In the OT, to disobey a prophet was death, yet Paul specifically disobeyed the prophecies not to go to Jerusalem.

Paul distinguishes himself, an apostle, from those who are prophets. Anyone who disobeyed Paul disobeyed a command from the Lord, yet we do not see this kind of authority given to NT prophets. The NT uses the language of prophets as someone who can predict the future but not have divine authority (Titus 1:12; Luke 22:64; John 4.19). This is the strongest section of the book. It’s hard to see how you can argue with Grudem at this point.  If NT prophet is connected with “apostle,” then Paul’s writings are incoherent.

“But what about Scripture?” The most common response is that any new prophecy is a revelation from God, and any time there is a revelation from God, it is on the level of codified Scripture.  Grudem slowly, yet with inexorable exactitude, destroys this argument. Here is a trick: every time you see the word revelation (apocalypto or any of its cognates) in the NT, substitute it with “codified Scripture.”  You will see what I am talking about.

Thesis: Speaking merely human words to report something God brings to mind. Prophecies need to be sifted (14.29). Some prophecies were intentionally neglected (14.30).  Contrast this with Jehoikam’s disregard for Jeremiah’s prophecy. God gave him a death sentence for neglecting it. If NT prophecies were on the same field as OT, then we should make sure that all of this “potential canon” is gathered for the church.  Yet Paul is making sure that isn’t happening. Some prophets won’t even be able to speak (Grudem 63).

“Revelation” doesn’t always imply divine authority.  We have a tendency to important later historical theology into NT concepts.  Revelation doesn’t mean binding communication from God. It means to “unveil” or “reveal.”  That’s all it means. It doesn’t mean “Bible.” God’s wrath is apokalypto against all unrighteousness.  When men would later talk about this, were their words “Bible?” In Eph. 1.17 we are to pray for a spirit of apokalypsis.  Does that mean what I speak under that is now canon? NT prophets have less authority than apostles, so they can’t be the same (14.37-38).

Duration of Prophecy

I think we can all agree that “the perfect has come” in 1 Cor. 13 doesn’t refer to the closing of the canon.  For one, it’s circular reasoning. Secondly, when the perfect comes you will “know perfectly,” which isn’t true today.

But what about prophecy is a sign-gift?  This is probably the most sophisticated response from cessationists.  But we respond: Almost everything in Acts is connected with the Apostles and is probably sign-ificant (see what I did?).    In that case, preaching the gospel is a sign-gift and doesn’t happen today, but that’s silly. Not all miracles in the NT were done by apostles.  James 5:14-15 expected healing to occur at the hands of the elders. Further, “in the absence of the Apostle Paul, [it is Christ] who “works miracles among the Galatian churches” (205). Thirdly, Philip and Stephen weren’t apostles, yet they did miracles.

There is also a long, careful discussion of Eph. 2:20, which includes an interaction with Gaffin.  This is one of those landmark books. If a cessationist book doesn’t interact with Grudem’s exegesis in this book (e.g., Strange Fire), you can throw it away.  It’s scholarship is out of date.

 

Erickson contra Grudem

This isn’t immediately related to Protestant Scholasticism, but Erickson’s work is an important contribution to the current Trinitarian chaos.

Erickson, Millard.  Who’s Tampering with the Trinity?

In responding to the subordinationist debate on the Trinity, Erickson gives us much more than a snapshot of the current battle. He gives us a model on how to do systematic (or missional, if you are in the PCA) theology. He examines biblical, historical, philosophical, theological, and pastoral implications for both views. He is generally stronger on 1,3,4, and 5. The historical section is a little weak.

Erikson says Hodge taught a gradational view of the Trinity, as did Augustus Strong. Hodge did no such thing. Hodge (and to a lesser degree Strong) emphasized the “order” in the Trinity, but an epistemological order–from the Father through the Son in the Spirit–does not imply a gradation or a submission. Or if it does we need to see an argument to the effect.

And this is partly why Ware’s position is so tricky. When Ware highlights a certain order or “taxis” in the Trinity, he is not wrong. But when he says, “This means submission” he is beyond the evidence.

The main problem with Ware is that he is almost right. His problem is that he doesn’t let the early reflections on the Trinity anchor him so he wouldn’t fall in error. It’s not enough, as Athanasius noted, to say the Son (or Spirit) is homoousios with the Father. We must also note that the Trinitarian relations are homoousion. This is what keeps the Greek Patristic reflection from slipping into error. They are able to say there is a certain taxis in the Trinity without lapsing into subordinationism: the homoousion safeguards them.

Similarly, Grudem isn’t entirely wrong. He asks, “If not for x (Grudem’s view) how can the Persons be distinguished? This problem stems from the assumption of extreme divine simplicity. Given the essence’s identification with the attributes, how can one really speak of this or that? Traditionally, the Western church distinguished the Persons by calling them “relations of oppositions.” Grudem (correctly) doesn’t take this route. But he thinks the Persons are distinguished by roles and functions, rather than by modes of origination (as the Fathers said).

The Biblical Evidence

The problem with “son-language:” the ancient fathers were hesitant, pace Bruce Ware, to read human concepts of fatherhood/sonship back into the eternal Trinity. It bordered close to idolatry. It’s one thing to say that the “Fatherhood of God” is the archetype from which all fathers are derived. That’s true. It’s quite another thing to define Fatherhood of God by the derivative.

Further, “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?

Erickson mentions it but doesn’t develop it. 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)?

Philosophical Considerations

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.” Erickson points out the problem with this line of reasoning: if authority over the Son is an essential attribute, the the subordination of the Son is essential. This means they are neither homoousion in essence or in relation (Erickson 172).

With regard to Grudem Erickson examines his argument:

G1: Differences of person require different roles
GC: Therefore, distinctions of persons require differences of authority

Erickson points out that Grudem is missing a key premise: “Differences of role require differences of authority” (185). And since they have not proved this (and if they had, they would be semi-Arians, given Ware’s earlier claim), then they must forfeit the debate.

Cons:

(1) Erikson seems to think that if you hold to the eternal generation, you have to hold to it literally in order for it to make sense, yet no Father ever said this.
(2) He is aware of Giles’s use of dyotheletism to criticize th EFS position, but he doesn’t like it.

Aside from these criticisms, the book is compelling, succinct, and occasionally fun to read.

Who’s Tampering with the Trinity?

In responding to the subordinationist debate on the Trinity, Erickson gives us much more than a snapshot of the current battle. He gives us a model on how to do systematic (or missional, if you are in the PCA) theology. He examines biblical, historical, philosophical, theological, and pastoral implications for both views. He is generally stronger on 1,3,4, and 5. The historical section is a little weak.

Erikson says Hodge taught a gradational view of the Trinity, as did Augustus Strong. Hodge did no such thing. Hodge (and to a lesser degree Strong) emphasized the “order” in the Trinity, but an epistemological order–from the Father through the Son in the Spirit–does not imply a gradation or a submission. Or if it does we need to see an argument to the effect.

And this is partly why Ware’s position is so tricky. When Ware highlights a certain order or “taxis” in the Trinity, he is not wrong. But when he says, “This means submission” he is beyond the evidence.

The main problem with Ware is that he is almost right. His problem is that he doesn’t let the early reflections on the Trinity anchor him so he wouldn’t fall in error. It’s not enough, as Athanasius noted, to say the Son (or Spirit) is homoousios with the Father. We must also note that the Trinitarian relations are homoousion. This is what keeps the Greek Patristic reflection from slipping into error. They are able to say there is a certain taxis in the Trinity without lapsing into subordinationism: the homoousion safeguards them.

Similarly, Grudem isn’t entirely wrong. He asks, “If not for x (Grudem’s view) how can the Persons be distinguished? This problem stems from the assumption of extreme divine simplicity. Given the essence’s identification with the attributes, how can one really speak of this or that? Traditionally, the Western church distinguished the Persons by calling them “relations of oppositions.” Grudem (correctly) doesn’t take this route. But he thinks the Persons are distinguished by roles and functions, rather than by modes of origination (as the Fathers said).

The Biblical Evidence

The problem with “son-language:” the ancient fathers were hesitant, pace Bruce Ware, to read human concepts of fatherhood/sonship back into the eternal Trinity. It bordered close to idolatry. It’s one thing to say that the “Fatherhood of God” is the archetype from which all fathers are derived. That’s true. It’s quite another thing to define Fatherhood of God by the derivative.

Further, “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?

Erickson mentions it but doesn’t develop it. 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)?

Philosophical Considerations

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.” Erickson points out the problem with this line of reasoning: if authority over the Son is an essential attribute, the the subordination of the Son is essential. This means they are neither homoousion in essence or in relation (Erickson 172).

With regard to Grudem Erickson examines his argument:

G1: Differences of person require different roles
GC: Therefore, distinctions of persons require differences of authority

Erickson points out that Grudem is missing a key premise: “Differences of role require differences of authority” (185). And since they have not proved this (and if they had, they would be semi-Arians, given Ware’s earlier claim), then they must forfeit the debate.

Cons:

(1) Erikson seems to think that if you hold to the eternal generation, you have to hold to it literally in order for it to make sense, yet no Father ever said this.
(2) He is aware of Giles’s use of dyotheletism to criticize th EFS position, but he doesn’t like it.

Aside from these criticisms, the book is compelling, succinct, and occasionally fun to read.