Saturday, May 16, 2009

Eternal Subordination Distorting Evangelicalism?

There was a time when arguments about the ordination of women and the role of wives were solely exegetical. Increasingly they are taking a theological turn, to be precise, a Trinitarian touch is transforming the foundation of arguments that men and women are equal but different, or, equal but one is subordinate to the other. Consider this title of an article by a doyen of the Eternal Subordinationists, Bruce Ware, published in the movement's flagship journal, Journal for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood : "Equal in Essence, Distinct in Roles: Eternal Functional Authority and Submission among the Essentially Equal Divine Persons of the Godhead".

The title gives the gist of what is going on: a re-examination of orthodox Trinitarian theology, which is founded on a rejection of Arianism, meaning the eternal subordination of the Son to the Father because the Son is created not fully deified, now reveals that:-

Father Son and Holy Spirit are 'Equal in Essence, Distinct in Roles'
but between Father Son and Holy Spirit as the Three Persons of the One Essence
there is 'Eternal Functional Authority' exercised by the Father
and 'Eternal Submission' exercised by the Son and the Holy Spirit
but not to the detriment of 'the Essentially Equal Divine Persons of the Godhead'.

Since much of this kind of argumentation exists within movements for the subordination of women within the church and within marriage, or in debates with those concerned by such movements, it is all but impossible to distinguish talk of 'Eternal Subordinationism' from talk of 'Female Subordinationism'

Nevertheless I am going to have a go making the distinction here, and in a post or three in the future, because the pure Trinitarian question of eternal subordinationism interests me, whether or not it is linked to 'biblical manhood and womanhood'. Here are some questions:

(1) Given that there is some kind of 'order' in the Trinity (e.g. we feel we should always speak of Father Son and Holy Spirit rather than of another ordering of the three; the Father sends the Son, and not vice versa; and the Spirit proceeds from the Father (all Christians agree) and the Son (Eastern Orthodox Christians deny this), what is this order? Does it imply subordination? If it does, what kind of subordination? Eternal or temporal? Functional or ontological?

(2) What does Scripture say which requires us to understand the relationship of the Son to the Father as characterized by eternal subordination?

(3) Should we not be sceptical about any claim to a 'new' understanding of creedal matters of orthodox faith? If so, is eternal subordination something which has been understood and taught by the great theologians since Athanasius? If it has been taught, has this been clear or obscure within their body of teaching?

(4) Is evangelicalism on the point of division over eternal subordinationism (ES)? Are those promoting it adopting it into their understanding of evangelicalism so that it will become a matter of evaluation of identity? (That is, if one denies ES will one be considered either a non-evangelical or a dubious evangelical?)

(5) Given that Eternal Subordinationists today vigorously deny the charge of Arianism (and accepting that denial), is there a danger that tomorrow an ES evangelicalism will evolve into Arianism?

17 comments:

Rachel said...

Thank you for bringing attention to this - this is one of my interests too and its practical outworkings disturb me - I can't quite grasp ES advocates' logic - it is very subtle - I know that Arianism is too heavy a charge to levy but there is still something about its articulation which makes me feel uncomfortable.

Peter Carrell said...

Here is a cheeky thought: ES advocates have given up on believing that 1 T 2:12 etc alone can make the case against ordination. So now the heavy artillery is being brought in ...

Rosemary said...

I find your use of the word ‘subordination’ unhelpful Peter. For me the word used should always be ‘submission,’ and that it must be stressed .. MUST be voluntary, otherwise it has no value. Subordination would never have any value whatsoever in my humble opinion. Therefore use of the word subordination is unhelpful. Unless you’re trying to say that Our Lord did NOT do what He did with ‘willing’ submission, but because He was subordinate?

Here are the dictionary definitions..

1: placed in or occupying a lower class, rank, or position : inferior [a subordinate officer] 2: submissive to or controlled by authority. 3 a: of, relating to, or constituting a clause that functions as a noun, adjective, or adverb b: subordinating
1 a: a legal agreement to submit to the decision of arbitrators b: an act of submitting something (as for consideration or inspection); also : something submitted (as a manuscript)2: the condition of being submissive, humble, or compliant 3: an act of submitting to the authority or control of another.

I would suggest that subordination is always wrong .. but that submission is an entirely different kettle of fish.
So to deal with your numbered queries ..

1. No, it does not imply subordination. As to whether it’s eternal or temporal, may I ask you a question. Jesus told us there’s no ‘marriage’ in heaven, and yet when two are married, they become ‘one.’ When Wally and I are ‘merged’ in eternity, will we worry about who is in charge?

2. Subordination is I would venture to suggest, NEVER required eternally, because submission is always freely given, otherwise it’s not submission.

3. I’m no theologian, so I don’t know what has been taught by whom.

4. Not down on the pews it’s not Peter, we never think about it.

5. I suppose anything is possible on the fringes Peter, but I can’t even understand why you pose the question, it doesn’t seem remotely possible to me as long as you have a clear understanding of the Shema. [Deut 6:4-9]

I would prefer to see a discussion on ‘order’ Peter. There IS ‘order’ in Creation and in the Trinity .. and that’s where I think the discussion should probably major.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Rosemary
Thank you for your questions. Perhaps I could start from the bottom of your comment: yes, 'order', for the Trinity, for the church, for marriage, for society, is very important, and thus how we understand order and what is means for people within an ordered relationship and within a set of ordered relationships is important. When I post on the matter of ES I certainly intend to say something about order.

I agree that 'subordination' is not a helpful term, but it is not me who is making the term up as a key term in the unfolding debate in the wider world of evangelicalism (think, e.g., the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, New Calvinist teachers such as Mark Driscoll and John Piper, and as well as various other evangelicals, some of whom are Anglicans).

In heaven no one will worry about anything. But it will be interesting to find out whether our experience of Father Son and Holy Spirit is one we would characterize as an expression of 'eternal subordination or submission' or 'eternal mutual co-inherence'.

It could be, and I shall watch out for this, that I am making too much of the (potential) influence of ES. I detect none here in NZ (as you yourself note). But perhaps the word 'yet' should be added to the last sentence, since most things North American make their way down here eventually!!

Janice said...

Phillip Cary writes that, "modern evangelical subordinationism [is] outside the pale of Trinitarian orthodoxy."

I found his article, The New Evangelical Subordinationism: Reading Inequality Into the Trinity in September 2008 but I presume it's still there. Here is an extended quote.

The ancient Nicene theologians argued that everything the Trinity does is done by the Father, Son, and Spirit working together with one will. The three persons of the Trinity always work inseparably, for their work is always the work of the one God. There is no act of the Father in the world which is not an act of the Son and the Holy Spirit as well. This does not mean there is no difference
between the three. We could even use a modern term and call it a difference in roles, though the ancient theologians called it a difference in order. For there is an order in the work of the three persons which reflects the order of their origination: every work of the Trinity originates with the Father, is carried out by the Son, and is completed by the Holy Spirit. ...

But here is the crucial point: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are not just three persons who decide to cooperate, like Peter, Paul, and Mary agreeing to do something together. Their agreement is essential and necessary, part of their very being, or else they would actually be three Gods just as Peter, Paul, and Mary are three humans. Hence the difference in roles in the Trinity cannot mean anything like a relationship of command and obedience, where one person’s will is subjected to another’s. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are always necessarily of one will, because there is only one God and therefore only one divine will. And where there is but one will there cannot be the authority of command and obedience, for that requires one person’s will to be subordinate to a will other than his or her own.

Now we can see why modern evangelical subordinationists cannot be consistently Nicene, despite their best intentions. They affirm the Nicene creed, and with it the equality of Father, Son, and Spirit in divine being or essence. But they also insist that there is a distinctive kind of role differentiation in the Trinity, a subordination in role though not in being, so that the Father has the role of giving commands and the Son has the role of obeying them. The problem is that this is only conceivable if the Son’s will is at least conceivably different from the Father’s. But Nicene orthodoxy says it is not. There is only one will in God. The Son’s will cannot be different from the Father’s, because it is the Father’s. They have but one will as they have but one being. Otherwise they would not be one God. Such are the logical consequences of Nicaea, which orthodox Trinitarians understand but evangelical subordinationists do not. If there were relations of command and obedience between the Father and the Son, there would be no Trinity at all but rather three Gods.

Peter Carrell said...

Brilliant, Janice.
Thank you.
I am not sure that I need say anything more!!

Rosemary said...

By the way Peter, nothing could convince me more than your second, so called ‘cheeky’ comment .. that you are interested in these things .. NOT because you can’t wait to find out more about Our Lord and the Trinity that is the Godhead .. but rather, because you want to ‘prove’ your view is correct vis-à-vis the ordination of women. Extraordinary

Peter Carrell said...

Yes, Rosemary, I am interested in both Trinity and the theological understanding of the roles of men and women. But I intend when posting on ES to confine myself to the difficult subject of the internal relations of the three Persons. My cheeky comment has one serious question behind it: to what extent have North American evangelicals, by focusing on ES, conceded that it is difficult to make their case on the basis of 1 T 2:12 etc? However that is a question of North American evangelicals in particular. However that does not mean that I presume that other evangelicals elsewhere are conceding anything re the strength of the case which proceeds from 1 T 2:12 etc.

Rosemary said...

OK, then may I ask a boon please? When you post on the subject .. I can’t refer to it as ES, because as I said previously the word ‘subordinate’ doesn’t relate for me .. please remember there are many of us who do NOT base our ‘case’ as you put it, on 1T2:12. Not even close .. which after our many long discussions, you have surely realised! Of course we also don’t rest our ‘case’ on the subject you’re going to post on .. so in that sense, for me, it’s meaningless with regard to WO. I’m looking forward to it as a purely theological discussion, a very exciting one. Anything that enables us to learn more of the God we worship always is.

So the boon is .. please don’t patronise us, please don’t put us in a box labeled ‘eccentric evangelicals’ at best .. or 'dangerous Arianist evangelicals' at worst. Please do us the honour of taking us seriously, and don’t slant your posting so as to settle the WO discussion, because for most of us, it’s just an interesting sideline. I’m disappointed that you use the term ‘the strength of the case which PROCEEDS from 1T2:12 for example .. which is simply not true.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Rosemary
I will try to remember not to patronise, and also that not all arguments re WO are centred on 1 Tim 2:12 etc (though I know you will realise that for some 1 T 2:12 etc are key verses).
But I am sometimes an abject failure ...!

Janice said...

Well, I've got a story that proceeds from 1 Tim 2:12.

I was at a meeting where plans were being made for a scheduled visit by a group of theology students. Apart from me there was the rector of my parish, the rector of the next parish and a young fellow who works in a mission-funded capacity as a chaplain at the local university. All the men were graduates of one theological college - the same college the students were from. It is well known for taking a very conservative view of the role of women in the church.

The chaplain was discussing an outreach meeting that was to be held on the university grounds. He mentioned that he was unsure about whether to let any of the female students speak at this meeting. I asked why and he said, "1 Timothy 2:12".

At first I was gobsmacked. Then I felt threatened. Images of burqas flashed through my mind.

I was very used to the idea that the diocese I grew up in (but, thank God, don't live in any more) won't ordain women or let them give a sermon. But it's another thing entirely to realise that men from that diocese now think women shouldn't speak, even in a secular space, just because there will be men present. Why shouldn't men hear women's testimonies about what our Lord Jesus Christ has done in their lives? Why shouldn't men learn Hebrew from a female scholar? Why do these men assume they are the only ones who are allowed to be "free indeed" (John 8:36) to serve the Lord in whatever way the Lord calls. Was it only male Israelites who were freed from bondage in Egypt?

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Janice
Your questions are my questions.
I look forward to answers which might be given here or elsewhere.
But thanks for confirming that in some circles, as I have surmised, 1 Tim 2:12 is the cornerstone for a male-only policy re teaching and preaching.

Peter Carrell said...

ALSO: Hi Janice
Thanks for the link to the article re the discriminatory and unfair order of the boot to Professor Klouda, simply and solely because she was a woman in a teaching position in a co-ed university.
I find these practices within the church strange to comprehend and cannot imagine for even one nano-second that St Paul would approve.

Peter Carrell said...

ADDITIONAL NOTE re 'nano-second': I should explain what I mean by saying that I do not think St Paul would approve of some things relating to women, mentioned/linked to by Janice, for a nano-second:
- it's not for me to say (in a definitive, debate-suppressing manner) what St Paul would say re 1 T 2:12 if he were alive and speaking about congregational life today: that is an ongoing hermeneutical discussion in which different answers are being proposed within Protestantism, and which continue to be adhered to by Roman and Eastern churches;

- but I think we can say, on the basis of Paul's evangelistic practices (including Euodia and Syntyche as his co-labourers), and his treatment of the role of the state in Romans 13, and his general upholding of 'rights' (particularly his own as a Roman citizen), that St Paul would not countenance removing a woman from a position of employment on the basis that she was a woman, or preventing a woman from contributing to the proclamation of the gospel in a public space, especially in a cultural context which accepts the voices of both women and men.

Rosemary said...

Janice, I’m very sorry to read your post. As sorry as I am about some of the shocking evidence of abuse towards our homosexual brothers and sisters. There’s not a shadow of a doubt in my mind that the church is guilty, very guilty of promoting at worst, and permitting or enabling at best, abuse in many areas. Righting those wrongs is a matter of extreme urgency because it’s a matter of justice.

Anonymous said...

This is a very interesting blog. Well done. I notice many of your posts receive no comments. Dialogue would be more possible for new and irregular visitors here if you had a list of recent comments on your sidebar (there isn't even a list of recent posts - just far too much "introduction").

You were evasive about the simple question about your enthusiasm for Barth's theology had he been homosexual rather than unconventionally heterosexual.

Your evasion highlights the point that, rightly, orthodoxy and orthopraxy are intertwined. Right teaching hopefully leads to right living.

Your acknowledged lack of knowledge about Barth's unconventional lifestyle underscores the point, however, that, had his unconventional lifestyle been homosexual there would be far more energy and knowledge about this in your part of the Christian spectrum. There is inordinately disproportionate energy spent on homosexual leaderhip within the church and ingnoring by those in your part of the spectrum even within your church of inappropriate sexual activity of significant leadership because it is heterosexual. Those "rumours" are not explored further and comfortably written off as gossip and hearsay.

You make the point here yourself. In your opinion, the heretical revisionist position of evangelicals departing from the teachings on the Trinity is motivated by a need to keep women subordinate - a position you cannot endorse from sola scriptura - but I suggest are more filtered through your own experience - with the way you live leading to what you teach. Ultimately it is Rosemary here who is consistent.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Anonymous
Thanks for your comments re the blog - I shall make some changes in a day or two re position of comments etc.

Rosemary is consistent!

I do not think ES proponents being motivated re women/(sub)ordination etc is a matter of my 'opinion', I think the evidence is out there that that is the motivation of some.

You know me and my motivations better than I know myself so not much point in me rising to my own defence :)

As for Barth, sexual lifestyles etc: sorry, you have lost me there. The church/my friends would have done or not done this or that if Barth had been X Y or Z: that's hypothetical on at least two counts. I can think of at least one theologian, homosexual by all accounts, from roughly a similar era as Barth, for whom such orientation is neither here nor there in assessing his theology.