Friday, June 12, 2009

Trinity and Order (4)

In my last post on Trinity and Order (3) I offered an excerpt from Wikipedia as a response to some questions raised by a correspondent. Questions remain, however, and have been restated as follows below. Being a little short of time this week I offer the barest of comments, with promise to return to the subject:

1. How can the ‘submission’ of Jesus be said to be for a limited time only, or be ‘temporal?’ Response (REVISED): We are limited by the constraints of human language to speak about the mystery of God Three-in-One becoming incarnate, Jesus Christ the Son filled with the Spirit and one with the Father, yet seemingly forsaken by the Father and Spirit on the cross. In speaking of this becoming incarnate Scripture uses language of sending and submission with special reference to the mission of Christ while physically present on earth, which is a temporary phenomenon, although the human nature taken up by the Son is permanent. See further, the comment below by Tim Harris!

2. Does that mean that the things God decides ‘outside’ time have limits too, as this decision did? Response: possibly, but there is a lot to think about when we talk of God and time. The concept of human freedom, for example, is often understood as a decision by God to limit his power to allow for genuine choice by his human creatures.

3. Is the ‘arm’ or ‘Son’ still the Son? He’s fulfilled His Father’s [and His own] wishes, voluntarily .. without ‘will’ of His own. Using my above analogy, it’s entirely possible to thrust one’s arm into the fire and damage it in order to save the whole body. Incredible, brave, generous, breathtaking .. but possible. “I am the way etc.” Response: (see the original comment, by the way, to get the gist of the illustration of arm/head/will). I may not understand the illustration properly. One response I have is to note that the relation between Father and Son is not analogous to the head and the arm of a body. One can lose an arm and still be who one is. A better analogy (IMHO) would be to think of the relationship between brain and mind. Without a brain I have no mind; without a mind my brain is dead. The mutual indwelling of Father Son and Holy Spirit is better modeled by brain mind and (say) nervous system. Take any one away and the others cease to exist. In a very important sense, particularly taken up Trinitarian theologians in the 20th century, God Three-in-One dies on the cross; not merely the Son. The one will of God leads God to the cross. But there is a lot of ink to spill at precisely this point in our understanding of theology ... of incarnation and of Trinity.

4. Whereas, doesn’t the limit of ‘temporal’ mean somehow that the ‘arm’ or ‘Son’ was coerced, DID have a ‘will’ that was different? I know I can’t possibly disagree with these great minds you quote .. but my poor brain comes to the opposite conclusion. Response: I do not agree with you, but acknowledge that a lot turns on how we understand 'temporal'.


Tim Harris said...

Hi Peter,

Very interesting series of posts, and thoughtful exchange of comments and responses. I am also constrained by time at present, so my contribution is necessarily brief and does no justice to the type of elaboration such an issue warrants.

In my view, the English terminology of 'subordination' and 'submission' are quite inadequate to convey significant nuances to the Grk, and the whole theological shape associated with the term.

In Pauline reference (at least), it is essentially a term referring to an 'attitude of mind', rather than a hierarchy of order (which has quite skewed the debate). Understanding it as an attitude of mind makes much better sense of the Trinitarian considerations, and the context in which such references occur in an applied sense in Paul - observe especially the struggles 'headship' orientated commentators (note that the term 'headship' - which occurs nowhere in Scripture - is a much narrower term that the metaphorical range of head, and is not a simple equivalent at all) have with Ephesians 5:21. Imposing an implied hierarchy in such passages does injustice to the striking exhortation to mutual submission.

If we reconsider the semantic paradigm associated with hypotasso that pays closer attention to context (still staying with Paul), an 'attitude of mind' paradigm can be explored in terms of a 'relational coherence of purpose and commitment' characterised by love, respect, trust, faith, willing obedience and faithfulness. It is exemplified by a koinonia in the missio dei, and the distinctive aspects integral to the economy of salvation.

Is this 'attitude of mind' reading consistent with Paul? I would argue it is at the heart of the 'being of one mind' motif (Phil. 2:1-5), and the 'transformation of the mind' movement that occurs from Romans 1 to Romans 12. It makes much better sense of the shape of Paul's theology and rhetoric - and bridges the Trinitarian dimension with the relational exhortations within the body of Christ - FWIW...

Peter Carrell said...

Thanks Tim
There are perspectives on submission/subordination in what you say which I had not thought of ... so much to absorb and to appreciate!

Janice said...


Would you say a bit more on 'attitude of mind' please? Perhaps in a fashion that is understandable to someone who doesn't have a BTh? Or maybe you can refer me to somewhere where I can read more about what you're referring to. Thanks.

Tim Harris said...

Hi Janice - a great question, and not one I think I can do justice to. I'll have a go, but let me know if I just end up muddying the waters further...

An ‘attitude of mind’ is the mindset (purpose, ambitions, sense of calling) and attitude (values) we bring to life and its opportunities. It is reflected in how we relate to people and choose to go about life. As well as the way we think and understand life, it involves our emotions, attitudes and will - as one commentator puts it, a ‘total inward attitude of mind or disposition of will’.

While many writers make passing comment of how distinctive the New Testament is in this regard (especially regarding humility), I am not aware of any books that elaborate on this – but I am hoping to write one myself when I get some time ;-)
Undoubtedly the best expression of all this is in a range of NT passages – for example, Philippians 2:2-4“being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing according to selfish ambition, do nothing according to conceit, but in humble-mindedness count one another as above yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.” The passage goes on to identify this as the ‘mind of Christ’ we are to model ourselves on, and points to his ultimate demonstration of this as the attitude of mind that led to his emptying himself and the mission he undertook, and the way he went about it (Phil. 2:5-8).

Similar themes can be seen in Romans, which moves from the sinful mindedness of ch. 1 (esp. 1:21 – minds ‘dark and confused’ that results in wayward living), which in the grace of God is transformed into ‘a new person by changing the way you think’ (Rom. 12:2 NLT) – ‘then you will know how good and pleasing and perfect his will really is’. The expression of this will be seen in how we use our gifts and relate within the body of Christ, characterised by genuine love (12:8), honouring each other (12:10) and living in harmony (12:16).

The same can be seen in 1 Corinthians, where on the one hand the exercise of gifts and relationships within the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12), and the edifying use of greater gifts (eg. prophecy) in 1 Cor. 14, is interspersed with the essential priority of love in ch. 13 (13:4-7). Nothing new in recognising all this of course, but I note that it is a discourse of respect rather than ‘who’s the boss?’.
Interestingly, the reference to submission in 1 Cor. 14:32 (obscured in most translations) is not hierarchical, but collegial (akin to how members of the Roman Senate submitted to one another in orderly debate, while being equals in social rank and order). My point is that submission/subordination is not *necessarily* hierarchical and can be exercised in contexts of mutuality. In NT use, it relates more to a willingness to yield to others, and to put their interests before our own.

One last example of ‘attitude of mind’ as the ‘new nature within you’ (Col. 3:12) – consider the ‘clothing’ in which we are to dress as God’s holy people: with 'tender-hearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience' (Col. 3:12), further characterised by a willingness to forgive and the most important garment of love, together with living in peace (3:13-15).

My point is quite simply that we have much more in the NT about how we approach relationships and attaining orderly life in terms of the above (our ‘attitude of mind’), rather than elaborating on hierarchies and social rank (which was much more the mode of the Graeco-Roman world of the NT). We have before us relationships marked by love and respect (Eph. 5:33) – and it this we see exemplified in the Trinity, more than the (I think highly problematic and dangerous) speculations about hierarchy within the Trinity (whether ‘economic’ or ‘ontological’ – which IMHO may well be an artificial distinctions in the end…)

Janice said...

Thanks very much, Tim. I understand what you've written and appreciate the help you've given me.

Anonymous said...

Tim: speaking from ignorance, I suspect the issue derives in part form contrasting models of inner-trinitarian relationships, with the Origenist East saying the Father alone is autotheos (hense danger of tritheism), while the West runs the danger of modalism. Coinherence or perichoresis is the biblical counterweight to these tendencies. Calvin, the great theologian of the Holy Spirit, wished to argue that each of the persons is rightly autotheos; yet (he would say) speculation about God's ousia, important as it is in the Niceno-Constantinoplitan creed, is not how Scripture approaches the question, for we know God as He has disclosed Himself, in the ordo salutis and as persons. Whether the Son is eternally subordinate or not is not really our concern (though I think Orthoodxy might say He is). The point is that in this present dispensation He voluntarily obeys His Father and does the Father's will in the world. Trying ot argue for women's ordination on the basis of the equality of the persons of the Trinity is a nonsequitur.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Anonymous
I agree 100% with what you say until the last sentence when I am slightly puzzled. You say, "Trying to argue for women's ordination on the basis of the equality of the persons of the Trinity is a nonsequitur." This could well be so - I haven't particularly thought about it because I do not see the best arguments for the ordination of women deriving from the Trinity. But I am wondering whether you would also argue the opposite, i.e. "Trying to argue against women's ordination on the basis of presumptions about the eternal subordination of the Son is a non-sequitur".

What has surprised me as a Trinitarian evangelical has been the unexpected rise, seemingly from nowhere, of the use of the doctrine of the Trinity against the ordination of women; and not the converse!

Anonymous said...

Peter, as I have observed this argument, I think it has gone something like this:

Pro-WO: "Men and women are equal in Christ, so all roles in ministry should be open to women." (I have even heard it claimed by revisionist feminists that the Ascended Christ is not male but male and female!)

Anti-WO: "No, the Son is equal by nature to the Father but is eternally subordinate. So it's possible to be equal but subordinate. See John 5.19ff."

Peter Carnley (for it is he): "Sydney has a heretical (!) doctrine of the Trinity - maybe crypto-Arian?"

Sydney: "No we don't - we follow Calvin" (Carney, sotto voce: 'QED.')

[noises off: 'All' ho pater meizon tou huiou esti!']

Anonymous said...

& this is the discussion I was thinking of:

I misremembered Carnley's contribution - his view (mentioned by Robert Forsyth) was that as the Father is the monarche of deity, bishops (naturally!) are the monrache of ministry!
Oh Lightfoot, thou shouldst be living at this hour.

Peter Carrell said...

Thanks Anonymous
Weighty matters are always helped by a little levity!

Tim Harris said...

Graham Cole has a helpful footnote in one of his articles (summary of a talk). He notes:

'Sometimes Karl Rahner’s Rule is invoked to support this argument; namely, that the immanent Trinity is
the economic Trinity. Rahner’s Rule is important in defeating modalistic monarchianism by accenting that it is the same God ad intra and ad extra as far as identity is concerned. But Rahner’s Rule fails if it means that the economy is a window into the eternal order within the Trinity. For example, in Mark 1:14 the Spirit drives Jesus into the wilderness to meet the tempter. What eternal analogue answers to this? What eternal authority that the Spirit has over the Son answers to the way the Spirit directs Jesus’ pre-Pentecost ministry as Israel’s Messiah? Sinclair Ferguson sees the Spirit’s executive role over Jesus as the messianic Son as so extensively testified to in the four Gospels that he writes of the “Lordship of the Spirit” prior to Pentecost, The Holy Spirit, (Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 1996).' (see footnote 3 in Cole)

Graham Cole's paper is an excellent, concise treatment - 'Women Teaching Men the Bible: What's the Problem?', available online at

Peter Carrell said...

That's a great article, Tim!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the heads up, Tim - I'll try to access this article later.

meanwhile ... I wonder if you gentlemen have developed any ideas about theological liberalism ending in agnosticism a la Holloway? or the bizarro world of Sophia-feminists? One reason I am not keen on following those claiming to have 'the leading of the Spirit' (hyper-charismatics as well!) is because I see where they tend to end up.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Anonymous
I can't speak for Tim but I don't often think about where theological liberalism goes as often theological liberals I know remain such and do not further devolve.
Of much greater interest to me is why so many liberals I meet 'once were evangelical'. Why is that?

Anonymous said...

"Of much greater interest to me is why so many liberals I meet 'once were evangelical'. Why is that?"

A very pertinent question! After all, theological liberalism has little evangelistic appeal to the unchurched. I suspect (but have never established) that the answer is manifold: a childhood faith that didn't go on to grapple with the sources of classical theology; a complicated personal life; imbibing the regnant liberalism/secularism of university education and professional life; ceasing to pray much (and then ceasing to expect much from God); a preocupation with politics displacing discipleship (the compromises needed to make it in the world)...

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Anonymous
I agree that the reasons why evangelicals become liberals are manifold. I am particularly interested in any reasons which indicate that evangelicals could think and act differently in order to be less susceptible to the attractions of liberal theology!