June 29, 2016

Trinity and Authority (Part Five of Five)

A Way Forward?

Having surveyed the debate and noted the limitation of analogies between Trinity and anthropology, we now propose a way of approaching the eternal relations that may bring ERA theologians and their detractors closer together. This involves four proposals, two each for the two primary parties. Individual proposals may already be redundant to certain theologians on either side—if so, please accept these as fait accompli.

First Proposal

First, we ask the ERA complementarian theologians to grant other theologians freedom to describe the eternal distinctions of the divine persons in terms of "generation" (of the Son) and "procession" (of the Holy Spirit) rather than as relations of authority. Even if the biblical language of μονογενής (monogenes) indicates unique sonship rather than generation, the language of "Father" and "Son" must be granted as eternally true.

The revealed proper names for the divine persons indicate an eternal relation of shared nature, which real relation is denominated in the terminology of "generation." Among orthodox theologians, there is no materiality or composition intended thereby and the adjectival qualifier of "eternal" may be properly ascribed to the generative relation between the Father and his Son as distinct eternal persons.

Even if ERA theologians find the language of eternal generation extrabiblical (we disagree), this traditional terminology certainly encapsulates biblical conceptions regarding the Father’s sharing of the divine life with the Son. The use of "eternal generation" ought to be an issue of freedom between mutual proponents of ὁμοούσιος (homoousios). In his most recent comments to Reformation 21, a generous reading would suggest Grudem is already open to this first proposal.

Second Proposal

Second, we propose other complementarian theologians grant freedom to ERA theologians to prefer the language of "eternal functional subordination," "eternal relations of authority and submission," and "eternal submission of the Son." Those of us who are more classical in our language have legitimate questions regarding the implications of these newer terms. But, apart from direct contradictions of the unity of the three persons, we should believe the ERA theologians when they say they are not seeking to compromise the shared nature of the three.

For instance, let us hear them out regarding the structure of willing within the Trinity. But, if they as a group have not deemed it necessary to address that issue conclusively yet, we are compelled to wait patiently until they feel led by the Spirit to declare their view formally. Moreover, it just may be that the Spirit is leading the churches, through the ERA theologians, to recognize there is more theological development required beyond the ecumenical councils. This may especially be the case with regard to the "will," which has meanings developed not entirely from Scripture, which is a controverted term historically, and which is often used in contemporary conversations with widely varying meanings affected on all sides by anthropocentric individualism.

Third Proposal

Third, while we would counsel mutual allowance of preferred terms and patience regarding questions that go beyond current declarations, we also propose the ERA theologians consider a necessary connection of eternal relations of authority with the singular and undivided authority of the Godhead.

"Listen, Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is One" (Deut 6:4): Scripture uses numerous terms and images, such as "rule," "king," "lord," and "throne" to indicate divine authority. The term, "Lord," for instance, carries significant Trinitarian weight in the Bible. The Shema placed both the common name of God and the covenantal name together in the Israelites' wholehearted confession of loyalty to him (Deut 6:4-5). The covenantal name of Yahweh was later correlated with Adonai, "Lord," among the Hebrews. "Lord" thence came into early Christian usage. The fundamental Christian confession is "Jesus is Lord" (Rom 10:9-10; 1 Cor 12:3). Paul specifically identified God the Father with the "Lord" Jesus Christ in a Shema-like statement (1 Cor 8:6). Paul also included the Holy Spirit in that divine Lordship (2 Cor 3:17). For Paul, there is only "one Lord," but if there is a particular placement of that authoritative term with one of the three persons, it resides foremost not with the Father but with the Son (Eph 4:5; 1 Cor 8:6).

When earlier theological exegetes such as John Calvin read these and like passages, they concluded the Son's eternal authority was equivalent to that of the Father. They were thus reluctant to countenance any eternal diminution of the Son's authority. For instance, when commenting upon 1 Corinthians 15:27-28, which says the Son will be "subjected" to the Father at the end, Calvin argued the Son's kingdom nevertheless has no end. He did not deny the Son's subjection to the Father, but located that subjection in Christ's "humanity" rather than in his "glorious deity." This partitive hermeneutic helps correlate 1 Corinthians 15:28 with other canonical passages such as Daniel 7:14, 27; Luke 1:33; Ephesians 1:22-23; Philippians 2:9-11; Colossians 1:18-20; and 2 Peter 1:11, which elevate and continue the Christ's complete authority into eternity.

Similarly, the creedal tradition supporting unified Lordship is substantive. It begins in the fourth-century Nicene Creed, which states of Christ that "his kingdom will have no end." Also important is the sixth-century Athanasian Creed, which locates divine authority in the divine nature, not once, but twice: "Likewise, omnipotent Father, omnipotent Son, omnipotent Holy Spirit—and nevertheless not three omnipotents, but one omnipotent." "Therefore Lord Father, Lord Son, Lord Holy Spirit—and nevertheless not three lords, but one Lord." More recently, article II of the Baptist Faith and Message declared that God the Father is "all powerful," the Son is "ever present Lord," and the Holy Spirit as "fully divine" also "empowers." But the Baptist confession located divine authority not compositely in the persons but indivisibly in the divine nature: Among the infinite "perfections" of the "one and only one living and true God" is that he is "Ruler of the universe."

A Possible Formula: If we were ERA theologians, we would suggest the language of eternal relations of authority explicitly follow linguistic rules previously detected in Trinitarian doctrines like eternal generation and divine glory. For instance, patristic orthodoxy used the terminology of eternal generation, not to suggest a diminution or composition in the divine nature the Father shares with the Son, but to emphasize complete participation. Through generation God the Father eternally shares his being entirely with the Son, without loss, division, or composition. The Father's begetting of the Son secures simultaneously the distinction between the persons and the unitary divine nature. The procession of the Holy Spirit is construed according to a similar if distinct set of rules governing procession.

Another instance may be detected in the Johannine doctrine of divine glory. Jesus begins his prayer to the Father in John 17 with two major ideas about the perfection of glory. First, the Father and the Son glorify one another (John 17:1). (And the Holy Spirit sovereignly glorifies the Son in John 16:14.) Second, the Father and the Son shared this glory "before the world was" (John 17:5). The divine attribute of glory is thus eternally one yet also dynamically moving between the persons. Perhaps, on the basis of a similar complexity in divine equality and differentiation, one could argue the eternal relations of authority originate with the Father and proceed toward the Son, in the dynamic of paternal headship and filial submission, but without ever diminishing the eternally perfect authority of the Son (and the Spirit).

In a few sentences immediately after Grudem's quotation from Malcolm's book, Malcolm stated, "the one who sits on the throne is the origin of all power; the Lamb is worthy to receive all power; and the seven spirits exercise all power" (God the Trinity, 218). The authority of God could similarly be seen as located in the headship of the Father, shared entirely and eternally with the Lamb, and sovereignly exercised by the Holy Spirit. The "eternal relations of authority and submission" exegetically detected by Bruce Ware could perhaps be correlated with the placement of divine authority in the singular throne shared between God and the Lamb (Rev 22:3b). Eternally, there is only one authority and it is located in the divine nature. The eschatological reorientation of authority and submission finds it fulfillment, not in a division of authority upon the singular divine throne, but in the divisible slavery of humanity (Rev 22:3b), whom the Son subjected through himself to the Father (1 Cor 15:28).

Fourth Proposal

Our fourth proposal is that other theologians retract any calls for the removal of the ERA theologians from their teaching offices. Yes, there are times when we must join the apostle Paul in ringing down anathemas upon those who proclaim a different gospel than that which the church received (Gal 1:8-9). Yes, there are times to stand for eternal truth in a shifty world, but this is not yet that time.

While we share Trueman and Goligher's questions about the implications of the eternal relations of authority approach to the Trinity, it is not clear the eternal gospel has been compromised. Theologians like Grudem and Ware have proclaimed the good news in their public ministries of teaching with long effort and much grace. Even if moments of ineloquence or indiscretion were discovered in their writings, though we know of none, who among us would dare claim absolute perfection in our own presentations of the holy dogmas of inerrant Scripture? Do we really believe these men have compromised the gospel of God and Christ? We think not.


Speaking of the gospel, that is how we would like to end this excursion from Trinitarian theology into theological anthropology. As Derek Rishmawy indicated early in this controversy, the debate itself could have positive benefits. One of the benefits is that it helps us arrive at theological accuracy. However, the major benefit of the controversy is not that it drives us back through considerations of historical theology into biblical theology, though these are necessary and good, but ultimately it drives us to consider the triune God in himself and in his activity toward his creation.

So, here is the main thing to see: The eternal Father sent his only begotten Son into this world in order to unite with our humanity. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, died on a cross for our sins and rose from the dead for our justification. The Father and the Son sent the eternally proceeding Holy Spirit into the world in order to convict us of sin and judgment and the righteousness available through faith in the Son. And through regeneration, the Spirit unites us with the Son of God, allowing us to approach the Father in the service of worship.

And that is what we, his redeemed slaves, will be doing for eternity: Worshiping the one enthroned Lord God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—three persons yet one in essence, eternally sharing the divine perfections in the beautiful order of relations without division, without diminution, without composition.

Malcolm and Karen Yarnell
Fort Worth, Texas
June 2016

June 28, 2016

Trinity and Authority (Part Four of Five)

The Relational Analogy

It should be evident we do not approach the Trinity according to eternal relations of authority. However, it should also be evident we believe the ERA theologians have wielded some persuasive arguments for their position. In the final installment of our series on Trinity and Authority, we propose a way forward that may help diverse conservative evangelical theologians unite in their desire to affirm both orthodox Trinitarianism and gender complementarianism. However, we first examine the context and issue a warning about the limits of the relational analogy.

The Context of the Relational Analogy

Among the difficulties we have in utilizing the relations of authority approach is the strong connection sometimes made between anthropology and Trinity. Following Dietrich Bonhoeffer, we do believe there is an analogia relationis between the Creator God as Trinity and created humanity as male and female. And following Bonhoeffer, we believe this analogy of relations is derived from the creation account conveyed in Genesis 1-2.

Bonhoeffer's interpretation is attractive for many reasons, but perhaps mostly because it is grounded in divine grace and intended for divine glory. The analogy begins with God and ends with God, with humanity as the recipient of the grace and the conduit for God's glory. The woman is given to the man as a grace so she might help him "live before God—and we can live before God only in community with our helper" (Creation and Fall, 99).

But before one employs Bonhoeffer's currently popular analogy of relation hastily, his circumscription of grace must also be recalled. The grace of sexuality and marriage is not for an end in humanity, but in God. Moreover, the relation is never located in humanity, but is a relatio from God to God. The relation is "not a human potential or possibility or a structure of human existence" (ibid., 65). Rather, the relation is a gifting that is "justitia passiva!" (Bonhoeffer's exclamation point). Those conversant with Lutheran theology will recognize that statement is highly grace-oriented.

For Bonhoeffer, the analogia relationis "must not be understood as though humankind somehow had this likeness in its possession or at its disposal." The analogy operative in the human being "derives its likeness only from the prototype, so that it always points us to the prototype itself and is 'like' it only in pointing to it in this way" (Bonhoeffer's italics; ibid.). With Bonhoeffer, we agree the analogy of relation is never located in humanity, but ever moves from God through humanity to God.

The Limits of the Relational Analogy

If Bonhoeffer is correct, then attempting to illustrate the divine Trinity from even the most harmonious and loving human marriage disrupts the paradigm of grace. This does not mean one may never move conceptually from the imago dei back toward Deum, but in doing so, the theologian must cringe at himself and his tradition and constantly remember to resist hurried conclusions.

This is why transcendence-oriented theologians refer so often to the concepts of analogy, apophaticism, and eschatological reserve, as well as the doctrines of grace, revelation, and progressive sanctification. We do not have space here to unpack these concepts and doctrines, but to note they demand humility in the theological task. (See Keith Whitfield's forthcoming Trinitarian Theology for more).

This is not intended to discourage those following the ERA theologians, but to highlight those same theologians when they warn against injudicious correlations between creation and Creator. As Grudem states, "It is best to conclude that no analogy adequately teaches about the Trinity, and all are misleading in significant ways" (Bible Doctrine, 111). Grudem is on solid ground both in using analogies and in warning against analogies.

An analogy consists of both a conjunction and a disjunction between the object and its comparison. The key is determining where the conjunction ends and the disjunction begins. This is not easy to do, but it is necessary.

The Relations in 1 Corinthians 11:3

For instance, in 1 Corinthians 11:3, analogies are drawn between three headships: Christ and man, man and wife, and God and Christ. The difficulty is in determining how the three headships correlate. Do they correlate? Absolutely! But disagreements may occur among well-meaning exegetes over their exact conjunction and disjunction. Exegetical disagreements may be manifested in at least three places.

First, the ordering of the headships are significant, but in what way? If a primarily hierarchical or "chain-of-being" approach was intended, why did Paul (and the Holy Spirit) not place the third pair first, the first second, and the second third? Against those who would stress a tight conjunction, it must be stated that the headships are analogous rather than univocal. But against those who would stress a loose disjunction, it must be stated that the headships are analogous rather than equivocal.

Second, with regard to the question of gender relations, which analogy is to receive primary attention when comparing man and wife: Christ and man? Or God and Christ? And what does the comparison intend? In the longer comparison drawn in Ephesians 5, the emphasis is not on Christ and the man, or on God and Christ, but on Christ and the church, a comparison not made in 1 Corinthians 11:3. This suggests further canonical exegesis is required when correlating the Trinity and human marriage. (Moreover, 1 Cor 11:3 should be read in the context of 1 Cor 11:2-16.)

Third, the relations themselves are not identical. While there is a headship in each relation, each is characterized by its own properties. The relation between man and wife is copulative, while that between God and Christ is generative, and that between Christ and man is creative. To misconstrue the relations among the headships would create not only theological but ethical chaos.

This example suggests there are significant exegetical qualifications required before drawing anthropological conclusions from analogies. The relations of authority analogy is helpful and necessary, since it is divinely revealed. But it must be utilized within its appropriate limits.

Malcolm and Karen Yarnell
Fort Worth, Texas
June 2016

June 27, 2016

Trinity and Authority (Part Three of Five)

Theological Strategies for Eternal Relations of Authority

In order to make judgments regarding the eternal relations of authority effort, we suggest a review of their primary strategies for promoting their theological perspective. We discern three primary ways that the ERA theologians are advancing their theology: a scriptural strategy, an historical strategy, and a cultural strategy.

The Scriptural Strategy

Rather than glibly affirm a traditional heresy or neo-orthodoxy, the ERA theologians have recently busied themselves in two other ways. First, they seek to prove that their presentation of God is rooted in Scripture. In our mind, this has been their most successful strategy. They have demonstrated, without sufficiently detailed counter-arguments from their accusers, that Scripture constantly presents divine action—in creation, redemption, and consummation—as originating with the Father and moving toward creation through the Son and in the Holy Spirit. (Alongside this progression is the consequential return of the unitary divine activity from the Son and the Spirit to the Father.)

The most prominent exegetical argument(s) deployed against the ERA theologians are that the submissiveness of Jesus Christ toward God the Father in the New Testament is attached to his humanity rather than to his deity or that the divine economy is opposed to divine ontology. But these traditional arguments do not satisfy the free church desire for exegetical rigor over historical precedence and systematic expedience. On his part, ERA theologian Bruce Ware has repeatedly pointed to submission passages that broach, if not breach, the liminal boundary between time and eternity. 

In a first instance, 1 Corinthians 15:24-28 brings the subjection of all things at the consummation of time unto, if not directly into, the eternal relation between the Son and the Father. In Ware's favor, why should we believe that this passage has to do with Christ's humanity rather than his deity? On what basis is this exegetical division required? And what would the division do to the Son's unitary personhood as the God-man?

In a second instance, Grudem argues it is difficult to dismiss κεφαλή (kephale) in 1 Corinthians 11:3 as merely a reference to "source" rather than "head" (we believe it probably means both). If the correlation between the Father and Christ is merely ascribed to his humanity, how is it that this restriction is exegetically required? Again, what does this division do to the unitary personhood of Christ? Or why must we believe this passage is a reference to the economic Trinity rather than the immanent Trinity? Alternatively, if 1 Corinthians 11:3c is a reference to an economic Trinitarian work, why must we follow Warfield rather than Rahner and disconnect the economic from the immanent Trinity? And if we so follow Warfield rather than Rahner in this choice, are we not in some sense casting doubt on the trustworthiness of divine revelation?

With these judgments and queries, we are not permanently cutting off the ERA opponents and their interpretations of the biblical text, but we are saying the credibility of the ERA theologians' biblical hermeneutics is powerful and their judgments must receive deeper consideration. The scriptural case is far from closed but the weight so far in this particular debate favors the eternal relations of authority proponents, though we will have more to say in this regard later.

The Historical Strategy

The second major strategy of the ERA theologians has been to demonstrate their position is not a historical novelty. As historical theologians, we are not yet convinced by the ERA proponents here, though we believe the situation has not been finally determined. While Malcolm utilized the early church fathers in his own work on the Trinity, he did not read them with a focus on the questions raised by the eternal relations of authority theologians. Malcolm's other historical theological work has centered in the Reformation, while Karen has focused on early twentieth century German theology. We come to the current problem with appreciation for the historical task, though with limited patristic expertise.

But what we can say with certainty is that neither Wayne Grudem, who drafted Malcolm for his argument for eternal functional subordination, nor Mark Jones, who drafted Malcolm against Grudem, were entirely correct or incorrect. As Jones properly recognized, the indisputable fact is that Malcolm follows the classical eternal generation interpretation in his reading of the biblical text, and not the eternal relations of authority interpretation. This is not to say that Grudem was wrong to see a possible correlation with his position; it is to say that Malcolm's careful affirmation of equality with subordination did not distinguish the functional from the ontological in the way Grudem does. (It was perceptive and kind of Grudem to note Malcolm's use of the term, "subordination," is carefully paired with "equality.")

As for Mark Jones, we read his response to Grudem and found much with which to agree. Like Jones, we try to receive historical theology in a contextually sensitive way. In The Formation of Christian Doctrine and Royal Priesthood in the English Reformation, Malcolm argued that we should allow historical figures to speak for themselves according to their sitz im leben. We both remain convinced that meticulous re-presentation of the thoughts of those who have come before us is a necessary virtue.

However, Malcolm also remembers when his former professor and friend, the revered Reformed theologian John Webster, took him to task for dwelling upon historical fidelity. (For the curious, Malcolm was defending an historical reading of John Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion in a seminar at Oxford University, while Webster was advocating a freer appropriation of Calvin.) John Webster responded that historical theology is fine even necessary, but systematic theology ultimately requires the judicious appropriation of history for eternal concerns now.

If Webster's principle is correct, then Wayne Grudem is not entirely wrong to employ previous "subordination" claims in his favor, even if those authors used that language differently. Historical controversies rarely if ever exactly repeat themselves. And the ERA theologian need not necessarily adhere to a perfect correlation in order to infer a modicum of historical support, even if we ourselves prefer meticulous representation. Historical theology pursues truthful representation of the past; systematic theology utilizes historical theology to pursue truth itself. More thought is required in this question of theological method.

The Cultural Strategy

What the ERA theologians have not stressed in this latest round of controversy over Trinity and authority is their premier illustration for the immanent Trinity, the application to gender relations. For Grudem, Ware, and Ovey, gender relations in marriage has been the leading analogy in their presentation of the Trinity. This seems undeniable, though what is its import?

The ERA theologians have been accused of allowing contemporary cultural issues to drive their doctrine of the Trinity, but they have denied such. Similar accusations against their older evangelical opponents, the egalitarians, have also been leveled. Both the ERA complementarians and some egalitarians have found the Trinity helpful in addressing contemporary anthropological concerns, and both have been accused of reading anthropology into theology. The scandalous claim of idolatry has even been bandied about.

Whatever the case regarding currently unverified internal motivations, the marriage analogy is doubtless preferred among the ERA theologians. A preferred analogy is not all that unusual, but it can create problems. For instance, among those reviewing the classical tradition, the Cappadocians have sometimes been represented as leaning toward human community while Augustine has been represented as overextending human psychology. The Cappadocians were thus falsely accused of incipient tritheism and Augustine was thus falsely accused of incipient Unitarianism. The research of Barnes and Ayres has shown the so-called "de Regnon thesis" incorrectly fostered these readings of the fathers. Likewise, because of their preferred analogy, it may be that the ERA theologians have been falsely accused of Arianism.

In light of this, it seems prudent that we should never allow an analogy or illustration of the Trinity to remain unaccompanied. Malcolm encourages his systematic students at the least to use countervailing Trinitarian illustrations. This may help their people see that every analogy of the perfect God proves inadequate at some point. Unfortunately, if analogical variety is not deployed, somebody down the road may drag out a preferred analogy and attempt to hang its misuse against its proponent.

Misunderstanding or misrepresentation of intentions may also be driving some of the accusations against the ERA theologians. Apart from external proof to the contrary, or the omniscience which only one human being possesses, we who lack the divine nature must take the ERA theologians (and, by extension, the egalitarian theologians) at their word.

Malcolm and Karen Yarnell
Fort Worth, Texas
June 2016

June 25, 2016

Trinity and Authority (Part Two of Five)

Having defined the controversy between complementarian Trinitarians according to the positive positions each side takes, we now consider the particulars that have led to argument and anathema. We will then devote some attention to the theological strategies of the eternal relations of authority theologians. After reviewing the use of analogy in the debate, our final post will build on these judgments as it proposes a way forward.

The Eternal Relations of Authority and Its Detractors

The accusations that have been drawn up against the eternal relations of authority theologians have centered on their primary idea that the Father and the Son have distinct movements of authority. So, what is the problem with saying that the Son is eternally submissive to the Father? To set the ground, let us hear from at least one ERA theologian, arguably the primary leader among them, Wayne Grudem.

Grudem's Formula

For a quick introduction, consult Grudem’s shorter systematic theology, where he argues the language of generation or begetting was a "misunderstanding" in the early church later corrected by twentieth-century Greek scholarship (Bible Doctrines: Essential Teachings of the Christian Faith [1999], 113-14). Deprived of the language of generation by modern scholarship, Grudem turned to a different terminology to arrive at "the only distinctions between the members of the Trinity" (117). 

The necessary distinctions now reside in "the way they relate to each other and to the creation." Thus, in order to maintain the oneness and the threeness of God, Grudem's slogan becomes, "ontological equality but economic subordination" or "equal in being but subordinate in role." Of course, economy refers to God's relation to creation, so in an apparent effort to retain the eternal nature of divine distinctions, Grudem adds that the divine persons exhibit an "eternal subordination in role" (my italics; 117, cf. 114n4).

The Attacks

If this is a proper reading of Grudem, then the traditional lines between economy and immanence, or between God's temporal relation to creation and God's eternal relation to himself, has been spanned. While the introduction of divine movement toward creation into the immanent Trinity is a difficulty that needs address, the detractors have focused attention elsewhere.

The opposing theologians have particularly wondered whether the ERA theologians are subliminal or at least developing Arians. Accusations that these complementarian evangelicals are teaching ontological subordinationism, homoianism, or homoiousionism (forms of Arianism and semi-Arianism) have raised eyebrows worldwide. 

However, because of the ERA theologians' early and sustained adherence to the ὁμοούσιον (homoousion), these particular accusations are difficult to prove. Moreover, surmising that the next generation may become Arian due to the loss of the classical distinction of modes of subsistence remains speculation and could be dismissed as fear mongering.

Most recently, the focus has shifted to concerns that at least one ERA theologian is teaching that God possesses three wills, two wills of which submit to the one will of the Father. If so, then the problem is pushed back into the depths of the sixth ecumenical council, where few Western historical theologians and most systematic theologians rarely travel. Logically, if God has three wills or three centers of operative decision-making, then the unity of God appears to be threatened. 

According to the orthodox dyothelite (two wills) position advocated by Maximus the Confessor and dogmatically decreed at Constantinople III (680-81), one will is attached to the divine nature and the other to the human nature in Christ. Dyothelitism developed in response to the idea that one will is located in the person of Christ, as the monothelites proposed. The patristic concern was that this compromised the two natures of Christ. The contemporary concern about three wills is a Trinitarian extension of that earlier Christological debate.

Yet others have become concerned that the ERA theologians affirm a form of social Trinitarianism in the vein of neo-orthodox theologians like Jürgen Moltmann and Colin Gunton, who pictured three centers of operation in God. However, there has been no discernible rush on the part of the ERA theologians to identify with either the ancient monothelites or recent social Trinitarians. 

Moreover, critics of the ERA theologians must themselves answer the problem of how it is that God sufficiently loves himself in a threefold way if not with the three persons loving one another. This line of inquiry has resulted in the intriguing idea of Andrew Moody and Mark Baddely, through the Australian Gospel Coalition website, that there is an inner Trinitarian ordered beauty of willing proposal by the Father and of willing assent by the Son and the Spirit. Moody and Baddely hope their idea simultaneously avoids diminishing the divine persons and dividing the divine will. We look forward to evaluating their forthcoming contributions.

Malcolm and Karen Yarnell
Fort Worth, Texas
June 2016

June 24, 2016

Trinity and Authority (Part One of Five)

The throne [θρόνος] of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and His slaves [δοῦλοι] will serve Him. (John 22:3b; HCSB)
My wife, Karen, is a close and careful reader of Scripture, and some of our greatest joys occur when we discuss the proper interpretation of the authoritative Word of God. Karen is also a close reader of Dietrich Bonhoeffer on the Trinity, since she is writing a thesis on that subject under the supervision of Gerardo Alfaro. Bonhoeffer's innovative if incomplete ruminations on the Trinity have shaped the contemporary discussion in a profound, if largely unrecognized, way.

One particular question with which we have been struggling is exactly how creation in the image of God (Gen 1:26-27) is to be seen in our marriage. What does it mean that there is an analogia relationis (Bonhoeffer's term) between the triune God and his image in humanity, especially in the relation of a man and his wife? Little were we to realize that a conversation with parallels to our own questions about Trinity and relation would explode in controversy on the web in recent weeks.

We bring forward this essay as a small contribution to that huge and fruitful, if sometimes tense, discussion. Before beginning, please allow a few caveats.

First, this is not intended to be an academic presentation, though it draws on academic work we performed together and individually. We have opted to speak freely in summary rather than with scholastic detail in order to allow the general reader some access to this discussion.

Second, the issue of authority is not our foremost concern with regard to the Trinity. Malcolm recently wrote a book, God the Trinity: Biblical Portraits, in which he lightly touches on the current issue. His foremost concern, demonstrated at length there, is knowing who God is through his revelation so we might worship him truly. Likewise, Karen studies the Trinity, not for speculative anthropological reasons but to help her lead women and children to worship God in mind, heart, and deed.

Third, determining the exact method one should follow in moving from theology (including the doctrine of the Trinity) to anthropology (including the relations between man and wife) requires contemplation. We only touch upon aspects of that movement here and refer the reader to Malcolm's contribution to a forthcoming book edited by Keith Whitfield. B&H Academic plans to publish Whitfield's Trinitarian Theology: Theological Models and Doctrinal Application in time for the Evangelical Theological Society meeting in November of this year. Malcolm's essay stresses that the direction of theological anthropology moves from theology to anthropology with utmost care and eschatological openness.

Finally, to extend our second point, we again note that Trinity and gender is not our primary concern. Worshiping God truly and with joyous hearts is our primary concern. Because we believed entering this conversation might detract from that service, we have been reluctant to enter it. We fear a reader's hasty preconceptions will categorize us as being "with them," whoever "they" are. Evangelicals have divided between egalitarians and complementarians, and the conversation has been so heated that whole agendas appear at work to build up one position or tear down the other. Moreover, these two major parties have further divided among themselves, with accusations of going beyond orthodoxy. We lament all unnecessary divisions and ask our brothers and sisters in Christ to treat each other with the love and generosity our Lord exemplified and commanded (John 13:34-35).

With those caveats, we now turn to an explication of the Trinity in light of some of the recent conversations online.

The Two Primary Complementarian Positions

Both Wayne Grudem and Mark Jones have summarily cited Malcolm as supporting their respective yet opposite positions in the recent internet controversy. Actually, we find positive aspects in both of the complementarian positions. Our hope is to help provide a positive way forward. In order to reach that goal, we must summarize the two major positions as we perceive them. If we have not represented your position correctly, we beg your forbearance and would gladly stand corrected.

The Eternal Relations of Authority Position

Bruce Ware, Wayne Grudem, Owen Strachan, and Mike Ovey are among the primary proponents of what has been variously called Eternal Functional Subordination, Eternal Relations of Authority and Submission, Eternal Submission of the Son, etc. We will classify these under the name of Eternal Relations of Authority (ERA). We offer four summative statements to characterize the positive position of this accomplished set of conservative evangelical theologians:

1.     Their primary method is to construct an understanding of the Trinity from the biblical ground up.
2.     The primary analogy they have chosen to organize the complex biblical witness about the immanent relations of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit in the biblical text is a relational analogy, that of personal "relations of authority."
3.     The ὁμοούσιος (homoousios) of the Nicene tradition is affirmed. God the Father and God the Son, along with the Holy Spirit, share the same nature.
4.     Most ERA proponents seem to operate from a modern Calvinist perspective.

The Other Complementarian Position

The initiating proponents of this position include such theologians as Liam Goligher and Carl Trueman, but many others have weighed in. (From inside conservative evangelical circles, still other complementarians have joined in the critique of the ERA position, but without condemnations. Egalitarian evangelicals such as Scot McKnight and Michael Bird have also stepped forward with comments. Beyond evangelicalism, patristic scholars such as Lewis Ayres and Michel Rene Barnes have supported this other position.) We tossed around different terms to classify this second position, but settled on the primary descriptive term, "other," though "classical" could be used with justification. We offer four summative statements to characterize the positive position of this accomplished set of conservative evangelical theologians:

1.     These theologians seek to construct a biblical theology of the Trinity, but with an ear sensitive to the theological exegesis of the classical tradition.
2.     The primary analogy they have chosen to organize the complex witness of the biblical text regarding the immanent Trinity is the Cappadocian and Augustinian language of "eternal generation" with regard to the Son and "eternal procession" with regard to the Holy Spirit. This theological analogy is relational, but differs from that of the ERA theologians. Where the ERA theologians stress relations of authority, the others use the ontological language of "relations of origin" and "modes of subsistence" or simply "ordered relations" (τάξις, taxis).
3.     The ὁμοούσιος (homoousios) of the Nicene tradition is affirmed. God the Father and God the Son, along with God the Holy Spirit, share the same nature. Also receiving major emphasis is the divine attribute of simplicity.
4.     Many of these proponents also operate from a modern Calvinist perspective. Some follow B.B. Warfield's disjunction between the immanent Trinity and economic Trinity, while others lean toward a modified version of Karl Rahner's identification between the immanent Trinity and the economic Trinity. Some appeal to the Augustinian presentation of the Trinity with its psychological analogy or love analogy. Some appeal to the Reformed covenant of redemption. Others appeal to Calvin's origination of the Son from himself as God (αὐτόθεοϛ, autotheos). In various ways, the traditional emphasis on the unity of the three persons is thus emphasized.

From these descriptions of the opposing positions, it should be evident that, alongside their obvious agreement regarding gender complementarianism, there is much agreement regarding the presentation of their doctrine of the Trinity. Both the ERA complementarians and the other complementarians agree there is a threeness and oneness in the biblical witness to God. Both affirm the Nicene tradition's appeal to the one οὐσία (ousia, often translated as "essence," "nature," "substance," or "being") of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Both positions appear to affirm there are three persons (ὑπόστασεις, hypostaseis) in the Godhead, though this has been typically implied. Next, we turn to the crisis between the two groups, which we believe is focused upon whether describing the relations between the three persons, and particularly between the Father and the Son, as eternal relations of authority is orthodox.

Malcolm and Karen Yarnell
Fort Worth, Texas
June 2016