As the debate over eternal functional subordination continues in the various corners of the blogosphere, Jesse entered the fray yesterday, responding to Goligher’s (one, two) and Trueman’s original posts. He argued for a functional subordination in eternity past primarily on the basis that the divine plan of salvation takes place before the incarnation. And the Son, in agreeing to come as mankind’s Mediator, necessarily places Himself in subjection to the Father’s will. As I was interacting with Jesse’s post, I began writing a comment in response. Before too long, that comment was blog-post length, so I thought I’d just give it its own post. He graciously agreed.
I still think it’s premature for me to take a hard stance in either direction yet, because I think good questions still need to be answered by both sides, and especially by Grudem and Ware, but also by the non-EFSers as well. (My M.O. has just been to argue with whomever I’m talking to at the moment, no matter which position they take, until somebody satisfies my questions and objections.) Really excellent posts from Darren Sumner, Mark Jones, and Matthew Barrett have moved the discussion forward in what I think are helpful ways. If we keep pushing one another, respectfully and graciously, as brothers, I think the potential is there for some sort of agreement. As it stands now, I think I’m leaning toward the non-EFS side, while it seems Jesse may be leaning in the other direction. But, for reasons I hope this post will explain, I think what non-EFSers are most concerned to safeguard isn’t so much that we don’t call the Son’s decision to undertake His saving mission “submission” or “obedience,” but rather that we don’t say that there is authority and submission within the inner life (ad intra) of the Trinity. At the very least, those are where my concerns lie.
In this post, Jesse’s words from yesterday are in italics, while my responses follow. It does read less like a regular blog post and more like a long blog comment, because, well, that’s what it is. I hope it’s helpful to you anyway.
He argued that submission in marriage is no sign of inferiority because, after all, isn’t the second person of the Trinity eternally submissive to the first? And one member of the Trinity is obviously not greater than the other, because that would be heretical. Thus in the Trinity we have a model of two persons of equal ontology, but submissive in differing roles.
My question is: Why should the eternality of the submission matter for this argument? Why can’t we just look at the Son in His incarnation — fully God and fully man — and see His functional subordination, which is as clear as day in Scripture (John 14:28; 1 Cor 11:3), and make the very same argument? The Father and the incarnate Son are two persons of equal ontology, but submissive in differing roles. We don’t need the eternal submissiveness (and therefore complex commentary on whether and how to read the economic Trinity back into the immanent Trinity) to make the complementarian point stick, even from 1 Corinthians 11:3. We only need to prove that functional subordination does not necessarily imply ontological inferiority. Whether the Son eternally submits or not, He definitely submits in His incarnation, and so proves the point that complementarians need to make.
Shorter version: far from being degrading, submission is actually a high calling, because the eternal Son has always submitted to his Father.
Right. So my shorter version is, Why can’t that just be: “Far from being degrading, submission is actually a high calling, because the incarnate Son, while still fully God, always submitted to His Father”?
Fast-forward 24 years, and last week Carl Trueman and Liam Goligher have sounded the alarm . . .
It certainly is curious why they picked this time to all of a sudden sound a very loud alarm. I’d love if they could answer the timing question. One hopes it’s not to undermine the complementarian position in any way.
A better way to say it would be that there are three persons that subsist distinctly, and act differently, and that apply the will of the Triune God with regard to their peculiar nature.
It’s probably better to say “. . . with regard to their peculiar personhood.” They share a single nature.
Well, first, the issue is not that one would imply that the wills were “in tension.” Everyone in this discussion agrees that what the Son wills is never different than what the Father wills, even if they were to have two distinct wills. That’s why someone (I forget who) quoted Owen (I think) as distinguishing “will” (i.e., what one wants, the content of a will) and the manner, or faculty, of willing. Everyone agrees that all Persons always want the same thing (i.e., the content is the same), but the question is whether they have their separate faculties of willing by virtue of their personhood (i.e., will is a predicate of personhood), or if they have a single faculty of willing by virtue of their nature (i.e., will is a predicate of nature). I think the latter is the case, and because you do too, I won’t argue for it here.
But it’s the claim that “this language” allows for submission without multiple wills that I’m not sure is as clear to me. Basically the claim is: the three distinct Persons “apply” the single will of God “differently.” I’m not quite sure what that means. Do you mean what Owen says when he says:
“The will of God as to the peculiar Actings of the Father in this matter, is the Will of the Father; And the Will of God, with regard unto the peculiar Actings of the Son, is the Will of the Son; not by a distinction of sundry Wills, but by the distinct Application of the same Will unto its distinct Acts, in the Persons of the Father and the Son.”
So, does “applying the will” differently means the Persons act on the will differently? Interestingly, Mark Jones quotes the above quote to argue against EFS, while you use it to argue for it. This makes me suspect that if Grudem and Ware really hashed this out with Trueman and Goligher, they’d wind up saying closer to the same thing. The more I read, the more I think this issue is boiling down to: How do we distinguish the Persons of the Trinity from one another? The creedal answer has been: Paternity (unbegottenness), filiation (generation), and spiration (procession). Grudem and Ware reject those categories, and thus distinguish the Persons by means of an authority-submission paradigm.
Look—I share Trueman’s concerns about The Gospel Coalition, but Grudem, Schriener, and Ware’s views of the Trinity are certainly not to blame.
This is probably true. Mark Driscoll and James MacDonald running interference for an outspoken modalist has done more damage in that area. Which makes you wonder, again, why they decided to bring this up now.
But I’m reminded of a warning in these discussions: when you hear Ralph say, “If Fred believes X, then Fred must also in turn believe Y,” and then along comes Fred, who convincingly states X and denies Y, the problem is most likely with Ralph’s logic.
Maybe, but not necessarily. The problem could also be with Fred’s logic, because he doesn’t see the logical implications of his position, whereas Ralph does. This means that the discussion needs to take place on the level of whether X leads to Y, not just shouting back and forth between one another: “Y is wrong!” “I don’t believe Y!” “Yes you do!” Rather: “This is why, Fred, I think you can’t escape Y once you believe X.” Trueman and Goligher didn’t do a good job of this originally, but I think some of the posts coming after it have done better. I’d like to see Ware’s and Grudem’s responses to the more nuanced critique.
Schreiner: The point is not that the Son is essentially inferior to the Father. Rather, the Son willingly submits Himself to the Father’s authority. The difference between the members of the Trinity is a functional one, not an essential one.
We all get this is the claim, but what the non-EFS guys are disputing is whether this can be logically and theologically coherent. Given what the Trinity is, can we speak of functional distinctions ad intra that are not also ontological distinctions? This is a question that needs careful answering. Everyone agrees there’s authority and submission “in the economy of redemption,” as you quote Goligher saying in the next paragraph (i.e., ad extra). But it seems Grudem and Ware are saying that the Trinity functions that way ad extra because it’s reflecting something in His inner life (i.e., ad intra). How can we say that there is authority and submission between Persons of the Trinity if His inner life is egalitarian and not hierarchical? That’s another question I think it would be helpful for them to answer.
The three persons share the will to enact salvation, and this action entails the submission of the Son to be the one who will go to his creation and bear sin.
Amen. But the non-EFS guys would say that the Son’s decision to become submissive is not necessarily submission itself, but only the free and voluntary decision to eventually be submissive, when He has the “hardware” to do so (i.e., a human nature with a human will). I bet the players in this discussion could come to an agreement on how to best speak of this phenomenon in a way that preserves orthodoxy. But even so, that would still only apply to the ad extra works of the Trinity, in the economy of redemption. Even in the “covenant of redemption” (or, Trinitarian plan of salvation, if you’re wary of calling things covenants that the Bible doesn’t), we’re speaking of the economy of redemption. The question is: Is it right to read the works of the economic Trinity into the inner life of the immanent Trinity? You’re saying, “Yes, you have to, or you make the error of separating God’s works from His nature.”
I think that’s right (and I really like the way Matthew Barrett makes that point). But the next question is: What is that theological/conceptual bridge that’s going to link the works of the Trinity (ad extra) to the life of the Trinity (ad intra)? The way orthodox Christianity has answered that question since Nicea is to say: the Father’s sending the Son, the Son’s going and accomplishing, and the Spirit’s applying reflects the order (taxis) which distinguishes the persons by virtue of Paternity, filiation, and spiration. The Father sends the Son because the Father is unbegotten while the Son is begotten. The Spirit applies the Son’s work because He eternally proceeds forth from the Father and the Son.
But again, what Grudem and Ware are doing is setting aside the Nicene and Athanasian Creeds’ commitment to eternal generation and procession, and proposing an innovation — namely, that we answer the question of how the economic Trinity relates to the immanent Trinity by postulating a framework of authority and submission ad intra, as opposed to answering it via an appeal to eternal generation and procession. Now, I don’t begrudge them the opportunity to make their case from Scripture. I think we’re all obligated to hear them out as long as we believe in sola Scriptura. But we’ve all got to admit that it’s pretty scary to jettison the Nicene and Athanasian Creeds with respect to Trinitarianism. That should give us a world of pause, and cause us to ensure that we be certain of what is and is not being claimed before coming down hard on one side of the discussion.