I’ve been asked by several people to explain the current Trinity debate in a way that someone without seminary training can understand. In other words, no Latin allowed. I want to do that today because I sense a frustration in many people that read blogs but feel left behind. So here is my attempt to simplify the issues (in 200 words!) so that you read the Scriptures with these categories in your mind.
As I understand things, there are basically three views in dispute (with thanks to Dr. Michael Svigel for this chart explaining them):
The incarnational subordination view holds that the second member of the Trinity is submissive to the first beginning at the incarnation, or “in the state of His humiliation” (Goligher’s words). In other words, before the incarnation there was no submission within the Trinity. This is the view I see Trueman and Goligher defend.
The economic subordination view holds that there is submission in the Trinity before the incarnation, but only in relationship to others outside of the Trinity—so the Son submits to the Father in matters of creation and redemption, but there is no submission between the Father and the Son as they relate to each other. This is the view that I see Mike Riccardi lean to on TheCripplegate here.
The eternal subordination view teaches that there is submission in the Trinity not only in matters of creation and redemption, but also in how the Son and the Father relate to each other—so the Son has always submitted to the Father, as it is an essential part of their relationship, but in such a way that does not alter their equality of being. This is the view that Grudem and Ware hold, and which I defend here.
That was 200 words, but allow this footnote: I think that all three of these views are within the camp of orthodox Christianity. In other words, to borrow a phrase, this is a theology debate about good theology.
And this second footnote:
I hope people don’t feel frustrated at their ability to keep up with this debate–its not your fault! Unlike previous theological disputes of consequence, the recent debate on the Trinity has been played out in real time on blogs and social media for the world to see. Christians follow pastors on Twitter and Facebook. They read their pastor’s blogs, and they read their favorite pastor’s blogs—and often those two are not the same. Pastors love to talk about the Trinity, so this debate has been front and center.
Previous iterations of a debate like this would have been played out in private—or at least in academic journals available in seminary libraries. There would be sessions at conferences, and then rebuttals at other conferences months later, followed by clarifications in a journal or perhaps a book a year after that.
In contrast (and as Wyatt chronicles here), this debate played out in real time. This controversy broke on a blog called “The Housewife Theologian,” for example. As it unfolded, it gave the appearance of people talking past each other, because it is impossible to keep up. Once something new is published, a thousand people read, and hundreds respond, and so forth.
What is missing from this is thoughtful deliberation, but of course at some point the medium becomes the message, and this is the world we are in.
Speaking of the medium becoming the message, I recognize that there are other issues that come up in this debate (read the end of Wyatt’s post for a helpful summary of them).
I hope you read these posts, and that they cause you think deeply about the nature of God, and that the cause you to grow in how you treasure the mystery of the Trinity.