According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – anon
Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – anon
Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson

Monday, December 12, 2011

Is there hierarchy in the Trinity?


As introduction, I think of the immanency of the Trinity as describing "who, or what, God is, in Himself or in His essence." And the economic order of the Trinity as "what God does" (within His hypostastes or divine personage) as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, in relation to Himself,  to the world as Creator, and to mankind as Savior. Thus, immanency refers to God's ontological being, whereas economy refers to the work that He does through His personages. Similarly, since man is made by God in His image, our essence is different from our actions. Who we are in our spirit or soul is different from what we do, how we live, or how we interact with the world and with each other in general.

Curiously, I often think of the correspondence between being and actions as "a continuity, or a correspondence, of one with the other" in the sense that "what we like to do often seems to indicate who we are." If we like to build or create, than we do just that. If we like to interact with people, than that is what we do. So too of God. In a sense, we can judge what God is by what He does... the Psalms do this a lot. He created the storm and rainbow, the seas and winds. He lifts up and brings down, and directs both small and great. All His works brings glory to His Name as our faithful and loving Creator to whom we give praise. All His works show Him to be Creator, Sovereign, Lord and King. All His works are majestic, awesome, breathtaking, glorious. His commands are resounding, righteous, holy and good. His works declares His Godhead. His Being. His essence.

Further, man is created in God's image, and as and such, we interact and relate to one another as individuals and beings. From this we understand God to be personal. That He is a God who personally interacts within the fellowship, or the Trinity, of His being. Conversely, because there is a fellowship within the Trinity of the Godhead, this means that for mankind to bear God's image - to be created in His image - is to be created for relationships and fellowship with one another, with God's creation, and ultimately with the very Godhead itself which has created mankind!

However, this paradigm cannot be carried too far when considering sin and nature's disruption, and people's corruption because of sin. Sin is not of God. God is holy. What we see in the world because of sin's disruption cannot tell us of God other than that God is not that. God is Shalom. How do we know this? His revelation tells us these truths. The bible tells us that He is the One who speaks Shalom (peace, order, blessedness) which then proceeds from Him. He does not speak sin. Whatever is not Shalom is not God. Moreover, God's creation tells us of God every time it whispers peace and stillness to our hearts. Brings blessing to our being. Reinvigorates our senses. Our minds and hearts. It may be in a setting of peace and tranquility or in a setting of storms and the shaking of the earth. But we can hear God walking by us. It inspires us as much as it brings trembling to our hearts. But this is a different subject left to the topic of blessedness and peace on the one hand, and sin and creative will (or harmatology and free will, in doctrinal terms) on the other hand.

So too with us. We have anger, which is part of us. It can even define our temperament. But it is not the sum total of who we are. It is a passionate state that we exhibit both positively or negatively. Positively it can be a good force. Negatively it can be harmful, even sinful, and does not lead to Shalom. So too, pride, ego, legalisms, addictions, and sinful behavior, should not define us though we commit these actions. However, they do tell us that we are spirit and soul caught between the image of God, and the disruption of sin that has marred the image of God within us. It has broken our fellowship with the divine. It requires a spiritual repair. Jesus is God's answer to that repair. Jesus' salvation brings back not only God's fullest fellowship, but His fullest ability to re-create Shalom within our broken lives. Sublimely, Jesus is the One who brings to us a spiritual Shalom with God who is, and has become, and ever is, our Creator-Redeemer. God is the God who can heal the brokenness that we now bear in His image.

Returning to our discussion of the Trinity and speaking in simplistic terms, the economic Trinity in relation to creation, finds the Father as the architect, the Son as the foreman/builder, and the Spirit moving to effectuate their creative commands. Similarly, re salvation, the Father is the architect, the Son translates the Father's plan as Redeemer, while the Holy Spirit effectuates the Son's atonement. Together the Godhead redeems. Separately they enact. In Hebraic terms, the Trinity is a Tri-unity. Three Persons which are, and act, as One. But one God which is, and acts, in three Persons. It is a mystery. It cannot be explained by human language. Examples abound and each one is as poor as the next. We can only sidle up to this subject without comprehending it clearly.

However, what we can say is what Christianity is, and is not. It is monotheistic religion without being tri-theistic. We worship one God but not three Gods. Nor is Christianity a/theistic which acknowledges no God whatsoever. Nor is it modalistic where we pray to the separate God of our choosing. But rather, when we pray to Jesus, we understand that prayer as a prayer to God. It may be a prayer that honors Jesus but it is indistinguishable from prayer to the Godhead. Similarly, to pray to the Father or to the Spirit may give them honor but it is nonetheless a prayer to the Godhead-Three. The bible does not honor one divine personage over the other. Christianity is not modalistic. As Christians we give due honor to one-and-all just like it is so received.

Further, the best examples of prayer to the Godhead can be found in the bible itself. For instance, we can thank the Holy Spirit for all that He does, is, and has provided. But it is no less than thanking God Himself. Nor no more than thanking God who hears our prayer within His own Trinity. To split hairs is fruitless. We recognize each divine personage because the bible does as well through its covenantal histories and salvation events exhibited to the nations, and specifically to Israel and the Church's interactions with God. Consequently, God is the Three-in-One who is the One-in-Three. He is Triune. He is God.

R.E. Slater
December 12. 2011

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *


Is there hierarchy in the Trinity?
Part 1

by Roger Olson
December 8, 2011

One of the many controversies among evangelical theologians and biblical scholars surrounds the question of the immanent Trinity, specifically whether there is within it an eternal hierarchy of authority with the Son being subordinate to the Father. In this particular controversy “subordinate” means with regard to authority. So the specific issue dividing evangelical theologians and biblical scholars is whether the Son (and I assume the Holy Spirit) exists eternally under the Father’s authority. (I will spell out the who’s and what’s of this controversy in future installments.)

So far as I know, nobody in this debate or elsewhere denies that the Son is subordinate to the Father in the economic Trinity. That is, nobody I know denies that in relation to salvation history the Son obeys the Father especially during his years as a Jewish man living in Palestine. The Gospel of John makes this clear as Jesus repeatedly mentions that he came to do the Father’s will and prays that the Father will restore him to the glory they shared before the world began (John 17).

It’s important then, when attempting to understand this debate among evangelicals, to understand the difference (or at least distinction) between the immanent and economic Trinities. They are not two Trinities but two aspects of the one Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. There have been two periods in the history of Christian theology when this distinction has become the focus of much attention. One was the era of the Arian and Semi-Arian controversies of the 4th century and the other was and is the 20th century which, after Karl Barth’s resurrection of the doctrine of the Trinity, saw a renaissance of Trinitarian thought among Christians. That renaissance is continuing in the 21st century although I think it is now running into the ground with too much speculation about minutia.

The Cappadocian Fathers Basil, Gregory and Gregory were largely responsible for carving out the distinction between the immanent and economic Trinities. They felt it was important to make and hold to such a distinction for the sake of God’s transcendence; they did not want the Trinity tied exclusively to history as happened in the several modalist movements that described Father, Son and Holy Spirit as modes or manifestations or even masks of God, true only in God’s relationship with the world in salvation history. That is, to put it bluntly, the various modalist groups (especially but not only Sabelius and his followers) reduced Father, Son and Holy Spirit to mere masks God wears; they were not regarded as real, permanent, eternal distinctions within God.

Against the modalists, then, the Cappadocian Fathers underscored the very real, ontological distinctions (I avoid the English word “differences” to avoid implying that they fell into tritheism which they strenuously denied) within the Trinity. Father, Son and Holy Spirit are distinct hypostastes sharing equally one ousia (essence, substance, being). (Unfortunately, there is no good English translation of hypostasis; we usually translate it “person,” but that wrongly implies separateness of selfhood.) For the Cappadocian Fathers (and this became orthodox doctrine from then on as it became the way in which the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed was interpreted in both the East and the West) there is an immanent, ontological, eternal Trinity. God did not become Trinitarian only in relation to creation and salvation history. And the three hypostases are not mere masks or manifestations or modes of one person; they are real centers of consciousness even if they are not in any way different. So, essentially, the immanent Trinity is eternal distinction without difference of three persons (to use flawed English): God in himself (or themselves).

Between the 4th century and the 20th century much focus of Trinitarian thought came to bear on the immanent Trinity sometimes to the detriment of the economic Trinity (the three distinct persons acting for us within history). At least that was what Catholic theologian Karl Rahner feared as he propounded his “Rahner’s Rule:” “The economic Trinity is the immanent Trinity and the immanent Trinity is the economic Trinity.” This “rule” became the focus of a great deal of attention and discussion as it was interpreted in different ways by, for example, Jurgen Moltmann (in many of his books but especially The Trinity and the Kingdom of God) and Walter Kasper (in, for example, his magisterial work The God of Jesus Christ). Rahner’s Rule became virtually an item of orthodoxy as a regulative principle to forbid dividing the immanent Trinity from the economic Trinity as if we can actually know anything about the former apart from the latter.

(For further brief survey and summary of the history of Christian thought about the Trinity see my book The Trinity written with Christopher Hall and published by Eerdmans.)

There is no doubt in my mind that the Great Church as a whole (both East and West including the magisterial Protestant Reformers) believed in a hierarchy within the immanent Trinity. “Where the reality exists there must also be the corresponding possibility” (Barth). If in the economic Trinity we see (e.g., in John 14-17) a subordination of the Son to the Father there must also be subordination of the Son to the Father in the immanent Trinity. The monarchy of the Father is clear in the Cappadocian Fathers and has always been taught by the Eastern churches. Moltmann is one contemporary theologian who has tried to soften this hierarchical notion of the Trinity by speculating about different patterns of relationships (including of authority) within the Godhead tied to the stages of the Kingdom of God in history. He emphasizes ways in which the Father is dependent on the Son and the Spirit which is true enough but does nothing to undo what the church fathers meant by hierarchy within the immanent Trinity.

So what did they mean? What did the Cappadocian Fathers and what does the Eastern Church (or churches) mean by the “monarchy of the Father?” And how did they/do they avoid Arianism or Semi-Arianism (heresies that deny the equality of the Son with the Father in terms of divinity)? That’s a very long and complicated story, of course, so I can only answer in a nutshell. By the “monarchy of the Father” the Cappadocian Fathers meant only that the Father is the source or “fount” of divinity within the Godhead; the Son and the Spirit derive their deity from the Father eternally (so there is no question of inequality of being). Their favorite analogy was the sun and its light and heat. There is no imagining the sun without its light and heat and yet it is the source of them. So the Son, who became Jesus Christ in the incarnation, is begotten of the Father from eternity (not in time) (the technical term is generated but it means the same) and the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father (and the Western church added filioque—“and the Son). (I happen to think the filioque addition to the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed was a mistake and it should be undone or revised to say “through the Son” although that has its problems as well.) In brief, then (without going into all the ins and outs of the filioque controversy or even the debates about the generation and procession of the Son and the Spirit), the “monarchy of the Father” in traditional, orthodox doctrine means only that the Father is the eternal, ontological source, fount, origin of the Son and the Spirit. It has nothing to do with authority over which, if imported into the immanent Trinity, would imply a kind of subordinationism.

So why is it important to have a monarchy of the Father within the immanent Trinity? The Cappadocian Fathers argued it is necessary to preserve and protect the distinctiveness of the three hypostases. Some also argue it is necessary to preserve and protect the connection between the economic Trinity (in which there is clearly subordination) and the immanent Trinity.

Now, there are so many issues here that I can’t even begin to discuss them all! But it is absolutely crucial to understand this distinction between the immanent Trinity and the economic Trinity before diving into the current evangelical controversy over the Trinity. My suspicion is that many evangelicals who write about the subject are not properly or carefully enough making this distinction. My theses going into this discussion are that 1) There is subordination of the Son and Spirit within the economic Trinity including in terms of authority over, and 2) The subordination of the Son and Spirit to the Father within the immanent Trinity has only to do with source, fount, origin of the divinity of the Son and the Spirit which does not automatically include a hierarchy of authority (i.e., obedience to). And I will argue that we cannot claim to know very much about the immanent Trinity, so even that (thesis 2) is arguable so long as we do affirm the immanent Trinity. In sum and in brief, I will argue that it is possible (if not necessary) to believe in the “monarchy of the Father” even within the immanent Trinity without making the Son and Spirit subordinate to the Father in terms of authority (i.e., obedience).


Is there hierarchy in the Trinity?
Part 2
http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rogereolson/2011/12/is-there-hierarchy-in-the-trinity-part-2/

by Roger Olson
December 9, 2011


If you haven’t read Part 1 of this series, this won’t make a lot of sense. I suggest you go back and read that first.

In Part 1 I talked about the traditional theological distinction between the immanent and economic Trinities and how everyone agrees there is hierarchy (i.e., subordination of the Son to the Father) within the economic Trinity. But there is an ongoing debate among evangelical theologians about whether there is hierarchy within the immanent Trinity—God in himself (or themselves).

The controversy began over the claim made by some conservative evangelicals, mostly of the “complementarian” crowd, that the permanent subordination of women to men in the home and church (if not also in society) is justified, if not required by, the permanent subordination of the Son to the Father within the immanent Trinity.

Australian theologian Kevin Giles has published two major books on this subject and he has come very close to accusing the complementarian defenders of hierarchy within the immanent Trinity of heresy. The two books are The Trinity & Subordination: The Doctrine of God & The Contemporary Gender Debate (IVP, 2002) and Jesus and the Father: Modern Evangelicals Reinvent the Doctrine of the Trinity (Zondervan, 2006). Giles cites his main opponents in this debate in a lengthy footnote on page 23 of The Trinity & Subordination. Among them are: George Knight, Susan Foh, James Hurley, Wayne Grudem and Andreas J. Kostenberger. Of course, mentioning a bunch of names tends to mask the differences among them. What they all have in common, according to Giles, is that they believe the Son of God is eternally subordinated to the Father within the immanent, ontological Trinity and that this subordination is in terms of authority and not only derived deity.

This last point is where things get sticky and where we have to focus careful attention and critical thought—the difference between two kinds of hierarchy and subordination (“monarchy of the Father): 1) in terms of derivation of deity, and 2) authority over. Many Christians have agreed with the Cappadocian Fathers and other great Trinitarian thinkers throughout church history that the Father is the “monarch” (sole origin or source) of the Son and Spirit who are generated by and proceed from the Father eternally. Orthodox theologians have always agreed that this by no means implies “Subordinationism” as in the Arian and Semi-Arian heresies that argued that the Son (to say nothing of the Spirit) is created in time so that “There was when the Son was not” (Arius’ slogan). The Cappadocian Fathers very carefully distinguished between the monarchy of the Father and Arian Subordinationism.

The real debate among evangelicals is over whether the Son and Spirit are subordinate to the Father in terms of authority. That is, whether the Son and the Spirit obey the Father within the eternal “councils” of the Trinity. Does the Father’s monarchy within the Godhead mean authority over the Son and the Spirit? The practical issue is whether women should be subordinate to men in terms of obedience because men have authority over them (viz., husbands and pastors) because the Father has authority over the Son. The crucial passage is, of course, 1 Corinthians 11:3 “Now I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.” A related controversy has to do with the meaning of “kephale” (head) in this passage. Does it mean “source” or “authority?” Both are possible translations from the Greek and there has been a long, running debate between evangelical complementarians (e.g., John Piper) and egalitarians (e.g., Berkeley and Alvera Mickelson) over this and it has ended in a stalemate—at least for now. So, the debate has largely shifted to the monarchy of the Father and subordination of the Son. The claim made by some conservative evangelicals is that 1 Corinthians 11:3 proves that wives should be submissive to husbands because even within the eternal being of God the Son is subordinate to the Father. Giles and other more progressive evangelicals (including Millard Erickson who, in my opinion, is only “progressive” on the women’s issue) have responded that 1 Corinthians 11:3 proves no such thing and does not even address the issue of authority within the eternal, immanent Trinity. Both sides have accused the other of breaking from “the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity” and of distorting the meaning of scripture.

Now—to bring the story up to date—a group of egalitarian evangelicals has produced something called “The Trinity Statement” and circulated it for evangelical scholars to sign. The summary statement is “We believe that the sole living God who created and rules over all and who is described in the Bible is the one Triune God in three coeternal, coequal Persons, each Person being presented as distinct yet equal, not as three separate gods, but one Godhead, sharing equally in honor, glory, worship, power, authority, rule and rank, such that no Person has eternal primacy over the others.” (Go to www.trinitystatement.com/academic-statement/ to read the longer version of the statement and the theological commentary including footnotes.)

This statement would seem to rule out any sense of the monarchy of the Father and thereby fall into conflict with the Cappadocian Fathers’ explanation of the Nicene Creed. However, I cannot believe it means that. The Creed clearly states that the Son is “begotten of the Father.” Unless a person wants to argue that this refers only to the virginal conception of Jesus Christ (an event in the economic Trinity), it would seem to be the case that the Creed itself affirms the monarchy of the Father in terms of the Father being the source, origin, “fount” of the divinity of the Son and Spirit. There goes the affirmation that “no Person has eternal primacy over the others”—depending on what “primacy” means. See how complicated this is?

Perhaps it is the real “mother of all muddles” (as Christianity Today labeled an earlier evangelical debate over the nature of Christ’s resurrection body.)

“The Trinity Statement” is the work of William David Spencer in consultation with several others—all egalitarian evangelicals.

The concluding paragraph of “The Trinity Statement” is particularly strongly worded: “Suggestions that superiority and inferiority of authority eternally exist among the Persons of the Godhead are problematic. All God’s attributes are essential. We should not posit distinctive, unequal attributes that divide God’s substance. If divine attributes are ranked in a hierarchy, then it necessarily follows that the lower ranked are of inferior quality. Therefore, it is contradictory to say that they share the identical substance (ousia), and yet the degree of each attribute can differ according to rank. Such an eternal distinction makes the Son less in authority than the Father, thereby dividing and separating the one God. Such radical social Trinitarianism ends up as tritheism. Affirming one God in three coeternal, coequal Persons is, therefore, necessary to preserve and perpetuate the one faith once given to the saints.”

My natural inclination is to side with these evangelical egalitarians and sign the statement. After all, almost all the people on the other side of the debate are people I regard as neo-fundamentalists (by which I mean no judgment of value on their characters!). However, I have a few qualms that keep me from jumping into this controversy on either side. Those will be the subject of Part 3. Stay tuned.


Is there hierarchy in the Trinity?
Part 3
http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rogereolson/2011/12/is-there-hierarchy-in-the-trinity-part-3/

by Roger Olson
December 9, 2011


If you have not read parts 1 and 2 of this series, this part 3 will probably make little sense to you. I suggest you go back and read parts 1 and 2 first.

Why even discuss whether or not there is a hierarchy of authority within the immanent Trinity? For complementarians the reason is to show that there can be absolute equality of being, worth and value together with inequality of authority. Complementarians argue that male headship does not imply a wife’s inferiority. Some egalitarians, presumably all those authoring and signing “The Trinity Statement,” believe the contrary. To them, permanent hierarchy of authority and subordination within the family (between husband and wife) or the Trinity (between Father and Son) necessarily implies superiority and inferiority. Thus, the debate over hierarchy within the Trinity is an example of theology and politics (in its broadest sense) coming together for better or worse.

At the end of part 2 I said I would have trouble signing “The Trinity Statement” without some careful clarification. It does seem to me that both scripture and tradition affirm a certain kind of hierarchy within the immanent Trinity—the monarchy of the Father in the sense that the Father is the fount of divinity from which the Son is begotten (not made) and the Holy Spirit proceeds. Scripture refers to the Son as begotten of the Father (John 1:14). Tradition (the Great Tradition) includes affirmation that the Son and Spirit are generated by and proceed from the Father respectively. Possibly a person could argue that John 1:14 references the birth of Jesus, not the begottenness of the Son from the Father in the immanent Trinity. However, that would seem wrong. Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit, not by the Father. The context of John 1:14 indicates it is talking about the pre-incarnate Logos (“logos asarkos”). And that is how the church fathers understood it.

So, both scripture and tradition do recognize rank within the Trinity—contrary to “The Trinity Statement.” However, the rank recognized within the immanent Trinity has to do with being, not necessarily authority. We all know that firstness in being does not require firstness in authority. An adult son is not under his father’s authority even though he came from his father biologically and ontologically. So hierarchy within the immanent Trinity can be affirmed without necessarily affirming authority over and subordination under.

Personally, I am hesitant to peer into the inner workings of the immanent Trinity. I think the church has sometimes gone too far in speculating about them. For example, the principle opera trinitatis ad extra indivisa sunt (all operations of the Trinity toward what is outside itself are indivisible) seems speculative. It is meant to safeguard the unity of the Trinity, but it is a perfect example of a violation of Rahner’s Rule; it results in making the immanent Trinity make the economic Trinity artificial. However, the monarchy of the Father in terms of the unbegottenness of the Father and begottenness of the Son seems biblically necessary rather than speculative.

So, there is rank within the immanent Trinity. The question is, does it imply a hierarchy of authority? Much depends on how one interprets 1 Corinthians 11:3 (referred to and quoted in part 2). Does kephale mean authority over or source of? Is it referring to the immanent Trinity or only the economic Trinity? I don’t think this can be settled from this passage alone.

I have one question for those who argue there is a hierarchy of authority within the immanent Trinity: What exactly does that mean? Is it even possible to picture it? Go with me, if you can, into the immanent Trinity—the Godhead of Father, Son and Holy Spirit before and apart from any creation. (Imagination required here.) If we can talk about “the eternal councils of the Godhead,” what do we see and hear? Does the Father give orders to the Son and Holy Spirit? Are the Son and Holy Spirit in need of orders? What does “obey” even mean in a being where the partners are absolutely equal in every sense—to the point that they have one will? (Although I have not discussed this yet, orthodox Christian theology has always insisted that there is only one will in the Trinity. To speak of three wills would be blatant tritheism.) Of what use is authority where there is one will? I suggest that once we have rightly understood the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity (something the complementarians claim to care about believing), the whole concept of authority over and subordination under becomes meaningless. Did the Father order the Son to become incarnate? Why would he have to? Was the Son reluctant? Of course we see that in the economic Trinity—in the Garden of Gethsemane (for a moment, anyway). But this is another reason why the church fathers developed the distinction between the economic and immanent Trinities—to avoid importing into the eternal Godhead the limitations of human existence. (It is also the reason the church fathers and the Great Tradition following them has always insisted that there were two wills in Jesus Christ—human and divine. Jesus’ “Not my will but thine be done” expresses the submission of his human will not only to the Father but also to his own divine will—which is one with the Father’s will.)

I simply cannot conceive of any purpose for authority over or subordination under within the immanent Trinity. The words become empty; they have no references. At least not that we can conceive of.

So, I do not think that rank within the immanent Trinity by itself is heterodox, as some egalitarians suggest. In fact, it seems clear to me that the complementarians are right that there is hierarchy within the immanent Trinity—hierarchy of source and generation and spiration (procession) from that source. But that, by itself, does not imply or require hierarchy of authority. And, in fact, if the three persons of the Trinity are understood to be absolutely equal in the sense of sharing one will (in traditional, orthodox theology “will” is attached to “nature”), there cannot be authority over and subordination under in spite of hierarchical ranking of ontology.

In other words, I do not accuse the complementarians with their hierarchical notion of the immanent Trinity of heresy or even heterodoxy. Rank alone does not imply Arian or Semi-Arian Subordinationism. I am accusing them of nonsense. I literally cannot make any sense of the claim that there is inequality of authority among three who share equally one will.





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