"Bring me a worm that can comprehend a man, and then I will show you a man that can comprehend the Triune God." – John Wesley link
Understanding the Trinity
Let me be perfectly frank. I have struggled with trying to understand the Trinity for most of my Christian life. I believe in the Trinity and it is clear to me that Scripture points towards the Triune God. After all, Genesis 1 clearly sets the beginning of our history with these verses. 1-2; 26 a (NIV, Bible Gateway)
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.
…Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness,
There was God, there was the Spirit of God, and God refers to Himself as "us." In other words, God is an *us.* The predestined mission of Jesus makes an early appearance in Genesis 3:15 as God promises Satan that his destruction is coming via the offspring of a woman.
And I will put enmity
between you and the woman,
and between your offspring[a] and hers;
he will crush[b] your head,
and you will strike his heel.”
The best descriptor that I have heard of this three in one God is *One What and Three Whos.* (Hank Hanegraaff.) Each of the Whos are fully God but they are also different. The Father is not the Son nor is the Son the Holy Spirit. For example, when Christ was baptized we see all three of these Whos making their presence known. Matthew 3:16-17 (NIV-Gateway)
16 As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”
Easy? Yeah, right!
In fact, I believe that a full understanding of the Trinity is way beyond the understanding of mere mortals. Humans are not a Trinity. We relate to the members of the Trinity by praying to the Father, through Jesus, in the Spirit. Yet, we are made in the image of God, not in the image of one of the three Whos. However, we are not God. Confusing? You bet.
I cannot, for a minute, imagine a Being who could created this universe along with multiple dimensions. I think it was Hank Hanegraaff who said something to the effect of:
Explaining God to us is like explaining us to a mollusk.
Our God knew this problem. Jesus came to earth to save us but He also came so we could touch and see Him in human form. In so doing, we understood a little more. He also came into our lives as the Holy Spirit so we could sense Him as well as to be given strength to face the struggles we all share. Yet, in my mere mortal state, I believe it yet I don't fully get it.
The danger of extrapolating gender roles from the Trinity.
When I began to see people using the Trinity to set rules for gender roles, I wondered if they really knew what they are talking about. How in the world does one take the concept of the Trinity, which does not exist in our experience as human beings, and claim that it should represent a differentiation of gender roles in humanity? As for gender, it appears the Godhead prefers to use the pronoun "He" so how does that break down into two genders-male and female- in humans? It is terribly confusing to me.
The folks over at Mortification of Spin have decided to take on the issue of gender and the Trinity in Is it Okay to Teach a Complementarianism Based on Eternal Subordination? This was written by Dr. Liam Goligher, who considers himself a complementarian. But he limits that belief to the following:
The original use of that word took its cue from the biblical teaching about the differences yet complementarity of human beings made in the image of God while not running away from the challenges of applying biblical exhortations for wives to submit to their own husbands in the Lord or the prohibition on ordination for women in the church. With only those two caveats, as Calvin told John Knox, women may be princes in the state, but not pastors in the church.
It seems to be clear from his presentation that he believes that a number of well-known complementarians are running wild with the doctrine of God (meaning the Trinity) in order to set up a descriptive set of limitations on the functions of women and men. He seems to claim that those messing with this doctrine are, in essence, making Christianity seem more like Islam. (Uh oh! The gauntlet has been thrown down.)
(they are) more concerned with control and governance than with understanding the nuances of the relationship of the Son with His Father in eternity on the one hand and how that differs from the roles they adopt in the economy of redemption on the other.
What is the push behind the current day, Calvinista infatuation with the doctrine of The Eternal Subordination of the Son? (ESS)
In an excellent post at A Daughter of the Reformation, by Rachel MIller (add 6/4/16) CONTINUING DOWN THIS PATH, COMPLEMENTARIANS LOSE, the author who is Reformed, looks at Jared Moore's review of a book by Bruce Ware. Ware is one of the *inventors*, along with Wayne Grudem, of the modern day term, the Eternal Subordination of the Son (ESS.) It is also worth noting that Owen Strachan, the President of the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, proud supporters of ESS, is the son in law of Bruce Ware.
She quotes Moore directly.
Complementarians believe that God has created men and woman as equal image-bearers of God, yet with differing roles in the church and home. Many, however, balk at this notion arguing that a hierarchy in the church or home necessarily means that one gender is less valuable than the other. But if complementarians can prove that there is a hierarchy in the immanent (ontological) Trinity, then they win, for if a hierarchy exists among the Three Persons of God, and these Three Persons are equally God, then surely God can create men and women equal yet with differing roles in the church and home.
If God the Father leads the Son and Spirit infinitely, and if the Son submits infinitely to his Father, and these Three remain fully and equally God, then the hierarchy in the home and church, and the submission of women to men in the church and home does not necessarily mean that women are less valuable than men. Just as the Son and Spirit are not less valuable than the Father, women are not less valuable than men, though a hierarchy has been given by God based on gender in the home and church. In the new book, One God in Three Persons, the complementarians win. They have argued persuasively that there is a hierarchy in the immanent Trinity. (emphasis mine)
Ontological versus Economic Trinity (This will make you sound smart.)
She then goes on to explain things in her own words.
Proponents of ESS have been accused of teaching a hierarchy in the immanent Trinity, but they used to deny this. This book is the first time I’ve seen it clearly stated that they believe that the Son’s submission to the Father is ontological and not merely a function of the economic Trinity. At one point, the book claims that it is promoting functional subordination and equality of nature/essence. However, it goes on the make arguments for authority/submission as inherent in the nature of God as Father and Son.
Immanent or ontological Trinity refers to the nature, being, or essence of God.
Economic Trinity refers to the way in which the persons of the Godhead relate to each other, for example in the work of creation and salvation. Basically the discussion is over who God is versus what God does and how He does it. (emphasis by Dee)
The possible damage that ESS can cause to gender relationships.
The Daughter of the Reformation, Rachel Miller, (update 6/4/16) makes this thoughtful observation.
Third, there is considerable damage done both to our understanding of the Trinity and also to our understanding of men and women and how we relate to each other. ESS has a trickle down effect on doctrine in many areas. Despite it’s claims to the contrary, it makes the Son inferior to the Father and misinterprets aspects of the work of redemption.
There are also a number of current theologians that propose that women will be subordinate to men in eternity just like the Son is subordinate to the Father in eternity! Can you imagine?
Contemporary and historical quotes on the Trinity
Back at the Mortification of Spin post, Goligher.points out contemporary theologians of the Calvinista variety who support ESS.
“The Father is the authority of Christ, and always has been…There is no Holy Trinity without the order of authority and submission” (Strachan and Peacock, The Grand Design).
“I hold to the eternal submission of the Son to the Father” (Wayne Grudem, www.waynegrudem.com).
Goligher goes on to review the historical record of certain creeds and statements of belief which he believes are in conflict with the contemporary and novel definition of ESS. Here are three.
“In this Trinity none is afore, nor after another; none is greater or less than another” (Athanasian Creed).
Father, Son and Holy Spirit exist “in an inseparable equality of one substance” (Augustine).
"In deeds of grace none the Persons of the Trinity act by themselves. They are as united in their deeds as in their essence. In their love towards the chosen they are one, and in the actions which flow from that great central source they are still undivided" (C. H. Spurgeon).
Are the proponents of ESS creating a new sort of deity?
Goligher then makes another statement that will probably set off fireworks.
Remember, he has named Owen Strachan, Wayne Grudem, and Gavin Peacock-all leading complementarians-as supporters of ESS. Goligher is Reformed and a complementarian. He is in their camp and yet he is distancing herself from them. Why?
It’s not hard to see who has moved! These quotes highlight what is at stake in the teaching of some contemporary evangelical scholars and pastors: they are presenting a novel view of God; a different God than that affirmed by the church through the ages and taught in Scripture. This is serious. It comes down to this; if they are right we have been worshipping an idol since the beginning of the church; and if they are wrong they are constructing a new deity – a deity in whom there are degrees of power, differences of will, and diversity of thought. Because, mark this, to have an eternally subordinate Son intrinsic to the Godhead creates the potential of three minds, wills and powers. What they have done is to take the passages referring to the economic Trinity and collapse them into the ontological Trinity.
He believes that such a belief lessens the role of Christ.
They are in turn doing great dishonor to Christ. They collapse the intra-Trinitarian life of God into the roles adopted by the persons to accomplish our redemption. If they are right, then Paul is wrong when he writes that Christ "took the form of a servant" and became man in order that He might become "obedient to death," because for these new teachers, his obedience in his humanity is simply an extension of his eternal obedience.
It means the writer to the Hebrews is wrong because Jesus did not "learn obedience" since He had spent eternity "obeying" His Father. Jesus is wrong because, when He says, "I and the Father are one," He means so only in a modified sense. And John is wrong when He says that “the Word is God,” for, by definition, if He is a servant bound to obey, then He must not have as much Godness as God the Father has in His Himself.
It is clear from Scripture that the Godhead has one will.
Think about it. Why would Jesus have to obey the Father when he is of the same will as the Father? Does that make any sense? Here is a stupid human example that helped me to think about this. When my kids were young, they wanted to go to Disney World as did we. So, we arranged a spectacular week, complete with character breakfast reservations and on site housing. Do you think that I had to say "Now, kids, you must obey us. We are going to Disney World?" At that moment, their will and ours was completely in synch and harmony reigned.
So, God in Himself (in se) is Trinity, but what about the works of God? From eternity God the Trinity, the One who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, of His own good pleasure, without any external pressure or internal need on His part, willed one will and chose to become our Father, through the Son, in the Spirit to the praise of His glorious grace
Did God set up the Trinity in order to bring God down to our level?
Of course not! He is what He is and we are what we are.
On the other hand, to say, suggest, or speculate that God’s life in heaven sets a social agenda for humans is to bring God down to our level. The eternal life of God as He is in Himself is incomprehensible to us and impossible to reproduce except by analogy. The life of the Three-in-One cannot be replicated by creatures. To use the intra-Trinitarian relations as a social model is neither biblical nor orthodox. God is not a collection of people, but we are. He is the Creator and we are His creatures.
In the end, God's Trinitarian nature is vastly different than our nature. ESS tries to make God more like us and fails.
The life of God in Himself is utterly distinct from ours, which is graciously why He has created all things, and in Christ has taken on our flesh, in order to display to His elect people something of His life, relations and roles with respect of us.
It ain't just the egalitarians who define the Trinity as a divine dance and I have proof.
One quick aside to the post at the Mortification of Spin. The author claims that:
Some, whose instinct is to defend the differences between men and women, are following the egalitarians in redefining the Triune nature of God to defend their position. Egalitarians typically describe the Trinitarian as a divine dance. They use this as an argument for an undifferentiated humanity made in this God's image
Who can ever forget our post on Twinkle Toes Thabiti called Salsa Dancing Our Way to Complementarianism?
CBMW website needs work
Something odd is going on over at the CBMW website. We critiqued an article at the site called Soap Bubble Submission. However the link has gone dead. Now, I am sure the transparent folks over at CBMW would never remove an article unless they explained why. This must be an accident and I hope it goes back up soon since it give us insight into their views on gender relationships.
Also, In preparation for this post, I went over to the CBMW website in order to correctly understand their definitions of the ESS doctrine since Owen Strachan is running the show over there. But, it appears that their multi-part ESS posts all repeat the same thing as Part 1. That is Mary Kassian describing how, each day she sits on the couch with her husband and talks. Apparently, this is an example of ESS as it is taught at SBTS. I wish I had more from CBMW to share with our readers.