"And when, in thirty years time, Arianism is rampant among young evangelicals and the usual suspects are licensed by the powers-that-be courageously to lament the fact that nobody saw it coming and then to offer sage advice on how to handle it, please remember folks – once again, you heard it here first. Yes, you did. You really did."
It's been almost eight years since Dee and I began exploring Christian trends via the internet. As we learned more and more about complementarianism, we stumbled upon a highly controversial topic: the Eternal Subordination of the Son to the Father (ESS). As I understand it, those who affirm ESS claim that Jesus Christ is subordinate to God the Father for all eternity (not just while He was here on earth). Then they apply the subordination of Jesus Christ to human relationships, asserting that wives are subordinate to their husbands, not just in the here and now but for eternity. Clearly, ESS is a tool used to justify their complementarian position.
In early 2009 I became so upset about ESS (among other topics like CBMW and The Gospel Coalition, not to mention the abuses we were reading about in Sovereign Grace Ministries) that my husband and I invited our pastor and his wife to dinner to discuss these matters. As a Southern Baptist, I was finding it more and more difficult to remain in a denomination that was taking such a hard right turn. At the time we were involved in a church re-plant, and my husband and I finally came to the realization that we could not join this 'new work', which was aligned with the Southern Baptist Convention. Subsequently, we visited quite a number of churches, eventually landing in a small traditional Southern Baptist church that is remarkably (and refreshingly) 'normal'. We eventually joined this wonderful fellowship, which DID NOT require us to sign any kind of membership covenant, and we pray that our congregation (which knows absolutely nothing about ESS) will not be influenced by the trends we have been discussing here.
In recent days there has been considerable discussion in the blogosphere regarding unorthodox views of the Trinity. Last week Dee wrote a great summary post entitled A Reformed Theologian and a Reformed Blogger Take on the Eternal Subordination of the Son As It Relates to Complementarianism, which has garnered over 650 comments (at the time of this writing). In that post she called attention to a guest post over at Mortification of Spin, written by Dr. Liam Goligher. Here is a screen shot of Dr. Goligher's bio on the Tenth Presbyterian Church website.
This Scottish theologian is sounding the alarm regarding ESS, and we are so grateful that he has publicly rebuked those who are using it to justify their theological position regarding gender roles. The hosts over at Mortification of Spin have recently featured two posts written by Dr. Goligher, which you can access here and here.
Dee called attention to the first installment of Dr. Goligher's article in our previous post. Here are some of his powerful words (see screen shot below):
In the second installment, this is the crux of the matter according to Dr. Goligher (see screen shot below).
In a follow-up post entitled Farenheit 381, Carl Trueman states:
Because we live at a time when good teaching on the differences between men and women is needed more than at any previous moment in history, it is sad that the desire to maintain a biblical view of complementarity has come to be synonymous with advocating not only a very 1950s American view of masculinity but now also this submission-driven teaching on the Trinity. In the long run such a tight pairing of complementarianism with this theology can only do one of two things. It will either turn complementarian evangelicals into Arians or tritheists; or it will cause orthodox believers to abandon complementarianism. The link is being pushed so firmly that it does not seem to offer any other choice.
Trueman goes on to explain:
… the question which the leadership of the various groups associated with New Calvinism — the Gospel Coalition, CBMW etc. — must answer is simply this: do you consider Nicene orthodoxy to be a non-negotiable part of your movement’s beliefs? Now, we live in a free country and, as Protestants, we are committed to scripture alone as the norming norm. Thus, you are free to say that Nicene orthodoxy has no place in the church today. You are also free to say that it is something of secondary importance on which Christians can differ. You are even free to say that the Creed of Constantinople and the Chalcedonian Christology which flowed from it are erroneous and contrary to biblical teaching. But make no mistake: in doing any of these things you place yourself and therefore your movement not simply outside of the boundaries of the consensus of the confessions of Reformation Protestantism but also outside what has historically been considered orthodox Christianity in its broadest sense. That is your prerogative and if your conscience and your understanding of the Word of God bind you to it, then you must do it. But you need to be honest and transparent about what you are doing.
Subordinationism was found wanting in the fourth century and set aside for very good reason. It is thus surely time for somebody of real stature in the New Calvinist world to break ranks with the Big Eva establishment and call out this new subordinationism for what it is: a position seriously out of step with the historic catholic faith and a likely staging post to Arianism. For if this is allowed to continue with official sanction or simply through silent inaction, then the current New Calvinist leadership will have betrayed the next generation in a deep and fundamental way. Far more so, I might add, than those who allow a talented woman to teach the occasional Sunday school class.
Carl Trueman concludes with some prophetic words which we have included at the top of this post.
Earlier today an article over at Patheos entitled The Coming War: Nicene Complementarians vs Homoian Complementarians has been attracting quite a bit of attention. Michael F. Bird had this to say:
I predict that there is about to be a miniature civil war among conservative Calvinist Complementarians about Trinity and gender.
One wing of that movement has been arguing for a while that the Son is eternally subordinate to the Father and importantly the way that the Son submits to the Father is mirrored in the way that wives submit to their husbands. So the hierarchy in the Trinity is said to provide grounds for a hierarchy in gender relationships. Since this trinitarian debate is not really about the Trinity but about gender and equality, it is no surprise that Complementarians have been arguing for the subordinationist view (e.g., Bruce Ware and Wayne Grudem) over and against the Egalitarians who have been arguing for an equality of persons view (e.g., Kevin Giles, Gilbert Belizekian).
Yet it is worth noting that many Calvinistic Complementarians, especially one’s that know their patristic theology and doctrine of the Trinity, have always balked at the idea of postulating the Son’s eternal subordination and questioned the wisdom of using the Trinity to bankroll a particular view of gender. In their mind, Calvinist Orthodoxy is Nicene, it affirms the eternal equality of the divine persons, which rules out any hierarchical subordination. They are still complementarian in regards to marriage and ministry but they reject perceived tinkering with the Trinity by the Subordinationist Calvinists. This group of Nicene Calvinists has always been rather silent and never really offered vocal protest against the Subordinationist Calvinist. However, I think that is about to change. [emphasis mine]
Based on what we have reading in recent days, it does appear that the ESS crowd has perturbed some in the Nicene Calvinist camp so much that they can no longer remain silent on the matter. We fully expect that there will be much discussion forthcoming.
For those of you who may not be up to speed on the Tampering with the Trinity controversy, we strongly recommend that you read the following post written by Wade Burleson back in 2008. It is one of the first resources Dee and I read when ESS came onto our radar screen. We are grateful that Wade took the time to address this serious theological issue which has only become more controversial eight years later…
Growing Semi-Arianism in the SBC and the Consequences for Women If Left Unchallenged (link)
Periodically Grace and Truth to You will offer a doctrinal post for debate and discussion. Many Southern Baptists have little endurance when it comes to doctrinal reading, and even less comprehension of how doctrine affects behavior. This apathy has far reaching consequences. For this reason I challenge you to carefully read the following article as it reveals a doctrinal debate within the Southern Baptist Convention that has direct consequences on our Convention’s attitude and behavior towards women. Let me repeat the last sentence for clarity: There is a current doctrinal debate within the SBC that directly affects our Convention’s attitude and behavior toward women in general.
The Arian Controversy
Arius was a Christian who lived and taught in Alexandria, Egypt (250-336 AD). He became the leading proponent of a heretical teaching that would later be identified with his name. Arianism is the belief that God the Father and the Son did not exist together equally and eternally, but that Jesus was created by God the Father and is eternally subordinate to the Father. In plain English, Arianism teaches Jesus is inherently inferior to God the Father.
Some Christians wrongly confuse Arianism with Aryanism. The latter is the belief that the original speakers of the Indo-European languages and their descendants up to the present day constitute a distinctive, superior race. Hitler was an Aryan, but not an Arian. Aryanism is a belief in human racial superiority. Arianism is a belief in divine patriarchal hierarchy.
In 325 AD, Christian leaders gathered in the city of Nicaea (modern day Iznik, Turkey) and debated the doctrine of the Trinity. The Council of Nicaea convened on May 20, 325 AD with around 300 pastors present to discuss the Arian Controversy. After meeting for a solid month, these pastors issued on June 20, 325 AD what we now call The Nicene Creed.
The Nicene Creed is the clearest and most accepted statement on the divinity of Christ in the history of the church. The Council declared that the Father and the Son are of the same substance and are co-eternal, believing this to be the biblical and traditional Christian teaching handed down from the Apostles. The Nicaea Council believed that Arianism destroys the unity of the Godhead, and makes the Son unequal to the Father, in contravention of the Scriptures ("The Father and I are one" John 10:30). The Council of Nicaea ended with the pastors declaring Arius and his followers heretics.
A Resurging Semi-Arianism in the Southern Baptist Convention
The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood is composed of many Southern Baptists who are introducing to evangelicalism a novel, if not peculiar, view of Christ which has more in common with Arianism than the historic, orthodox view of Christ’s person. The theologians and teachers who write for the CBMW are teaching what they call “the eternal subordination of the Son to the Father” as a basis for their hierarchical view that the female is to be subordinate to the male. Women’s subordination to man, according to the teachings of CBMW, is not a consequence of sin or a reflection of cultural values, but is built upon the hierachical order God established before the fall as a reflection of the Trinity.
In other words, the man can be equated to God the Father. The woman can be equated to God the Son. Just as the Son is eternally subordinate to the Father, so the woman is to be eternally subordinate to the man. For this reason, the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood proposes that God’s unchanging ideal is the permanent subordination of women.
While there is no denial that there are differences between men and women, to base the “subordination” of women to men on the alleged eternal subordination of the Son to God the Father borders on an Arian view of the nature of Christ. The very word "ordination" means “to order by virtue of superior authority.” To say Christ is “subordinate” to the Father means he has lesser (sub) authority, lesser (sub) superiority, lesser (sub) ordination.
There is a great deal that will be said in the Southern Baptist Convention and the evangelical world as a whole in the coming months and years about the role of women in society, the church, and the home. Sadly, there is a tendency for those who hold to the hierarchical view of a man’s authority over women to label those who disagree with them as liberal. They refuse to let a woman teach Hebrew to men because of her lesser authority, and call "liberal" those who disagree with them. They refuse to allow a woman to hold a supervisor’s position in the International Mission Board because of her need to be subordinate to men, and call "liberal" those who disagree with them. They advocate women staying out of the work force because of their subordination to men in society, and call "liberal" those who disagree with them. Women are viewed and treated as the “lesser” in terms of “authority” when compared to men, and he who dares disagree with them is considered "liberal."
It’s time for conservative, evangelical Bible-believing Christians who believe in the equality of men and women to realize that the great error in this debate is not a denial of the sufficiency, authority and infallibility of the Word of God by those who hold to gender equality, but rather, the great error in this debate is the promotion of semi-Arianism by those who wish to force their hierarchical views of male authority upon the church, the home and society.
Peter Schemm, a member of the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, argues that there is room within Christian orthodoxy for the belief in "the eternal subordination of Christ." He argues that people like Giles (and me) who oppose "eternal subordination" and view it as semi-Arianism are simply speaking too harshly for "there is room for both views within evangelicalism." It is ironic that those who have an affinity for calling conservative evangelicals who disagree with them "liberal" are now proposing tolerance and acceptance of their unique views of the Trinity. I do believe that we should accept our brothers (and a few sisters) in Christ who are arguing for "eternal subordination," and we should always treat them with Christian love and respect, but we should never be shy to challenge their unorthodox views of the Trinity.
Arius lost the debate in 325 AD, and I predict semi-Arianism will eventually be on the losing side of this current debate.
This post by Wade was so helpful to me (Deb) that I felt compelled to post a comment (using my real name). At that point I was brand new to blogging (we didn't launch TWW until March 19, 2009), and I'm fairly sure this is the first comment I ever made in response to a blog post. Little did I know that Wade would eventually become our EChurch pastor and a great personal friend.
I so appreciated the following comment by Anonymous, who expressed exactly what I was feeling (and continue to feel) regarding the Southern Baptist Convention.
We will continue to follow this controversy and will do our best to keep you informed regarding the latest developments.