"It was the whole Trinity, which at the beginning of creation said, "Let us make man". It was the whole Trinity again, which at the beginning of the Gospel seemed to say, "Let us save man"." – J. C. Ryle link
A debate on the role of women in the church disguised by a debate on the Trinity.
A long time ago, the Deebs predicted there would come a day that the gospel™ boys would begin to go after one another in order to prove who is the most theologically astute. I used to think that complementarianism was a secondary issue, something Christians could amicably disagree about. It isn't. It has become the lynch pin of the entire Neo Calvinist movement. If this were not so, I do not believe that the current battle about the ESS doctrine would be so heated, especially by those heavily invested in The Gospel Coalition, T4G, Acts 29, and the Council of Biblical Men and Women.
In 2008, CRI presented Is the Son Eternally Submissive to the Father. The article recognizes that the issue of the eternal submission of the Son was, once again, being debated due to the complementarian/egalitarian debate.
Is the Son Eternally Submissive to the Father? The biblical doctrine of the Trinity is God’s self-revelation about His nature. Both the Old and New Testaments reveal God as a unity of three persons; because of this unity, we can enjoy the benefits of a relationship with Him. The Trinity makes possible the incarnation of God as man, and it is only through the incarnation that we can be saved from our sins, since God alone can be our savior. B
Believers, indwelt by the Holy Spirit, accept these truths by faith. Understanding precisely how the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit relate to one another remains a topic of debate, however, and this debate recently has been reinvigorated due to its implications for the egalitarian-complementarian debate about how male and female Christians should relate to one another in marriage and the church.
Eternal generation of the Son
This relationship between the members of the Godhead is a mystery. Better yet, there is NO human resemblance to what is going on in this unique relationship.
The eternal generation of the Son is defined as "an eternal personal act of the Father, wherein, by necessity of nature, not by choice of will, He generates the person (not the essence) of the Son, by communicating to Him the whole indivisible substance of the Godhead, without division, alienation, or change, so that the Son is the express image of His Father's person, and eternally continues, not from the Father, but in the Father, and the Father in the Son." 
The name "Creator" or "Savior" refer to acts of God's will, but in contrast his name as Father to the Son is a revelation of the identity of God Himself. The Father brings forth the Son by the act of being God, not by an act of will, so that the Son fully shares in the Father's deity and glory as God. There has never been, nor is it possible for there to be, any God and Father without the Son.
God is an absolutely simple being. There are not three gods. There are not three Lords. There are not three parts of God. Rather, there are three who are Lord, three who are God, three who are One. The Father is not changed by being Father to the Son; Father, Son and Holy Spirit are one God eternally. The Son is not divided from the Father by being the Son; the Son is as near to the Father as the Father is to himself. There is distinction among the divine Persons, but there is no separation.
By simply being God, the Son expresses the Father's person and being. Whoever sees the Son, sees the Father; that is, the Father is revealed to whomever the Father chooses to reveal the Son. Only God can reveal God. "No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father's side, he has made him known" (John 1:18; ESV). "That they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me" (John 17:21).
"Eternally begotten" compared to "born of"
This doctrine suggests that Jesus, the Son of God, conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin, and declared to be the Son of God when raised up by the Spirit of God, manifests in human and therefore derivative terms an eternal and unchanging mystery concerning the relationship between the Father and the Son.
What is meant by the Ontological Trinity?
The Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry (CARM) defines it like this.
The Trinity is the Christian teaching that God consists of three simultaneous, eternal persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Each of the three persons are equal in their attributes and nature but differ in how they relate to the world and to each other. When we say they are equal in nature and attributes, we are speaking of what is called the Ontological Trinity (ontology–study of being and essence). Each of the three persons in the Godhead are divine–have equal attributes (omniscience, omnipresence, holiness, etc.).
What is meant by Economic Trinity?
Again from CARM we learn:
the Economic Trinity deals with how the three persons in the Godhead relate to each other and the world. Each has different roles within the Godhead, and each has different roles in relationship to the world (some roles overlap).
Here are some examples from CARM.
We can see that the Father sent the Son (John 6:44; 8:18). The Son came down from heaven not to do his own will (John 6:38). The Father gave the Son (John 3:16), who is the only begotten (John 3:16), to perform the redemptive work (2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Pet. 2:24). The Father and Son sent the Holy Spirit.
In other words, the three members of the Godhead have different functions. The Father is not the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is not the Son who died on the Cross. The Son is not the Father. Up to this point, I think most orthodox Christians would be in agreement.
What is the heresy of subordinationism?
Theopedia outlines it this way.
Subordinationism is an heretical view that God the Son and God the Holy Spirit are not merely relationally subordinate to God the Father, but also subordinate in nature and being. In other words, this view maintains that, within the Trinity, the Son and the Spirit are ontologically inferior to the Father. To the contrary, orthodox doctrine maintains that although there is no autonomous Person of the Trinity, none who is God apart from any other Person, yet each Person is autotheos
Merriam Webster defines autotheos as
the doctrine of the self-existence of God; especially : the doctrine that Christ is the self-existent God himself
Do the members of the Trinity have a difference of will?
CARM discusses the issue of the will(s) of the three members of the Godhead.
1. There is only one will with God. If the Father sent the Son and the Son did not come to do his own will, then is the Son subordinate in that role to the Father? If so, isn't this a resurrection of the heresy of subordinationism?
This objection fails to recognize the difference between the heresy of subordinationism which teaches a difference in nature among the persons of the Trinity and subordination which teaches a subordination or roles within the Trinity.
2.Doesn't the difference of role mean that the Father commands and the Son obeys? But if this is so, how can the Trinity be of one will?
By definition, each person of the Trinity must have his own will; otherwise, they are not persons. The question would then be how does each will relate to the other within the Trinity? The Scriptures don't tell us that the Son obeyed the Father. We are told that Jesus came down from heaven not to do his own will, but the will of the Father who sent him (John 6:38). It would seem that we could conclude that the Father and the Son either did not have the same will, and/or that the Son voluntarily subjected himself to accomplish the will of the Father. Either way, the members of the Trinity work in perfect harmony in spite of there being three persons.
3. If the Trinity is of one will, how can there be a distinction of wills between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
The question may not be valid. God is a Trinity of three persons and by necessity, each person must have his own will. The Bible does not explain how this inter-Trinitarian relationship of three persons works in order to accomplish the will of the single God. But we see no logical necessity that says the distinction of wills means that the Trinity cannot act with one will.
The continuing debate
It is important to understand that the parties on both sides of the current debate are complementarians. However, the folks over at The Mortification of Spin(MOS) believe that Bruce Ware, Wayne Grudem, Owen Strachan, Denny Burk and Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood are wrong to use the interrelationship of the Trinity as a proof text from the eternal submission of women.
I will also give the MOS editors props for calling out some of the more ridiculous aspects of the complementarianism as proposed by groups like CBMW. They had a hearty laugh over the now missing Soap Bubble Submission CBMW post.
Here are some of the current posts on the ESS debate along with a short statement from the posts.
Ware is one of the *inventors* of the current day ESS doctrine as it relates to complementarianism. He is a professor at SBTS and his daughter is married to Owen Strachan of The Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. This was posted at Reformation 21.
As Son, the Son is always the Son of the Father and is so eternally. As Son of the Father, he is under the authority of his Father and seeks in all he does to act as the Agent of the Father's will, working and doing all that the Father has purposed and designed for his Son to accomplish. The eternal Son, God the Son, is both fully God and fully equal to the Father, while he is fully Son and eternally in a relationship of Agent of the Father, carrying out the work and implementing the will of the Father in full submission and obedience to all that the Father has planned. God and Son, i.e., fully God (in nature) and fully Son (in person)–this is who this Second Person of the Trinity is as Hebrews, John, and the New Testament declare.
Fourth, none of this glorious Trinitarian theology is being devised for the purpose of supporting a social agenda of human relations of equality and complementarity. I do believe there is intended correspondence,
A Surrejoinder to Bruce Ware by Carl Trueman.
Trueman is one of the editors of MOS and a professor at Westminster Seminary.
Nicene Trinitarianism involves a host of commitments – to divine simplicity as classically articulated by Gregory Nazianzus, to the unity of the divine will, to inseparable operations and, of course, to eternal generation. Repudiation or revision of any one or more of these involves a revision of the whole and thus ceases to be Nicene Trinitarianism.
And while I am happy to hear that none of this is driven by identity politics, it does raise one more question. Even if we were to grant that Nicene orthodoxy is wrong and Bruce Ware is right — what does any of this have to do with male-female gender relations? The answer, I believe, is nothing at all.
Whose Position on the Trinity is Really New? by Wayne Grudem posted at The Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.
(4) Failure to adequately account for the clear pattern of biblical teaching on inter-personal relationships within the Trinity: Goligher and Trueman simply fail to account for the repeated testimony of Scripture, and Scripture must be our final guide in this matter. As I have written elsewhere, there is an abundance of Scriptural teaching on the eternal authority of the Father and submission of the Son in terms of relationship (not essence). The names “Father” and “Son” themselves would certainly have implied such a relationship in the ancient world in which Scripture was written, for fathers of families still had familial leadership even when relating to adult sons (see Gen. 49:33; 50:16-17; Luke 15:18).
A rejoinder to Wayne Grudem by Carl Trueman
To respond: I accuse no-one of rejecting the Nicene Creed of 325, as he states (at least in the version of the post available at 13:52 on Friday). Nicene orthodoxy is actually defined at Constantinople in 381. I simply state that those who get rid of eternal generation and speak of eternal submission are outside of the bounds set by 381 — which is the ecumenical standard of the church catholic, albeit in the West subject to the revision at Toledo.
A Guest Post at MOS by *John Calvin*
He says, that as Christ is subject to God as his head, so is the man subject to Christ, and the woman to the man. Let us take notice of those gradations which he points out. God, then, occupies the first place: Christ holds the second place. How so? Inasmuch as he has in our flesh made himself subject to the Father, for, apart from this, being of one essence with the Father, he is his equal. Let us, therefore, bear it in mind, that this is spoken of Christ as mediator. He is, I say, inferior to the Father, inasmuch as he assumed our nature, that he might be the first-born among many brethren.
Why did the Son become incarnate? Because he submitted? by Dr Mark Jones at MOS.
Jones is a pastor at Faith Vancouver Presbyterian Church in Canada, a research associate at University of the Free State in South Africa, and a lecturer in systematic theology at John Wycliffe Theological College in cooperation with North-West University in South Africa. link
He deeply disagrees with Bruce Ware.
The offices of the Mediator, namely, priest, prophet, and king, necessitated that the Son of God take on the work of mediation. Regarding the office of priest, it is the birth-right of the eldest Son in the family to be the priest. Therefore, to prove he was a Priest (Heb. 5), the author cites Psalm 2: “You are my Son, today I have begotten you.” As an intercessory priest the Son is uniquely able to approach the Father, which is a function grounded both in ontology (i.e. their natural subsistence) and economy (Christ’s work of mediation).
…In the future, I want to take up the issue of using the language of “authority” and “submission” to describe ad intra Trinitarian relations. It seems to me to be highly problematic, as many have pointed out, to make “submission” the constitutive personal property in God. (I also want to challenge Bruce Ware’s use of the word “eternal” in his Reformation21 piece, which to me is an example of failing to understand how the term has been used historically. And, as I noted above, his Christology seems to have suffered as a result of his Trinitarian views).
There are better ways of understanding why, for example, the Son became Mediator. Those ways do not require us to use the language of submission when it comes to the eternal relations between the Father and the Son.
A brief response to Trueman and Goligher by Denny Burk
Professor of Biblical Studies at Boyce College, the undergraduate school of SBTS.
He is a Neo-Calvinist. However, I want to commend him. Unlike his fellow Calvinists, he takes comments on his blog. When writing about issues like the Trinity, it would have been helpful if those participating in the debate had allowed for questions. This is a complex issue. Denny has even allowed me to comment on his blog! That takes guts.
Burk, of course, aligns himself with the ESS doctrine.
4. Truman and Goligher write as if any analogy of gender roles to intra-Trinitarian roles is inappropriate and unbiblical. Goligher writes, “To use the intra-Trinitarian relations as a social model is neither biblical nor orthodox.” Likewise Trueman, “Analogies of intratrinitarian relations to human notions of submission [are] inappropriate.” The problem with these two statements is that they fail to recognize that Scripture itself makes the analogy! The Apostle Paul writes, “But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:3). The point is clear. The headship of God is in some sense analogous to that of man. The nature and extent of the analogy is certainly up for discussion and debate. But to pretend that some form of analogy is unbiblical is untenable—unless of course we dismiss the apostle Paul, but I don’t think either side of this debate wants to do that.
5. I agree with Grudem that Trueman and Goligher have failed “to adequately account for the clear pattern of biblical teaching on inter-personal relationships within the Trinity.” I have in mind 1 Corinthians 15:28 in particular:
“And when all things are subjected to Him, then the Son Himself also will be subjected to the One who subjected all things to Him, that God may be all in all.”
Are you confused yet? I certainly was. However, the following article helped me to get a better grip on the issues.
Both side of the debate are presented by CRI in one post. I found it quite helpful.
In the discussion that follows, Kevin Giles, Vicar of St. Michael’s Church, North Carlton, Australia, and Robert Letham, professor of Systematic and Historical Theology at Wales Evangelical School of Theology, Bryntirion, Wales, debate whether Jesus Christ is eternally submissive to the Father. They further discuss the applications of their respective positions to the egalitarian-complementarian debate.
1. Does the Son Submit to the Father in the Indivisible Unity of the Trinity? by Robert Letham
He leans towards the submission view.
Here are a few points.
Since Reformed theologian Johannes Cocceius (1603–1669) propounded the idea of the covenant of redemption, much Reformed theology has argued that Christ’s incarnate obedience reflects eternal relations. This idea holds that salvation rests on an intra-Trinitarian covenant, the Father stipulating that the Son should take human nature, make atonement for sin, and promising rewards for the faithful discharge of these duties, and the Son accepting the covenantal terms. Of this covenant, both Owen and Francis Turretin (1623–1687), for example, were notable exponents.
With others, I have some reservations concerning this proposed covenant of redemption. It has not received confessional status; in Eastern terms, it is a theologoumenon—a theological opinion. It pictures the Trinity as a divine committee meeting that borders on tritheism: the Father leading, the Son simply responding to the Father, and the Holy Spirit absent.
…Instead of Giles’s paradigm, I suggest the following. The Son is eternally God—yesterday, today and forever—and remains so. In the incarnation, He chose to lower Himself, adding human nature, in which He was obedient to the Father while simultaneously ruling the universe. From his resurrection, He was exalted to the right hand of the Father. As Christopher Wordsworth, Bishop of Lincoln (1807-1885), put it, “man with God is on the throne,”19 while the distinction of deity and humanity is still preserved, and will be so forever.
This is the way the Son exercises His Lordship—not with the oppressive power of fallen man, but as a servant; He did not come to be served, but to serve (see Matt. 20:20–28). He acts freely, not under compulsion. This tells us something vital about the Son and about God Himself.
As the Son became incarnate and the Spirit came at Pentecost, the Father sending, so the indivisible omnipotence of God comes to expression in distinct ways. No better summary can be found than that of Giles: “It is godlike to gladly subordinate oneself for the good of another.”20
2. The Son of God Is Not Eternally Inferior, Subordinate, or Submissive by Kevin Giles.
His view on Wayne Grudem's perspective is helpful.
On this basis, orthodoxy consistently has taught the temporal and voluntary subordination of the Son in the incarnation and completely has rejected the eternal subordination of the Son in nature and/or authority—the heresy of “subordinationism.”
…This new teaching on the Trinity came to full fruition in 1994 with the publication of Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine.4 The impact of this book on evangelicals cannot be overestimated. It is one of the most widely used theology texts in evangelical seminaries. He is emphatic that the eternal subordination of the Son in authority stands at the heart of the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity. For Grudem, the Father has “the role of commanding, directing, and sending,” and the Son has the role of “obeying, going as the Father sends, and revealing God to us.”5 For him differing authority is what distinguishes the Father from the Son. He writes, “Authority and submission between the Father and the Son…and the Holy Spirit, is the fundamental difference between the persons of the Trinity.”6 “If we did not have such differences in authority in the relationships among the members of the Trinity, then we would not know of any differences at all.”7
…How what Letham teaches in these few pages significantly differs from what Grudem and other conservative evangelicals are teaching completely escapes me. Letham avoids the confusing and confused use of the words “function” and “role” but he still eternally suborders the Son to the Father in authority. What he first repeatedly denies in his coverage of the Bible and the historical sources, namely the eternal subordering of the Son, he then unambiguously affirms in the final section of his book. The Son is eternally set under the Father’s authority as women are permanently set under the authority of men in the church and the home. Women’s subordination, he would have us believe, is grounded “ontologically” in a hierarchically ordered Trinity where the Father eternally rules and the Son eternally obeys.
On the Permanent Subordination of Women
This observation leads me lastly to point out that what is common to all those who advocate the eternal subordination or submission of the Son is a commitment to the permanent subordination of women. The doctrine of an eternally subordered Son is introduced to give the weightiest foundation possible for the permanent subordering of women.
As no one in the contemporary scene other than conservative evangelical and Reformed Christians who are committed to the permanent subordination of women teach this novel doctrine, we must ask, is the tail wagging the dog? Scripture teaches the unqualified Lordship of Christ and the coequality of the Trinity (see Matt. 28:19; 1 Cor. 13:13), but has the “women question” led theologically and politically conservative Protestants to deny the unqualified Lordship of Christ and thus undermine the doctrine of coequality in the Trinity?
I highly recommend you take the time to read this post for a great understanding of the debate.
Where do I stand?
I go back to the will of the members of the Trinity. As humans, our wills are regularly in conflict with one another. We are sinners. However, the wills of the Three in the Godhead are not in conflict. Let's look at the attributes of God. God is holy and is without sin. He is omnipotent, all wise, infinitely merciful, just, gracious and loving. He is good and is the embodiment of truth. He is glorious. All three members of the Godhead fully share in these attributes.
This whole *Jesus is eternally submissive thing* makes no sense to me outside of Jesus' time on earth when He temporarily gave up His right to the privileges of being God. Do we truly view him as sitting around in heaven while waiting for the Father to say "Time to get going?" They perfectly know one another, agree with one another and want to work in harmony with one another. They will not make any mistakes and will never work against one another.
Within the church, we know that we are sinners and those who lead the church are sinners. We do not perfectly understand each other and often times work against one another. Christians, who are supposed to be known for their love, are often known for their condemnation, self righteousness, and their ability to overlook serious sin in themselves and their best buddies. Not so in the Godhead.
I think it is unhelpful and illogical to attempt to apply the relationship between the members of the Godhead to the relationship between men and women. We are not the same by any stretch of the imagination. Once again, I believe that the issue of complementarianism is the driving force behind the current interest in this debate and objections to the contrary ring hollow. I suspect this obsession is leading to questionable theology.