"Powerful complementarians who a year ago were enthusiastically teaching the complementarian doctrine of a hierarchical ordered Trinity and confidently grounding women’s subordination in divine life are now saying they reject this teaching."
As I write this post, I am terribly concerned about Hurricane Harvey, which made landfall tonight as a Category 4 hurricane over the northern end of San Jose Island between Port Aransas and Port O'Connor at 10 p.m. local time. It had sustained winds of about 130 mph and stronger gusts, according to the National Weather Service. At the time, the storm's eye was 30 miles away from the coastal city of Corpus Christi, Texas. The storm surge could cause floodwaters to reach 6 to 12 feet above ground level along the coast, according to the National Hurricane Center. As much as three feet of rain could fall in the hardest-hit areas. Please join me in praying for those who are in the path of the hurricane. May those who chose not to evacuate be protected from this fierce act of nature.
There is so much information to share about the current debate regarding the Trinity, and I am determined to discuss as much of it as possible, albeit in bite-size pieces. The Trinity is a complicated concept to grasp, and it's unfortunate that some theologians have come up with a 'systematic' way to understand it. And that leads me to Wayne Grudem, who in 1994 published his very own 'systematic theology'.
From what we understand, Grudem's Systematic Theology (link) has been an extremely important textbook at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS) and possibly others. If I am not mistaken, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary uses Bible Doctrine (Grudem's condensed Systematic Theology) as a textbook. Al Mohler became president of SBTS in 1993, and it wouldn't surprise us if this seminary was one of the early users of Grudem's Systematic Theology (since it was published just a year after Mohler's rise to power). Can there be any doubt that this is the source for the Trinity confusion that has occurred?
Let's go to the source and see what Grudem has to say about the Trinity. Beginning on page 248, Grudem discusses the distinctions between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Here is the pertinent excerpt about subordination from page 249:
Thus, while the persons of the Trinity are equal in all their attributes, they nonetheless differ in their relationships to the creation. The Son and Holy Spirit are equal in deity to God the Father, but they are subordinate in their roles.
Moreover, these differences in role are not temporary but last forever…
Then on page 251 of his Systematic Theology, Wayne Grudem elaborates on this subordination within (see excerpt below).
This truth about the Trinity has sometimes been summarized in the phrase "ontological equality but economic subordination," where the word ontological means "being." Another way of expressing this more simply would be to say "equal in being but subordinate in role." Both parts of this phrase are necessary to a true doctrine of the Trinity: If we do not have ontological equality, not all the persons are fully God. But if we do not have economic subordination, then there is no inherent difference in the way the three persons relate to one another, and consequently, we do not have the three distinct persons existing as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit for all eternity. For example, if the Son is not eternally subordinate to the Father in role, then the Father is not eternally "Father" and the Son is not eternally "Son." This would mean that the Trinity has not eternally existed.
This is why the idea of eternal equality in being but subordination in role has been essential to the church's doctrine of the Trinity since it was first affirmed in the Nicene Creed, which said that the Son was "begotten of the Father before all ages" and that the Holy Spirit "proceeds from the Father and the Son." Surprisingly, some recent evangelical writings have denied an eternal subordination in role among the members of the Trinity, but it has clearly been part of the church's doctrine of the Trinity… [emphasis mine]"
Grudem goes on to provide an Application of Scripture, beginning on page 256. At the top of page 257 he explains:
In fact, in the relationship between man and woman in marriage we see also a picture of the relationship between the Father and Son in the Trinity. Paul says, "But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a woman is her husband, and the head of Christ is God" (1 Cor. 11:3). Here, just as the Father has authority over the Son in the Trinity, so the husband has authority over the wife in marriage. The husband's role is parallel to that of God the Father and the wife's role is parallel to that of God the Son. Moreover, just as Father and Son are equal in deity and importance and personhood, so the husband and wife are equal in humanity and importance in personhood. And, although it is not explicitly mentioned in Scripture, the gift of children within marriage, coming from both the father and the mother, and subject to the authority of both the father and the mother, is analogous to the relationship of the Holy Spirit to the Father and Son in the Trinity.
A decade or so ago I purchased Wayne Grudem's Systematic Theology at the LifeWay bookstore on the SEBTS campus in good faith. I had no idea at the time that there were theological interpretations presented as the Gospel truth that were problematic. Once Dee and I began blogging and these problems came to light, I regretted buying Grudem's tome; however, now I find it helpful so that I can share with our readers verbatim what Grudem's Systematic Theology states.
Dee and I are deeply troubled that MANY impressionable seminary graduates (and others who have consulted his ST) have been indoctrinated since 1994 with Grudem's interpretation of the Trinity. Some 22 years later, Wayne Grudem and gang's interpretation of the Trinity was finally challenged by Bible scholars at last year's Evangelical Theological Society meeting.
We wrote a post last November about this ETS meeting and were grateful that "The Trinity" was the topic of the annual gathering. We kept waiting for news to trickle out about what had been discussed. Perhaps we missed it?
At long last, Kevin Giles gives us the lowdown in his newly published book The Rise and Fall of the Complementarian Doctrine of the Trinity. We are grateful that Giles has documented what occurred among Bible scholars regarding discussions involving "The Trinity" and we will have much more to say about this important book and the Christian community's reaction to it in an upcoming post.
Apparently, the leadership changes that have occurred with the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) are related to what has happened regarding the Doctrine of the Trinity. (see CBMW posts below)
In the wake of these significant changes in leadership, there was quite a bit of discussion over at Mortification of Spin, including this post:
It was fascinating reading all those related posts last year over on the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals website by Aimee Byrd and Liam Goligher.
Now Kevin Giles gives us some insights into what really happened regarding discussions about "The Trinity" and these CBMW leadership changes. Here is an excerpt from the Kindle edition.
Added together, this is a very significant number of well-respected theologians who adamantly oppose the Grudem-Ware hierarchical doctrine of the Trinity. It seems that today there are very few evangelical or Reformed supporters of the complementarian hierarchically ordered doctrine of the Trinity. Even the leaders of the complementarian movement now will not endorse the Knight-Grudem-Ware doctrine of the Trinity.
Powerful complementarians who a year ago were enthusiastically teaching the complementarian doctrine of a hierarchical ordered Trinity and confidently grounding women’s subordination in divine life are now saying they reject this teaching.
Al Mohler, the president of the Southern Baptist Seminary, is a very good example. He has done an about-face. Three weeks after Grudem and Ware’s teaching on the Trinity was designated heretical by a large number of Reformed theologians, he said, “I do not share their [Grudem and Ware’s] proposals concerning the eternal submission of the Son.” 224
Similarly, J. Ligon Duncan, the Chancellor of the Reformed Theological Seminary, one time president and now a board member of the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, who likewise until very recently confidently grounded women’s subordination in a hierarchically ordered Trinity, has retreated from this idea. In an almost hour-long lecture, “The Doctrine of the Trinity and Complementarians,” given in Houston on 12 November 2016, he sharply draws back from grounding the permanent subordination of women in a supposed eternal subordination of the Son. He says he now contrasts what he calls “pro-Nicene orthodoxy,” which he endorses, and the “unique view” of a hierarchically ordered Trinity taught by Grudem and Ware, which he says, the “classical Protestant confessions do not affirm.” 225
In this lecture he tells of the heated and extended debates that went on in June 2016 within the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. In the end, he says, the council made the decision that the complementarian position does not demand belief in a hierarchically ordered Trinity. In other words, the council agreed that the case for permanent subordination does not necessarily involve belief in a supposed eternal subordination of the Son.
Following this decision by the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, the president at the time, Owen Strachan, resigned. For him, like his father-in-law Bruce Ware, and his friend and mentor Wayne Grudem, the Trinity argument is foundational to the complementarian position. When Owen Strachan resigned, and it was obvious that the complementarian ship was floundering, the board of Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood turned to Denny Burke [sic], inviting him to be president, and he accepted. Denny had for years been a fervent supporter of a hierarchically ordered Trinity and of the argument that women’s subordination is grounded in the life of God. 226
After becoming president he too abandoned Grudem and Ware’s doctrine of a hierarchically ordered Trinity. He says that, confronted by the pervasive rejection of the complementarian doctrine of the Trinity, [I have] done more reading on Nicene Trinitarianism in the last two months than I have ever done previously. It has been good for me, and I am thankful for God for it. . . . [T] he controversy has been unpleasant, but I would not trade the growth that’s come from it for anything in the world. 227
He says, “I now believe in the whole Nicene package,” and he openly acknowledges that the complementarian doctrine of the Trinity cannot be reconciled with it. For this reason, he says, he therefore does not agree with “the specific formulations of Grudem and Ware,” “my friends.” Because he is now personally committed to the Nicene doctrine of the Trinity that excludes hierarchical ordering in the Trinity, he says, “I think it is good and right to leave behind the language of ‘subordination.’” 228
He also says, it has now become clear to me that to be a complementarian who believes in the subordination of women in terms of the Danvers Statement you do not have to be “reliant upon an analogy” between women and the Son. 229
This comment should be carefully noted. Burke reiterates what Ligon Duncan said. The post-June 2016 position of the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood is that you do not have to believe in a hierarchically ordered Trinity, you can hold to Nicene orthodoxy, which excludes hierarchical ordering in the immanent Trinity, and still be a complementarian. This is a complete about-face by Denny Burke.
Giles, Kevin. The Rise and Fall of the Complementarian Doctrine of the Trinity (Kindle Locations 1231-1269). Cascade Books, an Imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Much more to come on this important topic!