Eternal Subordination of the Son and CBMW

The evidence shows that ESS/EFS/ERAS has been embraced and taught by many who represent CBMW from the beginning.

I can appreciate his desire to distance the work of CBMW from the ESS debate, however, CBMW has been part of the debate, promoting ESS and ESS proponents from the very beginning. Unless and until CBMW makes a statement rejecting ESS and those who hold to it, they will continue to be associated with ESS and those who teach it. My hope is that CBMW would speak clearly regarding their commitment to Nicene orthodoxy, but my concern is that their approach will continue to be hoping that we can just agree to disagree on our doctrine of the Trinity.

 

Continuing the series on books and resources where ESS/EFS/ERAS appear, this article focuses on the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW). In a recent article, CBMW’s new president, Denny Burk, attempts to distance himself and CBMW from the Trinity debate. While I appreciate the effort, the evidence shows that ESS/EFS/ERAS has been embraced and taught by many who represent CBMW from the beginning. To date there has been no statement by CBMW to reject ESS/EFS/ERAS.

John Piper and Wayne Grudem’s Recovering Biblical  Manhood and Womanhood was published in 1991 for CBMW as a collection of essays explaining their view of biblical manhood and womanhood. ESS appears in a couple of essays.

In Raymond Ortlund’s essay “Male-Female Equality and Male Headship Genesis 1-3,” he gives a more orthodox explanation of authority and submission in the Trinity, but the focus is still there:

After all, God exists as one Godhead in three Persons, equal in glory but unequal in role. Within the Holy Trinity the Father leads, the Son submits to Him, and the Spirit submits to both (the Economic Trinity). But it is also true that the three Persons are fully equal in divinity, power, and glory (the Ontological Trinity). The Son submits, but not because He is God, Jr., an inferior deity. The ranking within the Godhead is a part of the sublime beauty and logic of true deity. (92-93)

The fact that a line of authority exists from one person to another in both slavery and marriage, and, for that matter, in the Holy Trinity, in the Body of Christ, in the local church, in the parent-child relationship-the fact that a line of authority exists from one person to another in all of these relationships does not reduce them all to the logic of slavery. (94)

Dorothy Patterson, a CBMW council member, in her essay “The High Calling of Wife and Mother in Biblical Perspective,” compares the relationship between husband and wife to the Father and Son:

But subordination is also possible among equals: Christ is equal to God the Father and yet subject to Him (Philippians 2:6-8); believers are equal to one another and yet are admonished to “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21). In fact, one can be called to subordinate himself to someone who is inferior, as Christ submitted to Pontius Pilate, making “no reply, not even to a single charge” (Matthew 27:11-14). The mere fact that wives are told to be subject to their husbands tells us nothing about their status. It is the comparison of the relationship between husband and wife to the relationship of God the Father with God the Son that settles the matter of status forever. (379)

Wayne Grudem’s “The Meaning of Kephale (“Head”): A Response to Recent Studies” gives the clearest statement of ESS. It’s included as an appendix inRecovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood:

The orthodox doctrine has always been that there is equality in essence and subordination in role and that these two are consistent with each other. Certainly this is consistent with Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 11:3 that “the head of Christ is God,” thus indicating a distinction in role in which primary authority and leadership among the persons of the Trinity has always been and will always be the possession of God the Father.6 (458)

Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:3 simply sets up three distinct relationships: the headship of God the Father in the Trinity, the headship of Christ over every man, and the headship of a man over a woman. (463)

At this point we must object and insist that authority and submission to authority are not pagan concepts. They are truly divine concepts, rooted in the eternal nature of the Trinity for all eternity and represented in the eternal submission of the Son to the Father and of the Holy Spirit to the Father and the Son. (464)

Such an attempt to shift the understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity as it has been held through the history of the church does not appear to be accidental, however, for the fact that God the Son can be eternally equal to God the Father in deity and in essence, but subordinate to the Father in authority, cuts at the heart of the feminist claim that a subordinate role necessarily implies lesser importance or lesser personhood. (475)

In 2004, Wayne Grudem, who is on both the board and council for CBMW, wrote Evangelical Feminism & Biblical Truth as a supplement to Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. He explains his understanding of the authority/submission relationship in the Trinity:

The idea of authority and submission in an interpersonal relationship did not begin with the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood in 1987. … No, the idea of authority and submission has always existed in the eternal relationship between the Father and the Son in the Trinity. And this means that the idea of authority and submission in interpersonal relationships never began – it has always existed in the eternal relationship between the Father and Son. The doctrine of the Trinity thus indicates that equality of being together with authority and submission to authority are perhaps the most fundamental aspects of interpersonal relationship in the entire universe. (429)

Bruce Ware, a CBMW council member, wrote a 2002 article “Tampering with the Trinity,” which is available on CBMW. Ware wrote:

The authority-obedience relation of Father and Son in the immanent Trinity is mandatory if we are to account for God the Father’s eternal purpose to elect and save His people through His beloved Son.

Aimee Byrd quotes from the same article in her post, “What Denny Burk Could Do“:

These arguments will be weighed and support and will be offered for the church’s long-standing commitment to the trinitarian persons’ full equality of essence and differentiation of persons, the latter of which includes and entails the eternal functional subordination of the Son to the Father, and of the Spirit to both Father and Son.

Because the structure of authority and obedience is not only established by God, but it is, even more, possessed in God’s own inner trinitarian life, as the Father establishes his will and the Son joyfully obeys, therefore we should not despise, but should embrace proper lines of authority and obedience. In the home, believing community, and society, rightful lines of authority are good, wise, and beautiful reflections of the reality that is God himself. This applies to those in positions of God-ordained submission and obedience who need, then, to accept joyfully these proper roles of submission.

We more readily associate God with authority, but since the Son is the eternal Son of the Father, and since the Son is eternally God, then it follows that the inner trinitarian nature of God honors both authority and submission. Just as it is God-like to lead responsibly and well, so it is God-like to submit in human relationships where this is required. It is God-like for wives to submit to their husbands; it is God-like for children to obey their parents;… We honor God as we model both sides of the authority-submission relationship that characterizes the trinitarian persons themselves.

Former CBMW President, Owen Strachan, and CBMW council member, Gavin Peacock, wrote The Grand Design this year. In it they wrote:

This relationship of love is expressed through relationships of authority and submission. There is order. The Father is the Father because he sends the Son. The Son is the Son because he submits to the Father’s will. The Spirit is the Spirit because the Father and the Son send him. There is no Holy Trinity without the order of authority and submission. (89)

Mary Kassian, CBMW council member, has written several books that promote ESS. Here is a selection. From True Woman 101:

The discussion about creating man and woman took place among members of the Godhead. It may have been among all three: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But at the very least, it involved the Father and His Son, as Scripture draws parallels between that relationship and the relationship of the man and the woman (see 1 Cor. 11:13). We’ll talk more about that later, but for now, just think about this: When God created male and female, He had the dynamic of His own relationship in mind. The Lord created the two sexes to reflect something about God. He patterned the male-female relationship (“them”) after the “us/our” relationship that exists within God. (24-25)

From True Woman 201:

Submission is a concept that goes hand in hand with authority. Both concepts find their origin and meaning in the relationship between God the Father and God the Son. They can’t be properly understood apart from that context. (223)

From The Feminist Mistake:

The feminist practice of inclusive Trinitarian language obscures the intra-Trinitarian relation between the Son and the Father. The Son was obedient to the Father though He is equal to the Father. The Father, in love, sacrificed the Son. The Son, who had the right to refuse, submitted to the Father. Denial of the Trinitarian relationship denies the concept of equality and hierarchy that is evident in the Godhead and throughout Scripture. (171)

From Girls Gone Wise in a World Gone Wild:

The discussion about the creation of man in His own image – male and female He created them. The discussion about creation of male and female took place between members of the Godhead. It may have been between all three: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But at the very least, it involved the Father and the Son, as Scripture draws parallels between that relationship and the relationship of a husband and wife. When God created man and woman, He had the dynamic of His own relationship in mind. God created the two sexes to reflect something about God. He patterned the male-female relationship (“them”) after the “us/our” relationship that exists within the Godhead. He used His own relationship structure as the pattern. Paul confirms, in 1 Corinthians 11:3, that the relationship between a husband and wife is patterned after the relationship between God the Father and His Son. … God purposefully created marriage to reflect the headship structure that exists within the Godhead. But He also created marriage and sex to reflect some other truths about the Trinity. … the Father and Son experience a divine intimacy. Their relationship is one of closest communion. Communion in marriage bears witness to the spiritual, divine intimacy between the members of the Trinity. (139-140)

Denny Burk, the new President of CBMW, has defended the ESS proponents from the beginning of this debate and claimed to hold to ERAS. Back in June, he wrote:

Recently, Carl Trueman and Liam Goligher have published a series of very serious accusations against those who affirm an eternal relation of authority and submission among the Trinitarian persons. Goligher in particular says that the view is heresy and idolatry. He identifies Wayne Grudem by name as guilty of this supposed error, but of course the accusation implicates Bruce Ware and a host of others who hold to this view as well (including yours truly).

Today, both Wayne Grudem and Bruce Ware have issued very helpful responses to these “false” and “intemperate accusations” of heterodoxy. I recommend that you read both of them. They prove that the accusations leveled by Trueman and Goligher are unwarranted and misleading. They also show that Trueman and Goligher have misrepresented the view held by Grudem and Ware.

I have very little to add to what Grudem and Ware have written. Their essays are very well done. Nevertheless, I thought a handful of additional remarks might be in order:
1. The idea that Wayne Grudem and Bruce Ware are promoting an idolatrous, heterodox view of God is absurd. Grudem’s and Ware’s articles show that as do their many years of published works.
2. Trueman acts as if the eternal submission of the Son to the Father view is some new teaching that has been sneaked into the back door of the church while no one was looking. This too is absurd. These conversations have been going on in public for over two decades now. The conversation among evanglicals long predates the so-called “new Calvinist” movement that Trueman seems so alarmed about. And if Grudem is correct, the eternal submission of the Son to the Father view itself is no historical novelty.

While I appreciate Denny Burk’s recent statement regarding Nicene orthodoxy, he continues to defend ESS proponents as being orthodox:

This debate started with sharp charges of heresy against my friends and colleagues Bruce Ware and Wayne Grudem. As I mentioned above, I do not agree with all of their Trinitarian views, but I think the heresy accusations were and are false. I hold out hope for greater clarity and unity on these issues. The heresy accusations—in addition to being false—haven’t helped toward that end.

And within the Nicene:

I do not view Grudem and Ware as outside Nicaea, but neither do I agree with some of their particular formulations.

Burk also states that CBMW doesn’t need to take part in the Trinity debate:

CBMW exists to promote the Danvers vision, which is silent on this current controversy. For that reason, my view is that CBMW does not need to be adjudicating the Trinity debate.

I can appreciate his desire to distance the work of CBMW from the ESS debate, however, CBMW has been part of the debate, promoting ESS and ESS proponents from the very beginning. Unless and until CBMW makes a statement rejecting ESS and those who hold to it, they will continue to be associated with ESS and those who teach it. My hope is that CBMW would speak clearly regarding their commitment to Nicene orthodoxy, but my concern is that their approach will continue to be hoping that we can just agree to disagree on our doctrine of the Trinity.

As Denny Burk said in his last article:

I would also add that there is room for all Nicene evangelicals in the complementarian coalition, regardless of one’s views on the current controversy. If you can affirm Danvers, we welcome you to be a part of what we are trying to do. For more on that, read my vision statement here. We need all hands on deck to meet the current challenges facing the church with respect to gender and sexuality. That is the vision we will be working on, and I am eager to build a coalition toward that end.

It seems that the tie that binds is Danvers. That’s disappointing.

Rachel Miller is News Editor for the Aquila Report. She is also a homeschooling mother of 3 boys and member of a PCA church. This article first appeared on her blog, A Daughter of the Reformation, and is used with permission.