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 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.
The two timely posts by friend of MoS, Liam Goligher, have focused very specifically on the revision of the doctrine of God being offered, and endorsed, by some leading complementarians. Frankly, as Liam points out, we need to keep our issues with the earthly politics of gender out of our reflections upon the eternal being of God. Any fair reading of Nicene Trinitarianism would show that the concepts of the unity of the divine operations and the assertion of one will in God make analogies of intratrinitarian relations to human notions of submission inappropriate, even as we must allow for distinction and order among the divine persons. And when it comes to submission in scripture, the explicit New Testament model for such in marriage is the relationship of the incarnate, crucified Christ and the church, not that of the Father and Son in eternity. Paul’s choice of analogy would seem most significant.
So why, I wonder, have the Diva and I been slapped with the ‘downgrade’ label for distinguishing women teaching Sunday School from women holding ordained office and preaching, while the eternal submission of the Son to the Father is deemed quite acceptable – as long as it serves New Calvinists in their proposals about gender? And this issue is not some cranky Old School Presbyterian distinctive we are talking about—it is the Nicene faith of the catholic church. Could it be that it is the tastes and priorities of contemporary conservative evangelicalism which have been subject to the real downgrade?
That this species of subordinationism has been endorsed by New Calvinist leaders is disappointing. The movement has been swift to deal with errors on the doctrine of scripture or justification but, historically speaking, errors on the doctrine of God have more often been the real source of problems for the church, whether we are thinking of Arians in the fourth century, Socinians in the seventeenth, kenoticists in the nineteenth or open theists in the late twentieth.
Now, the evangelical prioritization of, say, the understanding of salvation over the doctrine of God is in one way understandable. Justification has a more immediate existential impact than Nicene Trinitarianism and is also easier perhaps to grasp as a concept. But salvation cannot be blithely disconnected from God’s being and identity without significant long-term cost. One might be able to do that temporarily but sooner or later there will be a heavy dogmatic price to pay. History is a consistent witness to that fact.
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.
The leaders of the organizations which represent New Calvinism have weathered storm after storm, from Driscollgate onwards, by maintaining a firm grip on the mainstream New Calvinist media, by licensing just enough criticism to reassure concerned onlookers, and by stoic public silence in the face of numerous scandals and controversies. But this one is surely too big and the stakes are too high. It has to be addressed. We are not here dealing with the rogue actions of some boisterous celeb preacher in a Mickey Mouse tee-shirt; this is a specific form of theology which is deeply embedded in the very foundations of one of the movement’s professed central distinctives. The New Calvinist leaders need to speak up, and they need to speak up now.
Indeed, 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.
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.
Carl Trueman is professor of historical theology and Paul Woolley chair of church history at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. This article is used with permission.