The doctrine of the eternal subordination of the Son is a heresy on par with unitarianism, pelagianism, or justification by works. Why then, do American evangelical colleges and seminaries continue to allow men who teach it to instruct their students? Why do American evangelical publishers continue to publish books by those who teach it? Why do American evangelical conferences still feature speakers who teach it? Why do American evangelical churches still ordain men who preach it?
In my last blog post, I suggested that there are a number of ways American evangelicalism is killing itself.
(NOTE: I understand that I am using the phrase “American evangelicalism” in a very general way. What I am concerned about doesn’t apply to every American person who would consider himself or herself an evangelical. I’m addressing what I see as a general trend and using a general term to describe (in general) the group in which that trend is generally occurring.)
In that previous blog post, I focused on the insatiable lust for secular political power at any cost and how it echoes the fatal mistake of the medieval papacy. I want to turn now to another of the ways American evangelicalism is slowly committing suicide, namely by allowing gross heresy to be taught and promoted in its churches, seminaries, publishing houses, and conferences. In this way, American evangelicalism is echoing the fatal mistake of theological liberalism.
Allow me to share a few quotes. As you read, I want you to ask yourself where, in the history of the church these quotes are found?
“Nobody denies that the Father is somehow greater than the Son, not because of another hypostasis nor because of any difference, but because the name of Father itself is greater than ‘Son.’”
“Even though He [the Son] is subordinated to the Father, still He is God ‘according to His perfect and true nature.’”
“We do not make the Son equal to the Father, but subordinated to the Father.”
“There is no uncertainty about the Father being greater: it cannot be doubted by anyone that the Father is greater in honour, in dignity, in glory, in majesty in the very name of ‘Father.’”
“[The Holy Spirit] subject and obedient in all things to the Son; and the Son, subject and obedient in all things to God who is his Father.”
All of these quotes are from the fourth century. They were written during the time of the Trinitarian controversy. The first four are taken from a variety of creeds written by heretical opponents of the Nicene Creed in the years between AD 325 and 381. They were all written by those who promoted one variation of the Arian theme or another. They were all written by opponents of orthodox theologians such as Athanasius and the Cappadocian fathers. The hope of the authors was that these alternative creeds would replace the Nicene Creed, which they opposed. The final quote above is taken from a Arian creed written by Ulfilas, a bishop of the Goths.
Notice what all of these quotes by fourth-century heretics have in common. They all teach various versions of the subordination of the Son. Some clearly teach an ontological subordination. Some teach forms of functional subordination. But the key point is that this kind of teaching regarding the Son occurs in the fourth-century debates only in the teaching of the heretical opponents of orthodox Trinitarianism. It was a heresy condemned by the proponents of the Nicene Creed and orthodox Trinitarianism.
Guess where these kinds of quotes can be easily found today. We find them repeatedly in the teaching of some of the most prominent American evangelical professors, pastors, authors, and conference speakers. The controversy blew up online back in 2016, but it has had little effect on the acceptance of this doctrine among wide swaths of American evangelicalism. [For those who want names, click on the link in this paragraph. The proponents of this heresy aren’t embarrassed or hiding].
Here is the problem. To be as blunt and as clear as possible because the issue could not be any more important, the doctrine of the eternal subordination of the Son is a heresy on par with unitarianism, pelagianism, or justification by works. Why then, do American evangelical colleges and seminaries continue to allow men who teach it to instruct their students? Why do American evangelical publishers continue to publish books by those who teach it? Why do American evangelical conferences still feature speakers who teach it? Why do American evangelical churches still ordain men who preach it?
I think part of the reason this heresy has found acceptance among American evangelicals is because we are sometimes so focused on the dangers of social liberalism that we forget about the dangers of theological liberalism. And that’s what this heresy is, by the way. Theological liberalism is characterized by its rejection of creedal orthodoxy, and embracing the doctrine of the eternal subordination of the Son is a rejection of creedal orthodoxy. It’s another version of theological liberalism, no different than any other version of liberal anti-trinitarianism.