The notion of the Son as eternally equal to the Father in divinity, authority, and glory makes the most sense out of our Christian lives: we worship Christ as equal to the Father, all persons of the Trinity are active in our lives, and Christ came to save his people voluntarily. Christian, please accept nothing less than this, because this is what God’s own Word teaches.
What Do We Do With All of This?
If what we saw in part 1 is what the ecumenical creeds and Reformed confessions teach, and if this is where the biblical data point, then what do we do with all of this? I suggest that there are two doctrinal arguments that make the best sense of the biblical data.
The Covenant of Redemption
One historical Reformed doctrine in particular that provides a reason to reject the doctrine of the eternal subordination of the Son is the Covenant of Redemption.36 Theologians in the history of the church can and have explained the interactions within the Trinity without using the concept of covenant, but the Covenant of Redemption gives a surer foundation and makes the most sense of what the Bible teaches.37 When it comes to an adequate definition of this covenant, we need look no further than Louis Berkhof: the Covenant of Redemption is “the agreement between the Father and the Son as Head and Redeemer of the elect, and the Son, voluntarily taking the place of those whom the Father had given him.”38 This is able to balance four strands of biblical teaching.
First, it shows that the Son is true God just as the Father is true God.39 Christ prays in John 17:5 that the Father would glorify the Son once again with the glory they both shared before the creation of the world. In the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18 we read that the Son has been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Sharing in glory and authority indicate sharing in essence. Indeed, only God is able to possess all glory and all authority.40
Second, Christ’s obedience to the Father is voluntary, not necessary for him as Son.41 In other words, he was not forced into coming to earth and taking on flesh in order to live, die, and rise again for his people. Instead, he did this of his own volition. God the Son redeemed his people as a volunteer, not a hostage who was bound to submit to God the Father from all eternity.
Third, the obedience that Christ offered to the Father had to do with his earthly mission.42 In the Gospel of John alone, Christ explicitly states that he was sent by the Father thirty-one times, and these occurrences are all for the purpose of his mediatorial mission.43 He was sent to redeem a people for God’s great name.
Fourth, it avoids the tendency to imply an authority/submission structure within the Trinity. This is because the mediatorial office and function of the Son is the result of the covenant between Father and Son. In other words, the Son was not eternally subordinate to the Father’s authority, but rather voluntarily covenanted to become subordinate as mediator in order to fulfill his task as the Second Adam (Rom 5:12–19; 1 Cor 15:21–22, 45–49).44 Therefore “when we read about Christ’s work and His interaction with the Father, it takes place within a covenantal context.”45 The divine will is the foundation of redemption, and the persons who share this one undivided will covenanted together to accomplish it.
Fifth, and finally, the Covenant of Redemption avoids the temptation to make the Doctrine of the Trinity nothing else than an extended discussion of Christology.46 The Son covenanted to obey, and this covenant was made between the equal persons of the eternally blessed Trinity. The cross is not a scandal if it was necessary according to the Son’s Sonship, and it is not a scandal if the Son had already obeyed for eternity.47 Instead, it would be par for the course. J. V. Fesko argues for a “better way forward”—understanding the Son’s obedience to the Father within the framework of Deuteronomy’s covenantal context.48