Nicaea and the New Subordinationism

I published a revised and expanded composite essay of the three-part series on classical Nicene Trinitarianism that I wrote in the summer of 2016. I did my previous writing in the wake of the great Calvinist brouhaha about the “eternal functional subordination” of the Son and related teachings involving authority and submission as the distinguishing personal qualities between the Persons of the Holy Trinity. In the course of watching and reading the blogosphere battle over this subject, I learned some new things and refined my understanding of classical Trinitarian theology. My new essay is the articulated fruit of my alleged enlightenment and refinement. I can only hope it’s of some benefit to you and that it gives glory to the eternally blessed and holy Trinity.

As for my own thoughts concerning “eternal functional subordination” (EFS), the “eternal subordination of the Son” (ESS), and the “eternal relations of authority and submission” (ERAS) between the Father and the Son as their modern proponents have formulated and presented them, I would say the following.

It seems to me this fracas came about, in part, because of an oversimplification in the guts of the basic definition of the Trinity that started in the late 1800’s. Something was omitted, and in the prolonged absence of that something, something else has tried to fill the void. The three parts of the well-known but truncated definition are:

1.) There is only one God.
2.) The Father, the Son, and the Spirit are each fully the one God.
3.) The Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Spirit, and the Spirit is not the Father.

That misplaced something from old-school Nicene Trinitarianism is the nature of the relations of the three Persons, which distinguishes the three Persons from one another. The distinctions were perceived in the Scripture and defined as analogical relations of origin. In other words:

4.) The Father is unbegotten, the Son is eternally begotten of the Father, and the Spirit is eternally proceeding from the Father and the Son.

As I read the defenses and responses, I was not convinced the proponents of EFS, ESS, and ERAS actually understand classical Nicene Trinitarianism and certain other key elements of classical Christian theism (such as divine simplicity) or are not carefully thinking them through. I recognize and fully acknowledge these scholarly proponents seek to vigorously differentiate between the sort of submission or subordination they’re presenting and the ancient heretical subordinationism of Arius and others. My hang-up is I don’t believe a distinction between function and ontology within the very being of God is a valid distinction. In God, function is ontology.

So, I think EFS, ESS, and ERAS are incoherent theological positions. And since I seek to believe in the genuineness of the professions of Christian faith and the fruit of the Spirit in the lives of the proponents of EFS, ESS, and ERAS, I’m deeply thankful for the various blessed inconsistencies that the Triune God allows us to hold while he preserves his elect through every trial in faith and life.

I believe a consistent version of EFS et al. could only be a deeper and subtler version of Arianism. So, I hope these modern theological aberrations will pass away in due time in the kindness of God.

I’m also deeply suspicious EFS et al. is the imbalanced byproduct of much tireless and well-meant effort to oppose third-wave feminism in the church and the culture. EFS et al. seems to be a particular formulation of marital and societal gender roles (according to a particular construction of authority and submission) which have been illegitimately read backward into the internal life of the Triune God. The reason for doing so appears to be a desire for a polemical apologetic device that seems greater than the nature of the creation itself as God has created it and revealed the meaning of its structure.

I hope everyone will search and see if these things are so.

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