Wednesday, June 08, 2016

The Eternal Submission of the Son and Compementarianism

There is some discussion going on on the interweb (when isn't there?) about complementarianism (the relationship between men and women who are equal but different) and between the divine persons. Does the Son as Son eternally submit to the Father and so on?

As much as bookmarks for myself, here are some links (some blog posts, articles, books or sections therein):

Carl Trueman and Liam Goligher -

Liam Goligher (20/6/16), A Letter to Professors Grudem and Ware

Bruce Ware responding to Trueman and Goligher, God the Son--at once eternally God with His Father, and eternally Son of the Father

Trueman also responds to Ware

Trueman has added that he is not motivated by some kind of "feminism" or ecclesial agenda.

Trueman (21/6/16), Once more unto the breach... and then no more: A final reply to Dr. Grudem

Trueman, The Ecumenical Consequences of the Peace

Michael Bird comments on the above discussion 'The Coming War: Nicene Complementarians vs Homoian Complementarians'

Grudem (for EFS)

Grudem, Another Thirteen Evangelical Theologians Who Affirm the Eternal Submission of the Son to the Father

Bruce Ware's response, God the Son--at once eternally God with His Father, and eternally Son of the Father

Denny Burk (who argues for EFS) A brief response to Trueman and Goligher

Stephen Holmes' review of Bruce A. Ware and John B. Starke (eds), One God in Three Persons: Unity of Essence, Distinction of Persons, Implications for Life (Wheaton: Crossway, 2015).

Fred Sander's response to the Holmes review, Generations Eternal and Current and also Sander's response to Ware and Starke (ed.s), God in Three Persons entitled Things Eternal: Sonship, Generation, Generatedness. Sanders also wrote on The Trinity in Gender Debates back in Oct 2012.

Sanders has written 18 Theses of the Father and the Son, which Michael Bird has commented on briefly.

Sanders reviews his writing on the Trinity relevant to this debate and gender issues - A Plain Account of Trinity and Gender

Mike Ovey has responded to Goligher, Should I resign? (Tom Watts discusses Maximus and the two wills of Christ in the comments)

Mike has also responded to Michael Bird, arguing that his position upholds a version of Homoousios similar to Hilary of Poitiers, not a Homoian theology: Can Michael Bird read my mind? Alas, it seems not

Mike Ovey also has a relevant new book out published by Latimer: Your Will Be Done: Exploring Eternal Subordination, Divine Monarchy and Divine Humility

Liam Goligher has responded to Mike Ovey.

Some of this goes back to Kevin Giles' work which Ian Paul discusses here.

Robert Doyle also reviews Kevin Giles in an article Doyle calls, "Use and abuse of the fathers and the Bible in trinitarian theology"

Keith E. Johnson, 'Trinitarian Agency and the Eternal subordination of the son: An Augustinian perspective' Themelios 36.1 (2011): 7–25

D. Glenn Butner Jn., 'Eternal Functional Subordination and the Problem of the Divine Will' JETS 58/1 (2015) 131-49. - argues that we should reject EFS as we should not think of the Son as having his own will but in sharing the divine will since wills are classically attributed to natures not persons in Trinitarian and Christological thought. He has also written Eternal Submission and the Story of the Seven Ecumenical Councils

Scott Swain on the covenant of redemption and orthodox Trinitarian theology (the question of the one divine will so how can the persons agree)

Scott Swain and Michael Allen, 'The Obedience of the Eternal Son' International Journal of Systematic Theology Volume 15, Issue 2, pages 114–134, April 2013 (requires access / payment) - a response to Barth, argues that the obedience of the eternal Son can be combined with a traditional Trinitarian theology.

The key section in Barth is Church Dogmatics IV.1 §59.1. Swain and Allen summarise Barth's proposal: "Son’s obedience to the Father in accomplishing the work of salvation is not merely a consequence of the humble existence he assumed in the incarnation but rather constitutes his opus proprium within the opera Trinitatis ad extra, the Son’s distinctive manner qua Son of executing God’s undivided saving will."

Michael Allen, ‘From the time he took on the form of a servant’: The Christ's Pilgrimage of Faith' IJOST Volume 16, Issue 1, pages 4–24, January 2014 (requires access / payment) - argues that the economic relations between Father and Son flow from their eternal relations.

Mark Thompson, 'Eternal Relational Subordination: Is there order in the Trinity?' - argues that ERS need not undermine an orthodox doctrine of the Trinity nor lead to Arianism

Michel R. Barnes and Lewis Ayres (interacting with Ware) have commented.

Owen Strachen (who argues for Eternal Relations of Authority and Submission, responds to Trueman and Goligher)

Mark Jones, Why Did The Son Become Incarnate? Because He Submitted?

And: God's Will and Eternal Submission Part 1: God's Will; Eternal Subordination of Wills? Nein! Part Two; Biblicism, Socinianism and "Arid" Scholasticism

Mark Jones has also written: Some Propositions on God, the divine essence, the Trinity, and the covenant of redemption and some questions for Fred Sanders

And: Subordination in the Pactum? (And the irony of ESS) - Owen on the divine will & Witsius

And: Wayne Grudem’s Historical Theology Analyzed

Andrew Wilson, Eternal Submission in the Trinity? A Quick Guide to the Debate - 10 questions involved in the discussion

Donald Macleod, Subordinationism (out of the blue) - rejects EFS

Alistair Roberts had written this before this round of exchanges irrupted, The Eternal Subordination of the Son, Social Trinitarianism, and Ectypal Theology

Alistair Roberts has also written: The Eternal Subordination of the Son Controversy: The Debate so Far

And also: The Eternal Subordination of the Son Controversy: Survey of Some Relevant Material

A brief comment from Douglas Wilson (a complementarian who does not hold to EFS), Being Careful on the Trinity

Andrew Moody on The Gospel Coalition Australia website: The Ordered Godhead: (1) Commending Nicea - defending the eternal generation of the Son

Andrew Moody & Mark Baddeley have continued the series with The Ordered Godhead: (2) The Beauty of Ordered Willing

Mark Baddeley, The Ordered Godhead: (3) Speaking of God… - seven reflections on the current debate on the legitimacy or otherwise of speaking of the eternal begetting of the Son and an eternal obedience of the Son to the Father

Stephen D. Kovach and Peter R. Schemm Jr., 'A Defence of the Doctrine of the Eternal Subordination of the Son' JETS 42 1999 461-76.

Jowers and House (ed.s), The New Evangelical Subordinationism? Perspectives on the Equality of God the Father and God the Son (Pickwick, 2012)

Daren O. Sumner, 'Obedience and Subordination in Karl Barth's Trinitarian Theology' (PDF) published in Advancing Trinitarian Theology: Essays in Constructive Dogmatics.  Edited by Oliver D. Crisp and Fred Sanders.  Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014

Sumner has also blogged: What Is the Immanent Trinity? A Clarification for the Eternal Subordination Debate

Paul Helm on Warfield's doctrine of the Trinity

Peter Leithart, Are The Divine Persons Persons? (discusses the divine will(s!))

John Stevens, Are We All Heretics Now? Reflections On The Furore About Eternal Subordination Within The Trinity

Matthew Barrett, Better late than never: The Covenant of Redemption and the Trinity Debates

Gleaned from The Face Book:

Jim Packer on "the entire submission of the Son to the Father’s will” says: "It is the nature of the second person of the Trinity to acknowledge the authority and submit to the good pleasure of the first. That is why He declares Himself to be the Son, and the first person to be His Father. Though co-equal with the Father in eternity, power, and glory, it is natural to Him to play the Son’s part, and find all His joy in doing His Father’s will, just as it is natural to the person of the Trinity to plan and initiate the works of the Godhead and natural to the third person to proceed from the Father and the Son to do their joint bidding. Thus the obedience of the God-man to the Father while He was on earth was not a new relationship occasioned by the incarnation, but the continuation in time of the eternal relationship between the Son and the Father in heaven. As in heaven, so on earth, the Son was utterly dependent upon the Father’s will.” — JI Packer, Knowing God (chapter 5).

John Owen: "the will of God in each person, as to the peculiar acts ascribed unto him, is his will therein peculiarly and eminently, though not exclusively to the other persons, by reason of their mutual in-being. The will of God as to the peculiar actings of the Father in this matter is the will of the Father, and the will of God with... regard unto the peculiar actings of the Son is the will of the Son; not by a distinction of sundry wills, but by the distinct application of the same will unto its distinct acts in the persons of the Father and the Son.” — Commentary on Hebrews (Banner edition 2:88)

Wilhelmus a Brakel: "The Christian's Reasonable Service" Volume 1, p252. - "Since the Father and the Son are one in essence and thus have one will and one objective, how can there possibly be a covenant transaction between the two, as such a transaction requires the mutual involvement of two wills? Are we then not separating the Persons of the Godhead too much? To this I reply that as far as Personhood is concerned the Father is not the Son and the Son is not the Father. From this consideration the one divine will can be viewed from a twofold perspective. It is the Father‟s will to redeem by the agency of the second Person as Surety, and it is the will of the Son to redeem by His own agency as Surety." available at

Peter Lombard (1100-1160):  “And so the Father is not said to have sent the Son and the Holy Spirit because he is greater and they are lesser, but especially for the commendation of the authority of [the Father’s role as] the beginning.” Sentences, Book 1, Distinction 15.  (“Non ergo ideo dicitur Pater misisse Filium vel Spiritum sanctum, quod ille esset major, et illi minores; sed maxima propter auctoritatem principii commendandam.") cf. Augustine's De Trinitate, Book 4, chapter 21, section 32

(There is a list of sources similar to the above (in chronological order of their appearing) at:


Thomas Renz said...

Darren Summner at

Mark Jones at

Marc Lloyd said...

Thank you, Thomas. I look forward to reading them in more detail.

Marc Lloyd said...

Thomas, what do you make of Tim Wickham's comment on Mark Jones' post?

Do you think there might be millage in the suggestion that the Son has all the divine attributes in a Sonly way on the basis of his relation of origin to the Father and that this might give him a disposition analogous to "submission" / response / "obedience" / aptness to the sent with respect to the Father?

And do you have any sympathy with the idea that the patristics / medievals may not have given us that last word on what a divine person is and that that might affect this debate?!

Thomas Renz said...

Marc, I cannot see any comments on Mark Jones' post...

I found Ratzinger's essay on personhood impressive and I was struck by his comments on further developments which we await. The development of doctrine is in fact one aspect of the debate that interests me. Is doctrinal theology an attempt to organise biblical teaching along systematic lines, with a little help from my friends (Church Fathers, medieval theologians, Reformers or whoever I consider my friends), or is it a matter of the church drawing out implications and exploring truths from different angles which over time lead to a genuinely deeper understanding of biblical teaching than could have been had in biblical times? To put it sharply, did Augustine understand the doctrine of the Trinity better than the apostle Paul?

For a Christian theologian in the Western tradition to seek to develop further the doctrine of the Trinity without sustained engagement with Augustine, Aquinas and probably a few others is bound to lead to shipwreck. Ratzinger claims that Augustine, having made a hugely significant and valuable contribution to the doctrine, nevertheless got something important wrong which set off the tradition on a wrong path - and so, e.g., Aquinas did not correct it either. I am ok with that. Calvin may have "furthered Trinitarian theology when he helpfully noted that the Son of God, considered as to his godness or divinity, is autotheos. The son as to his divine essence is co-equal with the Father and the Spirit. There is no subordination here. But as to his person the Son is derived from the Father and the Spirit is derived from the Father and the Son" (Jeff Waddington) although I am not yet persuaded of this.

To postulate that there is within the Trinity a paternal compassion, a filial compassion and a spiritual (?) compassion; a paternal way to be almighty, a filial way to be almighty and a spiritual (?) way to be almighty etc. sounds to my ears unorthodox.

I am not sure that Darren Sumner is entirely right when he claims that Ware engages in an exercise in natural theology but there is clearly a danger of reading a range of cultural notions of what it means to be father and son into the biblical language of Father and Son.

It is very uncontroversial (within the tradition) to say that given that the Son is begotten and the Holy Spirit proceeding, there is an aptness in the Son and the Holy Spirit being sent and not the Father. And the difference between "begotten" and "proceeding" suggests an aptness about the Son becoming incarnate, not the Holy Spirit. And maybe there is something about self-giving being especially apt for the Father, self-emptying for the Son (and self-forgetfulness for the Spirit?)...I don't know.

Marc Lloyd said...


Yes, if one is willing to admit that at some points the biblical writers spoke better than they knew real and correct doctrinal development becomes very plausible. I think it would be had to deny that as we apply the truths of the Bible to new situations our understanding of them grows. And that is without getting into any material contributions from reason or experience.

If one grants the aptness of the Son becoming incarnate, presumably there is no reason in principle to say that something else in the incarnation (such as the obedience of the Son as man to the Father) could not have some kind of aptness in the eternal relations of Father and Son (which did not compromise their equality)? By the time one has said all the stuff about analogical language and Creator/creature distinctions and the divine manner of willing and "deciding" any right view of Eternal Relational "Subordination", it seems to me doesn't get much beyond that anyway. Of course if the Father had wanted the Son to do something which he didn't want to do (which couldn't happen because they wouldn't disagree and they share one divine will, oh, and don't forget we are talking about eternity here) it would have been apt for the Son to do it!

Thomas Renz said...

The idea that the three persons within the Trinity are equal but not interchangeable is basic to the doctrine of the Trinity. Probably also that they complement each other, albeit not in an hierarchical way (Et in hac Trinitate nihil prius aut posterius, nihil maius aut minus: Sed totae tres personae coaeternae sibi sunt et coaequales).

From this it is a short step to affirm that there is an aptness to the Son, rather than the Father or the Holy Spirit, becoming incarnate (although I would like to see more reflection on this, which is to say in particular the difference between being "begotten" and "proceeding"). But one must not lose sight of the fact that it is God who takes on human flesh, not a "part" of God, which is to say that certain ways of expressing the order within the Trinity appear to abandon the doctrine of divine simplicity, so that Jesus does not so much reveal God but how one "part" of the deity relates to another.

Thomas Renz said...

correction: the citation marks should encompass "being begotten" not just "begotten".

Marc Lloyd said...

Yep. Ta.

Thomas Renz said...

The other thing one must watch out for is what might happen if one adds the word "eternal" to something. I need to reflect further on the claim that "eternal functional" is a contradiction in terms but there is a certain prima facie plausibility to it. Once a role is not temporal but eternal, there is arguably an ontological shift. An eternal role is more likely to say something about the essence of someone than a role than is taken on temporarily. There is a difference between the aptness of person A becoming a lawyer and saying that being a lawyer is essential to being person A.

Marc Lloyd said...

If I had to pick either EFS or ERS I think I'd call it Eternal Relational Subordination. But we would probably be better off without the word Subordination too! Eternal Relational Disposition?!

Thomas Renz said...

If you call it "subordination" you're saying that the Son is lower (sub) within the order of the Trinity than the Father (and the same would be said of the Holy Spirit presumably, after which it would remain to be decided whether in addition the Spirit is lower than the Son), and given the relative emptiness of the term on its own and its history you would need to add that you do not mean lower in terms of substance or majesty or rank etc. (and preferably add what exactly you do mean).

If you make do without the term "subordination" you end up with a characterisation that, without further definition, is possibly even more vague. It was Augustine's key insight (or claim, if you wish) to say that the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit are distinct in terms of their relationships to each other and in no other way. I don't know whether he or someone subsequently within the tradition ever went beyond the "begetter", "begotten", "proceeding" distinction towards postulating different dispositions. I suspect a problem with the term "disposition" (apart from needing to be complemented - disposition towards what?) is that it seems to imply a tendency and hence a potentiality which does not necessarily become actualised but, if I know this right, the traditional doctrine of God would be wary of non-actualised potentiality in the life of God.

From our (temporal) point of view, there seems to be a change in the life of God with the incarnation (and ascension?). There was a time when humanity was not encompassed within the Trinity. It now is and ever will be.

What EFS / ERS theories might be getting at is that from a divine (a-temporal) point of view there is no such change in the perfect being that is God. But presumably this would be because outside time there is (by definition) no time at which the incarnation was not? Deep waters here and I am not a confident doctrinal swimmer...

Marc Lloyd said...

Yes, indeed, deep waters. Hard to speak about eternity.

Weinandy discusses the God's being as fully enacted, no potential, maximally alive thing in Does God Suffer? (I seem to remember I found it the hardest bit of the book not least because it involved some Latin!) But it obviously cannot mean that God cannot do things in history nor that from our perspective they are not in the future / potential but that all time and all of God's life is constantly "present" to God. The Son's aptness to be incarnate and his incarnation would be part of God's eternal life from God's point of view. I don't think it's fatal to talk about what God would do in time in certain circumstances being related to who he is in eternity?

Strictly speaking I think we are meant to say that the divine nature is unchanged by the Incarnation but yes, now God the Son exists as a man. Again, Weinandy discusses that in Does God Change? The Word's Becoming in the Incarnation, I think, but I'm not sure I've read / recall the argument.

The EFS people want to say the Son obeys the Father as God / Son not just as a man though, don't they, so that is why the eternal obedience has to be without respect to the incarnation. The Son obeying as a man wouldn't require any change in the divine nature. The point is whether the Son obeys the Father in eternity though everyone seems to admit it is a queer kind of obeying since they necessarily agree!

I think the incarnation is a with respect to time thing and I imagine it would be a mistake to say that it is eternal from God's point of view? God after all created time and is Lord of time. It's not that he can't conceptualise it? Dunno.

Thomas Renz said...

"Eternal" seems to be a temporal term. The incarnation is eternal in one direction (forward) but not in both. And it is inside time, even if God is not. What I think I was getting at is that you cannot introduce temporal events (incarnation and, I suspect, submission and obedience) to a consideration of the inner life of the Trinity without committing a category mistake. As I see it, to speak of the Son's eternal obedience is very different from speaking of the aptness that the Son should become incarnate and obey the Father rather than the other way round) and is maybe not so much wrong as literally non-sensical, that is wrong to predicate because it does not make sense or only makes sense after one or two illegitimate moves, e.g. postulating diverging wills within the Trinity.

Marc Lloyd said...

I think "eternal" is often meant to mean timelessly / atemporally / without respect to time or history, not just everlastingly, but it is hard to talk about without suggesting an eternal "moment". Agreed, the incarnation goes on everlastingly but it is a temporal event (with an ongoing effect).

Yes, I agree it is hard to say what eternal obedience would mean if the Son shares the one divine will.

Thomas Renz said...

Lewis Ayres has spoken. See

There are a number of interesting-looking papers of his at

Marc Lloyd said...

Thanks again.