The Eternal Subordination of the Son, Social Trinitarianism, and Christian Orthodoxy

Steve Holmes has a post worth reading, reflecting upon the recent book, One God in Three Persons: Unity of Essence, Distinction of Persons, Implications for Life. The book in question seeks to defend the ‘eternal submission of the Son to the Father,’ a controversial theological position that nonetheless plays an important role in many contemporary defences of complementarianism. The book presents an assortment of theological, exegetical, and historical arguments for the position, from a number of writers who advocate various—and occasionally opposing—forms of the doctrine.

Holmes is fairly scathing in his treatment of the book, not merely on account of his principled opposition to complementarianism, but also on account of his theological concerns as a leading Trinitarian scholar (I recommend that anyone interested in Holmes’ perspective on the current state of Trinitarian theology read his book The Quest for the Trinity: The Doctrine of God in Scripture, History and Modernity). He concludes that the arguments—even the chastened ones—advanced in support of the eternal submission of the Son fail beyond recovery. He wonders why the eternal submission of the Son argument has passed through so many iterations, when it has been disproved every time; one would presume that after a few versions the doctrine itself would have been condemned as beyond salvage. I won’t summarize his arguments here: I suggest that you read his post yourself.

I have also written a lengthy post on my own blog, within which I unpack some of the issues that I believe are at play in this discussion, most particularly the issue of social Trinitarianism. I observe within it that this is a debate that raises challenges that cut across familiar complementarian/egalitarian divides, creating some surprising allies and antagonists.

Based upon my post on my blog, I would like to raise a few possible questions here.

  1. Should we abandon social Trinitarianism, despite the prominent role that it has played in both complementarian and egalitarian theologies?
  2. Can our doctrine of the Trinity illuminate and inform our accounts of society or gender relations?
  3. Is any connection between the relations of the Trinity and gender relations necessarily ‘projectionist’?
  4. How should we handle verses such as 1 Corinthians 11:3?
  5. How do we relate the earthly obedience of Christ to his Father’s command to the life of the Trinity?
  6. Can a doctrine of the eternal subordination of the Son be theologically justified or squared with the orthodox tradition of Trinitarian theology?
  7. Do the shifting and varying theological arguments for a complementarian position suggest that rationalization rather than honest and principled theological reasoning is taking place?

Choose the questions that you would like to answer or suggest your own!