C’Mon Patrick

Thrilled that Alastair kicked off this discussion of Trinity and gender. I have many thoughts, so I’m glad he framed this in specific questions. I won’t even attempt to answer all 7. But before I jump into several, I think it’s important to recognize that no matter how we understand the Trinity, as the great Irish philosophical duo has told us, any and all attempts to produce an analogy or metaphor for the Trinity ultimately leads into some very problematic thinking. So, on to Alastair’s questions:

1. Should we abandon social Trinitarianism, despite the prominent role that it has played in both complementarian and egalitarian theologies?

No. Even though, as our Irish friends have pointed out, analogies will come up short, and possibly lead us into some newly articulated form of an old heresy, I think social Trinitarianism, if we understand it’s limitations, can actually be helpful. It may get us frightfully close to tritheism, but I think understanding the relational connections between the three persons of the one God can actually bring an element of truth to the table. How this plays out in discussions of gender is something still being fleshed out by theologians. But my own take, is that it isn’t useful equally for both sides of the debate. It certainly provides an image far more in line with an egalitarian view of gender.

Several of Alastair’s questions are interrelated, so I’ll group together these: 2. Can our doctrine of the Trinity illuminate and inform our accounts of society or gender relations? // 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?

In response to the first of those; Paul seemed to think so. The fact the 1 Cor. 11:3 draws a very obvious connection between the relationship of man to woman and the Father to the Son, means that in Paul’s thinking there is (or perhaps that there ought to be) in some sense a reflection of one in the other. But what is that connection? Is “head” (kephale) meant to suggest the male’s position of authority over the woman? Or, as many egalitarians have pointed out, kephale (and its Hebrew rough equivalent rosh) can refer to “origin” or “source” (e.g. the “head” of a river). I would tend towards the latter, since I am not at all comfortable with the subordination of the son (at least not in any ontological sense, but the notion of kenosis which Paul uses to depict Christ’s work, and the attitude his people ought to imitate, is applied to all Christian relationships [see Gal. 5:13-14, Phil. 2:3-8, Eph. 5:21] not just of the wife to the husband [e.g. Eph. 5:22]). The Son, in the incarnation, ministry, death, and resurrection, is doing the will of the Father (e.g. John 5:30, 6:38-39, Gal. 1:4), but does this mean the Son is subordinate? I would argue no, this makes the Son kenotic not subordinate. Since Christ was in very nature God, there is no ontological subordination of the Son to the Father. Perhaps we can distinguish a functional subordination, but even that is something I’m not entirely comfortable with. But I would certainly not accept the eternal subordination of the Son, since I find this subordinationism pushing its toes right up to (but not quite over) the line with bitheism and/or some form of Arianism.

So, when Paul says “Christ is the head of every man, and the husband is the head of his wife, and God is the head of Christ.” (1 Cor. 11:3 NRSV) he is alluding not to subordination, but to the sequence of the creation narrative. All things, including man, are created through Christ, and woman is from Adam (but unlike many complementarians, I would categorically reject any sense of headship of man over woman in Gen. 1-2; this subordination is something resulting from the fall [Gen. 3:16], which I’m sure Alastair will lambaste me for saying 😉 ). The ensuing conversation in 1 Cor. 11 dealing with head coverings is fascinating, complex, and of course hotly debated. But since Paul authorizes women to prophesy with heads covered (v. 5), I am inclined to read this passage as supporting women’s full participation as women. NT Wright has argued, rightly in my own mind, for seeing Paul affirming differentiation without subordination in this passage. Paul, unlike the Gnostics of the early 2nd century, affirms the equal dignity of male and female, and does not support a strange call for women to become like men, and blur genders (as in the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas), but that men and women remained gendered as such, but the Holy Spirit- and not gender- defines the participation in the Church (it is worthy of note, and needing further exploration I think, the mixing of relationships within the marriage in verse 3, and the roles of women in the Church in verse 5).

So, the relationship of man and wife reflects the Father-Son relationship not in terms of authority and subordination, but in terms of different but equally sharing in the image of God, and as I noted above, equally called to kenotic ways of living, which reflect the kenotic life of Christ (e.g. Phil. 2:5-8, Eph. 5:1-2).