Optional page text here. The Beast's Lair: Equal in Essence, Distinct in Roles?

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Equal in Essence, Distinct in Roles?

An interesting theological debate that seems to be gaining momentum is the understanding of the function of the Trinity. Although almost all will agree that the Trinity are equally Divine in essence, there is a question as to their function. That question is then tied directly to social and cultural issues, the most important being the roles of men and women, egalitarianism vs complementarism.

Now, let me sort all of that out. Contemporary discussions of the doctrine of the Trinity will agree that the God revealed in Scripture is by nature Trinitarian, that is, one God yet three distinct "persons" who co-exist eternally. The question for today is if the Divine order is divided hierarchally. In other words, are any of the persons of the Trinity subordinate in eternity to the others? As liberal and moderate theologians, and even some conservative evangelicals, are insisting on the co-equality of the Trinity, many conservatives are moving in the opposite direction, understanding that the Father rules over the Son and that the Son is in an eternally subordinate position to the Father. Hopefully, taking the next step to the social implications of these positions is not difficult to see. Those holding to the co-equality of the Trinity are blaming the other side of holding to their particular view of the Trinity as a means to resist social change and female liberation. Those holding to the subordinate position are accusing the other side of searching without merit for reasons to support the idea of egalitarianism.

What brings the discussion home for me is that one of the texts that issued in the full fruition of the debate is "Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine", and it just so happens that I am currently reading this text for my systematic theology course. I attend the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, a reformed conservative institution of higher learning. Although I have found the professors to be much more open to other ideas than the popular opinion among moderates, I am nevertheless assuming that I do not have to tell you which position the book takes.

I will be attending a faculty address in a few weeks where both sides of the argument will be made. The address is titled "Equal in Essence, Distinct in Roles: Eternal Functional Authority and Submission among the Essentially Equal Divine Persons of the Godhead." (I love Seminary. Where else can you learn how to best serve the church by learning all these cool words that a church layperson would never understand.) Anyway, I will follow up after those lectures.


Anonymous rexwilder said...

The leap from the Trinity to the social implications of males and females (husbands and wives, or whatever) is not immediately clear to me. I assume there is some theological analogy between the Trinity's roles and the roles in the family (or in society), but without understanding that, the jump isn't really clear.

October 05, 2006 1:34 AM  
Blogger The Beast said...

For this discussion the connection is, of course, a faith-based connection. As for most of my posts, a belief in the Bible and it's teachings is assumed.

So, when we know that men and women are created in the image of God and that our ultimate example is rested on the perfection of Christ, this issue of the roles of the Trinity become crucial, at least to the theologian. (again, I think you can appreciate that the majority of my posts would not strike a cord with the average Sunday church goer, but these issues can nevertheless effect them without their knowledge.) Anyway, it is commonly understood that to be made in God's image means more than just a physical image (although there is a part to that I think), but more in terms of the nature of God. God is in soverign control over his creation and has put humans in a position of control themselves over the created order not to mention a special kind of ability to have distinct human relationships with one another that no other part of creation can enjoy. And who is our model for how those relationships are to function? God of course, in all His persons.

So if the Father, Son and Spirit exist co-equally, that is to say without any one being subordinate to the other, that is a strong support for the cause of egalitarianism, that is to say that men and women are 100% equal in all ways, that one is not to be in a subordinate position to the other. And the same is true for the other side of the coin.

One last comment that is important. Those who hold to a hierarchal view of the function (not nature) of the Trinity do so with the view that the Son voluntarily sumbits to the will of the Father and that this idea of subordination does not carry with it an understanding of inferiority.

October 05, 2006 11:38 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

People will come up with anything even using the trinity to keep women down and below men.

October 05, 2006 1:47 PM  
Anonymous rexwilder said...

I understand that it is faith-based, my question was more even if the Father, Son and Holy Spirit exist co-equally, why does that translate to men and women's roles (and this is a real question, not a "why should it" type of question)? The Father, Son and Holy Spirit aren't men and women so why does how they relate to each other correspond with how men and women relate to each other? Why is the issue not the same for blacks and whites, whites and asians, etc. Your created in his image statement certainly applies across the board (I would think), but it is the specific tie of the Trinity's relationship to men and women as opposed to just human beings, that I don't know/understand the reason behind.

October 05, 2006 2:38 PM  
Blogger The Beast said...

Hey, I'll call you and we can discuss it. That way we don't get in the way of all these other insightful comments. But, for those who aren't privy to that phone conversation, here are my quickk thoughts:

Because the issue is about function, not essence. Race has nothing to do with it. To simplify it as much as possible, the Scriptures that teach that the woman is to submit to the authority of the man just clearly makes a direct line to the Son submiting to the Father, a sort of Divine cosmic model.

In other words, there is no Scripture or document that says "the relationship between men and women are directly tied to the Trinity." It's just that when it comes to this aspect of that relationship, it is easy to make the comparison and thus the debate.

October 05, 2006 3:25 PM  
Blogger Barry said...

What insightful comments? I just got here..

October 05, 2006 4:11 PM  
Blogger The Beast said...

I'm still waiting. . .

October 05, 2006 4:12 PM  
Anonymous Paul, in South Park said...

If one believes even remotely in the Creeds, there is no debate...

October 06, 2006 9:05 PM  
Anonymous Tim Kuehn said...

I've found that there's a "chain" of "submission" - and there's absolutely no way one can consider "submission" to mean being "inferior."

Wives submit to their husbands (Eph 5:22, 5:24; Col 3:18).

The husband is he head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church (Eph 5:23) and husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.

Wives are to submit to their husbands because they are his God-given responsiblity. Husbands are to love their wives - and - if need be - sacrifice their life for her.

The headship / submission doesn't stop with husbands & wives, but continues all the way to the Father:

"But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God." (1 Cor 11:3)

Here's how Christ considered his position relative to the Father:

"Let each of you nlook not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. oHave this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God ra thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus bevery knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." Phillipians 2:4-11

Christ's submission to the Father's will lead to Him being given a position of complete authority and Lordship over all creation by the Father. His equality with the Father wasn't something to be grasped, but took the role of an obedient servant all to the way to death.

So, Christ is not asking both husbands and wives to do anything He hasn't done already.

October 07, 2006 9:05 AM  
Blogger Steven G. said...

The trinitarian arguement is the wrong way to approach this. We should approach it the same way Paul does in Eph 5: Christ and the church. First off the analogy is clearer. There can be no arguement that the Church submits to Christ not the other way around. Secondly, it avoids the nasty implications that the subordinists if they like a previous commenter said, "if one believes remotely in creeds".

October 09, 2006 4:37 AM  
Anonymous The Worm said...

There is no debate here in my understanding of how the Father and Son relate to each other. Does that mean that men and women must relate the same way? I don't know. But for what it is worth I agree with the comment that Christ has already set the example in all things.

October 09, 2006 1:59 PM  

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