Baby Oil on the Bowling Ball

If I may, I would like to ask your permission to go up the stairs three at a time here. Great. Glad that’s all set.

What I mean by that is that I want to assert a number of things together in order to indicate a pattern. The argument for some of these things has already been presented in this space, and the argument for others is likely coming up some other time. So bear with me.

I take it as a given that orthodoxy requires an affirmation of the ontological equality of all three members of the Trinity. I also take it as a given that in the economic order of the Trinity, the subordination of the Son to the Father is the way it has to be — otherwise, the Son is not eternally the Son. Given an Incarnation, which member of the Trinity was going to become incarnate was not up for grabs. So the issue here is an affirmation of the absolute equality of the Son with the Father, coupled with an affirmation of the economic subordination of the Son to the Father. In short, authority is an ultimate reality within the Godhead. Prior to the Incarnation, the Son was equal to the Father (Phil. 2:6), and in consenting to the Incarnation, the Son was obedient to the Father (Phil. 2:7).

On a second point, the Bible teaches in numerous places that we become like what we worship. This principle works with idols, with false conceptions of the true God, and with true conceptions of the true God. Idolaters become deaf, dumb and blind, just like the blocks of wood they worship (Ps. 115:4-8), and we, who worship the true God are being transformed from one degree of glory to another (2 Cor. 3:18).

There are two points to be derived from this. The first is that I cannot see any way for someone to deny the economic subordination of the Son to the Father and still retain an understanding of the role relationships that God has assigned between husband and wife. In the older, more faithful Christian order of weddings, the bride vowed to obey her husband, and the husband did not take a corresponding vow of obedience to her. This was fully biblical — first because the Bible calls wives to obey their husbands (1 Pet. 3:6; Tit. 2:5), and secondly, see above, in a Trinitarian economy obedience to another in no way subverts ontological equality.

But what happens if you remove that ultimate Trinitarian pattern and example? And further, what happens if you remove it in an era when enormous pressure is being applied to the church to abandon that older, out-dated stuff, and get with the feminist program? I will tell you what happens — we already see it happening all around us, all the time. There will be no answer to those who charge faithful Christians with denying the equality of women. And because the equality of women is something that all Christians accept (but for some only because the pagan world is not currently pressuring us to abandon it), then we must resolve the tension by accepting the charge that obedience entails a denial of equality, and then disobediently abandon the marital requirement of wifely obedience.

There is another issue that is related to all this, although not directly. One of Calvinism’s besetting sins is the temptation to go Unitarian. Looking over church history, one does not have to hunt very far before coming across Calvinists scattered across the landscape who would become Unitarian for two cents. Heidelberg in the 16th century, New England at the beginning of the 18th century, and so on.

A denial of economic subordination within the Trinity is, I am afraid, a proto-Unitarian move. It is three chess moves back, and the thing is complicated, but if there is nothing but mutual submission within the Godhead, I do not see how you can keep this from flattening all distinctions within the Godhead. And when you have done that, what can you do when someone — and you know that someone will — proposes a merger of the three?

If Unitarianism were a murky pond, and you were standing in the canoe of orthodoxy, holding the bowling ball of economic subordination over the water, a denial of that economic subordination is baby oil that somebody slathered all over the ball. Sometimes these metaphors just come to me.

The way we can keep track of all this is pretty simple though. Just pay close attention at the next wedding you attend. If the word obey has vanished from the vows, then the chances are pretty good that some Trinitarian funny business is going on.

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Seth B.
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Seth B.

Why is it that one of Calvinism’s besetting sins is to go Unitarian?

bethyada
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From someone who is struggling to get up 3 steps at a time. I am not certain you have the order correct here. While anthropic submission is less important than, and dependant on, Trinitarian submission; it seems that the denial of the former is essentially a rebellious desire not to obey. (Not that all who hold to it are actively rebellious; and allowing that all men desire independence from their masters). That is the rejection of Trinitarian orthodoxy is not primary, but a response to defend the mutual submission amongst marriage partners position that they so wish to retain. And… Read more »

Eric Stampher
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Eric Stampher

So you’re saying
That canoe will float, with or without us.
And that ball won’t be denied it’s pins.

Drew
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Drew

Doug, I like the metaphor, and re-reading it 3 times to understand was worth it. You may be one of the only evangelicals addressing this type of theological issue, which I appreciate very much.

sean carlson
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sean carlson

Not only does a re-definition of marital roles subtly deny the relationship of Christ & His church, it subtly denies realities within the Godhead. Intriguing!

Tim
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Tim

“…obedience to another in no way subverts ontological equality.”

Finally! In fact, to equate submission with any less-ness is to commit the primal Satanic error. “I will not obey, for that diminishes me.”

doug sayers
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doug sayers

Thanks Doug, you do have a way of making us work. I’m not very tall so three steps at a time requires a great deal of effort!

I’m not sure why Calvinists would be more likely to succomb to Unitarianism than non Calvinists, who hold to the trinity. Do you think it could be their tendancy to a hyper intellectualism and their propensity to read too much into Scripture?

Dan Glover
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I don’t know how a person can take Philippians 2 seriously and not see both the ontological equality of the Son with the Father as well as the economic subordination of the Son to the Father. Its pretty clear.

John C
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John C

Interestingly, with all of this drift that’s been going on – we see this same subordination through one-ness and unity being lost to The Church…. Exactly what Tim hit on… I will not submit to that fellow – for it diminishes my own position… What we don’t see is that submitting to that fellow where it pertains to HIS gifts and calling actually strengthens me in my own calling….. For example – old testament Prophets… Did the prophet lead the people? Nope. But – when the King “Subordinated” to the Prophet’s word – the King was able to achieve things… Read more »

Dan Glover
Guest

Good point, John C. And that is the very thing we see in Philippians 2 with Jesus’ obedience and submission to the Father in his earthly ministry and death. Does it diminish Jesus? Nope. Rather, the Father gives him the name above every name, the name at which every knee will bow and every tongue confess that he is Lord.

John Dekker
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I was very disappointed to see Kathy Keller saying that “Jesus’ submission to the Father was limited to his earthly incarnation… to my knowledge, no complementarian has ever espoused such a thing [as eternal subordination], despite egalitarian charges to the contrary” (Jesus, Justice, & Gender Roles: A Case for Gender Roles in Ministry, p. 47).