So then, by way of preamble, let me say that I am as orthodox as a titanium slide rule. When it comes to the doctrine of the Trinity, everything I’ve got is from the best doctors in the church, and is still under warranty. Our doctrine of God must be grounded in the Scriptures, in the first instance, and we confess that this truth has found expression in the classic creeds of the church, has been repeated in the Reformed confessions, and further explicated by our Reformed fathers—and speaking of the Reformed fathers, the more scholastic the better.
Whether we are talking about one essence/three persons, or the eternal begetting of the Son, or the procession of the Spirit from the Father and the Son, or the divine simplicity, or the unity of the divine will, you can’t find a box that I won’t merrily check. I will check those boxes like I was Athanasius on a good day.
So with all this said, let me make just a handful of observations, culminating in the one that I think is the crucial one for our time. And so before anyone sets their hair on fire, I would urge them to read all the way through.
First, as I have said before, because subordinationism is the name for one of the classic Trinitarian heresies, it is not a word you want to use in these discussions. If you choose to do so, however much you qualify it, the misunderstandings that arise will be partly your fault. It would be like arguing that the Son is equally “at home” in the Godhead and in His holy family through the Incarnation, nesting in both places so to speak, and suggesting that your view therefore be called Nestarianism.
But second, subordination is a perfectly fine word to use when talking about a wife’s relation to her husband (Eph. 5:24). The word there is hypotasso, and the lexical rendering into English is subject or subordinate. That word subordinate is only dangerous when it comes to a Christian understanding of marriage if it is detached from a robust understanding of the equality of the sexes. So a responsible complementarian argument from the Trinity is one that depends equally on authority/obedience AND full ontological equality. And if it depends on full ontological equality, it depends also on the theological grounds for affirming that equality; the doctrine requires a foundation. The equality of the persons in the Godhead calls for more than simple assertion—it should be shown.
Last, I deny that authority and obedience are evidences of our brokenness, or that they are simply a result of the Fall. Before we get to the Fall, we have at least two indelible manifestations of the essential goodness of authority. The first is the eternal relationship of the Father to the Son. The second is the nonnegotiable relationship between Creator and created. The Fall has certainly messed up our view of authority, but the Fall did not introduce authority.
Now coming back to the Godhead, to say that there is a species of authority/obedience that exists between equals does not give us warrant for importing our distorted and/or limited experiences of authority into that relation—any more than we have the right to import derelict fathers into the Lord’s Prayer, where we are instructed to address Our Father. The authority of the Father is sacrificial and in no way coercive, and the obedience of the Son was voluntary and glad. There was absolutely no friction in the decision to send the Son into the world—because of the simplicity of the divine will.
Now I grant that we have no human analog for authority/obedience between equals. I also grant we have no human analog for authority/obedience functioning with one divine will. So?
We are not reasoning from our experience to the heavens. We are learning about what God is like from Scripture, and learning to apply that (but only as instructed) to our experience. Further, remember that we also have no human analog for three persons with one will, or with a begetter and begotten who are eternally equal. These things are revealed to us. Our business is to accept and adore.
We therefore know that the simple fact of our being created male and female in some important respect images or portrays what God is essentially like. So long as we hold fast to the orthodox understanding of the Godhead, there is not even the slightest trouble in also maintaining that we bear His image, male and female.
“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them” (Gen. 1:27).
And in addition, the love that exists within the Godhead (remember that God is love, not that He simply has love) is a communicable attribute. We are commanded to walk in the way of love, treating one another in a particular way, because of the way God is.
“Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love” (1 John 4:7–8).
There is obviously much more to say, and we will probably get to it. But let me finish today by commending an essay by C.S. Lewis, found in Christian Reflections. I commend the whole essay (“The Language of Religion”), and quote just one section of it.
“The theologian will describe it as ‘analogical’, drawing our minds at once away from the subtle and sensitive exploitation of imagination and emotion with which poetry works to the clear-cut but clumsy analogies of the lecture-room. He will even explain in what respect the father-son relationship is not analogical to the reality, hoping by elimination to reach the respects in which it is. He may even supply other analogies of his own—the lamp and the light which flows from it, or the like. It is all unavoidable and necessary for certain purposes. But there is some death in it. The sentence ‘Jesus Christ is the Son of God’ cannot be all got into the form ‘There is between Jesus and God an asymmetrical, social, harmonious relation involving homogeneity.’ Religion takes it differently. A man who is both a good son and a good father, and who is continually urged to become a better son and a better father by meditation on the Divine Fatherhood and Sonship, and who thus comes in the end to make that Divine relation the norm to which his own human sonship and fatherhood are still merely analogical, is best receiving the revelation. It would be idle to tell such a man that the formula ‘is the Son of God’ tells us (what is almost zero) that an unknown X is in an unknown respect ‘like’ the relation of father and son. He has met it halfway. Information has been given him: as far as I can see, in the only way possible” (Essay Collection, pp. 262-263).
It is all there. Worship, orthodoxy, humility, shrewdness, and love.