Here are extracts from a paper given by Kevin Giles at the plenary forum on the Trinity at the Evangelical Theological Society annual conference, 15th November, 2016 at San Antonia. The other speakers were Dr Bruce Ware, Dr Millard Erickson and Dr Wayne Grudem; Dr Sam Storms presided.
Giles’ main focus was on the Nicene Creed. In fact, although he mentioned the Bible (or Scripture) over fifty times, and insisted on its primacy, he made relatively little actual appeal to the biblical text itself.
With the exception of a couple of heading in underlined bold, everything that now follows between the two horizontal lines is in Dr Giles’ own words.
What the disagreement is about and what is at state
The divide on the Trinity is not between evangelical egalitarians and complementarians but between creedal and confessional evangelicals and non-creedal and confessional evangelicals…The doctrine of the Trinity has absolutely nothing to say about the relationship of the sexes. I personally do not ground my gender egalitarian commitments on the Trinity and virtually no evangelical egalitarian does.
The Trinity is three divine persons, all analogically spoken of in male terms. Why and how we must ask, can a threefold analogically all “male” relationship inform a twofold male-female relationship on earth? No analogical correlation is possible. The argument just does not make sense. The logic of this argument is that threesomes are the ideal, or male-male relationships are the ideal!!
The fundamental and inherent error in Dr Grudem and Dr Ware’s doctrine of the Trinity; depicting God in human terms, instead of how he is revealed in Scripture.
I am sure this one text [1 Corinthians 11:3] does not justify connecting the doctrine of the Trinity and our doctrine of the sexes. This is not a trinitarian text; the Spirit is not mentioned, and it would seem that the Greek word kephale (Eng. “head”) almost certainly carries the metaphorical meaning of “source”. Woman comes from man (Adam) (1 Cor 11:8, 12) and the Son comes “from” the Father.
What Dr Grudem and Dr Ware teach on the Trinity is a sharp and clear breach with historic orthodoxy as spelt out in the Nicene Creed.
We have starkly opposing doctrines of the Trinity. Dr Grudem and Dr Ware argue on the basis of creaturely analogies for a hierarchically ordered Trinity where the Father rules over the Son, claiming this is historical orthodoxy; what the church has believed since 325 AD. I argue just the opposite. On the basis of scripture, I argue that the Father and the Son are coequal God, the Father does not rule over the Son. This is what the church has believed since 325 AD. You could not have two more opposing positions. There is no middle ground.
When it comes to the doctrine of the Trinity we are not discussing a theological question where one side can assert something and the other side the opposite and resolution is not possible. In this case, there is absolutely no uncertainty as to what constitutes trinitarian orthodoxy. No other doctrine has been more clearly articulated by the great theologians of the church across the centuries and none more clearly and consistently spelt out in the creeds and confessions of the church.
The Nicene Creed
In my view, we have in this creed the most authoritative interpretation of what Scripture teaches on the Father-Son relationship.
First, “We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ.”
The title Lord excludes the thought that Jesus Christ is eternally subordinate or submissive God.
This first clause in the Nicene Creed immediately draws to our attention the logical impossibility of confessing Jesus as Lord and at the same time arguing he is set under God the Father and must obey him. If the Father and the Son are both rightly confessed as Lord, the supreme co-rulers over all, then they are not differentiated in authority. They are one in dominion, rule, power and authority.
Second, the Nicene Creed says, “We [Christians] believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only (monogenēs) Son of God.
We all know that the word monogenēs means “only” in the sense of “unique”; “one of a kind”. The Greek church fathers of course as Greek speakers also knew it meant “only” in the sense of “unique”; “one of a kind”. None of them thought it meant “only begotten”. What is more, none of them appealed to this word or the texts in which it is found as the basis for their doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son.
This designation of the Son was deliberately included in the creed because it explicitly excludes the disastrous error made by all the Arians of various brands, namely that human sonship defines divine sonship.
What this clause in the creed is saying is that Jesus’ sonship is not like human sonship. There is something about his sonship that is absolutely different to creaturely sonship.
To argue that human language can define God is possibly the most serious theological error any one can make. It leads to idolatry; making God in our own image.
In the New Testament Jesus Christ is called the Son/Son of God to speak of his kingly status, not his subordination.
Third, the Nicene Creed says, We [Christians] believe …the unique Son of God, is “eternally begotten (gennaō) of the Father.”
The doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son is affirmed in the Nicene and Athanasian Creeds and by all the Reformation and post-Reformation confessions of Faith and by virtually every significant theologian over the last 1800 years.
For the authors of the Nicene Creed, and virtually all orthodox theologians, the primary basis for distinguishing and differentiating the Father and the Son is that the Father eternally begets the Son, and the Son is begotten of the Father. This is the ONLY difference between the Father and the Son the Nicene Creed mentions and allows, and this difference is essential to the doctrine of the Trinity.
Fourth…the Nicene Creed says the Son is, “God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God”.
What these words assert is that on the basis of his eternal generation the Son is everything the Father is but he is not the Father but the Son.
These words are in the creed to say emphatically that while the Son is “begotten of the Father”, and “from” the Father he is no way less than, inferior to, eternally subordinated to or submissive to the Father in any way.
Then fifth, follows the knockout blow. We believe the Son is “one being/homoousios with the Father”.
The Father and the Son uniquely are one in being. They are both God in all might, majesty and glory without any caveats whatsoever.
The word homoousios allows for no dividing or separating of the divine persons. It excludes absolutely any possibility that the Son can be eternally subordinated to the Father and thus other than the Father in might, majesty, dominion, authority and glory.
Modern day evangelicals who separate and divide the Father and the Son, setting the Father above the Son, accept the term because they do not understand its force. They think it means simply that they have the same divine being.
Six, the Nicene Creed says, of the Son that, “Through him all things were made”.
These words are thus included in the creed to make the point emphatically that the Son is the omnipotent co-creator, yet as in all things, he and the Father contribute to this work distinctively as the Father and the Son.
Because orthodox theologians seek to take into account everything Scripture says on the divine three persons they affirm “order” in divine life and actions. They agree that nothing is random or arbitrary in God. Scripture speaks of patterned ways God acts.
Orthodoxy accepts order in divine life and actions but not hierarchical ordering. This conclusion is confirmed by noting that in the roughly 70 times where the New Testament writers associate together the three divine persons, sometimes the Father is mentioned first (Matt 28:19); sometimes the Son (2 Cor 13:13) and sometimes the Spirit (1 Cor 12:4-6).
Seventh, the Nicene Creed says, We [Christians] believe that “For us and our salvation he [the Son] came down from heaven, by the power of the Spirit he was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man”.
In this phrase the creed reflects Philippians 2:4-11.
What Philippians 2 teaches is the willing and self-chosen subordination and subjection of the Son for our salvation. On this basis, orthodox theologians with one voice insist that the subordination and obedience of the Son seen in the incarnation should not be read back into the eternal life of God. To do so is huge mistake.
With Athanasius, Augustine, Aquinas, and Calvin, I believe to interpret Scripture rightly we must recognize that in Scripture there is “a double account of the savior”, one in “the form of God” and one “in the form of a servant” and the two should not be confused. What these great theologians concluded is that the kenotic Son does not reveal fully the exalted Son. I agree.
The novelty of ‘role subordination’
The very first person in history to speak of the role subordination of the Son was George Knight 111 in his 1977 seminal book, The New Testament Teaching on the Role relationship of Men and Women. It was he who first introduced the concept of the Son’s “role subordination” into Evangelical theological circles.
The Nicene Creed seeks to exclude the eternal subordination of the Son in a number of ways: relationally, the Father and the Son rule as the one Lord; temporally, the Son is eternally generated by the Father and as such is “true God from true God”, and ontologically, the Son is one in being with the Father.
The Son has ‘all power’ and ‘all authority’
The words “power” and “authority” often overlap in meaning in English like the words house and home but in both cases the words are not exact synonyms. However, when it comes to divine life the words “power” and “authority” in English and in Greek may be taken as synonyms. If the Son has all power then he has all authority and if he has all authority he has all power. Both terms speak of divine attributes shared identically by the divine persons. What is more, Paul insists that the Son who reigns over all has “all authority (exousia), power (dunamis) and dominion” (cf. Eph 1:21).
We ETS members all confess the Father, the Son and the Spirit to be “one in essence/being and equal in power and glory”. To confess that the Father, Son and Spirit are equal in power of course means that one does not rule over the other in any way. The Father and the Son are God almighty, omnipotent God.
The Father and the Son are equal in glory
Dr Ware stands in opposition to the ETS doctrinal statement in that he rejects “equality in glory”. He says, the Father has “the ultimate supremacy and highest glory”. For him, the Son is less in glory and for this reason must give “ultimate and highest glory to his Father”. In saying this he not only denies the ETS doctrinal statement but also the teaching of scripture where the Father and the Son are alike glorified (1 Cor 2:8, Gal 1:3-5, Eph 1:3-5, Heb 1:3, Rev 5:12-13, 7:9-12, etc) and again the Nicene Creed which says the divine three persons “together” [are to be] “worshipped and glorified”.
Postscript – Ware and Grudem change their minds about eternal generation
After I sat down Dr Ware spoke. He began by saying, “I have now changed my mind.” He then went on to tell the several hundred evangelical theologians present that he now endorses the doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son because he now recognizes it has good biblical support. It is foundational to the doctrine of the Trinity!!! It was as if the air had been sucked out of the room. He did not mention me but as I am the only evangelical who has written a book on the doctrine of the eternal generation I take it he was saying I had convinced him that he had been in error and needed to say sorry to the evangelical community for leading it reject the foundational element in the doctrine of the Trinity. After Dr Erickson had spoken, Dr Grudem spoke. He too began by saying that he now believed the doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son and that he would be correcting his Systematic Theology when he revised it!!! I thought to myself, how long will it be before these two hugely influential evangelical theologians will confess that teaching the three divine persons are hierarchically ordered is also mistaken and a threat to the historic faith.
Several aspects of the talk invite comment:
Giles clearly has Wayne Grudem and Bruce Ware in his sites. He ignores the fact (or denies that it is a fact) that other theologians have embraced the doctrine of eternal subordination more or less as Grudem and Ware explicate it.