This entry is part 8 of 9 in the series: Eternal Submission of the Son
- Grudem: the case for eternal submission of the Son
- Eternal submission: Liam Goligher says “No”
- Eternal subordination not a novel doctrine
- Some theses on the Father and the Son
- Eternal Submission of the Son: the main issues
- Subordinationism: what is it?
- Trinity: unity AND diversity
- Aimee Byrd: confused, or what?
- Is the Son eternally subject to the Father?
Perusing the 2nd edition of Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology (Zondervan Academic, 2020), I was struck by his complaint that his (and Bruce Ware’s) position on the Eternal Submission of the Son has been ‘seriously misrepresented’ by Aimee Byrd (in her book, Recovering from Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, published earlier in 2020 by Zondervan).
Byrd, writes Grudem,
‘falsely claims that Bruce Ware and I, in advocating the doctrine of “eternal relations of authority and submission,” are making a serious doctrinal error because “this doctrine teaches that the Son, the second person of the Trinity, is subordinate to the Father, not only in the economy of salvation but in his essence,” and we are therefore “unorthodox teachers that are not in line with Nicene Trinitarian doctrine.”’ (p306)
Now, it is a matter of fact that Grudem has repeatedly said that his view of the Trinity is that it ‘includes a subordination in role, but not in essence or being’.
So, where did Aimee Byrd get this idea that Grudem teaches otherwise?
I went back to look at the full passage in Byrd’s book:
‘In confronting the peculiar teachings coming from CBMW [Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood] conferences, books authored by their leaders, and articles from their website, I found a CBMW document from 2001 on their position on the Trinity, connecting ESS [Eternal Subordination of the Son] directly to the complementarian position. This doctrine teaches that the Son, the second person of the Trinity, is subordinate to the Father, not only in the economy of salvation but in his essence. The eternal relationship between the Father and the Son is then described as one of authority and submission. After trying to personally interact with the then president of CBMW, Owen Strachan, he assured me that their teaching was biblical and sent me a PDF of his newly released book in response—where he and coauthor Gavin Peacock “ground their understanding of the complementarity of men and women on a relationship of authority and submission in the nature of the Trinity.” Rachel Miller was already working to correct these Trinitarian errors, raising awareness on her blog. But few seemed to respond. I expected the same result. So I invited Liam Goligher, a man, and a complementarian pastor-theologian who was concerned about how this errant, influential teaching affects his congregation, to write a series of guest posts on my blog. He indeed ignited the needed flame, which is now known as the Trinity Debate. After a stream of online articles and interactions, patristic scholars weighed in, and books and conferences followed to uphold Nicene Trinitarianism over and against ESS.’ (Emphasis added)
This is an illuminating comment on the genesis of the controversy that erupted in 2016. For present purposes, however, I just want to observe that Byrd appears to conflate what Grudem (and others) affirm about the eternal relationship between the Father and the Son with what they repudiate about their essential, or immanent, or ontological, being.
On August 11th, 2016, Aimee Byrd referred to the following statement by Denny Burk:
Before this debate, I understood the “eternal” submission of the Son as a mere affirmation that the Bible teaches that the Son submits to the Father in some sense in eternity. It is called “eternal” not because of any ontological inequality of essence or being, but merely because the Bible indicates that the Son submits to the Father in some sort of economic/functional sense in eternity (i.e., before the incarnation and after the consummation). I would have understood it as nothing more nor less than that.
Byrd says that she was ‘perplexed’ by that, because
From the beginning, critics of ESS have affirmed an economic submission of the Son, particularly making a point to explain the context for how that applies in the covenant of redemption, while firmly insisting that there is no eternal subordination in the ontological relationship within the Trinity.
But does Byrd not know that this is exactly what Grudem and Ware have always affirmed? What they have added to this affirmation is that the economic submission of the Son is eternal, and not limited to the days of his flesh.
I conclude that Aimee Bird is confused about the difference between submission within the economic Trinity submission with the immanent Trinity. She appears to assume, without argument, that eternal submission must entail the latter.
What is to be said about Rachel Miller who, according to Byrd, attempted to get this whole debate started?
On 22nd May, 2015, Miller posted Continuing Down This Path, Complementarians Lose. Miller’s article accepts Jared Moore’s understanding that the contributors to the book One God, Three Persons (Ware and Starke, eds.) teach subordination within the immanent (ontological) – not just the economic – Trinity. In fact, Moore refers to the immanent Trinity no less that 31 times in his review of that book. Miller states that she has read ‘portions’ of the book; however, she seems to quote only from Moore’s article, and offers no interraction with the book itself. It seems that she has taken Moore’s word for it that the authors of One God, Three Persons agree in affirming subordination within the immanent Trinity. But Moore (followed by Miller) is mistaken. It would have been better if she had read the book properly for herself, or, at least, that both she and Moore had taken note of the full title of the book: One God, Three Persons: Unity of Essence, Distinction of Persons, Implications for Life (my emphasis).
As far as I can tell, then, neither Byrd nor Miller offer an substantive evidence for assuming that Eternal Submission of the Son, in the teachings of Grudem and Ware, entails submission within the ontological Trinity. For them to accuse these two respected theologians of departure from Nicean orthodoxy, therefore, is negligent.
I conclude that Rachel Miller and Aimee Byrd have inflamed the debate to a degree that is not warranted by the published statements of those involved.
I’m not surprised Dr Grudem is upset.
[The question remains whether any argument can be mounted for the assertion that the Eternal Submission of the Son (which Grudem and Ware do teach) necessarily implicates the ontological Trinity (which those authors deny). I turn to a piece of Wendy Alsup – The Eternal Subordination of the Son (and Women). (June 14th, 2016). This is of interest because it attempts to explain (with some discussion) why, despite protestations to the contrary, some people think that Grudem and Ware do teach an ontological, and not merely a functional, subordination of the Son to the Father. But a discussion of that article is outside the immediate scope of this post, so I’ll leave it there.]