A Correction to “The Logic of Equality”

My inexperience with working with publishers shows. When I opened the fall issue of Priscilla Papers I was happy to see my piece “The Logic of Equality” published. I was not happy to see that I had submitted an incorrected draft to the editor. I had a number of different versions I was working with, and it seems I missed the opportunity in the final review to catch the error.

The sixth reason I give for rejecting the complementarian idea of the Trinity reads like this in the journal:

Sixth, subordination that extends into eternity cannot be merely functional, but must also be ontological. God’s authority is a quality that inheres with the attribute of his lordship. Authority, applied to God, means he has the right to govern all things as well as the ability to control all things. If we choose to use the term “authority” as a quality of God’s lordship, we must apply it to both Father and Son, for both share in the divine attribute of lordship. With this principle in mind, it follows that if the Son is eternally subordinate to the Father, then the Father has a divine attribute that the Son does not have. And since eternity is an intrinsic quality of God’s existence, it logically follows that what the Son is eternally, he is in being. If the Son is eternally subordinate in function, then he is eternally subordinate in being

It should read like this:

Sixth, subordination that extends into eternity cannot be merely functional if it is based on something that is ontological. God’s authority is a quality that inheres with the attribute of his lordship. Authority, applied to God, means he has the right to govern all things, as well as the ability to control all things. If we choose to use the term “authority” as a quality of God’s lordship we must apply it to both Father and Son, for both share in the divine attribute of lordship. Yet this principle conflicts with eternal subordination’s insistence that the Son’s “sonship” subordinates him to a status lower than the Father. If this is the case, it stands to reason that the Father has a divine attribute that the Son does not have, namely that of authority. And since authority is an intrinsic quality of God’s existence it logically follows that what the Son lacks in deity subordinates him not only in function but also in being. If the Son is eternally subordinate in function by virtue of what he is, then he is eternally subordinate in being.

The difference is significant, because it does not follow that if the Son is eternally subordinate to the Father, then the Father has a divine attribute that the Son does not have. Eternal subordination can be conceived as something like a contract: from all eternity the persons of the trinitarian community mutually agreed to arrange themselves hierarchically (perhaps for the purposes of redemption?). In this scheme, it remains conceivable that a possible world may have been ordained where the Father subordinated to the Son. However, if such a world is not possible then it does follow, for eternal subordination is then determined by the Son’s “sonship.” The problem here is that it makes an essence out of the Son’s personhood (“sonship”) that is altogether different from the Father’s essence.

Either way, the point about God’s attribute of authority is at the center of the “sixth reason” and that is what is lacking in complementarian views of the Trinity. If we take the contractual view, the Son empties himself of the attribute in a way that mimics the kenosis view of the incarnation. I’m not sure any complementarian theologian would embrace that. In seeking to avoid this, we could take the “submission is fitting to sonship” view, but as I have tried to show, this falls into ontological subordination.

Lesson learned: reread your submissions to publishers again and again even if you have read the darn thing a hundred times! I await the fair criticism of my unfortunate non sequitur.

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One Response

  1. I’m baffled that complementarians base the ‘role’ of wives in subordination to the ‘role’ of husbands on the fact that the husband possesses male reproductive organs, while at the same time claiming the doctrine of the eternal subordination of the Son, when the only member of the Trinity we know for sure had male reproductive organs was Jesus, because the Scriptures say He was circumcised, but neither the Holy Spirit nor the Father are ever expressly said to possess them.

    So now, if authority lies in the possessing of male genitals, would not that put the Son in authority and the Father and the Holy Spirit in eternal subordination? I have yet to find a complementarian who will even attempt an answer.

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