10.5.14

Jesus a lesser god?


Helpful book on ESS edited by Jowers and House

In the gender debate in the church one of the ideas that seems to hover away in the background like a kind of menacing presence is the suggestion, whether realised or not, that Jesus is eternally subordinate to God in role. You might wonder where such a proposition would hover. It can be found lurking behind the theology that subordinates women's role to men's in the preaching and teaching of God's Word in God's Church. It influences the Women Bishops debate. 

And yet the as the fifth century Athanasian Creed put it:
"He is perfect God; and He is perfect man, with a rational soul and human flesh. He is equal to the Father in His divinity..."

George Knight III, in his highly influential book “New Testament Teaching on the Role Relationship of Men and Women,” published in 1977, formulated a set of theological arguments in support of the permanent subordination of women in their role. Some wings of the church have been highly influenced by his thinking. Knight argued that this position for women was illustrated by the Trinity and speaks of a “chain of subordination” and of an eternal subordination of the Son that has “certain ontological aspects.” This was the teaching that began to be promoted in 1994 by Wayne Grudem’s "Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine.”

Bruce Ware (an American theologian) would also claim that the Son of God is “equal in being [but] eternally subordinate in role” and this is grounded, just in case we were unsure, in the language of Father and Son. If God is rightly called “Father,” Ware believes the divine Father must be set over the divine Son.  

But I wonder, does a hierarchy of function not point to a hierarchy of being? How can an eternally necessary functional hierarchy be compatible with ontological equality? If authority and submission are essential and not accidental attributes of the Father and Son, then this might be equivalent to saying that they are not homoousious with one another.

In spite of protests to the contrary, in the complementarian view of trinitarian relations there is a drift towards something that is akin to ontological inferiority in the Son. Relational Subordinationists (or Eternal Functional Subordinationists) say that The Son and the Holy Spirit are not inferior to the Father by nature or being but are always obedient to the Father and do His will. But if by nature and being you only ever fulfil someone else's will (and cannot help but be obedient to it) then surely this says something about you at an ontological level? Eternal Functional Subordinationism seems to align itself with straight Subordinationism. Ontological equality and permanent functional subordination seem incoherent and in their use as a measure for the relations between the genders, is this not clumsy?

I wonder if complementarian trinitarian formulations owe more to Aristotelian logic and the Great chain of Being. St Paul challenged those distinctions with his counter-cultural teaching regarding people's equality in Christ. The Dalit community is powerfully grasping the gospel for reasons like those promoted by Paul and Feminist Dalit theology makes for a particularly fascinating read. 

Whilst we must not polarise each other, I suggest that ultimately Complementarian Evangelicals and Egalitarian evangelicals (the labels don't really help...it's more nuanced, but we have to begin somewhere) differ on something very fundamental: our understanding of the trinitarian relations. 

I believe that my position as an egalitarian evangelical, is less the capitulation to culture (that it is often accused of being) than the hierarchalist position. The hierarchalist position seems influenced by pagan, Greek, Aristotelian thought-systems such as the Great Chain of Being.  

Our appreciation of Trinitarian relationship and the perichoretic community teaches us much about the way that we should relate to one another – it is the drive behind much of our modern day liberation theology. Our attempts to grasp it and live it out is doing much to further God's Kingdom here on earth, particularly amongst those who have often been forced into subordination through human sin.  

Until we start having these conversations about our understanding of trinitarian relations, there will be an entire backdrop to the debate over women bishops that we are missing. 

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A little background reading on the two theological integrities in the Church of England regarding women in ministry.