Does the Trinity Matter? Part 2

I have previously argued that the economic Trinity is the immanent Trinity, which means that God as he relates to us is a faithful representation of who God is in himself. If modalism were true, this premise would be falsified, and we would not truly know God. Modalism entails that God reveals himself as other than what he truly is.

What implications does this have for feminist issues facing the church today? I can think of two in particular:

1. First, the trend among feminists to revise the doctrine of the Trinity by cutting out the masculine language should be rejected. The “Father” and “Son” parts are the ones that draw some attention. Some feminist theologians have proposed that we revise the language along the lines of “Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier.” Some have even proposed using feminine pronouns for God or offering prayers to “Mother God.”

I have no problem affirming that God is “Creator,” “Redeemer,” and “Sanctifier.” However, these titles are less personal than “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,” and they do not communicate with the same kind of specificity. All three titles can be predicated of a specific person of the Godhead, but they all three can also be predicated of the triune God himself. For example, the Father is Creator, but God the Trinity is also Creator. However, only the Father is Father. God the Trinity is not the Father. When we say “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,” we achieve a level of specificity that is unattainable with other words.

I do have a problem referring to God as “she,” “her,” or “Mother.” Why is this? Is it because I believe God is a male, a sexual being like us? No. God is not a sexual being (excluding for the moment any mention of Christ’s human nature). But this does not give us license to call him whatever we want when the culture pressures us to jettison masculine terminology. If the economic Trinity is the immanent Trinity, then God-in-himself corresponds to God as he has revealed himself. And if God has revealed himself in Scripture as “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,” with corresponding masculine pronouns, then we are not at liberty to say he was wrong to do so. To me, that is kind of like saying to William Shakespeare, “What would you do with Hamlet if I gave you another chance?” only it is far, far worse. When they seek to revise the doctrine of the Trinity as revealed in Scripture, feminists imply that God’s revelation of himself is not a faithful representation of who he really is. If that is the case, then the economic Trinity is not the immanent Trinity, and we have no real knowledge of God at all. We are free to make up whatever we want.

God has revealed himself primarily in masculine terminology not because he is a sexual being but because his relationship to us is the underlying theological foundation upon which the male-to-female relationship is built in our world. God calls himself the husband of Israel. Christ is the bridegroom who comes to receive his bride, the church. There is some feminine imagery used in reference to God, but these are always similes. In some sense, God is like a mother (Matt 23:37), but he is never called “Mother” directly. He is, however, called “Father” and “Son.” If we prayed to “Mother God” on the basis of Matthew 23:37, we would be misusing a simile. In fact, this verse would require us to pray to “Mother Hen” if we used it that way. We should avoid all attempts to revise trinitarian language. There is no need for us to try to be nicer, or more politically correct, than God.

2. Second, if the economic Trinity is the immanent Trinity, then we must assume that the trinitarian order we observe in redemptive history corresponds to God as he is in himself. Let me explain: In salvation history, we see the persons of the Trinity relating to each other in certain ways. The Son submits to the Father (John 5:30), and the Spirit submits to the Father and the Son (John 14:26; 16:12-15). We know that all three persons are of the same essence. The Father is not ontologically greater than the Son or the Spirit. All three persons are fully and eternally God. And yet, we see a clear pattern of authority and submission in the economic Trinity. Is this pattern an indication of how the persons of the Trinity are in relation to each other eternally, or is this pattern simply a temporary arrangement for the purpose of redemption? Let me rephrase that question with a more particular one: does the Son submit to the Father eternally or only for the purpose of his redemptive mission?

Evangelical feminists typically argue that the pattern of authority and submission we witness in the economic Trinity is not a reflection of the immanent Trinity. But to say this is to say that the economic Trinity is not the immanent Trinity. God is not in himself what he reveals himself to be. This is the same pitfall into which modalists fall, and it questions the basis of any true knowledge of God. If the economic Trinity is the immanent Trinity, then the pattern of authority and submission that we see between Father, Son, and Spirit must be reflective of their eternal relationships. The Son submits to the Father not just in history but in eternity. Even though they share the same essence, their personal distinctions warrant an order of authority and submission that does not compromise their essential equality. We see this confirmed from Scripture in many places. I have already referenced Jesus’ statement in John 5:30, in which he declares that he does not pursue his own will but that of the Father. Of course, this text clearly pertains to his redemptive mission. But is there any indication in Scripture that the Son submits to the Father in eternity? Yes. John 3:16 speaks of God sending his only begotten Son. This sending took place prior to the Son’s incarnation and is the basis of the incarnation. If evangelical feminists are correct, then the Son could just as easily have sent the Father. But is there not something fitting in the person of the Son as the Son that he should be the one sent by the Father? Are the divine persons arbitrarily related, or do these terms “Father” and “Son” actually mean something? First Corinthians 11:3 confirms what I have argued when it says that God is the head of Christ. This is clearly a reference to who God (the Father) and Christ are eternally. To make it an ad hoc arrangement between the Father and Son would not do much for Paul’s argument. Also, 1 Corinthians 15:28 says, “And when everything is subject to Him [Christ], then the Son Himself will also be subject to Him who subjected everything to Him, so that God may be all in all.” This clearly pertains to eternity. When redemptive history is finished, and all things (save the Father himself) have been subjected to Christ, he will deliver up the Kingdom to the Father forever. No, the pattern of authority and submission between Father and Son is no ad hoc arrangement. It has been from all eternity and will be for all eternity.

If this is the case, then we have theological resources to understand the essential equality of men and women while still arguing for a legitimate pattern of authority and submission between them in accordance with Scripture. If the persons of the Trinity, being equal in essence, have distinctions in the roles that they fulfill that include authority and submission, then we should have no a priori objection to the idea that authority and submission are inherent in the husband and wife relationship and in the nature of church leadership. I believe what drives evangelical feminist exegesis of such passages as 1 Timothy 2, 1 Corinthians 11, and Ephesians 5 is not the text itself but rather an a priori objection to the idea that women, because they are women, are called to submit to the leadership of men. A right understanding of the Trinity should make this objection disappear.

Advertisements

6 Responses to “Does the Trinity Matter? Part 2”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    Dear Aaron,
    It sounds to me like your theological reflection is more binitarian than trinitarian.
    Luke

  2. Aaron Says:

    I used the example of the Father and the Son because the NT evidence for the Son’s submission to the Father is widespread and compelling. There are not as many passages that address the Spirit’s relationship to the Father and the Son, but I did mention that the Spirit submits to them both, as established by considering texts such as John 14:26 and 16:12-15. The baptismal order (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) is not arbitrary. It is a fitting reflection of trinitarian relationships among persons who are identical in essence but distinguished as to their personhood. So no, I don’t believe what I have written is necessarily binitarian.

  3. Anonymous Says:

    Dear Aaron,
    It is interesting that you appeal to Rahner’s classic dictum to begin your trinitarian reflection, and then you go on to identify the problem with trinitarian thought is with the feminists! Rahner’s whole contention was that theological reflection on the trinity had become merely a reflection on the development of the doctrine. If one were to remove the trinitarian formulas from most chapters on the nature of God there would be no great difference. His concern was not that people did not affirm the doctrine of the trinity. His concern was that their affirmation had not impact on their theology! Your comment that SBC affirm the trinity in the Baptist Faith and Message doesn’t mean anything when it does not shape their understanding God. I think Rahner’s criticism is fair, that for many many people one could remove the doctrine of the trinity and it not really affect their understanding of God.

    I think your move to find in the relationship of father and son and example of submission that does not make unequal is rather misguided for a number of reasons. First in the passage regarding submission the relationship of Father and Son is not mentioned. Men are to imitate the example of Christ for the church. Secondly I think any analogy that uses male and female relationship to express the persons of the trinity comes into real problems. I think you find the classic controversy with the nature of the divine persons. The Father, Son and Spirit are homousian not homoiusian. I think male female imagery presents an analogy that is significantly different than classic orthodox presentations of the trinity. Not to mention….the third person of the Trinity.

    I appreciate your willingness to offer some sustained reflection on the Trinity. It is much easier to critique another than to offer something constructive. Perhaps I will get back to blogging and offer you the opportunity to point out my short cominngs.

    blessings,
    Luke Smith

  4. Friend Says:

    Dear Aaron

    I’m not a Modalist, but concerning the doctrine about God, Himself, I am Unitarian, although I hasten to say that I am not a Unitarian Universalist, but a Scriptural Universalist.

    It is my belief that if the Trinity is a true doctrine, 1 Corinthians 8:1-7 would have confirmed it, Scripturally. Amazingly, however, here, in verse 6 we see that Paul emphasizes that to us there is but one God, the Father, out of Whom all is.

    You wrote: < << ...only the Father is Father. God the Trinity is not the Father. When we say "Father, Son, and Holy Spirit," we achieve a level of specificity that is unattainable with other words. >>>

    Further down, you asserted: < << Are the divine persons arbitrarily related, or do these terms "Father" and "Son" actually mean something? >>>

    May I ask, Whom of the three persons of the Trinity do Trinitarians regard to be the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, God the Father or God the Holy Spirit?

    In Matthew 1:18, we read, (NKJV) Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit.

    In Matthew 1:20 we see: (NKJV) But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.”

    In Luke 1:35, the following is revealed: (NKJV) And the angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God.

    Thus far, no Trinitarian has been able to give me a meaningful answer to my question as to Who is the father of the Lord Jesus Christ, God the Father or God the Holy Spirit.

    I cannot see why I will, according to Trinitarians, lose out on salvation, due to not believing in the Trinity doctrine which does not make sense to me. In all sincerity and truth, I do not believe that one’s salvation hinges on being able to pass a theological test.

    That you wish to believe in it, is fine with me, but for you to say that whomsoever, in accord with the Athanasian Creed, does not believe in it, cannot be saved, I disagree with, rather strongly.

    Perhaps, you will be able to persuade me to believe in the Trinity, although if all three persons of the Trinity are equal, I cannot relate to one being subjected to the other (1Cor.15:28). To me, that ruins the relationship of equality, altogether.

    Neither, for this reason can I relate to one equal — the Son — having a God and being sent by Him.

    Jeep

  5. Aaron Says:

    Friend,

    I just now (on April 13th) noticed your comment.

    God the Father is the Father of the Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. This is an eternal relationship that is not based on the Incarnation. Rather, the eternal Fatherhood of the Father and the eternal Sonship of the Son is the basis upon which the Son was sent to be incarnate. In other words, the incarnation does not establish the Father-Son relationship between these two persons of the Godhead. That relationship is eternal and is the basis for the Incarnation.

    The fact that the Holy Spirit worked in the Incarnation in the formation of the Son’s human nature does not mean that the Spirit has now become the Father. But certainly, I would affirm that the Spirit’s work in the Incarnation was in obedience to the Father’s will. But we must not reduce the Incarnation to a quasi-sexual act of conception, whereby we think of the Spirit as impregnating Mary in the way that men normally impregnate women. It is a unique event

    So let me get this straight: you are not a modalist, but you are a Unitarian. Does that mean you are an Arian? Do you deny the full divinity of the Son and the Spirit?

    I am surprised that you brought up 1 Corinthians 8:1-7, because it is one of the strongest passages in Scripture that indicates a plurality within God. You failed to quote it in full:

    “…there is no God but one. For even if there are so-called gods whether in heaven or on earth, as indeed there are many gods and many lords, yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him.” (vv. 4-6)

    Paul is here echoing the Shema of Deuteronomy 6:4, the central confession of the Jewish people affirming the uniqueness and supremacy of Yahweh:

    “Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one!”

    When Paul says, “One God and one Lord,” anyone familiar with the Old Testament would hear the Shema in the background, which mentions both “Lord” and “God” in reference to the same being. That Paul identifies the Father as “God” and Jesus Christ as “Lord” indicates that they are equal in divinity. “Lord” (Greek “kyrios”) is the New Testament rendering of the Hebrew name for God: “Yahweh.” Paul is identifying Jesus here with Yahweh of the Old Testament, inserting his name into a passage that echoes the sacred confession of the Jewish people, the Shema. Jesus belongs on the same plain as the Father, according to Paul, and yet there is clearly a distinction between them in terms of person.

  6. Friend Says:

    Dear Aaron,

    You wrote: < << God the Father is the Father of the Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. This is an eternal relationship that is not based on the Incarnation. Rather, the eternal Fatherhood of the Father and the eternal Sonship of the Son is the basis upon which the Son was sent to be incarnate. In other words, the incarnation does not establish the Father-Son relationship between these two persons of the Godhead. That relationship is eternal and is the basis for the Incarnation. >>>

    Thank you for this explanation. This is the first time anyone has explained it this way to me. I wonder, is this a recently gained insight by Calvinists, because in all my years of having been one, it was never explained this way. Of course, I would like to know the Scriptural foundation for this view.

    < << The fact that the Holy Spirit worked in the Incarnation in the formation of the Son's human nature does not mean that the Spirit has now become the Father. But certainly, I would affirm that the Spirit's work in the Incarnation was in obedience to the Father's will. But we must not reduce the Incarnation to a quasi-sexual act of conception, whereby we think of the Spirit as impregnating Mary in the way that men normally impregnate women. It is a unique event >>>

    I agree that it was a very unique event. However, I firmly believe that God’s word is given us that we might properly understand God, sensibly. That the Holy Spirit, as a person, is revealed to be involved in the incarnation of Christ, as it is mentioned in Mat.1:18,20 and Luke 1:35, strikes me as very mystifying, in light of your previous statement that the Father/Son relationship is from eternity.

    < << So let me get this straight: you are not a modalist, but you are a Unitarian. Does that mean you are an Arian? Do you deny the full divinity of the Son and the Spirit? >>>

    The Arian theology is too unclear for me to simply say that I am an Arian. I do believe that Christ is the firstborn of every creature (or every creation), (Col.1:15; Rev.3:14). I do not believe the Holy Spirit to be a person, but it is the power of God (Luke 1:35).

    < << I am surprised that you brought up 1 Corinthians 8:1-7, because it is one of the strongest passages in Scripture that indicates a plurality within God. >>>

    It is equally surprising to me that you use this passage to support your position, because I consider 1Cor.8:1-7, together with John 17:3, to be the strongest passage, indicating that the Father is the only true God for us. That you then use Deut. 6:4 to further support it, is something most Hebrew speaking Jews would not agree with. On the contrary!

    Please know that the only reason I asked you about whom you consider to be the Father of the Lord Jesus, is because of a recent incident in which I was, against my preferences, drawn into a discussion about the Trinity. I was taken to task for not believing in the Trinity, and was informed that it would preclude me from getting saved. I made it clear I was willing to believe it, but that, in all honesty, I could not believe it, because the Trinity does not register with me as being sensibly understandable.

    However, I believe that it is each person’s privilege to believe as is sensible to him. That you wish to believe in the Trinity is your good right and no one should hold it against you. We believe unto God and not unto each other.

    To me, the doctrine of the Trinity is far too much arrived at, inferentially. In contrast, the belief in the salvation of all is arrived at from many clear and straightforward texts.

    However, I do not accept that, either, a belief in Universal Salvation and a belief in the Trinity, is essential for salvation. I very much regret that the Athanasian Creed is making the belief in the Trinity mandatory, in order for a person to be saved.

    To me, the Trinity Doctrine does not magnify God, but, instead, mystifies Him. In profound contrast, the salvation of all, greatly magnifies and glorifies, both, God, the Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ, God’s Anointed. That is why I try to draw the attention of fellow believers to this glorious truth.

    Friend

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: