The Eternal Subordination of the Son Controversy: 5. The Need for Trinitarian Clarity (Part II)

1. The Debate So Far
2. Survey of Some Relevant Material
3. Subordination
4. The Need for Trinitarian Clarity (Part 1)

The fifth part of my series on the eternal subordination of the Son controversy has been published over on Reformation21.

This doctrine does not depend upon speculative arguments founded upon a few isolated proof texts, but upon reflection upon the broader shape of the revelation and acts of God in both the Old and New Testaments. It develops out of the conviction that God’s ad extra work and word in creation, providence, and redemption involves the divine persons inseparably acting, each according to their distinct mode of personal subsistence. Although the economy should not uncritically be read back into an account of the immanent Trinity, God as he exists in himself is revealed in the manner of his work in the world. This doctrine of the Trinity seeks to maintain both robust confidence in the revelation and profound humility before the mystery.

Perhaps the difference between the approach of many of the critics of eternal generation and that of the orthodox to the doctrine might be compared to the difference between treating the biblical text as if a flat representation on a wall and treating it as if a stained glass window through which an uncreated light pours. As we gaze upon the surface of the text, we come to encounter an awesome beauty that lies beyond it. While the doctrine of eternal generation is not straightforwardly represented in the text, it is arrestingly visible through it.

Read the whole thing here.

About Alastair Roberts

Alastair Roberts (PhD, Durham University) writes in the areas of biblical theology and ethics, but frequently trespasses beyond these bounds. He participates in the weekly Mere Fidelity podcast, blogs at Alastair’s Adversaria, and tweets at @zugzwanged.
This entry was posted in Bible, Church History, Controversies, Doctrine of God, Guest Post, Hermeneutics, NT, NT Theology, The Triune God, Theological. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The Eternal Subordination of the Son Controversy: 5. The Need for Trinitarian Clarity (Part II)

  1. cal says:

    Some thoughts & comments:

    I think dyothelitism and the questions of the sixth ecumenical council are more important to this than many think. In fact, I think quite a few Evangelicals engaged in this debate no little to nothing about it. One critique of Augustinianism is that it has a tendency to promote the individual person at the expense of nature. If we’re not thinking about difference between person and nature, and trying to be careful, it’s very easy to stumble into really obscene statements. As per Maximus’ opponents, how we talk about wills might involve us saying that Jesus negated Human nature (which means our salvation is our destruction) or that somehow God was conflicted in Gethsemene. In the same way, the language of pactum salutis is, except in the most metaphorical sense, bizarre and bordering on tritheism or Arianism. Even some pagans believed in a singular will of the gods, given that Olympus was in consensus with the will of Zeus. How is this not ESS of a sorts?

    Having said that, I recently read Christopher Beeley’s monograph on Gregory Nazianzen’s Trinitarian thinking. The most interesting feature was that Beeley argued Gregory conceived of the Father as hypostatically the Divine Nature. This is because the Father is ingenerate and most properly named God, even though the Son and the Spirit share in the same reality through their “generation” (begottenness and processedness). All of this is economic language because we cannot really speak of eternity as all our language is temporally bound. Even language of eternally begotten is a negation of sorts because it is affirming that simultaneously the Son derives from the Father, yet never was/is this not so. So analogical and metaphorical and tentative. Yet, because the Son and Spirit share fully in the Father, because “of” Him, they are God and said to possess the Divine Nature. In an inadequately analogical way, we share Human nature through Adam.

    I thought this was interesting as it gets around the Augustinian flattening of the Three Persons and the lingering question of whether the Divinitas (as per the Athanasian shield) is some ‘fourth’ or God behind God. Some have unfairly accused Augustine of being Sabellian for this reason (Gunton).

    I don’t know if you have any thoughts on this. I think it might shift the debate a little bit, as many on both-sides of ESS struggle with thinking about the Trinity. As per your other posts, Egalitarians collapse the Three into interchangeable, non-descript Persons, whereas the ESS crowd misunderstand (or ignore) most of the tradition on what a “hierarchy” even means, ending up in a socially constructed trap. Perhaps this is the problem of trying to “use” the Trinity as a creational plan. We are to image Christ, who reveals the Trinity, and not the other way around. This imaging includes being the Body of Christ, but then that’s a whole other story.

    I appreciate your remark on the Scripture being like a stained-glass window. That is most certainly true, different than the writings of other Christians which resembled, possibly, that more opaque map rather than translucent glass.


    • cal says:

      Just as a post-script:

      I think it’s important to both reject the Latin Nicene Creed (with its filioque addition) but also appreciate the possible meaning of the Son’s interconnectedness in the Processing of the Spirit. On the one hand, treating Son and Spirit as merely the Two-hands of God (pace Irenaeus) can make them seem like they are accomplishing two works (the Spirit is always revealing the Son). However, the Spirit coming from the Father and the Son makes it sound like a tertium quid, a kind of grand-son or second son (I think Augustine struggled with the possibilities of this conclusion). I think it’s woefully inadequate to collapse the Spirit into some “role” (the Holy Spirit ‘is’ the love that binds God together, Holy Spirit is God’s Will, Providence, Desire, Love etc etc) which many times leads to a theological collapse of the Holy Spirit into His gifts (I see this problem in both Roman Catholicism and among many Protestants).

      However, the Holy Spirit is integrally apart of the Son’s ministry (Holy Spirit anoints Christ, and Christ sends Him out to do work in relation to Christ’s incarnation and work). But then, the Father directs seekers to His Son, and not around or merely through, like a kind of telescope or kaleidoscope (“Listen to my Son!”). So I’m not sure how this fits together, but our theology is founded upon Christology, first and foremost, including (most importantly) our thinking about the Trinity (which is not an appendage, but absolutely necessary for proper Christology). This might properly channel egalitarian critiques into a way that might better assault ESS, while causing a sort of course-corrective for tendencies towards Social Trinitarian flattening.

      And of course, all of the above (at least to me) makes better sense of the Biblical witness, but that’s where you’re going with it 🙂


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