A Response to Rachel Held Evan’s Post on the Trinity and CBMW

223805145Over at Rachel Held Evan’s blog a post was recently published regarding the recent theological tactic by some at the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood to demonstrate that functional subordination does not necessitate an ontological subordination. This is to counter the claim by Egalitarians that to claim that women ought to be submissive or subordinate to men (in the Church or Home) implies that there is somehow a essential difference. The argument then goes, that since no such essential difference exists, therefore the submission or subordination also ought not exist. The response by CBMW was to point out that in the Trinity there appears to be a functional subordination of the Son to the Father, yet no ontological subordination takes place. Rachel had blogger Zach Hunt post because “Zack has a way of taking complex theological ideas and not only making them understandable but also applicable.” As we’ll see here, Zach has made a complex theological idea understandable… that complex theological idea just isn’t orthodox Trinitarian theology.

Now, just to get all my cards on the table:

  • I am a married 30 year old white male
  • I am Seminary educated
  • I studied Church History
  • I disagree with the way that CBMW is utilizing the doctrine of the Trinity in this instance
  • I am a complimentarian

Let’s stack that up against Zach for just a second:

  • Zach is a married 30ish (from the photo on Rachel’s blog) year old white male
  • Zach is currently a graduate student at a divinity School
  • Zach is studying the History of Christianity
  • Zach disagrees with the way that CBMW is utilizing the doctrine of the Trinity in this instance
  • Zach is an egalitarian

As you can see, apart from the last point, the broad contours of our lives are essentially the same. We both live and conduct our studies in New England. We likely have similar upbringings and life histories.

The reason I bring this up is because a common response in this kind of debate is to point out that a person’s background and history sort of taints them against the correct view of things. Zach and I share a strikingly similar context.

Zach starts with some opening shots across the bow, setting the stage for what will be a sarcastic and superficial theological response. He states in a sort of thesis statement that holding to a functional subordination within the Trinity is an ancient heresy that was condemned at the Council of Nicaea. On the surface of things, this seems like a pretty well through out response.

Then you keep reading.

Amazingly, Zach actually characterizes the position of the CBMW in a somewhat accurate way.

Advocates of this position hold that Jesus is eternally subordinate to the Father, but that that role has nothing to do with his being, who he is or his ontology

What is disheartening, is not that the problem comes in with his interpretation of his opponent’s view… but with his understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity as represented at Nicaea. We should have known something was wrong when he highlighted the phrase “Either ‘these three are one, that is to say equal, or they are not.” Why is this a problem? Well, first of all, because after the Incarnation, Jesus clearly demonstrates (and explicitly states) that he is subordinate to the Father (John 5:19, 14:28). Second, because the historical testimony of the Church has asserted that there are different ways to be equal with something or someone. One is ontological, that is to say that the very essence of what you are is the same. Christ is ontologically the same as us in respect to his human nature, and he is ontologically the same as the Father in respect to his divine nature. Another way is economically or functionally. That is to say that two persons who have the same nature can hold the same role. In the military two people who hold the rank of Private are economically equal.

The problem is that Nicaea only affirms the Ontological equality of the Father and the Son (and Spirit). The error of Arius was not in subordinating the Son economically to the Father, but in that he subordinated the Son ontologically (and also that he confused the distinction to say that economic subordination must mean ontological subordination… which is exactly what Zach is doing, only in reverse).

It only gets worse as he tries to further explain his position when he says;

[The Council of Nicaea] defined as orthodox the notion that God is one ousia in three hypostases, fancy Greek words for declaring that God’s nature is one unified essence that has three ways of being in the world or in the universe or wherever God decides to hangout.

Lets ignore for a second that his explanation of what ousia and hypostases are is woefully inaccurate, and take a look at what is actually going on. What Zach puts forward is a heresy more ancient than Arianism which argues that God is not actually three, but that he is one and just looks like three. This heresy is called Sebellianism or Modalism. Zach gives up what he incorrectly sees to be Arianism and trades it off for another heresy entirely. I suppose I shouldn’t be too upset with him, most westerners don’t understand that the “One God in three Persons” language that we use is inherently bent toward modalism to start with. However, this guy was touted here as an expert in theology who is supposed to be critiquing the theology of people holding PhD’s over at CBMW… especially someone studying the history of Christianity he sure missed just about all of the Trinitarian dialog in the first 3 centuries.

Either way, his critique simply falls flat because he denies the difference between Ontological subordination and Functional subordination. Ironically, he participates in this distinction every day. Here are two undeniable examples of this distinction in play:

The first is a scenario is that of an employee and an employer. I don’t know what kind of work situation Zach has, but in regard to his blogging on Rachel’s website, he answers to her. If he had written something she did not like, she would have either made him change it or refused to publish it. He is subordinate to her in this regard. However, does this mean that he is somehow not human in the same way that she is? Of course not. In fact, he will always be subordinate to her in this way. If he wishes to have something published to her blog, he must abide by her conditions. His functionally subordinate to her, yet not ontologically subordinate to her. The same goes for any employee. They are functionally subordinate to their employer, but not ontologically subordinate.

Another example that is even more striking is Jesus himself. As I indicated above, the historic testimony of the Church is that Christ is essentially like us in reference to his human nature in the same way that he is essentially like the Father in reference to his divine nature. So, does Zach intend to imply that we are not subordinate to Christ functionally, since we are equal to Christ ontologically (in reference to his human nature)? I certainly hope not, although I guess it wouldn’t surprise me since as an egalitarian he would deny the analogy that Paul uses of Christ being the head of the Church just as a Husband is the head of his wife. If functional subordination and ontological subordination are one and the same, then Christ is not my Lord, he is my equal. However we know that this is not the case.

My suggestion for Zach is to go back to his Sys I notes and revisit the doctrine of the Trinity. He clearly has it a bit askance.