Trinitarian Heterodoxy Eclipses Marriage (once again)

A pair of books were recently released entitled: Let The Men Be Men & Let The Women Be Women. As the subtitles disclose, the respective books pertain to God’s Design For Manhood And Marriage & God’s Design For Womanhood and Marriage.

This is not a review of the books but instead I offer a brief analysis on the theological appropriateness of using unqualified persons of the Trinity as an analogy for marriage.

My wife was reading to me a portion from Chapter 2 of one of the books, wherein a passing reference to the Trinity was made. The author said he’d develop the reference more in Chapter 10. Naturally, I took a quick peak at chapter 10 because some otherwise good material on wives and husbands has been disregarded over the years due to missteps having to do with Trinity analogies. One particular egalitarian Anglican-theologian who’s well versed in Trinitarian theology has capitalized on such missteps. Others have as well. Neither Baptists nor Presbyterians should want to throw the baby out with the bath water (pun intended).

In the hope that such books are a success in bringing clarity to the complementarian discussion, I thought I’d make a few comments on some direct quotes from the book on women.

My thoughts as they relate to the doctrine of God, I think, would be shared by most Reformed theologians and pastors. We might recall that they are the ones (along with an Anglican or two) who went after Wayne Grudem, Bruce Ware, and others for their Trinity analogies to marriage in the summer of 2016. What I have, also, found unfortunate is that some biblical teaching on marriage has been dismissed, if not even scorned in the process, due to mistaken Theology Proper.

More than in Reformed Baptist circles, there are thin complementarians in the Reformed Presbyterian community. Many of these men have their Trinitarian theology down pat. So, any Trinity misstep by otherwise good men of God provides occasion for some to dismiss biblical complementarianism. This is understandable, which should cause certain Reformed Baptists to be more careful, if not solely for the sake of putting forth a biblical view of God, and secondly so that others might give attention to sound marriage doctrine.

From chapter 10:

The Trinity As A Model Of Submission

“The Trinity” is a term that defines the relationship of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit – one essence and attributes, yet three in distinct work and purpose. (Emphasis mine)

We don’t want to eclipse Divine Simplicity and the inseparable operations of the Trinity. (We might recall, that was a big deal in the Trinity debate in the summer of 2016.)

Each divine Person is operative in all God’s works. Which is to say, the works of the Trinity are indivisible. Indeed, it was the Son who died on the cross, but God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself (by the Spirit). In redemption there is one distinct work and purpose, carried out through the inseparable operations of Persons when Christ, by the eternal Spirit, offered Himself without blemish to God.

Trinity is not a term that seeks to define God by “relationship” within the Godhead, if by relationship we mean personal distinctions of authority and submission. The historical Christian creeds discriminate not by eternal relationships (or economic functions) but by personal properties. Accordingly, any orthodox reference to “relationship” must be interpreted as personal properties ad intra that cash out as eternal modes of being. Any eternal relationship may only be conceived of in terms of relations of eternal origin, not subject to temporal-sequence or personal roles. Historically, the church has defined Trinity in terms of the eternal origins of existence: unbegogtenness of the Father; eternal generation of the Son; and procession of the Holy Spirit.

God uses that aspect of the trinity to teach us how marriage is to work. This is the truth of 1 Corinthians 11:3 “I want you to understand the Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ.”As Paul is about to discuss the role of women he makes a statement about the trinity is the reason for different roles in marriage…

Paul is not making a theological statement about the Trinity but rather making application about Christ, a divine human being, submitting to his Father. In other words, the focus isn’t on the economic Trinity per se but more narrowly on economic relations of the incarnate Son as he submits as the God-man in his humanity to God, who is Christ’s head. (Matthew 27:46; John 20:17; Revelation 3:2,12) Paul’s focus is on congruous order, not Theology Proper.

Not to parse things too fine, but some have pressed the analogy too far. There is an ordering that is natural and fitting – the woman to her husband; the husband, as head, to Christ; and Christ to God.

We may glean, because Christ is Divine, there is no necessary loss of worth or dignity in personal submission, for even Christ submitted. Indeed, biblical submission is revealed in the harmony of creation. Notwithstanding, this principle of ordering mustn’t be pressed too far with respect to ontology. There are stark differences in the ordering that must be maintained, yet without losing the force of the apostle’s point.

How the analogy breaks down:

Wives and husbands share a human nature yet with distinct and separate wills, making submission not only feasible but functional. Whereas we cannot find the same ontic analogy of authority and submission in the immanent Trinity because God is of one divine essence and thereby of numerically one will (since will is indexed to essence, hence Christ’s two wills). If submission entails a plurality of wills, then there can be no submission in the ontological Trinity by the nature of the case, for one will cannot submit to itself. Accordingly, no marriage analogy may be drawn from the ontological Trinity, nor may we read submission back into the ontological Trinity from the economic Trinity in an effort to establish principles for marriage. (That should be the easy part.)

Regarding inferences relating to persons of the economic Trinity, things can get a bit trickier:

There is indeed authority and submission application to be made from 1 Corinthians 11:3, but, as already observed, we must be precise by not reading submission back into the ontological Trinity.

What I find key in the text is the reference to Christ, referring to the Son as the mediatory God-man. In other words, we may not draw application from the economic Trinity per se, but rather we must place the focus on the incarnate Christ as mediator who submits his human will to will of God. The ordering pertains to beings, not to persons without reference to being. That’s key.

Within the context of the economic Trinity there is submission of equal divine persons, but it is misleading to extend that submission, in an ontological sense, to the principle of a wife’s submission to her earthly head. The reason being, it is a divine Person as a human being who submits to a divine Being who is not a human being! In other words, Christ Jesus submitted only in his human nature to the divine will, just as we are to submit our human wills to God. Although the divine Persons are equal, the two respective wills in view are not equal in being, which is not the case with marriage. So, the ontological analogy breaks down once we tease out the relevant will of submission in the economic Trinity. I’ll try to elaborate even further.

Regarding marriage we are talking about two distinct human wills – among equal beings – that are to be brought into harmony through submission. Yet the submission of Christ does not entail equal beings. In Christ’s submission to the Father, although the persons are equal, the relevant beings are not. As a human being with a human will, Christ submits to his Father, a divine being. Therefore, that a human being, who is also a divine Person, submits as a divine Person to another divine Person (who is solely a divine being) lacks ontic analogous force as it relates to one human being who must by God’s design submit to another equal human being in marriage. Consequently, the Christ submission-analogy to marriage is not one-to-one; it cannot pertain to an equality of beings or persons, but nonetheless to a congruity and harmonious ordering of distinct and separate wills. In other words, with respect to submission in marriage, the two wills are different yet belong to equal beings. With respect to Christ’s submission to God, the wills are different too, yet of unequal beings. Therefore, the analogy is not at the point of being.

In sum, within the economic Trinity there is no ordering of wills of equal beings, but rather an ordering of a human will under the one undivided will of God. Consequently, the taxis of persons as it relates to submission in the economic Trinity is established not by persons without further qualification but by another property found in the plurality of natures of the Second Person. Christ submits to God.

(The Presbyterians seemed to grant a marriage submission analogy from the economic Trinity, which is not a concession I’d make without further qualification.)

The principle and practice of submission has been around as long as God has existed.(Emphasis mine)

“As long as God has existed” draws application not from the economic Trinity but rather the immanent Trinity. The sentiment literally implies submission exists in the eternal and one undivided will of God prior to the hypostatic union, but the Scripture proof-text refers not to the eternal Son but to the incarnate Christ. Apart from the human will, the Second Person cannot submit his will to the Father given that it’s the identical will. (God is a simple being, not composite.)

It won’t do to appeal to the ordering or taxis of the eternal and undivided will of God. For no amount of ordering of the one undivided will of God can result in a willful coming under lest we equivocate in our analogy. Even if we recognize an ordering of the one will in terms of the Son’s willingness to become man, while the Father willed that he himself not become the mediator, it’s at best a misnomer to consider a will of concomitance in terms of authority and submission. For the Son delights in the plan of God for it is the very eternal plan of the undivided Trinity. He can do no other. It’s His will! Accordingly, the triune God willed that the begotten Son be sent by the Father, which is a fitting reflection of eternal origins (given the plan of redemption).

In closing:

Given that the divine Persons of the ontological Trinity are differentiated by their eternal, personal properties of paternity, filiation and spiration, the ontological Trinity analogy should be forsaken altogether; any analogies and application should be limited to Christ in his humility per 1 Corinthians 11:3, yet I’ve just challenged how far we might be able to take even that analogy.

Within the economic Trinity there is a Divine Person with a non-divine will that makes Jesus’ submission to God both possible and fitting. Accordingly, the Christ to God authority and submission is not a Trinity consideration per se but a limited consideration grounded in the union of two natures in one hypostasis. Yet the submission of wife to husband finds its analogy to Christ to God not in an ordering of being but in creative design nonetheless.

Again, Reformed Presbyterians need this teaching on marriage. I believe we may learn much from our Calvinistic Baptist brothers and sisters. To that end, my hope is Trinity analogies would be reconsidered in new light, as I wish there to be no dismantling of any reasonable core thesis on marriage.