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.

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 Presbyterian 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 found doubly 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…

Wives and husbands share in a human nature yet with distinct and separate wills, making submission not only feasible but functional. Whereas we cannot find a suitable analogy of authority and submission in the ontological Trinity because the ontological Trinity is of one divine essence and thereby of numerically one will (since will is indexed to essence, hence Christ’s two wills). Yet 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.

Perhaps there is authority and submission application to be made from 1 Corinthians 11:3. I hope more scholarship goes into this text. But what I first 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 Trinity per se, but rather we must place the focus on the incarnate Christ as mediator who submits in His human will to the Divine will of the Father.

Within the economic Trinity there is submission but it’s misleading merely to observe that a divine Person submits to a divine Person and to extend that submission analogy to the equality of persons in marriage. 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 will to the divine will, just as we are to submit our human wills to God. Although the divine Persons are equal, the wills in view are not. So, the analogy breaks down once we tease out the relevant will of submission in the economic Trinity. I’ll elaborate…

In marriage we are talking about two distinct human wills – among equal beings – that are to be brought into harmony through submission. Yet in Christ’s submission to the Father, although the persons are equal, the relevant beings are not. Therefore, that a human being, who is a divine Person, submits as a divine Person to another divine Person (who is solely a divine being) lacks analogous force with respect to a human being who must submit to another human being in marriage. In sum, within the economic Trinity there is no ordering of equal wills but rather an ordering of a human will under the one undivided will of God. The taxis of persons as it relates to submission in the economic Trinity is established not by Persons per se but by another property, the plurality of natures of the Second Person.

(The Presbyterians seemed to grant a marriage submission analogy from the economic Trinity, which I just argued was in error.)

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 Son’s will 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!

In closing:

Given that the divine Persons of the ontological Trinity are differentiated by their eternal properties of paternity, filiation and spiration, the ontological Trinity analogy should be forsaken altogether and 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 possible, but the notion of Trinity seems to complicate matters because we are then left to speak in terms limited to the economic Trinity and only one of the Persons of the economic Trinity, Christ Jesus, as his human will comes under the one divine will, which is the Son’s. Accordingly, authority and submission is not a Trinity consideration per se but a limited consideration of the union of two natures in one hypostasis.

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.