>The Trinity and Gender Roles

>So far this year, I have been really challenged and blessed by some of the reading I have been doing. Two books stand out as particularly good, thought shaping books – I’ll post on them separately.

First, as a part of the Trinity seminar back in early February, I read Millard Erickson’s Who’s Tampering with the Trinity?: An Assessment of the Subordination Debate. The book was encouraging because it led me to change my mind on a theological position I’ve held for more than ten years and (it’s just good to know you can still change your mind and aren’t just locked into ways of thinking!). The book is an exploration and evaluation of an ongoing debate related to the inner workings and inner relationships of the Trinity and how they relate to gender issues. While all in the debate agree that the persons of the Trinity are fully and equally God in their being (ontologically) and share the same essence (homoousios) there is disagreement on how the Trinity is ‘structured’ and how the persons within the Godhead relate to each other.

Specifically, Erickson outlines two views he terms ‘gradational’ and ‘equivalent authority’. A gradational approach is often/usually favored by complimentarians. Gradationist’s hold that within the Godhead there is a hierarchy of authority – the Father is supreme in authority, the Son submits to the authority of the Father, and the Spirit submits to the Father and the Son. Importantly, this is an eternal and necessary hierarchy – it was never any other way, nor could it have been. This has led gradationists to certain conclusions regarding gender and roles – while remaining fully equal, men and women have (should have) different roles. These roles are intrinsic to manhood/womanhood, just as the roles within the Trinity are inherent to the persons of the Trinity. In gender relationships, especially marriage, men are have authority and women are to submit. This, on the gradationist view, reflects the inner workings of the Trinity.

On the other side of this debate are those Erickson labels ‘equivalent authority’ proponents. While they acknowledge the Son does submit to the Father, they would emphasize that this submission is tied to the incarnation and the plan of redemption and is thus temporary and not eternal. When confronted with the oft asked question “why did the second person of the Trinity come to redeem and not the first or third?”, equal authority proponents often point to a voluntary intra-Trinitarian covenant. This covenant is usually referred to as the Covenant of Redemption (others, who wouldn’t associate themselves with the ‘equivalent authority’ position or egalitarianism also believe in Covenant of Redemption. Many covenant theologians have written regarding this covenant). The Son submits to the Father’s authority in a temporary and voluntary way – there isn’t a hierarchy apart from this agreement. ‘Equivalent authority’ proponents are very concerned that the ‘gradationist’ approach threatens trinitarian orthodoxy. Since Nicea, the church has held that the three persons of the Trinity share the same essence. Yet, how can this be if authority is part of what makes the Father the Father and submission is what makes the Son the Son. That would mean the Son doesn’t share the same essence as the Father – he is without authority. And, the Father is without submission.

The arguments for both sides are rather complex, and Erickson does a good job helping the reader navigate them. Though Erickson’s position is clear, he does adequately represents both positions. As I said, it forced me to reconsider my ‘gradationist’ views and, ultimately, to discard them in favor of an ‘equivalent authority’ position. As I now understand it (and this is a work in progress), a wife’s submission to her husband (which I think is biblical) and a husbands authority/leadership of the wife (again, I think this is biblical) is not tied to creation order or to intrinsic qualities of men and women. Instead, it is utterly voluntary and tied to the covenant of marriage. As the Son voluntarily submits to the will of the Father in the Covenant of Redemption, so the wife voluntarily submits to the husband in the covenant of marriage – and of course the husband leads gently, kindly, humbly, lovingly, sacrificially, etc. Outside of marriage (with the possible exception of the church and ministerial relationships – still working through some of this – again), men do not have authority over women and women do not have the obligation to submission.

Again, I highly recommend the book, not only for the discussion of the Trinitarian debate, but as a tutorial in how to evaluate biblical/theological arguments. As for the second book, I’ll post on that later in the week.