Friday, September 3, 2010

A Brief Overview of the Development of Eternal Subordination of the Son Doctrine: What You Must Believe to Fully Embrace the Danvers Statement

I have stated many times that if the Council on Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) actually came right out and stated what they believed about basic doctrines, far more people would have challenged and rejected their ideas.  By making statements vague and ambiguous and by relying on linguistic boobytraps, groups like CBMW can entice a person and get them committed to the surface doctrine, and by the time they reveal the unpleasant or questionable aspects of their beliefs, people are too deeply committed to them to just walk away.  The most troubling doctrine that is foundational to CBMWs complementarian ideology is their concept of the Trinity.

But how did this concept come about?

Attaching All Doctrine to the Doctrine of God
First, consider what J. Ligon Ducan had to say about Reformed Theology when discussing the implications of gender at the Different By Design Conference in 2008 (04Feb08, Session1).  He mentions that RC Sproul was once asked what made Reformed Theology unique.  Sproul reportedly answered, “In Reformed Protestant Theology, all other theology is seen in relation to the Doctrine of God.  That every other area on which the Bible teaches is seen in relation to the Doctrine of God.”  Duncan asserts that many of our doctrinal issues and problems in Christianity arise because we do not properly connect all other doctrines back to the Doctrine of God.  Thus, the “Biblical foundation for women’s ministry in the local church is going to root it’s teaching about Christian womanhood in the Doctrine of God.”

Covenant of Redemption
Noting that Ligon notes a standard of linking all doctrine back to the God’s identity and character in some way to be legitimate, consider Covenant Theology’s “Covenant of Redemption,” a concept that is not held by all Reformed Believers and rejected by Dispensationalists. defines the “Covenant of Redemption” in this way:

In Reformed theology, the pactum salutis has been defined as a pretemporal, intratrinitarian agreement between the Father and Son in which the Father promises to redeem an elect people. In turn the Son volunteers to earn the salvation of his people by becoming acting as surety of the covenant of grace for and as mediator of the covenant of grace to the elect. In his active and passive obedience, Christ fulfills the conditions of the pactum salutis...ratifying the Father's promise, because of which the Father rewards the Son's obedience with the salvation of the elect. And because of this the Holy Spirit applies the Son's work to his people through the means of grace.

David Van Drunen & Scott Clark: Covenant, Justification and Pastoral Ministry, p. 168    

There are some problems with this idea.  The details of this covenant are not spelled out or told to us in any Scripture.  It depicts no scene where the Divine Persons interacted and came to an agreement, nor does it describe an account where God had a conversation with aspects of Himself before time and creation began.  It is an assumption based upon the speculation of men.

What we do know is that while on earth and while incarnate, Jesus had to empty Himself of some  divine aspects in order to be fully human, temporarily setting aside His rights to “grasp” those abilities in order to become the Son of Man (Phillipians 2).  It does not necessarily or need imply that Jesus was eternally void of this power, and the concept of the knosis or the emptying can account for this .  Jesus states in Gethsemane that He could have called twelve thousand angels to rescue Him, demonstrating that He had the option to decline the Cross and was not compelled by the order of the Father (Matthew 12:53).  His purpose in the Garden involved making the decision to go through with the process, fully committing to it because the option to decline was open and available to Him.  It all depends on your presuppositions, doesn’t it?

Keep in mind that those who govern CBMW follow Reformed Theology, noting Ligon Duncan’s words about and goal to connect all doctrines back to the Doctrine of God.  Please note again that not all who follow Reformed Theology embrace the Covenant of Redemption as legitimate (myself included).

Addition of Gender Hierarchy and the Juvenile Jesus to the Covenant of Redemption
The Doctrine of the Eternal Subordination of the Son (ESS) takes the Covenant of Redemption a bit further by adding a concept of hierarchy to it, a concept that Kevin Giles claims was introduced by George Knight in his 1977 book. It suggests that Jesus was and always will be an “eternal son,” and many who believe ESS suggest that Jesus was a youthful God that required growth and development before His incarnation.  If an agreement was made, they add to this covenant a hierarchy and a power structure.  

Some suggest that Jesus had to choose between incarnation and equality with the Father, as though he was a developing youth before the earth was created (Denny Burk at the Evangelical Theological Society).  Some homeschooling advocates claim that Jesus was homeschooled by the Father in heaven, long before creation and human history, during His development period (Doug Phillips in at homeschooling conferences in the late ‘90s).  And some maintain that Jesus does not have the authority to hear an answer prayer but only delivers prayer to the Father (Bruce Ware in private communications to verify his beliefs).

Along with the immature Jesus concept comes the idea that God the Father rules and reigns over God the Son -- that the Father always has and always will.  Why is this significant?  It allows men like Ligon Duncan to claim that their view of marriage and gender derives directly from the Doctrine of God, and it gives them the illusion that their doctrine is therefore sound and just.  It also suggests an elite status for those who agree with them or are numbered among them.

What Should We Believe and Why?
We must ask ourselves just who it is that we believe.  Do we believe what is actually written in Scripture first about who God is, or do we just trust in what people tell us we should believe?

Ralph Smith claims that there were four Reformed theologians who first accepted the Covenant of Redemption.  Three of those men were Dutch Reformed theologians (Johannes Coccieus, Herman Witsius, Gisbertus Voetius), and one was a German theologian who helped pen the Heidelberg Confession (Caspar Olevianus).  Where can you find a clear support in the Bible for the “Covenant of Redemption”?  If you do accept their concept, do you believe that this indicates that their is an obligatory hierarchy among the persons of the Godhead? (Many believe that this distorts the Covenant of Redemption and falls into a semi-Arian heresy that makes Jesus a lesser God.)   And if you go this far in your ideas, do you believe that gender is a reflection of this presumed hierarchy in the Godhead and that gender is directly connected to God’s identity?  What Scripture tells us this clearly?  Do you have to review two or three CBMW publications or published works to answer that question?  If you believe this much, do you believe that rejection of CBMW’s concept of gender renders those people open theists who reject God’s identity and those who worship a false God?  How far are you willing to follow?  Ask yourself just who and what you are following.

I believe that Ephesians 5 directs all believers to submit to one another and that wives should submit to their own husbands as husbands love their wives by treating them in the same way that they treat their own bodies.  We are called to service as Christians and to be patient as well.  We need not create doctrines or teachings that are not clearly found in Scripture in order to affirm these principles.  I do not believe that the Book of Ephesians or any other Scripture affirms any kind of intrinsic, ordained gender hierarchy based on creation order, ontology (essence), or teleology (purpose).  And I definitely deny that this hierarchy connects back to a hierarchy among the Persons of the Godhead because I deny that there is one.  Jesus was no developing youth god who had to choose between equality with and any other aspect of Himself, and as the Author of Creation, He didn’t need to be homeschooled by God the Father before the creation of the earth.  

Is this what you believe?  Think about what you have been taught and upon what principles these ideas have been constructed.  The choice is yours.

Read more about the concept of the Trinity on the archive site HERE.

Link to other posts on UnderMuchGrace HERE.