Blast from the past: The Trinity and the Christian Life

Posted by on Jun 23, 2016 in Trinity | One Comment
Blast from the past: The Trinity and the Christian Life

Today we feature a “Blast from the past,” one of the past issues of Credo Magazine. 

One of the dangers every church faces is slipping, slowly and quietly and perhaps unknowingly, into a routine where sermons are preached, songs are sung, and the Lord’s Supper is consumed, but all is done without a deep sense and awareness of the Trinity. In other words, if we are not careful our churches, in practice, can look remarkably Unitarian. And such a danger is not limited to the pews of the church. As we leave on Sunday morning and go back into the world, does the gospel we share with our coworker look decisively and explicitly Trinitarian in nature? Or when we pray in the privacy of our own home, do the three persons of the Trinity make any difference in how we petition God?

In this issue of Credo Magazine, “The Trinity and the Christian Life: Why a Triune God Makes All the Difference.” we have brought together some of the sharpest thinkers in order to bring our minds back to the beauty, glory, and majesty of our triune God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But we do not merely want to see him as triune, but recognize why and how the Trinity makes all the difference in the Christian life. Therefore, in this issue Fred Sanders, Robert Letham, Michael Reeves, Scott Swain, Stephen Holmes, and many others come together in order to help us think deeper thoughts about how God is one essence and three persons, and what impact the Trinity has on who we are and what we do as believers. Also, do not miss other interviews and columns with Tim Challies, Joey Allen, Luke Stamps, and Matthew Barrett.

Here are the feature articles in this new issue:

The Trinity: The God Behind the Gospel, by Fred Sanders

The Mystery of the Trinity, by Scott R. Swain

Why a Triune God is Better Than Any Other, by Michael Reeves

How the Triune God Transforms Worship, by Robert Letham

To view the Magazine as a PDF {Click Here}

Here is the Cover and Table of Contents to get you started:



Eternal generation, the economic Trinity, Warfield, Calvin, and much, much more – Lecture by Scott R. Swain

Posted by on Jun 22, 2016 in Audio, Trinity | No Comments
Eternal generation, the economic Trinity, Warfield, Calvin, and much, much more – Lecture by Scott R. Swain

Recently Scott Swain gave a lecture on the doctrine of the Trinity, providing a critique of B. B. Warfield, specifically Warfield’s hesitation with eternal generation. Swain helpfully demonstrates the significance of eternal generation and simultaneously explores the relationship between the immanent Trinity and the mission of the Son in the economy of salvation. Swain also explores John Calvin’s own view of the Trinity and his modification of the received tradition.

Here is a description of the lecture titled “B. B. Warfield and the Biblical Doctrine of the Trinity” –

B. B. Warfield’s entry on the Trinity in The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, published in 1915, has exercised considerable influence on later Reformed and evangelical Trinitarian theology. The lecture examines the revisionist nature of Warfield’s teaching on the triune God, noting historical precedents within the Reformed tradition for his views, and discusses patterns of biblical and theological reasoning that weigh against Warfield’s proposal.

Scott Swain is  Professor of Systematic Theology and Academic Dean at Reformed Theological Seminary – Orlando.

Inaugural Lecture – “B. B. Warfield and the Biblical Doctrine of the Trinity” with Scott R. Swain from RTS Orlando on Vimeo.


Meet my good friend John Owen: one will, distinct acts, and the covenant of redemption (Matthew Barrett)

Posted by on Jun 21, 2016 in Matthew Barrett, Trinity | No Comments
Meet my good friend John Owen: one will, distinct acts, and the covenant of redemption (Matthew Barrett)

13473727_776402552497367_1840154347_nMany thanks to those of you who sent me emails last week after reflecting on my article: “Better late than never: The covenant of redemption and the Trinity debates.” I was genuinely encouraged at the ways it helped others think through this very complicated issue.

Today I merely want to piggyback off that article and introduce you to a good friend of mine: the great (greatest?) Puritan, John Owen. I mentioned him before, specifically his useful language of “habitude.” Two things have come to mind since then. First, in my book with Michael Haykin, Owen on the Christian Life: Living for the Glory of God in Christ (Theologians on the Christian Life), I have a section devoted to the covenant of redemption, explaining how Owen understood it. It is brief (pages 137-140), but if my mention of the covenant of redemption has sparked interest, those pages are a place to start.

Second, in my treatment of Owen and the covenant of redemption, I focused entirely on Owen’s The Mystery of the Gospel (vol. 12 of the Banner of Truth edition), though I also mention Owen’s treatment of the covenant of redemption in The Person of Christ (see vol. 1 of the Banner of Truth edition). Side note: these two volumes truly are two of my favorite theology books on Christology! Warning: you’re not a theologian until you’ve read this.

That said, I do mention just briefly (see the footnotes) Owen’s Hebrews commentary (vol. 2 of the Hebrews commentary), and just the other day my friend Lee Gatiss mentioned this section as well (ah, the wonders of Facebook!). My article on Credo briefly cited Owen’s Hebrews’ commentary but I would like to provide the full paragraph below (this comes out of pp. 87-88 of vol. 2 of the Banner of Truth ed.). A little context: Just before this passage Owen defines and explains the covenant of redemption, specifically the Son’s obedience to the Father’s pactum.

But then Owen anticipates an objection (the same one I mentioned in my article on Credo): How can the Son enter into this covenant if there is but one will in the Trinity? Notice how careful Owen is with his language (good theologians are always precise). Also notice how he reconciles one will in the Trinity with two wills in Christ incarnate. And do not miss his emphasis upon the acts of each person toward each other in mutual love. Here is Owen:

“But this sacred truth must be cleared from an objection whereunto it seems obnoxious, before we do proceed. ‘The will is a natural property, and therefore in the divine essence it is but one. The Father, Son, and Spirit, have not distinct wills. They are one God, and God’s will is one, as being an essential property of his nature; and therefore are there two wills in the one person of Christ, whereas there is but one will in the three persons of the Trinity. How, then, can it be said that the will of the Father and the will of the Son did concur distinctly in the making of this covenant?’

This difficulty may be solved from what hath been already declared; for such is the distinction of the persons in the unity of the divine essence, as that they act in natural and essential acts reciprocally one towards another,—namely, in understanding, love, and the like; they know and mutually love each other. And as they subsist distinctly, so they also act distinctly in those works which are of external operation. And whereas all these acts and operations, whether reciporcal or external, are either with a will or from a freedom of will and choice, the will of God in each person, as to the peculiar acts ascribed unto him, is his will therein peculiarly and eminently, though not exclusively to the other persons, by reason of their mutual in-being. The will of God as to the peculiar actings of the Father in this matter is the will of the Father, and the will of God with regard unto the peculiar actings of the Son is the will of the Son; not by a distinction of sundry wills, but by the distinct application of the same will unto its distinct acts in the persons of the Father and the Son. And in this respect the covenant whereof we treat differeth from a pure decree; for from these distinct actings of the will of God in the Father and the Son there doth arise a new habitude or relation, which is not natural or necessary unto them, but freely taken on them. And by virtue hereof were all believers saved from the foundation of the world, upon the account of the interposition of the Son of God antecedently unto his exhibition in the flesh; for hence he was esteemed to have done and suffered what he had undertaken so to do, and which, through faith, was imputed unto them that did believe.”

I think this is (as my British friends like to say) a “brilliant” paragraph. It is an example of how one can affirm eternal generation, one will in the triune God, two wills in Christ incarnate, no ontological inferiority in the Son, yet simultaneously make sense out of the Son obeying the Father’s eternal covenant with regards to the economic work of the Trinity. If only those debating the Trinity would imitate Owen’s careful, precise, nuanced, and properly balanced theological argument.

Matthew Barrett is Tutor of Systematic Theology and Church History at Oak Hill Theological College in London, as well as the founder and executive editor of Credo Magazine. Barrett is the author of numerous book reviews and articles in academic and popular journals and magazines. He is the author of several books, including Salvation by Grace: The Case for Effectual Calling and RegenerationOwen on the Christian Life: Living for the Glory of God in Christ (Theologians on the Christian Life)God’s Word Alone: The Authority of ScriptureCurrently he is the series editor of The 5 Solas Series with Zondervan. You can read more about Barrett at


Is there order in the Trinity? The immanent, the economic, and asymmetrical order of relation (Mark Thompson)

Posted by on Jun 20, 2016 in Trinity | 3 Comments
Is there order in the Trinity? The immanent, the economic, and asymmetrical order of relation (Mark Thompson)

“Care must be taken not to drive a wedge between the eternal or immanent Trinity and the revealed or economic Trinity. Otherwise confidence in God’s self-revelation will be undermined — how could we be sure this is how God really is? … Yet at the same time we must avoid a simple transfer of all we see of God in Christ to the eternal Trinity. …we must not collapse the economic Trinity into the ontological Trinity just as we must not separate them. God is as he reveals himself to be.”

-Mark Thompson

MDT-facultyWhat is the relationship between the immanent and economic Trinity? What is the relationship between eternal generation and the mission of the Son? Is there an asymmetrical order of relation that does not make the Son inferior to the Father? In this post, Mark Thompson answers these tough questions and many others. Mark Thompson is the 13th Principal of Moore Theological College and is the head of the Theology, Philosophy and Ethics department where he has been teaching doctrine since 1991. You can read other articles by Mark Thompson at Theological Theology, where this article originated. 

This is the first in a two part series responding to recent theological challenges to the doctrine of eternal functional (or relational) subordination (EFS or ERS). This doctrine has been under sustained attack, especially in the light of its use to support the argument for an appropriate order of equals that might apply in relations between men and women in the home and in the church. It has also been under attack, it must be admitted, because of overstatement and a lack of precision in some of its advocates.

In this post I want to explore the strictly theological question of whether this doctrine inevitably involves a drift into the subordinationist heresy associated with Arius. This is the most common theological objection to the doctrine. In the next post I want to explore a more recent charge: that the doctrine compromises the revelation of God as Trinity in another way, namely through undermining the  genuine incarnation of the Son.

Undivided in being, undivided in will, undivided in action in the world

To suggest that within the divine Trinity the Son is in any sense less than the Father is to fall into heresy. Subordinationism, the teaching most often associated with the early fourth-century Egyptian priest Arius, was very quickly recognised as biblically deficient, theologically confused and pastorally disastrous. It did manufacture a false view of God and so can rightly be described as idolatrous. Arius’ ‘son’ was subordinate in being to the Father. But, as Athanasius wrote in response, the Son is every bit as much God as the Father is: ‘And so, since they are one, and the Godhead itself one, the same things are said of the Son, which are said of the Father, except His being said to be Father’ (Orationes III.4). As the Athanasian Creed (sadly not written by Athanasius) puts it,

‘In this Trinity none is afore, nor after another; none is greater or lesser than another’. This is a confession disciplined by God’s self-revelation in Scripture: ‘I and the Father are one’ (Jn 10.30); he ‘did not count equality with God something to be grasped’ — note the antecedent to ‘he’ in this text is ‘Christ Jesus’ (Phil. 2.5–6). It is the confession of the Nicene Creed: ‘very God of very God … being of one substance with the Father’.

It is a confession no less urgent and vital to Christian faith in the twenty-first century as it was in the fourth century. However we speak about the triune God, we must insist that we are speaking about one God, undivided in being, undivided in will and undivided in his action in the world. There is neither division nor hierarchy in the being of the one triune God. 

The relationship between the economic and ontological

We must also affirm, while holding them in the closest possible relation, a distinction between the eternal being of God and his self-revelation in the economy of creation and salvation. The relation of God in himself and God as he is towards us is, however, very much more than just extremely close. When we deal with God in Christ, we really are dealing with God. Care must be taken not to drive a wedge between the eternal or immanent Trinity and the revealed or economic Trinity. Otherwise confidence in God’s self-revelation will be undermined — how could we be sure this is how God really is? To use the words of one recent contribution to the discussion, how could we be sure that these were more than just ‘roles adopted by the persons to accomplish our redemption’? (Liam Goligher, here)

Yet at the same time we must avoid a simple transfer of all we see of God in Christ to the eternal Trinity. An obvious example would be the hunger or tiredness of Jesus. The triune God is never hungry and never tired, but God as he has truly revealed himself in the incarnate Son does grow hungry and tired, he bleeds and dies. The limits of our understanding are not far from us here, since we cannot isolate Jesus’ humanity from his divine nature in order to secure this distinction between the eternal and the economic. He is the one person, who is both fully God and fully man.

However we speak about the triune God, we must not collapse the economic Trinity into the ontological Trinity just as we must not separate them. God is as he reveals himself to be.

The incarnation of the Son provides us with direct access to God. He is ‘God with us’. He truly makes him known (Jn 1.18). His words are the words of God. His activity is the activity of God. How you respond to Jesus is how you respond to God. In truth, we have no other access to the Father (Jn 14.6; Matt 11.27). We cannot approach God around, behind or apart from Jesus. Yet Jesus is God the Son having taken to himself a genuine, full human nature. So while we cannot divide the person into the natures — it is the person of Jesus Christ who bleeds and dies not just a part of him — we must be alert to the particularity of the incarnation and avoid too quickly concluding that an action or a pattern of action is necessarily a reflection of the eternal triune life of God. The Son is always the Son, the one sent rather than the one doing the sending, the one who delights in the love and will of the Father — which love and will he shares because of the oneness of the divine being — but he is not always the incarnate Son. That cannot be said without undermining the reality of God’s good work in creating time and space, and more particularly, the Spirit’s work in overshadowing the virgin and perfecting in her womb the personal union of humanity and divinity in Christ.

However we speak about the triune God, we must not compromise the historical particularity of the incarnation or the indissoluble union of divine and human natures in Christ.

Asymmetrical order of relation

All of this has implications for contemporary discussion of ‘eternal relational subordination’. Fundamentally it warns of the care that must be taken in any appeal to the eternal life of God as an inference from God’s involvement in the economy. Of course, such an appeal can and must be made. After all, in the prayer in which Jesus speaks about the glory he shared with the Father ‘before the world existed’  and of how the Father loved him ‘before the foundation of the world’, he also says ‘As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world’ and ‘that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you’ (Jn 17). The humility Paul enjoins upon the Philippians is modelled on the humility of Christ Jesus whose decision not to count equality with God something to be grasped was quite obviously an eternal decision that resulted in time in the assumption of the form of a servant (Phil. 2). But any such appeal needs explicit exegetical warrant and a little more theological precision than is usually the case in contemporary debates. We can readily admit that illegitimate appeals from human relations to the eternal triune relations have been made by both sides of the debate over men and women in society, in the home, and in the churches. Egalitarians have protested that such appeals by some complementarians sound like the subordinationist heresy. Some complementarians suspect that the egalitarian appeal to intratrinitarian life comes remarkably close to that another ancient heresy, Sabellianism (where Father, Son and Spirit are completely interchangeable because they are merely the occasional masks of the one divine substance).

But there is another factor which needs to be taken into account. While superiority and inferiority, hierarchy in the sense of increasing value or importance or authority, is ruled out by the clear biblical witness to unity, indivisibility and equality within the Godhead, is there not still a sense in which there is an asymmetrical order of relation that does not negate any of these truths? A related question would be how consistent are the divine ‘processions’ with the divine ‘missions’? Is the eternal begetting of the Son an appropriate grounding in the being of God for the sending of the Son into the world to save sinners (by being born of Mary no less)? Is the eternal procession of the Spirit from the Father and the Son an appropriate grounding in the being of God for the donation of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost? Could the Father or the Spirit just as well have been incarnate as the Son? Could the Son or the Father just as well have been sent into the world to indwell believers as the Spirit? Is there something about their eternal intratrinitarian relations which makes it thoroughly appropriate that God in each person should relate to the world in this way? [As an aside, I’ve always been rather partial to this line from John of Damascus: ‘We have learned that there is a difference between begetting and procession, but what the manner of this difference is we have not learned at all.’ De Fide Orthodoxa I.8]

Biblical support: John 5:19-20 and 1 Cor. 15:28

The biblical revelation makes clear that the filial relation of the Father and the Son was not just a temporary phenomenon. John’s Gospel, in particular, speaks of the pattern of relation between the Father and the Son. In John 5 we read:

So Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing. (vv. 19–20)

The very name ‘Son’ carries with it a correlation to ‘Father’, since we are bound to ask ‘son of whom?’ The divine will flows from the Father to the Son rather than in the other direction, precisely because he is the Father. Paternity, filiation and Sonship are eternal realities which need to be taken seriously and which impact how Jesus operated in his earthly ministry. Once again it was Athanasius and those who aligned themselves with the Nicene Creed who argued that while God was not always creator, he was always Father: ‘It would be more godly and true to signify God from the Son and call him Father, than to name God from his works alone and call him Unoriginate’ (Orations, I.14). The Word did not just become a Son in order to redeem us. He took on our humanity in order to redeem us. He was always the Son. And the relation of the Father and the Son was always the relation of Father to Son.

It is worth looking at the other end of time and eternity as well. In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul writes of how at the end Christ ‘delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and authority and power’ (v. 24). Is this to be taken as simply the final act within the economy? After all, at this point Paul uses the term ‘Christ’ or ‘Messiah’ rather than ‘Son’. But just a few verses later we read this.

When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all. (v. 28)

Paul is most certainly not suggesting an inequality between the Father and the Son. He is not suggesting that the Lordship of the Son is dispensable or that his Sonship is a temporary phenomenon. But the change of terminology from ‘Christ’ to ‘Son’ is not simply stylistic either. There is something about the final act of the eschaton, all put under the feet of Christ and then brought to the Father by the Son, that is indicative of their eternal relationship as Father and Son. The other-person-centredness of the triune persons has a particular shape or direction.

Name-calling, seriously?

One of the great dangers in this debate is that of name-calling. Other agendas (especially positions on the interchangeability or otherwise of the roles of men and women in family and congregational life) keep intruding and even when this is not explicit they are not far in the background. This name-calling might take the form of describing opposing views as Arian or Sabellian or even attempting to apply the ancient distinction between the Nicene Christians (who espoused ‘of the same substance’ to describe the relation of the Father and the Son) and Homoian Christians (who espoused ‘like’ as a more reasonable alternative). In the debates over the last ten years people have been too quick to relegate those with whom they disagree to the category of ‘heretic’ or ‘would-be heretic’ or ‘dangerously close to being a heretic’. The atmosphere is too charged and very little of that charge has actually come from a focused interest in trinitarian theology!

Don’t rush to conclusions: Subordination vs. subordinationism

Another danger lies in the term ‘subordination’ itself. While it would not be difficult to show that the term has been used by orthodox Christians from the earliest period and including stalwarts of modern trinitarian theology like Karl Barth, it is too easy to confuse ‘subordination’ and ‘subordinationism’. It is too easy not to ask the question ‘What kind of subordination do you mean?’ before rushing to the conclusion that the person using the term is actually espousing ‘subordinationism’. Though it is a mouthful, perhaps ‘asymmetrical relational order’ might be a better expression.

In other words, there is an order in the relationship between the Father and the Son (we do not speak of two ‘brothers’, the Father and the Son are not interchangeable, etc). Perhaps not. But it does seem important to affirm as strongly as possible both the absolute equality of being between the Father and the Son (and the Spirit!) and an order between them that confirms and in a sense explicates that equality. The Father eternally begets the Son, not the other way around. The Spirit eternally proceeds from the Father and the Son (yes, I am theologically committed to the Filioque clause in the Creed; and yes, I know that the Creed does not use the word ‘eternally’ at that point).

Trinity, hermeneutics, and gender roles

Any attempt to argue from the intratrinitarian relationships to a position on the roles and relational dynamics of men and women in the home and in the church needs particular care. Undoubtedly, in my view, the Trinity provides a background model of how equality and differentiation can exist together. I am even prepared to argue that the Trinity provides some ground for believing that the free embrace of headship and submission does not have to be oppressive or abusive nor need it involve a hierarchy of value (and yes, more work would need to be done than I have done here to identify and define ‘headship’ as the complement of ‘submission’).

Yet there are very significant differences which need to be taken into account as well. A man and a woman are two different people, with different personalities, different centres of consciousness, and different wills. Yet the triune God is one God, the persons are ‘of one substance’ with each other, and there is one divine will. The best that can be done here is to speak of an analogy, but I would resist the suggestion that trinitarian theology alone necessitates one position or the other on the relationships and roles of men and women. For that we need to look very carefully at the biblical texts which specifically treat those relationships and roles and hear what God has to say to us there.

Keeping the biblical balance

My purpose in this post has simply been to begin to explain why I for one would demur from any judgment that eternal relational subordination necessarily involves ‘reinventing the doctrine of God’, departing from orthodox doctrine of the Trinity, heresy or even idolatry. My own conviction is that it indicates an important strand of the biblical witness to God, recognised down through the ages by orthodox Christians who all would recoil from any hint of ‘subordinationism‘.



Better late than never: The Covenant of Redemption and the Trinity Debates (Matthew Barrett)

Posted by on Jun 16, 2016 in Matthew Barrett, Trinity | 10 Comments
Better late than never: The Covenant of Redemption and the Trinity Debates (Matthew Barrett)

Thus far in the online civil war over the Trinity I have been a fly on the wall. Yet curious students at Oak Hill Theological College have been pressing me as to my take on the debates, as well as my own view. So perhaps it is time I added a small voice to the loud party noise, though I admit I am way late to the party (does that make me a party crasher?… not sure).

Since so much has already been said, I don’t want to merely regurgitate the debates or just shout out “I’m Nicene” louder and louder. That’s been done. Instead, I would like to come at the debate from a specific angle: the pactum salutis, also referred to as the covenant of redemption. In all the uproar, I have not heard much discussion of the covenant of redemption in eternity (though I am starting to see some). This is embarrassing, frankly. It only proves what I already suspected: the pactum salutis is too often neglected as a Trinitarian doctrine.

But before I get into issues of obedience and submission, let me very clearly lay out some presuppositional, trinitarian cards on the table. I very much affirm and teach (1) eternal generation, (2) one divine will in the triune God, and (3) two wills in Christ incarnate (dyothelitism). However, affirming these three doesn’t automatically put me in a “camp.” So hold off your assumptions. Those who have read the Ware/Starke book (and Fred Sanders’ review of it) will recognize that just as there is diversity among those who reject eternal submission, so too is there diversity among those who affirm eternal submission in the Trinity (something carelessly overlooked by the initial responses). This means, then, that some affirm all three of the above points but still see some place for “obedience” or “submission” (some prefer different words) in the Trinity in eternity. In other words, there is a spectrum.

About this spectrum, it’s obvious by now that there are two polar opposites of the spectrum: (1) Those who reject eternal generation, one will in the Trinity, and two wills in Christ and by consequence go the route of a (soft?) social trinitarianism, and, on the other end of the spectrum, those who (2) affirm the three previous beliefs but see absolutely no place for the obedience and submission of the Son to the Father in eternity. I do not align with either polar opposite and my reasons have to do, at least in part, with the pactum salutis. At the risk of “goldilocks theology,” I humbly find myself somewhere in the middle.

Clearing the smoke

Along with Michael Horton, Mike Allen, Ryan McGraw, and Joel Beeke, I recently I wrote an endorsement for an excellent book by J. V. Fesko: The Trinity and the Covenant of Redemption (Mentor, 2016), which has just released (talk about good timing!). In that book John thoroughly demonstrates just how biblical the covenant of redemption is (see Zech. 6:13; Pss. 2:7; 110; Eph. 1; 2 Tim. 1:9-10; etc.). For those of you unsure what the covenant of redemption is, Richard Muller defines it as the “pretemporal, intratrinitarian agreement of the Father and the Son concerning the covenant of grace and its ratification in and through the work of the Son incarnate. The Son covenants with the Father, in the unity of the Godhead, to be the temporal sponsor of the Father’s testamentum (q.v.) in and through the work of the Mediator. In that work, the Son fulfils his sponsio (q.v.) or fideiussio (q.v.), i.e., his guarantee of payment of the debt of sin in ratification of the Father’s testamentum.J. V. Fesko offers a similar definition: “The pactum salutis …is the eternal intra-trinitarian covenant to appoint the Son as covenant surety of the elect and to redeem them in the temporal execution of the covenant of grace.”

sufferingWith those definitions in mind, here is what I want to get at: I think that those who reject any and all forms of obedience in the Godhead in eternity overreact (understandably to the social trinitarianism they see). I agree with them in their affirmation of eternal generation, one divine will in the Trinity, dyothelitism Christology; however, to go to the other extreme and say that there is absolutely no place for obedience in eternity is a problem precisely because it ignores the biblical reality of the covenant of redemption. (More on this in a minute.)

But things get more complicated still. Others deny eternal submission and obedience in the Godhead and still want to affirm the covenant of redemption. They do so by arguing that, yes, there is a covenant of redemption but this covenant is only related to the economic Trinity and the Trinity ad extra. This move, they believe, allows them to still affirm the covenant of redemption while rejecting the belief that there is any relational submission between the persons ad intra. To their credit, they are rightly trying to protect the priority of eternal generation, defining the relations of the Trinity according to generation and procession (and amen to that). And I agree, at least with grounding the Trinity in eternal generation, because, as Fred Sanders has pointed out in his first 9 theses, this is the proper biblical and theological starting point. It grounds everything that follows, including the missions that result. The sending of the Son, for example, is not irrelevant to the eternal generation of the Son.

That said, there are potential problems with those who say the economic and ad extra has no relation to the immanent and the life of the Trinity ad intra. For starters, this move divorces and severs the immanent from the economic, the ad intra from the ad extra. Secondly, and related, it raises the question as to how we can know anything at all about the immanent, at least if we say that the economic actions reveal nothing and have no implications for the relations of the immanent (see Swain’s lecture critiquing Warfield on this point). It is hard to see how this doesn’t lead to agnosticism regarding the immanent. Nor does this view pay heed to biblical language (see everywhere in John’s Gospel) that does connect the dots from the economic back to the immanent. So this move would do untold harm to how we understand divine revelation and the Trinity.

Now, we have to be very (and I mean very!) careful at this point precisely because there is a danger in going the other direction too. If we say that the economic and the ad extra does resemble the immanent and the ad intra, we run the risk of adopting the worse sense of Rahner’s rule: the economic is the immanent. J. V. Fesko warns of this danger. Karl Barth believed the origin of Christ’s obedience was found in the divine essence itself. Fesko warns that Barth fell prey to the same weakness as Rahner’s rule, namely, “it runs the risk of placing economic categories within ontological processions,” making the incarnation “part of His ontological procession”. As a result, Christology swallows the Trinity, and “Christ’s mission ends up defining the Trinity rather than revealing it.” That last sentence is key. While we might allow the economic to reveal something about the immanent, it shouldn’t exhaustively define it. Finally, Barth’s view dangerously makes Christ’s decision to accept the pactum necessary rather than voluntary since it is “simply the necessary outworking of His procession.” Fesko offers a better solution: “the Son proceeds eternally from the Father, which means He eternally shares in the Trinitarian will to redeem fallen humanity, but more specifically voluntarily pledges His obedience to the Father’s covenantal command to be sent into the far country.” As we’ll see, that word “obedience” is quite important.

So to summarize thus far: pushed to their extremes, both roads have problems. If we say the economic and ad extra says nothing about the immanent and ad intra, then we risk dividing the works of the Trinity from the identity of the Trinity, succumbing to some form of agnosticism. On the other hand, if we press the economic and ad extra into the immanent and ad intra too far then we risk equating the two, making the Son’s redemption inherently necessary rather than voluntary, potentially creating three wills in God.

Oh, no! Not the “O” word: obedience

So what is the way forward? Again, sorry to appeal to goldilocks, but I think the answer is not being either too hot or too cold. First, those who say there is absolutely no obedience of the Son to the Father in eternity are just plain wrong. Given the biblical witness to the covenant of redemption, there certainly is an obedience of the Son to the Father in eternity. It will not work to say that the Son merely “agrees” or “accepts” the responsibility of being the redeemer, as if these terms somehow exclude any form of submission/obedience. To do so is to empty these terms of their meaning. How does the Son agree/accept the Father’s plan of redemption (and appointment), especially when it involves dying on a cross (!), without there being at some level an act of “obedience”? Given what the Father is asking the Son to do, and given that it is the Father doing the asking (again, see Fesko here), surely any agreement to the pactum involves obedience to the pactum’s requirements, and by consequence, therefore, to the Father’s plan. Jesus seems to assume this much in his incarnation when he constantly returns to the fact that he does what the Father tells him and, presumably, accomplished what the Father has planned. In other words, let’s be careful not to cut the incarnate obedience of the Son off from the covenant of redemption in eternity. The two are related to one another, one giving birth to the other.

J. V. Fesko is once again helpful. He couples “obedience” language to the biblical language of “love”: “the love of the immanent Trinity becomes manifest in the covenantal economic missions of both the Son and Spirit; namely, the Son’s obedience and the outpouring of the Spirit. …The categories of covenant, love, and obedience find their origins in the pactum salutis in the Father’s command, the Son’s obedience, and the outpouring of the Spirit to redeem fallen sinners. Far from a cold piece of business, moving numbers from one side of the ledger to the other, the Father sends the Son in love, and the Son obeys the Father in love, and the Spirit applies the Son’s work in love” (emphasis added).

So we must say there is obedience in eternity, and this obedience is inseparably related to the love between the persons. The only question is whether this obedience is restricted to the economic (read covenant of redemption) or whether it reflects on the identity of each person ad intra. That is a hard question. But to be extra clear: either way you answer that question, you have at the very minimum conceded that there is obedience in eternity (that is, via the pactum salutis). It’s now just a matter of whether you want to restrict this obedience to the covenant of redemption or whether that obedience actually does reflect, in some way, the inherit relations between the persons ad intra.

To be perfectly honest, I am still chewing on the answer to that final statement. I have no doubt, due to the covenant of redemption, that there is obedience in eternity. I think this is essential to the covenant of redemption itself. But whether that ad extra covenant of redemption reflects the ad intra relations—well, that is harder to answer. Yet, I think there are good reasons for answering a very nuanced “yes.” I fear if we don’t then we run the risk of saying the economic does not reflect the immanent whatsoever. Moreover, we cannot forget that the covenant of redemption is an eternal covenant, so it is hard to see how the economic cannot but reflect the immanent to some degree. These are not two trinities, as if one exists ad extra and the other ad intra. So while it helps to distinguish between ad intra and ad extra, and while we should be on guard against equating the two, nevertheless, it is hard to see how the covenant of redemption in eternity does not in some way reflect the internal life (ad intra) of the Trinity (also in eternity). That said, it is key to stress that such obedience via the pactum salutis is a matter of God’s free decision (which terminates outside of God), in order to highlight the contingency of the incarnation as well as the full equality of the Son.

Fred Sanders, though not in favor of “submission” language, seems to say something similar: “There is, in the relations of origin of the triune God, an irreversible taxis to which the obedience of the incarnate Christ corresponds in human form. It’s an eternal procession that reaches its strangely logical final conclusion in the sending of the Son. As for his submission to the Father, don’t know what they call it in the happy land of the Trinity, but when it lives among us it is rightly named obedience.” Well said, Fred, well said. In that light, Fesko may be on to something when he writes: “The triune missions reveal their eternal processions and in particular, their covenant-making, world-projecting, work of salvation.”

An objection: What about the one will?

Before I conclude, there is one significant objection for any who would say the covenant of redemption involves “obedience” in eternity: how can this avoid multiple wills in God? At the start of this post I affirmed one will in God, so you can see why this objection is heavy. Heavy, but not impossible to answer.

For starters, it should be acknowledged that this objection is one reason why those who affirm a covenant of redemption but despise eternal submission views, choose to use language like “accept” or “agree” to speak of the Son’s response to the Father’s pactum. They fear that if the Son “obeys” the Father then there must be multiple wills in God. But as I said earlier, I really doubt this slight shift in language gets one “off the hook,” or that those raising the objection find this language adequate or convincing.

Jesus_in_the_GardenAdditionally, even if you avoid “obedience” language and triumphantly conclude that you have preserved one will in the Trinity, you really haven’t addressed the heart of the objection. Even if you say the Son doesn’t “obey” the Father in the pactum, but only “assents,” “agrees,” “accepts” (whatever word you want to use instead), one still hasn’t explained how there can be legitimate, even distinct, actions of one person toward another. For example, how does love function within the Godhead in eternity? Surely the distinct persons must act toward one another. This is one reason why eternal generation (as incredibly important as it is), shouldn’t be waved around in people’s faces as if it explains everything in the Trinity in eternity. Yes, it is our starting point and our base of operation (no pun intended), but more must be said as to how the persons actually love one another, for example, as distinct persons in relation to one another (see Swain’s book on Robert Jenson).

So we are left with the dilemma (challenge?): how to make sense of the Trinity having one will yet the Son simultaneously choosing, voluntarily, to obey his Father’s pactum. Here is my (work in progress) answer: Is there language that explains how the undivided, one will of the Trinity can make room for and make sense of personal agents who still genuinely act in relation to one another? I think so. Perhaps John Owen’s use of language concerning the covenant of redemption is best: “there is a new habitude of will in the Father and Son towards each other that is not in them essentially. I call it new, as being in God freely, not naturally.” (emphasis mine; quote from Mark Jones’s article, though he does not want to use “obedience” language as I do.)

All that to say, the proper starting point for distinguishing between the persons is eternal generation, but this does not preclude but rather assumes that the eternal pactum involves the eternal obedience of the Son to the Father, though this obedience does not multiply the one will but rather is (to borrow from Owen) a “new habitude” between the persons (also see William á Brakel on this point). I really like how Scott Swain, echoing a lengthier quote from Owen, puts it, “Because the Son eternally proceeds from the Father in his personal manner of subsisting, so too does his personal manner of willing proceed from the Father. The Son’s willing submission to the Father in the pactum salutis is thus a faithful expression of his divine filial identity as the consubstantial, eternally begotten Son of God.” Swain, much like Francis Turretin before him, is not afraid to use the language of “willing submission” as long as it is defined within the proper classical Trinitarian context.

Conclusion (warning)

As has been the case so far, the war in the blogosphere is notorious for neglecting fine theological nuancing, either in theologizing itself or in representing diversity among representatives (hence how long this post must be). I say that as a warning; I hope this post at the very least demonstrates that there is more diversity among representatives than at first thought. But more to the point of my argument, if we are going to affirm the covenant of redemption (and that is a very good, biblical thing to do), then there is no question that there is “obedience” by the Son in relation to the Father in eternity. The million dollar question, then, is whether that eternal obedience reflects (and to what degree) the life of the Trinity ad intra. Certainly we must, though very carefully (and, perhaps this side of heaven, fallibly!), lest we sever the economic from the immanent altogether.

Barrett-300x300Matthew Barrett is Tutor of Systematic Theology and Church History at Oak Hill Theological College in London, as well as the founder and executive editor of Credo Magazine. Barrett is the author of numerous book reviews and articles in academic and popular journals and magazines. He is the author of several books, including Salvation by Grace: The Case for Effectual Calling and RegenerationOwen on the Christian Life: Living for the Glory of God in Christ (Theologians on the Christian Life)God’s Word Alone: The Authority of ScriptureCurrently he is the series editor of The 5 Solas Series with Zondervan. You can read more about Barrett at


Can Michael Bird Read My Mind? Alas, It Seems Not (Mike Ovey)

Posted by on Jun 14, 2016 in Trinity | 2 Comments
Can Michael Bird Read My Mind? Alas, It Seems Not (Mike Ovey)

“Let us bring forward no isolated point of the divine mysteries to rouse the suspicions of our hearers and give an occasion to the blasphemers. We must first preach the birth and subordination of the Son [subjectio] and the likeness of His nature, and then we may preach in godly fashion that the Father and the Son are of one substance.”

— Hilary of Poitiers, De Synodis 70

How interesting when some-one claims to know what you think better than you do yourself. Michael Bird (hereafter ‘MB’) writes:

‘The root of the problem is that some Complementarians are willing to ditch Nicene christology for Homoian christology if it will give them a bigger stick to use to keep women out of the pulpit!’

This comes from a piece picking up both on Liam Goligher’s ‘penetrating’ critique of what MB calls homoian complementarians, and on a piece from Carl Trueman which MB describes as speaking ‘frankly and wisely’ on this.

The heart of MB’s case is that:-

1/ some complementarians advocate a species of homoianism

2/ they do so to find an argument to ‘keep women out of the pulpit’

In this connection he cites a book to which I contributed an essay, One God in Three Persons, which, he suggests, ‘looks like an apology for a Homoian or a non-Nicene view of the Trinity.’ Well, has MB read my mind? No. Not even close.

Like some others who argue that the Son eternally submits to the Father, I do so not because it gives me a hand in arguing what 1 Tim 2 means, but because I think the Scriptures teach this, especially in John as Jesus discusses his will and his Father’s will (John 6:38) and the way his obedience reveals his love for his Father (John 14:31), to mention just the most obvious. So for me, MB’s possibly grandiose hermeneutics of suspicion about my motives for arguing for eternal filial submission sounds perhaps a little presumptuous. After all, we’ve not met.

Ditching ‘Nicene christology for Homoian christology’?

But let me now take up the more substantive point, namely, whatever my motives, I and others like me are ditching ‘Nicene christology for Homoian christology’. ‘Homoianism’ sounds impressive and is not an everyday term. Obviously MB thinks it is toxic because it is a kind of semi-arianism  and he thinks I and others like me have caught it badly, but the next question is ‘what is Homoian Christology?’

nicaea-creedHomoian theology culminates in the pronouncements of the Council of Constantinople in 360, following on from the Councils of Ariminum and Seleucia of 359, which were themselves decisively shaped by the 2nd Council of Sirmium 357. The Council of Constantinople says of the Son that he is ‘God from God, like to the Father that begat Him according to the Scriptures’ (from Athanasius De Synodis 30). The critical point here is the refusal to use the Nicene term ‘same substance’ (homoousios), a point appearing in Sirmium 357. The Council expands on this later (Forgive the long quote, but to use the term ‘homoian’ usefully, we need to know a certain amount about it):

But the name of ‘Essence,’ [ousia from which we get homoousios or ‘same substance’] which was set down by the Fathers in simplicity, and, being unknown by the people, caused offence, because the Scriptures contain it not, it has seemed good to abolish, and for the future to make no mention of it at all; since the divine Scriptures have made no mention of the Essence of Father and Son. For neither ought Subsistence [hypostasis or ‘person’] to be named concerning Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. But, we say that the Son is Like the Father, as the divine Scriptures say and teach; and all the heresies, both those which have been afore condemned already, and whatever are of modern date, being contrary to this published statement, be they anathema. (Athanasius’ account De Synodis 30)

Three things are readily apparent.

First, there is the seeming piety of saying that homoousios or ‘same substance’ terminology is not explicitly found in Scripture. ‘All we are doing is being scriptural,’ say the Homoians.

Second, by banning the terms homoousios, ousia [‘substance’] and hypostasis [‘person’] they effectively stop argument in favour of the Nicene position. If you can’t use the word homoousios, how can you uphold Nicaea? This means that one of the decisive aspects of Nicaea that the Arians could not accept (judging by Athanasius’ account) was now no longer available. After all, Augustine sees Arianism precisely as denying that Father and Son and Spirit are of ‘one and the same substance’ (On Heresies XLIX). So the vital common ground between early Arianism and Homoianism or semi-arianism is that functionally the Council of Constantinople also denied one could say the Son is ‘of the same substance’ (homoousios) with the Father. Homoianism is rightly semi-Arian because it shares the Arian refusal to say of the Son ‘homoousios’. 

Third, by denying one can use ‘substance’ and ‘person’, the theological grammar of Nicaea by which one can assert both plurality (three Persons) and unity (one substance) in the triune God disappears.

This in turn means that MB is entitled to  call me a Homoian if I deny one can say the Son is of the same substance as the Father, and if I deny one can use ‘person’ and ‘substance’. In fact I, and others who argue for eternal submission, assert homoousios and rely precisely on the distinction between substance and person: the Son has the same substance as his Father and is every bit as much divine as his Father is: sons have their fathers’ nature. It is because there is a distinction between Person and Substance that one can say that the Son eternally submits at the level of Person while being no less than his Father at the level of Substance. After all, Athanasius and Augustine both note, human sons properly obey their fathers without being inferior at the level of nature or substance. Hence MB’s charge of Homoianism is wrong.

Hilary of Poitiers on homoousios and subordination

‘Ah, but,’ will doubtless run the argument, ‘You do not mean the same thing by homoousios as the Nicene theologians did. So you’re still really with the Homoians of Constantinople 360.’ An important point lurks here. Homoousios terminology can be wrongly used. After all, it had associations before the Council of Nicaea with the modalist bishop Paul of Samosata in the third century. Part of the task for pro-Nicene apologetics was to rescue the term from this pre-history and establish how it functioned in the Arian controversy to uphold the full deity of the Son without lapsing into modalism.

This means that we cannot simply utter the word homoousios and leave it there. What goes into using it properly? Hilary of Poitiers discusses this. After ruling out various wrong understandings of homoousios, he adds:

Let us bring forward no isolated point of the divine mysteries to rouse the suspicions of our hearers and give an occasion to the blasphemers. We must first preach the birth and subordination of the Son [subjectio] and the likeness of His nature, and then we may preach in godly fashion that the Father and the Son are of one substance. (De Synodis 70)

Hilary then goes on to explain why terminology of ‘like nature’ (homoiousios) ultimately has to come down to ‘same substance’. Hilary is clearly not a Homoian (he refers to the seed-bed creed of homoianism at Sirmium 357 as a blasphemia). Yet here he says that a pre-condition of the right understanding of ‘same substance’ (homoousios) is that we see the Son is subject (at the level of Person), while at the same level of nature as his Father.

This is Nicene theology and is exactly the Person-Nature distinction that the Homoian Constantinople 360 formula will not allow. It is the same distinction that I and others follow in asserting both that the Son eternally submits to his Father (as a son at the level of Person) while being of one and the same nature (at the different level of substance/nature).

Nicene after all

Thus, far from being covert homoians as MB suggests, the argument follows the Nicene lines that Athanasius and others set out, that the Son is everything that the Father is except Father. The question is what goes into that ‘except Father’ category. For that we depend not on what we think speculatively goes into being divine ‘Father’, but on what is revealed to us of the Father-Son relations. Jesus clearly reveals he has come to do his Father’s will rather than his own (John 6:38, etc). The issue for those denying eternal submission is how they know either explicitly from the Scriptures or by good and necessary consequence that this and similar passages do not reveal the eternal relations.

71JURB7wfhLRev’d Michael Ovey (PhD, MTh, MA, BCL, BA) is Principal of Oak Hill Theological College in London. His most recent book is: Your Will Be Done: Exploring Eternal Subordination, Divine Monarchy and Divine Humility. Before coming to Oak Hill, Mike was a civil service lawyer drafting government legislation. He trained at Ridley Hall, Cambridge, and worked as a curate for four years at All Saints, Crowborough, before teaching for three years at Moore Theological College, Sydney. He joined Oak Hill in 1998 and since then has finished a PhD in the field of Trinitarian theology.



Sunday’s sermon: Behold your king (Matthew Barrett)

Posted by on Jun 13, 2016 in Sunday's Sermon | No Comments
Sunday’s sermon: Behold your king (Matthew Barrett)

Credo Magazine contributors Thomas Schreiner, Matthew Barrett, and Fred Zaspel not only teach in the classroom but preach from the pulpit. So each Monday morning we will be highlighting one sermon they have preached in order to provide you with encouragement throughout your week and with an opportunity to study God’s Word.


Should I resign? On the eternal subordination of the Son – Mike Ovey

Posted by on Jun 11, 2016 in Trinity | 6 Comments
Should I resign? On the eternal subordination of the Son – Mike Ovey

Editor’s note: This article first appeared on the Oak Hill College blog. 

It is always awkward when someone you like and respect posts a line of argument which strongly suggests you should resign your position, as Liam Goligher has done in his two recent posts on the eternal subordination of the Son, on the Mortification of Spin site (strongly supported by some subsequent egalitarian comments and bolstered by subsequent material to similar effect). The posts are:

Is it Okay to Teach a Complementarianism Based on Eternal Subordination?

Reinventing God

I am going to disagree with Liam quite sharply, so let me preface my remarks by observing that I am sure Liam’s posts are motivated by a desire to honour and glorify Jesus the Son. Secondly, it is possible to mis-state the eternal subordination of the Son, as for example Arianism did. Thirdly, while committed to the eternal subordination of the Son, I share Liam’s concern about too readily reading from the eternal trinitarian relations onto human relationships.

In the complementarian gender debate, for instance, I do not think eternal subordination means that any given adult male is in a headship position with respect to any given adult female.

That said, Liam’s argument seems to me to revolve around the following propositions:

1. There is no historical precedent for asserting the eternal subordination of the Son.

2. Asserting that subordination blurs the economic trinity into the eternal, immanent trinity.

3. Any subordination of the Son is by virtue of the incarnation.

4. Historic orthodoxy asserts the Father, Son and Spirit have one will, and if we say the Son is eternally subordinate to the Father, then we divide that will and so divide the substance or nature of God.

We need to test these propositions and will begin from scripture. Liam contends that it is orthodoxy that God’s will is to be understood as the one will of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Does this fit scripture? If Liam is right, we should be able to gloss all scriptural references to the divine will with this triune meaning. Let us take John 6:38, which reads:

‘For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me.’ (RSV)

On Liam’s view this really amplifies to:

‘For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will (that is, my human will from my human nature), but the will (that is the one will of myself, my Father and the Spirit) of him who sent me.’

The difficulties here are readily apparent. The ‘will of him who sent me’ appears in the original text as a will that is distinguished from Jesus’ own will and refers specifically to the Father. This specific reference to the Father is confirmed by the context of 6:37-40, where ‘him who sent me’ is to be referred to the Father specifically (as elsewhere in John). But on Liam’s view, this specific reference to the Father’s will becomes a reference to the Son’s will as well. Instead of a reference to ‘his’ will, there is a reference to ‘our’ will.

Similar difficulties arise with the Gethsemane prayer of Mark 14:36, where references to ‘your’ will really mean on Liam’s view ‘our’ will. Put sharply, Liam’s view rewrites texts which refer specifically to the Father and to the Father’s will in distinction from the Son’s as texts which refer to God generically including the Son. This tendency is also apparent in Liam’s use of Ephesians 1, where the reference to God the Father’s plan (1:10) for his Son to be the head of all things is glossed as being the plan of the triune God. This fits very poorly with the prayer of blessing to the Father specifically in 1:3, which is the context in which the reference to the plan occurs.

Certainly Liam is right to be concerned that we do not divide God up, but two issues immediately spring to mind.

First, this risks blurring the distinctions between the persons, as ‘the Father’s will’ becomes ‘the triune God’s will’. The Athanasian Creed does indeed say we should not divide the substance: it also says we should not confound the persons.

Secondly, it risks creating a division in the person of the Son. This occurs because on Liam’s view the Gethsemane prayer means that the Son’s human will is distinguished from and says different things to his shared divine will. The term ‘Arian’ has frequently been employed to describe the eternal subordination position I and others hold. It is very tempting to note that a division within the person of the Son, where his human and divine wills will different things, is redolent of Nestorianism. Two can play at the ‘patristic pejoratives’ game.

Such a division matters soteriologically because we believe that the Son’s obedience as the new Adam is the basis for our being clothed by imputation in justification with a perfect human righteousness. But obviously one has to ask if the Son is really obedient in his humanity when he is simply carrying out what he himself wills in his deity. Obedience suggests submission to the will of another, not oneself. When another and oneself actually concur on a course of action, that action is not obedience but agreement. But there is no genuine other will on Liam’s view.

Further, we may ask why the Son’s obedience avails for more than one human person. The response of the Synod of Dort (2nd head, article 4) to the question of the infinite value of Christ’s work was that he is a person of infinite value. But one wonders whether on Liam’s view the person of the Son is not so separated from the human obedience that the appeal to the infinite value of the person of the Son is no longer possible.

Moving to the question of blurring the economic trinity and the eternal, immanent trinity, minimally passages like John 1:18 and 14:9 mean one must say that the economic trinity reveals the eternal immanent trinity and its relationships, not exhaustively, but truly. If we do not say that, then the question is what we know about God in eternity at all. Jesus strikingly links his obedience to his Father here on earth to the revelation of his, Jesus’, love for the Father (John 14:31).

This means if we ask what reveals Jesus’ love for his Father, Jesus’ answer is his obedience here on earth. To say Jesus’ love for his Father in eternity does not feature obedience risks not so much distinguishing economic from eternal trinities but of severing them from each other. After all, the point would be that what we see on earth is precisely what does not happen in eternity, even though the incarnation is allegedly a revelatory event.

A further issue occurs here as we think about John 14:31 and the revelation of Jesus’ love by his obedience. Love occurs between persons. This helps provide some of the answer to Liam’s point about Father, Son and Spirit having ‘one will’. In terms of the debate between Maximus the Confessor and the monothelites, culminating in the third council of Constantinople, the issue related to a particular definition of ‘will’.

If one thinks of ‘will’ as a faculty of nature, then in the distinction drawn between person and nature, which is the ‘grammar’ of Nicaea and Chalcedon, one must say Jesus has two wills, one for his human nature, and one for his divine nature, because he has both divine and human natures in their entirety. Similarly, if ‘will’ is an attribute of nature, then one has to say the triune God has one will since the triune God has only one nature.

However, ‘will’ can also refer to someone more as a personal agent, where my ‘will’ and ‘I’ become close to synonymous. In this sense, where ‘will’ is being taken not at the level of nature but at the level of person, one has to say Father and Son have distinguishable wills because they are distinguishable persons. Those wills are in immutable harmony, given the immutable loves between the persons, but at the personal level we have distinguishable wills, just as we have distinguishable loves; a paternal love on the Father’s part and a filial love on the Son’s part.

It is this kind of usage that is in play in passages such Mark 14:36 and John 6:38, because the distinguishable trinitarian persons are in view. This is clear from the way Jesus refers to his Father as someone other than himself, understood at the personal level.

Turning briefly to the historical question, Athanasius uses John 6:38 and Jesus doing his Father’s will precisely with regard to the relations of Father and Son outside the incarnation (he has to, because the Arians he was answering were attacking on what happened outside the incarnation between the Father and Son – Contra Arianos III.7). Both Athanasius and Augustine refute the argument that obedience necessarily entails inferiority of nature, both noting we do not say human sons who obey are of a lesser nature than their fathers. Augustine’s words especially repay attention.

But however much God the Son obeys God the Father, is the nature of a human father and a human son different, because the son obeys the father? It is something utterly intolerable on your part that you [sc. the Arian whom Augustine is answering] want to prove from the obedience of the Son a difference of nature between the Father and the Son. Moreover, it is one question whether the Father and the Son have one and the same substance; it is another question whether the Son obeys the Father. (Answer to Maximinus the Arian II, XVIII, 3. For Athanasius see Contra Arianos II.3,4)

Sons have the same nature as their fathers; humans beget humans, and when God begets he begets God. But a son also is in a relation of obedience to his father. This is so for human sons: what text of scripture – rather than a priori reasoning – tells us that God the Son would be a different kind of son? This does not mean that the Son is inferior in nature because of his obedience. Hilary of Poitiers catches the key point well. He sees the Son’s obedience as different from that of a creature.

A distinction [sc. between the Son’s subjection and that of creatures] does exist, for the subjection of the Son is filial reverence, the subjection of all other things is the weakness of things created. (De Synodis 79 – similar references to the Son’s eternal obedience occur in Hilary’s De Trinitate IX.5, IX.53, and XI.12

Accordingly, I have to conclude against Liam that:

1. There is historical precedent for asserting the eternal subordination of the Son.

2. The texts of scripture require us to recognise at the level of the persons distinguishable wills of Father and Son.

3. The Son tells us in scripture that he reveals his eternal love for his Father by his obedience on earth, and this love at the level of persons includes on the Son’s part eternal obedience.

4. The eternal subordination of the Son does not divide the will of God at the level of nature, because the issue here is one of relations between the persons.

5. The eternal subordination of the Son does not entail Arianism, because the Son’s obedience arises from his relation as son and not because he is a creature.

Hence I am reluctant to accept the suggestion that I am making things up about God and therefore should resign.

Rev’d Michael Ovey (PhD, MTh, MA, BCL, BA) is Principal of Oak Hill Theological College in London. His most recent book is: Your Will Be Done: Exploring Eternal Subordination, Divine Monarchy and Divine Humility. 


Read past issues of Credo Magazine

Posted by on Jun 8, 2016 in Announcement | No Comments
Read past issues of Credo Magazine

If you are new to Credo Magazine, then be sure to check out the past issues of the magazine. On our archives page you will find loads of past issues on a host of topics. Here are just a few:

Preach the Word: Preachers Who Changed the World

Paul instructed Timothy to “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. (2 Tim. 4:2). The command is a simple one. Yet, churches today and their pastors fail to take it seriously. Some churches are so used to being fed soundbites from the culture, that sitting down and listening to a sermon for thirty minutes seems not only old fashioned but ridiculously burdensome. Other churches do hear preaching but it is anything but the preaching of “the word.” Instead, the time is filled with one man’s own opinions. Entertaining or interesting as they may be, they are not God’s Word nor the exposition of it. Is it any wonder that churches are filled with malnourished Christians, believers who, whether they know it or not, are being fed milk instead of solid meat?

Needless to say, this is not what the apostle Paul envisioned. Paul taught Timothy that it is absolutely essential to the spiritual health of God’s people to hear the Word itself. By expositing the scriptures, the people hear what God himself has to say, and they walk away knowing who God is, what he has done, and how they are to live according to his will. In this issue of Credo Magazine we aim to help pastors and churchgoers alike recover a love for Bible-preaching. Several contemporary pastors explain what expositional preaching is, why it matters so much, and how churches today can recover the expository sermon in the pulpit. Other contributions take us back in time to those preachers God used in extraordinary ways. By looking to the ministries of men like Spurgeon, Augustine, Edwards, Lloyd-Jones, and others, we desire to see their preaching influence our own. Imitation is not the goal; we rather crave their commitment to expounding the scriptures and pray God’s people would as well.

Contributors include Christian T. George, David P. Barshinger, Jason Helopoulos, Christopher Catherwood, Adrian Reynolds, Adrian Reynolds, Michael A.G. Haykin, Jonathan Worsley, Murray Capill, Deven MacDonald, and others.

The Prince of Puritans: John Owen

It is hard to exaggerate the importance and influence of Owen’s life and writings. His books were and still are some of the best works in theology that we have, standing alongside those of Augustine, Luther, Calvin, and many others. The Christian today will benefit in countless ways from works like On Communion with God, The Doctrine of Justification by Faith, On the Mortification of Sin, and Of Indwelling Sin in Believers. The upcoming year, 2016, will be the four hundredth anniversary of Owen’s birth. So what better timing for an issue of Credo Magazine that aims to introduce some of Owen’s theology and writings. But as much as we love you reading Credo Magazine, this issue would be a failure if you did not study and read this Prince of Puritans for yourself. …

Let the children come to Jesus

Ministry is complex. Business meetings, sermons, youth group, small groups, counseling sessions—the list is endless. In the midst of these many important ministries, sometimes churches can neglect one of the most important ministries of all. That’s right, children’s ministry. This is a dangerous thing to neglect. After all, the children filling our churches will carry on the torch long after we are gone. Therefore, whether or not they are being taught sound doctrine should never be underestimated. … Contributors include: Nancy Guthrie, Sally Michael, Simonetta Carr, Jason Helopoulos, Starr Meade, Jessalyn Hutto, Bobby Jamieson, and many others. …

The Forgotten God

Looking back on the first half of the twentieth century, H. Richard Niebuhr famously described liberal Christianity’s understanding of the gospel like this: “A God without wrath brought men without sin into a Kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a Cross.” Such a mentality has had its influence and still does today. There are certain Bible stories that you just don’t talk about, not even in church. For many people today, Bible stories having to do with divine wrath, anger, or jealousy are embarrassing. … Contributors include Bruce Ware, David Murray, Erik Thoennes, Matthew Barrett, Fred Zaspel, Daniel Hyde, Cornelius Tolsma, Jessalyn Hutto, Michael A.G. Haykin, and many others. …

By the Book

How well do you know your Bible? Now that is a scary question, even if you have been a Christian for a long time. Between church events, little league games, and a full-time job, finding time to read and study Scripture is a herculean task. To make matters worse, when you finally do escape to read the Bible you struggle to understand what it means. At times you can relate with the Ethiopian eunuch who said to Philip when asked if he understood what he was reading, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” … Contributors include: Robert Plummer, Ardel Caneday, Michael Kruger, Deven K. MacDonald, Paul D. Wegner, Augustus Nicodemus Lopes, Kevin DeYoung, Douglas Moo, and Thomas Schreiner. …


Silence in church history

Posted by on Jun 7, 2016 in Audio | No Comments
Silence in church history

Well known church historian, Diarmaid MacCulloch, has written a new book called Silence: A Christian History (Penguin). He also delivered a lecture series on the subject at the University of Edinburgh. Here are the videos from those lectures: