Saturday, November 14, 2009

"Houston, We've Got a Problem": The Thorn of Temporary Submission

“Ware spends considerable time on the topic of taxis, or ordering, within the Trinity. Because of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are distinct persons and this distinction is not in terms of any difference in essence or attributes, it must be found in this ordering. Ware describes it: ‘The order is not random or arbitrary; it is not the Spirit first, the Son second, and the Father third, nor is it any way other than the one way that the early church, reflecting Scripture itself (Matt. 28:19), insisted on: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.’ So the Son obeyed the Father in all things, not only during his earthly ministry, but also in eternity past, just as he will do so in eternity to come. Similarly, Ware traces the role of the Holy Spirit, who submits himself to both the Father and the Son. He acknowledges that the Spirit directed the Son at certain points in the Son’s life and ministry, but HE REGARDS THAT APPARENT SUBMISSION OF THE SON TO THE SPIRIT AS BEING RESTRICTED TO THE SON’S EARTHLY MINISTRY” (Millard Erickson, “Who’s Tampering With the Trinity? An Assessment of the Subordination Debate.” Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2009, pages 38-39).

I’m back to continue my discussion of Millard Erickson’s work. For those who haven’t bought this book, you need to buy it. It will prove to be one of the best books regarding the subordination debate that you could ever own. I also think that Erickson was fair to both sides of the debate, while still being honest with his readers and stating his advocacy of the equivalent-authority position.

We’ve seen here at the site just how adamant Bruce Ware is about the ETERNAL SUBORDINATION AND SUBMISSION of the Son to the Father. And we’ve also noted that Bruce Ware believes that the Spirit is eternally subordinate to both the Father and the Son. However, in the quote above, Ware finds himself entrapped: in discussion of the Son’s subordination to the Spirit, he now states that the submission of the Son to the Spirit is “restricted to the Son’s earthly ministry.”

Funny, but we don’t read anything of this sort in Scripture! We read nothing of the Son submitting Himself to the Spirit, but we see this in the Incarnation (as Jesus is conceived in Mary’s womb by the Holy Spirit), as well as the Spirit’s leading Jesus into the wilderness (Luke 4, among others), and Jesus’ miracles with the Spirit’s power. Even though this submission is not explicitly mentioned in Scripture, Ware seems to “assume” that this submission is temporary.

But if the submission of the Son to the Spirit is temporary, why not then the submission of the Son to the Father? In the thought of Bruce Ware, the Son has to eternally submit because He is subordinate, BELOW, the Father. However, Ware’s need to keep the Father as always “superior” to the other members of the Trinity sounds like part of an underhanded agenda to me.

Apart from Bruce Ware’s material on the Trinity, I do read other material of Ware’s. And last night, I found myself finishing Ware’s discussion of the Doctrine of Divine Immutability (which basically teaches that God changes nothing about Himself, except in relationship with His creation). This doctrine teaches us that emotions like God’s anger really existed—that God was angry with us while we were enemies of His. When we were sinners, we were “sinners in the hands of an angry God,” to use a Jonathan Edwards sermon title. Once we accepted Christ, however, we became “friends” of God...which means that now, God’s anger is no longer kindled toward us. Instead, God’s anger has now been appeased in His Son, Jesus Christ. This is why Romans 3 and 1 John 4 refer to Christ as “the propitiation for our sins.” The word “propitiate” means “to please, to appease,” and Christ’s sacrificial death was the “appeasement” of God’s wrath. This is why when Jesus is born in the Gospel of Luke, for instance, the angels proclaim, “Peace on earth, goodwill toward men.” Peace came in the form of Christ, who is our “prince of peace” (Isaiah 9).

Now, back to Bruce Ware. I was reading on the above doctrine, and I noted a statement Bruce Ware made that I think works perfectly for this discussion on the Trinity:

“What is it like to be in relationship with one who is infinitely wise, powerful, holy, truthful, and good? Perhaps from God’s side of the picture, this relationship is summed up with the words, ‘he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust’ (Ps. 103:14). The disparity between us and God is impossible really to imagine. Analogies fail, because the disparity here is between what is infinite and what is finite and, at present, fallen. WHY SHOULD WE THINK THAT THIS RELATIONSHIP WOULD BE LIKE ANY OF OUR OTHER RELATIONSHIPS?” (Bruce Ware, “God’s Greater Glory: The Exalted God of Scripture and The Christian Faith.” Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2004, page 156).

Notice the statement I capitalized above in Ware’s quote? I think it is fitting. Ware says that our relationship with God is unlike any other relationship that we have. And I would say that he’s right—it is “the infinite” interacting with the “finite,” and “the finite” (us) interacting with “the infinite” (which is God).
However, if our HUMAN relationships are BELOW our relationship with God, then how do we characterize the intratrinitarian relationship of the Trinity? Since all the members of the Trinity are “fully and equally God” in their own right, and yet, are in relationship with one another, where does this fit on our scale of relationships?

Ware tells us here that the Trinity has a hierarchy within itself, QUITE LIKE HUMAN RELATIONSHIPS:

“An authority-submission structure marks THE VERY NATURE of the eternal Being of the one who is three. In this authority-submission structure, the three Persons understand the rightful place each has. THE FATHER POSSESSES THE PLACE OF SUPREME AUTHORITY, and the Son is the eternal Son of the eternal Father. As such, THE SON SUBMITS TO THE FATHER...and the Spirit submits to both the Father and the Son. THIS HIERARCHICAL STRUCTURE OF AUTHORITY exists in the eternal Godhead even though it is also eternally true that each Person is fully equal to each other in their commonly possessed essence” (Bruce Ware, “Father, Son, & Holy Spirit: Relationship, Relevance, and Roles.” Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2005, page 21).

But this contradicts what he said above; if the God-human relationship is ABOVE human relationships, and the intratrinitarian relationship consists of the three persons as God, then doesn’t that place the intratrinitarian relationship ABOVE the God-human relationship? And if analogies fail with the God-human relationship (Ware states this above), then how much more do they fail when it comes to the members of the Trinity!!

We see the difference in the God-human relationship from human relationships in the book of Hebrews:

“Furthermore, we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect. Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live? For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He FOR OUR PROFIT, that we may be partakers of His holiness” (Hebrews 12:9-10, NKJV).

The God-human relationship is above all human relationships! On this, we would all agree...

Next, the Trinitarian relationship.

“But when He again brings the firstborn into the world, He says:
‘Let all the angels of God worship Him.’
But to the Son He says:
‘Your throne, O God, is forever and ever; A scepter of righteousness is the scepter of Your kingdom.’
‘You, LORD, in the beginning LAID THE FOUNDATION OF THE EARTH, and the heavens are the work of Your hands” (Hebrews 1:6,8,10).

The Trinitarian relationship is such that each member of the Trinity recognizes the other members as “fully God” and equal to Himself.

If this is true, then what about Jesus’ submission?

“though He was a Son, YET HE LEARNED OBEDIENCE by the things which He suffered” (Heb. 5:8, NKJV).

If we listen to Bruce Ware, the Son had already “learned obedience” in heaven; however, this contradicts the biblical record. If Christ was already “subordinate” in heaven, then why would He need to learn obedience on earth? It is at this point that we should part ways with our good friend, Bruce Ware.

And, because of the Son’s temporary submission to the Father, we can conclude that the Son temporarily submits to the Spirit. But, if this be the case, then there is a mutual submission amongst all the members of the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

In the case of the Spirit, this can be seen with the fact that the Son foretells of
the Spirit:

“And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment...when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come” (John 16:8, 13 NKJV).

However, we find that the Spirit also foretold of Christ’s coming:

“Of this salvation the prophets have inquired and searched carefully, who prophesied of the grace that would come to you, searching what, or what manner of time, the SPIRIT OF CHRIST WHO WAS IN THEM was indicating when He testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow” (1 Peter 1:10-11, NKJV).

The Spirit of God that was within the prophets foretold that Christ would suffer and die for the sins of the world.

Now, let’s look at this interaction. The Spirit announces Christ’s coming through the prophets; but in John, the Son also announces the Spirit’s coming and His mission in the world. In both cases, we have the Son and the Spirit recognizing and introducing one another. This is the case of a relationship among equals, not one wielding power over the other.

Our friend Bruce Ware is at a disadvantage: he wants to affirm the “temporary” subordination of Christ to the Spirit, while affirming Christ’s “eternal” subordination to the Father. What we find in the Trinity instead is a mutual relationship among equals. Jesus tells us this when He requests of the Father to “glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was” (John 17:5), stating that He had glorified the Father on earth (John 17:4). This, then, is mutual submission.

Sounds like Ware’s playing theological mind games with the evidence; however, to affirm the Son as “temporarily” subordinate on one hand and “eternally” subordinate on the other shows more of the mind of Bruce Ware than it does the testimony of the biblical evidence.

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