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Christians for Biblical Equality

Theology

Subordinationism.

Most theological text books mention a trinitarian error called, ‘subordinationism’ but they do not agree on how this error is to be defined. Possibly this is the most inadequately defined of all the major trinitarian heresies.

1.      The emergence of the term ‘subordinationism’.

In the fourth century, several groups of theologians who could not accept the use of the word homoousios (one in being) to define the Father-Son relationship in the creed of Nicea (325) were lumped together and called ‘Arians’- followers of Arius - by the Nicene fathers. Some of them insisted that they were not followers of Arius.[1] Later, the term ‘Arianism’ became a term either to designate those who in some way questioned the full divinity of the Son, or, as a catch-all pejorative term to designate any who deviated from to be teaching on the Trinity given in the creeds and later in the Reformation confessions.[2] From the middle of the sixteenth century until the late nineteenth century the term ‘Anti-Trinitarianism’ was often used as a synonym for the very broad understanding of ‘Arianism’ just mentioned.[3] In the middle of the nineteenth century it came to be recognised that a specific and precise term was needed to speak of those who, in differing historical times, proposed that in some way the Son and/or the Spirit were subordinated to the Father in the immanent Trinity. First, the English term ‘subordinationism’ began to be used for this purpose, and then later in German, ‘subordinationismus.[4]  From then on, this error could be contrasted with the errors of tritheism and modalism, and Arianism recognised as but one form of subordinationism. This technical term immediately discloses something about this theological error. It has to do with the sub-ordering or ranking of the Son and/or the Spirit below the Father; the hierarchical ordering of the trinitarian persons.

Following the 2016 Evangelical Theological Society annual conference in San Antonia where Dr. Bruce Ware and Dr. Wayne Grudem publicly announced that they had been wrong to deny the doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son, the word monogenēs has become a hot topic.

This word has become contentious because both Ware and Grudem said that they can now accept the doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son because they have been persuaded that monogenēs in fact means “only begotten” and thus there is good biblical support for this doctrine.

Ware and Grudem both appealed to the work of Dr Lee Irons (see https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/lets-go-back-to-only-begotten). He argues that monogenēs means “only begotten” and thus there is good biblical support for the doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son. Since the conference, Dr Denny Burk has enthusiastically been putting the same argument (http://www.dennyburk.com/category/theologybible/).

The most important text on the relationship of the sexes in the whole Bible, Genesis 1-3.

In discussing what the Bible teaches on men and women no text in the whole Bible is more important than Genesis chapters 1–3. Here God creates man and woman as the apex of his creative work and sets them in an idyllic world where everything is good. Tragically, however, the Devil enters and both the man and the woman fall into sin and as a consequence are banished from the Garden. All Christian theologians see this story as foundational to the whole Bible. It tells us that God made the world ‘good’, but the sin of man and woman destroyed their good relationship with God, each other and with the creation itself. It thus explains why a saviour and a ‘new creation’ are needed. The story is given in two forms. In Genesis chapter one in grand poetic language God creates everything in six days with the apex of his creative work coming in the creation of man and woman who are said to be ‘made in God’s image and likeness’. Chapters 2-3 give a different account of the beginning, this time in picturesque narrative form with a number of scenes. In the so called ‘second creation story’, after the earth is created Adam appears first and then God provides for him water, vegetation, animals and a partner in woman.

You can appeal to the Bible and be dead wrong; you can even justify what is evil and sinful.
(This paper was a talk given orally at a CBE meeting in Melbourne, the slavery part based on what I say in my book, The Trinity and Subordinationism (on the subordination of the Son, women and slaves). The ‘reflections’ section at the end was added in the light of the discussion that followed. It is not a polished work ready for publication.)
Kevin Giles

Our “complementarian” opponents are absolutely convinced that what they teach on the man-woman relationship is what the Bible teaches. To reject their teaching, they tell us confidently, is to reject the Bible, and because the Bible is literally God’s words, this means it is to disobey God himself. One Sydney theologian told me publicly, after I had given a lecture outlining the CBE position, “You reject what Scripture plainly teaches. Those who disobey God, go to hell”.

We Australian evangelical Anglicans face some weighty opponents: the archbishop of Sydney and his predecessors, the current principal of Moore Theological College and his predecessors, most of the staff of Moore College, and in the United States, Don Carson, John Piper, Wayne Grudem, Bruce Ware and almost every lecturer in the five large Southern Baptist seminaries.

When faced with such weighty opposition, it is very helpful to note that we find exactly the same dogmatic, vehement opinion voiced by the best of Reformed theologians in regard to slavery in the 19th century and Apartheid in the 20th century. They too appealed to the Bible with huge confidence, claiming that it unambiguously supported slavery and Apartheid. However today virtually all evangelicals say they were mistaken in their understanding of the Bible, that the Bible condemns slavery and Apartheid, and that these things are not pleasing to God!

Let me now tell this story in a bit more detail.

Here is an article recently published in Christianity Today

Popular Christian psychologist Larry Crabb has a new book out, Fully Alive, with the subtitle "A Biblical Vision of Gender That Frees Men and Women to Live Beyond Stereotypes." Though I haven't read the book, I did read his recent Christianity Today interview about it, and I can tell that this new book (his 41st) contains more of what has earned Crabb the respect and popularity of a large audience.

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