Saturday, August 31, 2019

Trinity Without Hierarchy edited by Michael F. Bird and Scott Harrower.




I have noticed, recently, that there is some sort of proposition going around (particularly in relation to man/woman husband/wife relationships) that the Trinity does not have any authoritative order, especially, that there is no subordination among the Persons of the Trinity.   When I received a notice that I could get a review copy of this book of collected essays by many people: Trinity Without Hierarchy: Reclaiming Nicene Orthodoxy in Evangelical Theology edited by Michael F. Bird and Scott Harrower , my dad wanted me to get it and look into the topic.

I did not know that there was controversy over this particular topic, and I don't believe I've ever really considered it before.  I unconsciously have always assumed that God the Son does the will of God the Father, and that that is something that has always been the case, as that is what a basic reading of the Scriptures teaching on the Godhead seems to indicate.    After going through this book, I don't see any Scripturally compelling reason to change that viewpoint.  If you do not understand exactly what this viewpoint entails, you'll get the gist in my critique.

It seems that the main reason all this argument has come on the scene is because some evangelicals have been using the relationship of the Trinity to argue for complementarianism among the sexes. I agree, for the most part, with the authors of these articles that that is not a hermeneutically valid argument. The Trinity's relationship to each other does not necessitate human beings relating to each other in the same way.  

TRINITY NOT EQUAL IF THERE IS AUTHORITY AND SUBMISSION

I think the most compelling argument  they offer is that the Trinity is One and therefore there can be no significant differences among the Persons of the Godhead.  But, when looking at their arguments, I see some of the logic of it but I don't see it as overwhelmingly compelling biblically. 

Let me give you some quotations from the book to demonstrate some of their arguments and I'll comment on them:

"…To assert relations of authority and submission within a single divine will is similarly impossible:  authority and submission require a diversity of volitional faculties.  Where there is one single will, there can necessarily be no authority or submission."
 In other Words, we know that God the Father and the Son are one, have the exact same will and therefore there cannot be said to be authority or submission in that divine relationship. Now for my commentary:  I'm not sure that that is actually the case. Let me give you an illustration to demonstrate how that type of argument sounds to me: If a wife always agrees with every decision her husband makes, because he is her husband, and wants to do whatever his will is in everything, it isn't actually submission because she never disagrees with him? If she agrees with him in what he wants to do and submits to it, her husband doesn't actually have authority and she isn't actually submitting? I don't think that one can say that the husband has no authority and the wife is not submissive simply because the wife always obeys the husband and wants to do the same thing He does. 

I don't see how it is bionically inaccurate to say that God the Son willingly submits to God the Father because He is God the Father.  I don't see that Christ's complete willingness to do the Father's will indicates that Christ is not obeying the Father and that the Father is not authoritative. 

And my second quotation from the book, which is actually a quotation of a quotation that the author of this particular chapter makes about the Trinity, "neither with regard to nature nor activity is any distinction beheld".
Let me list some questions I have in regard to this statement which really make me reluctant to agree with it:

When the Son said, "My God, My God, Why have you forsaken Me?" (Matt 27:46), Did God the Father say the same thing to the Son? Say the Same thing to the Holy Spirit?  Did Christ and the Holy Spirit also separate from the Father? Forsake Him? Did the Father and Christ forsake the Holy Spirit?

When the Son says, "Not My will but Thine, be done"(Luke 22:42), does the Father at any point also say, "Not My Will but the Son's be done?"

At the end of time, God the Father puts everything under God the Son's feet (1 Cor 15:27). Does God the Father ever put everything under the Holy Spirit?  We also find that the Son Himself is then subjected to God the Father and the Bible makes it very clear that it is not a vice-versa thing. God the Father is NOT subjected to God the Son:  "Then  comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, when he has brought to an end all rule and all authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be eliminated is death. For he has put everything in subjection under his feet.  But when it says 'everything' has been put in subjection, it is clear that this does not include the one who put everything in subjection to him. And when all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will be subjected to the one who subjected everything to him, so that God may be all in all."(1 Corinthians 15:27-28 NET)

Some of the writers, to varying degrees, seem to concede some sort of submission but only as a part of the Trinity's plan to save people did Christ submit to the Father. But they seem to think that it wasn't quite God the Son who submitted.  At least that's what they seem to be saying.   It is posited that Jesus had a human will and a divine will and that "the human will of the Son is subordinate to the divine will." But can we actually separate His human will from His divine will? Where are we ever told that there was a discrepancy between Christ's human will and His divine one? Where are we ever given an indication that Christ ever had a Romans 7-like scenario? I know, I know, people will say, "in the Garden of Gethsemane!" (Luke 22:42).  But I see no Biblical reason to believe that that was actually God the Son in His humanity speaking separately from His Divinity.  Why would we assume that Jesus' flesh EVER 'took over' or 'manifested itself' over against His Divinity? Don't we believe that Christ's humanity was completely untainted by sin? That even His human nature, his flesh, did not include a tendency to sin?

To show how the book carries the thought further let me give you another quote: "It is Christ's humanity that will submit to the Father, not Christ's divinity." Jesus submitted His human will to the Father but not His divine will?  I am very, very nervous about that statement.  I see what they are trying to do, but I don't know that they have a biblical right to say that.  Why would we assume that when God the Son, embodied in flesh, ever speaks of Himself He isn't necessarily speaking of His WHOLE self, His 'real' Self, but merely of His physicality? It seems almost a direct contradiction to the texts about the Son talking about His submission to the Father to assert or think that He Himself wasn't actually submissive, that it was just His flesh that was subordinate.  Besides, wouldn't that make God the Son not 'wholly man', so His divinity is not actually joined with flesh? Couldn't it be used to say also that, when people are worshiping Christ, they are worshiping His humanity, not His divinity? That only God the Son, DISEMBODIED, is truly God?

"Eternal submission is to misunderstand the Son, and therefore diminish his glory, power and will…"  Who says? Where does the Bible say this? How does submitting to the Father diminish Christ's glory? It was veiled during the incarnation, but He always had it, right?  How does it diminish His power? His power over God the Father? Does it diminish the Son's will because the Father's will is done and not His in particular(even though the Scripture indicates that He wants the Father's will done)?

ETERNAL BEGOTTENESS OF THE SON BY THE FATHER

Another concept that is propounded throughout the book is the eternal 'generating' of the Son by the Father. It's a proposition of what we are actually supposed to be deducing from the terms "Father" and "Son" in the Godhead. The writers of this book seem to think that, though God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit have always been God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, those terms specifically have reference to origin, not hierarchy.  That the Father eternally generates, or begets, the Son. "For the pro-Nicenes, the Father was 'first' among the three persons of the Trinity.  He is the one who generates the Son and who spirates 'the Spirit'."The Son was always eternally generated, eternally begotten by the Father before He was physically begotten in the flesh.  This is pretty much, solely, according to this book, the only thing we are to glean from the terms "Father" and "Son" in the Trinity.  As one of the essay writers puts it:  ""…there is nothing other than eternal generation that we can say of the Father-Son relation."

I don't understand how that is so definitive. Why is it that they can dogmatically say that the terms "Father" and "Son" only have reference to 'generation' and that they absolutely, positively, CANNOT possibly have reference to a hierarchy?  What if they actually do? What if that's EXACTLY what we are to understand about the Father, Son and Holy Spirit? What if they really do mean that, though the Son is of the same essence as the Father, He is subordinate to the Father? And that both can be true at the same time? The New Testament presents that viewpoint, it indicates that God the Son submits to God the Father.

IS SUBMISSION GLORIOUS?
That leads me to another question, several questions, actually:  Is submission glorious? Can we say that it is not? Seeing that the Son humbled Himself and yet did not need to 'grasp' glory, as it were, because it was already His?   Is submission to the Father not a natural part of the divine Son's character? Why do we assume the Son is lesser if He eternally obeys the will of the Father? Isn't the Son doing a glorious thing in submitting to the Father? The Bible seems to plainly indicate that the Son's submission to the Father is a glorious, not a demeaning, thing.

Do we actually believe that there should be NO paradoxes in our understanding of God? That we should be able to completely understand everything about Him? That nothing about Him will go beyond our comprehension? The Bible seems to indicate that all the Persons of the Trinity are One and yet that having authority and submission among the Godhead does not negate that equality. 

Can we take everything the Bible says about God in simple faith, not having to understand everything about Him but simply believing that what God says about Himself is true?  And that everything God the Son, even in His incarnate state, says about Himself, is also true, and true about His whole Self, not merely about His physical self, even if it boggles our minds? Shouldn't we take Him at His Word?

When Christ says, "I and the Father are One" (John 10:30) and, "The Father is Greater than I" (John 14:28), Shouldn't our first response be to assume that both statements are wholly true of Him and not merely of His physical body but of His Divine nature as well?  And shouldn't we assume that, without our having to fully understand it, the Father being greater than the Son does not diminish the Son's glory or take away from His Oneness with the Father? 


CREEDS: THE AUTHORITY FOR OUR FAITH?

The book seems to make the case that Ancient 'Christian' Creeds and traditions are a part of forming our faith. That we ought not to depart from the writings and traditions of the early Christians who lived after the time of the Apostles.  I'll give you an example of what I am talking about by quoting the book again:
 "I am aware that some involved in defending EFS have also denied eternal generation; I do not have much to say about that except that to deny eternal generation is certainly to deny the doctrine of the Trinity, and, given that 'eternally begotten of the Father' is a confession of the Nicene Creed, is in grave danger of departing from what can meaningfully be called Christianity - it is, once again, to side with Unitarians and Jehovah's Witnesses in claiming that the Christian doctrine of God is unbiblical."

So if we depart from the conclusions and interpretations of ancient professing Christian writers we are departing from Christianity?  We can't just use the Bible, we have to agree with the interpretations of the Bible written by ancient professing Christians? This might sound horrible to say, but the Nicene Creed is not something that I hold to.  I don't think I even knew what it said before I read this book, and even then I don't remember a lot of it (don't think I could quote any of what I read verbatim), and I don't know what the whole thing says, but I don't feel guilty about that. The Nicene Creed, the Westminster Confession, the London Baptist Confession…etc. are not, and never have been the Biblical measurement of faith.  And I think that's rather obvious as they do not form a part of the canon of Scripture. 

The writers of this compilation of essays seem dangerously close to canonizing the Nicene Creed.  I know that they would deny it, but, as saw from the above quotation,  they really seem to exalt it's authority.   I think that L. S. Chafer warned us well when he said: "It is a bad indication when, in any period, men will so exalt their confessions that they force the Scriptures to a secondary importance, illustrated in one era, when as Tulloch remarks: 'Scripture as a witness, disappeared behind the Augsburg Confession' ...No decrees of councils; no ordinances of synods; no 'standard' of doctrines; no creed or confession, is to be urged as authority in forming the opinions of men. They may be valuable for some purposes, but not for this; they may be referred to as interesting parts of history, but not to form the faith of Christians; they may be used in the church to express its belief, not to form it."

I must admit, this argument about the Trinity is a topic I'm nervous about as it seems too easy to come to a wrong conclusion about God, to be dogmatic where the Scripture is silent, going beyond the bounds of revelation. But I’m really scared of where these people are going with their argument as their foundation seems to be the Nicene Creed.  In the book, one of the writers states:  "It may be that EFS/ERAS is biblical and correct, but if it is, the classical Christian tradition of orthodox Trinitarians must inevitably be unbiblical and wrong."  But that shouldn't drastically shake us up because our faith shouldn't be based in the "classical Christian tradition" anyway, but in God's written Word.

Many thanks to the folks at Kregel Academic for providing me with a free review copy of this book (My review did not have to be favorable) 

My Rating: 1 out of 5 Stars
*
This book may be purchased at Christianbook.com and Amazon.com

Friday, August 2, 2019

Rediscovering Scripture's Vision for Women - By Lucy Peppiatt




Rediscovering Scripture's Vision For Women: Fresh Perspectives on Disputed Texts by Lucy Peppiatt is a book that, as the title indicates, attempts to look at Scriptures teachings of God's plan for women. 

As you may have guessed, these "fresh" perspectives ultimately attempt to lead the reader to think that Christian women do not need to keep silent in the church, can pastor churches, don't need to submit to their husbands…etc.  I have read some of it outloud to many of my sisters (I have seven sisters) and they were all joining me in criticizing the claims of this book.

Let me deal with some of her claims.  First, her view of 1 Corinthians 11.  I find part of her introduction to her interpretation ironic:  "My own research has led me to study these verses in detail and to discover that the more obvious meaning of the text causes consternation and embarrassment among many, and even causes others to question Paul's understanding here."  So, of course the obvious reading can't be right if people are dismayed and embarrassed about it?  Anyway, she says that some believe these verses tell us that males are in the image and glory of God more than women, which she says cannot be true since Genesis tells us that both are said to be in the image of God.  This can be answered very simply:  One of my sisters pointed out that it only says that woman is the "glory of man" it doesn't say that she is his image and thus does not discount her still being the image of God.

 Anyway, After dealing with the problems she has with the "hierchialist view" the author asks, "Is it possible to salvage a better meaning out of these verses?"  Her "better meaning" is quite shocking to me.  She thinks that chunks of verses are just Paul repeating erroneous beliefs that the Corinthians held about man/woman relationships and that he's correcting those.  She doesn't give an exegetical reason, just gives you an edited (with italics and other punctuation) quotation of this section of Paul's letter to demonstrate how, in her view, it should be read.  And then she goes on to just assume you accepted that explanation.  No exegetical basis other than she thinks that Paul couldn't be saying what these texts, obviously, say.  She has a book written on 1 Corinthians 11, so perhaps she gets more detailed in that, but it certainly warrants a fuller explanation in this book.

Another one of her arguments is (as I understood her to be saying) that there is no subordination among the Persons of the Trinity.  Since the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are all of the same 'substance', all one God, then there can't be such a thing as 'authority' or subordination in the Trinity and therefore one shouldn't think that Christ set an example of submission that could be followed by wives.   I'll give one example: "It is true that Paul claims in 1 Corinthians 15 that at the end of time, God will be 'all in all,' and speaks of Christ being made subject to God (1 Corinthians 15: 28.  However, this is also in the context of the idea that all authority in Heaven and earth has been handed over to the son…Christ emerges triumphant at the end of time, having put everything under his feet.  This powerful picture of Jesus Christ is not quite the loving, courageous submission that is referred to in a few verses of Philippians 2 in relation to the incarnation….."   She seems to think that this means that God the Father is also put under Christ's feet! Excuse me?  This does not mean that the Father then submits to the Son. 

Texts like 1 Peter 3:1-7, are negated because, though Peter does tell wives to submit to their husbands, all Christians are supposed to submit to each other.  So that, of course, cancels out any command to wives to submit to their husbands.  Her reasoning is absurd!  Read just a few verses here:

"For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord…"(1Pe 3:5-6 ESV)

"Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord…."(Eph 5:22ESV)

Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.
(Eph 5:24 ESV)

These texts are very clear, very specific commands to wives that they are specifically to submit to, not their fathers or mothers, not their fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, but they are to submit to their husbands in particular and look on him as their authority:

Peppiatt makes the claim that if men and women don't have the same earthly roles then there is "literally nothing to show for the claim that she has been saved into coequality with a man." This is might sound strange, but, there being no males or females in Christ does not mean that there are no male or female Christians.

The Bible does not indicate that salvation erases lineage or ethnicity (Paul emphasized in Romans 9-12 that God has a special plan to save Israel, an ethnic people, sometime in the future),and it does not indicate that our sex is erased at salvation. There being no male, female, Jew, Gentile, etc… in Christ simply means that we are all saved the same way: by the grace of God through the faith that He gives us.  We are not saved because of our works,  because of our sex, nor are we saved because of our societal position or ethnicity.  If you take it the way Peppiatt reads it, then we'd also have to assume that there are no children, parents, bosses, no political governors or any leaders in Christ.  "Children obey your parents" would be crazy because parents and children don't exist in Christ and children should not be required to submit to their brothers and sisters in Christ.  I’m talking absurdly here, I know, but this is how I see her reasoning playing out if brought to its logical conclusion.

The Bible NEVER indicates that everything physical about us is erased at our salvation, rather it seems to do just the opposite and shows us how we can utilize our God-ordained physical position for the Lord.  Remember, we are told by the Apostle Paul in Ephesians that " we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them."(Eph 2:10).  Why do we seem to think that these "good works" are all going to be exactly the same for everyone? Why do we think that it wouldn't be "fair" if God gives particular groups of people particular works? Actually, wouldn't that be rather special? To think that God put me in a specific physical circumstance and has given me particular good works to do in that circumstance!

God HAS given particular people groups special works to do.  There are particular good works for Men, Women, Husbands, Wives, Fathers, Children, Slaves, Masters, Older Women, Pastors, elders, citizens…etc. and good works for everyone in general.  Our particular roles/good works may be hard, and our general good works are hard too, but that's where faith comes in, where dying to self comes in, where we take up our particular cross and follow our Lord.   

Remember what the Apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12? I'll quote some of it:  "For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, 'Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,' that would not make it any less a part of the body…."(1Co 12:12-15)  As a woman I might say, "Because I am not a man, I do not belong to the body" Or, "Because I must keep quiet and not pastor a congregation I am not a part of the body".  Nope, I am still a part of the body even though I have a different role.  Paul goes on: "If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose."(1Co 12:17-18)  We all are still unique in the body of Christ, with God ordained unique roles and positions. 

Peppiatt's 'exegesis' seems to consist in implanting doubt in people's minds as to how understandable Scripture actually is.  She really seems to desire to implant into our minds that what Scripture seems to be clearly, "obviously" saying might actually be obscure.    She focuses in on individual words and demonstrates that they can have a variety of meanings, and therefore the meaning that is normally fixed upon by most Bible translators is not necessarily the right one. She does the same with texts and passages as a whole: The obvious meaning is not necessarily the right one.  This really seems like a "Has God said?"(Genesis 3) scenario.  Peppiatt's hermeneutic is dangerous.  It can easily be utilized (and probably is used) by those who deny a literal six-day creation, those who view Christ as a mere man and not God incarnate, it could be used by children to justify their disobeying their parents, and could mess with salvation itself by lending to the proclaiming of "another Gospel" (Gal 1:8).

The author of this book has a very clear bias against the "obvious" meaning of Scripture texts that talk about women's  roles in Christ.  She says, "I encourage all Christian married couples to break away from and reject any expectation that the husband should occupy an authoritative role and the wife a submissive one…"    Remember, the Apostle Paul indicates that the husband and wife relationship is a picture of Christ and the church (Ephesians 5), the church is supposed to submit to Christ.  Christ does not submit to the church. We do not tell Him what to do, He tells us, We do not lead Him, He leads us. Husbands and wives mess up the picture when they do not follow their God given roles.  Wives submitting to their husbands, in particular, is emphasized in the Scriptures and treated very seriously. 

I'll sum this all up:  In this book, Peppiatt is doing exactly the opposite of what the Scriptures say older women are to teach young wives, "train the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be sober-minded, chaste, workers at home, kind, being in subjection to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed."(Tit 2:4-5 ASV)  Wives are given a particular duty by God: submission to their husbands.  This duty is to be taken VERY seriously so as not to cause the Word of God to be blasphemed, or discredited.

I have particular instructions given to me as a single woman.  I am not given the role of pastor or teacher of the congregation, I am to keep quiet and listen submissively.  Might it be hard to do sometimes? Sure! But again, that's where faith comes in, and faith isn't usually easy. Listening submissively in church is one of the particular good works that Scripture CLEARLY tells me in particular, to do,  therefore I know for sure that it's one of the particular works that God has "ordained" for me to "walk in".   It's not demeaning, it is special, it gives me a special role in the body of Christ, a special work of submission I can do to glorify Him. 


I received a free review copy of this book from InterVarsity Press.  My review did not have to be favorable.


My rating: 1 out of 5 Stars
*  

This book may be purchased at Amazon.com