Ware, Bruce A. and John B. Starke, eds. One God in Three Persons: Unity of Essence, Distinction of Persons, Implications for Life. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2015.
Complementarians believe that God has created men and woman as equal image-bearers of God, yet with differing roles in the church and home. Many, however, balk at this notion arguing that a hierarchy in the church or home necessarily means that one gender is less valuable than the other. But if complementarians can prove that there is a hierarchy in the immanent (ontological) Trinity, then they win, for if a hierarchy exists among the Three Persons of God, and these Three Persons are equally God, then surely God can create men and women equal yet with differing roles in the church and home. If God the Father leads the Son and Spirit infinitely, and if the Son submits infinitely to his Father, and these Three remain fully and equally God, then the hierarchy in the home and church, and the submission of women to men in the church and home does not necessarily mean that women are less valuable than men. Just as the Son and Spirit are not less valuable than the Father, women are not less valuable than men, though a hierarchy has been given by God based on gender in the home and church. In the new book, One God in Three Persons, the complementarians win. They have argued persuasively that there is a hierarchy in the immanent Trinity.
Consider this summary and brief review of the book. . .
One God in Three Persons: Unity of Essence, Distinction of Persons, Implications for Life deals with theology proper, specifically concerning how the Persons of the Trinity relate to one another. The relationship between the Father and the Son is the central focus due to the incarnation and the questions it brings. The goal is to be comprehensive in matters of Scripture, history, theological perspective and philosophy concerning Trinitarian relations.
Chapter 1: “Doctrinal Deviations in Evangelical-Feminist Arguments about the Trinity” by Wayne Grudem
In Chapter 1, Wayne Grudem interacts with recent Trinitarian arguments by evangelical-feminists. Grudem argues that Millard Erickson and Kevin Giles are unwilling to specify any distinction between the Trinitarian Persons. Erickson also conflates the distinct actions of the Three Persons into one action. He argues that one Person may represent the other Two, but all participate in what is done. Grudem, however, points out that the Holy Spirit in no way sends himself, and the Father does not intercede before the Father.
Another evangelical-feminist that makes similar arguments highlighted by Grudem is Sarah Sumner. She nuances the submission of the Son to the Father by arguing instead that Christ the Son is subject to the God of Three Persons. Grudem, however, argues that saying the Son is subject to the Son is modalism. She takes this unbiblical notion and applies it to the husband and wife relationships, arguing that when wives submit to their husbands, they’re really submitting to themselves since they’re one flesh. But the Bible says husbands should love their wives as their own bodies (Eph. 5:28).
These attacks on the eternal Sonship of the Son are new. For thousands of years, Christians have affirmed the Son as eternally Son. This reality is evident in both the Nicene and Chalcedonian Creeds. The Bible is not motivating the change; social agendas, such as egalitarianism and feminism, are motivating the change. Their motivation encourages them to say things that simply are not true of Scripture and to ignore Scripture that contradicts their position(s). For example, consider a cursory glance at the clear testimony of Scripture: (1) The Father chooses us in the Son before creation (Eph. 1:3-5, Rom. 8:29, 2 Tim. 1:9, Eph. 1:9-11, Eph. 3:9-11, 1 Pet. 1:19-20, and Rev. 13:8), (2) The Father Creates the world through the Son (John 1:1; Heb. 1:1-2, and 1 Cor. 8:6), (3) The Son’s submission to the Father continues after His earthly ministry and His completed redemptive work on earth (Heb. 7:23-26, Rom. 8:34, Matt. 20:23).
Chapter 2: ‘“I Always Do What Pleases Him’ The Father and Son in the Gospel of John” By Christopher W. Cowan
In Chapter 2, Christopher Cowan interacts with the Son’s relationship with the Father in John’s Gospel. The Son and Father are God, but there is an eternal hierarchal relationship, in that the Son submits to the Father according to John’s Gospel. The Father sends the Son, and the Son willing goes. The Son submits to his Father and is willingly obedient to him. The apostle John clearly uses Father and Son language to indicate a Father and Son relationship. At least, that is how his recipients would have understood his language.
Some have argued that the Father sending the Son highlights their unity not hierarchy, but that is only half the story concerning the background. In Jewish institution, the one sent has the authority of the sender, that is true, but according to Jewish agency, the sent one is subordinate to the sender. Some even argue that since the words “obey,” “obedience,” and “obedient” are not in John’s Gospel, the hierarchy is not either, but one must admit that the concept is in John’s Gospel even if the specific words are not. After all, there is no reason to think the Son’s submission is only on earth and not eternal, for the Father sent the Son into the world (John 3:17) with authority (John 5:22, 27-29).
Chapter 3: “God Is the Head of Christ: Does 1 Corinthians 11:3 Ground Gender Complementarity in the Immanent Trinity?” by Kyle Claunch
In Chapter 3, Kyle Claunch interacts with 1 Corinthians 11:3, concerning the meaning of “God is Head of Christ” and its relation to complementarianism. The purpose of this chapter is to argue that complementarianism is grounded in the immanent Trinity. The statement refers to God the Son Incarnate directly and God the Son Immanent indirectly. If these two realities are true, then the immanent Trinity entails an order of one divine will that is analogically expressed in human relationships of authority and submission. This reality is especially true in the marriage, husband and wife, relationship and the differing roles of men and women in the local church.
Chapter 4: ‘“That God May Be All in All’ The Trinity in 1 Corinthians 15” by James M. Hamilton Jr.
In Chapter 4, James Hamilton interacts with the Son’s relationship with the Father in light 1 Corinthians 15. The purpose of 1 Corinthians 15 is that Jesus’ resurrection is necessary to the gospel, and to deny the resurrection of believers is to undermine the gospel. Hamilton argues that once Christ’s work is completed, the Son will be subjected to the Father giving the Kingdom to Him since the Father has put all in subjection to Christ. This is a functional subordination as the two Persons are ontologically one God, and it is a testimony to an immanent Trinitarian reality prior to, during, and after the incarnation.
Chapter 5: Eternal Generation in the Church Fathers” by Robert Letham
In Chapter 5, Robert Letham interacts with the Church Fathers concerning the eternal generation of the Son. The Father and the Son are of one being, equal in attributes, but distinct in their personal relations. The Father begets, the Son is begotten, and never the reverse. The Son receives from the Father, the Father never receives from the Son. Therefore, the identity of nature and the equality of status are compatible with an order, according to the Church Fathers. If this is the reality in the immanent Trinity, then it may be true as well for human relationships, meaning that man’s relationships can be equal in status with a hierarchy.
Chapter 6: True Sonship—Where Dignity and Submission Meet: A Fourth-Century Discussion” by Michael J. Ovey
In Chapter 6, Michael Ovey interacts with the history surrounding the Nicene Creed. He wrestles with the concern of some that the Son is obedient to the Father only in his humanity, but is this what the Bible teaches or Church History has affirmed? The question is if the Father’s authority and the Son’s submission in the immanent Trinity results in Arianism, which is the charge of some against hierarchy in the immanent Trinity. The answer is no, for prior to the Arian controversy and afterward as well, Nicene, non-Nicene, and anti-Arian texts argued for the Son’s submission in the immanent Trinity in addition to the economic. Arians argued this as well, but because they believed the Son to be a creature. Yet, the orthodox argued that the Son submits because he is truly Son and the Father has authority because he is truly Father.
Chapter 7: “Augustine and His Interpreters” by John Starke
In Chapter 7, John Starke interacts with Augustine and his interpreters, favoring an understanding of Augustine that affirms a hierarchy in the immanent Trinity. Augustine wrote much on the Trinity, and there are quotes of his that can be used to prove hierarchy in the immanent Trinity or only hierarchy in the economic Trinity. Egalitarians appeal to Augustine’s understanding of eternal generation and inseparable operations to argue against an immanent hierarchy among the Three Persons. Complementarians, however, believe that Augustine’s understanding of eternal generation and inseparable operations undergird the hierarchy in the immanent Trinity. Since the Son is sent by the Father, it points to the eternal generation of the Son, that is, the Son is eternally from the Father and the Father abides in the Son as he works. These realities are prior to the incarnation and are expressed analogously in the incarnation and life of Christ. Augustine’s inseparable operations should be understood as operations of harmony, not unison as if there is no distinction among the Three Persons. The Three are One while still being Three, eternally.
Chapter 8: “To Devote Ourselves to the Blessed Trinity” Eighteenth-Century Particular Baptists, Andrew Fuller, and the Defense of ‘Trinitarian Communities’” by Michael A. G. Haykin
In Chapter 8, Michael Haykin interacts with particular Baptists concerning the identity of the church as Trinitarian communities. The Enlightenment affected Christian writing in Andrew Fuller’s day, to the point that Systematic Theology was decried because presupposed principles were denied. The Trinity was largely unchallenged up to Fuller’s time, but the Enlightenment brought it under the attack. For example, a Baptist named John Allen accused John Gill of undermining the salvific work of Christ due to his affirmation of the eternal generation of the Son. Fuller read Allen’s work as a young man, and responded by agreeing with Gill, that is, the Son was the Son prior to the incarnation. Wrestling with the immanent Trinity as a young man helped to prepare Fuller to respond to the Socinians, the leading form of heterodoxy in the last quarter of the 1700’s. The Socinians argued that the Trinity was a logical contradiction. Fuller responded by pointing to the calling out to Christ for salvation in Scripture and the Trinitarian identification in baptism. The church is to baptize in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Trinity is above reason not against it or a contradiction, according to Fuller. The church is a Trinitarian community for they have devoted themselves to the Trinity in baptism and have acknowledged the atonement made by the Redeemer, the Second Person of the Trinity, God the Son Incarnate.
Chapter 9: An Examination of Three Recent Philosophical Arguments against Hierarchy in the Immanent Trinity” by Philip R. Gons and Andrew David Naselli
In Chapter 9, Philip Gons and Andrew Naselli answer recent philosophical arguments against hierarchy in the immanent Trinity. The debate over gender roles in the church and home, egalitarianism versus complementarianism, has spured the debate among the hierarchy in the immanent Trinity today. If there is hierarchy and equality in the immanent Trinity, then the complementarians win, for it means that men and women can be equal even with an order of authority. In the current Trinitarian debate, there are two main views: (1) Eternal functional subordination (EFS) and Eternal functional equality (EFE). EFE proponents, like Tom McCall, argue that if the Son has an eternal property different than the Father that makes Him Son, then the Three Persons of the Trinity cannot truly be One Essence. Yet, this assumption denies the confessions of Christian orthodoxy for over 1700 years. The church has historically differentiated between the one divine essence that each Trinitarian Person shares and the personal properties that distinguish each Person from the others. The Father being in authority over the Son inheres what it means to be Father not what it means to be God, and similar for the Son and Holy Spirit in light of their place in the immanent hierarchy.
Furthermore, although the Father and the Spirit have the power to be incarnate, it is not fitting for them to be incarnate due to their place in the immanent hierarchy. There is some difficulty, though, when discussing the Spirit’s relation to God the Son Incarnate. This is worked out though with careful understanding: (1) If one Person sends another with reference to His Divine nature, there is immanent hierarchy. (2) The Spirit sends the Son with reference to His human nature not His divine nature. (3) Therefore, it does not follow that the Son is eternally and necessarily submissive to the Spirit.
Chapter 10: “Simplicity, Triunity, and the Incomprehensibility of God” by K. Scott Oliphint
In Chapter 10, K. Scott Oliphint interacts with divine simplicity, analogy, and the danger of a theology from below. The doctrine of divine simplicity has fallen on hard times recently, primarily due to egalitarian evangelical philosophers. Simplicity affirms that God is dependent on nothing outside of himself, for if he is, then God would be only potential with respect to what he is rather than essentially actual. God is His properties; He is not composite, and His properties are one another. Yet these properties are revealed is condescending distinction to humanity in Scripture. To affirm God’s aseity leads one to affirm God’s simplicity, for God is dependent on nothing, not even parts within Himself; He is His properties/nature. This nature subsists in Three Persons equally; He is One and Three. We do not start with creation and then read creation into the immanent Trinity or we deny both divine simplicity and divine aseity. Instead, we start with Scripture, and seek understanding while embracing incomprehensibility. We choose Scripture over creation and even our own ideals for human relationship instead of reading back into God’s identity our ideals.
Chapter 11: “Does Affirming an Eternal Authority-Submission Relationship in the Trinity Entail a Denial of Homoousios? A Response to Millard Erickson and Tom McCall” by Bruce A. Ware
In Chapter 11, Bruce Ware interacts with some common objections to immanent hierarchy from Millard Erickson and Tom McCall. The purpose of this chapter is to refute the common philosophical critique brought against eternal relational authority-submission (ERAS). Erickson and McCall both argue that ERAS necessitates a denial of homoousios of the Father and Son. They believe if a property is essential to the Persons that it is not essential to the other Persons, the property necessitates a different essence for each Person. Yet, Athanasius and the framers of the Nicene Creed argued that the Persons possessed a distinct Personal Property each, not possessed by the other Persons. The Father is the Father, the Son is the Son, and the Spirit is the Spirit. The distinct personal property is true of each person in every possible world. Ware argues that without these person-specific properties, there is no basis for distinction among the Trinitarian Persons. Therefore, to count advocates of ERAS as heretics, is to count the Nicene Creed as heresy, and its architects and confessors as heretics as well.
The editors and contributors succeeded in their goal of providing a comprehensive argument from Scripture, history, theological perspective, and philosophy concerning immanent hierarchy among Trinitarian relations. With around 250 pages of content, I do not believe a word was wasted, and the arguments are persuasive. The complementarians win in this book. There is much content that is noteworthy, but I will present only some.
Grudem was extremely helpful in Chapter 1. I appreciated his honesty in pointing out the reality that evangelical-feminists reject Scripture that disagrees with them or they ignore Scripture altogether. If we are really after a study of God that comes from His revelation, and not after a God that reflects what we sinfully want in our human relationships, then we must believe all that the Bible says instead of merely picking and choosing what we want. Grudem proved that the evangelical-feminist agenda is an unbiblical one that is presupposed prior to interpreting Scripture, which skews their interpretations.
Furthermore, Gons’ and Naselli’s chapter was helpful because in the current Trinitarian debate, one who holds to a hierarchy in the immanent Trinity feels like the minority who is on the outside of orthodoxy. Yet, their chapter proved that an immanent hierarchy among the Trinity is what the crafters of the Trinitarian language we still use today held. To reject the immanent hierarchy is to go against thousands of years of Church History, which means the innovators are not those who hold to an immanent Trinity hierarchy but those who hold to only an economic Trinity hierarchy.
Additionally, Gons’ and Naselli’s following of Aquinas in distinguishing what the Trinitarian Persons are able to do and what they are fit to do was helpful. It is not that the Father and Spirit are unable to become incarnate as if they lack some essential divine property but it is the reality that it is not fitting for them to become incarnate due to their hierarchal place in the Trinity. The same may be said for why the Son does not send the Father. It is not that he is not all powerful; it is that He submits to His Father and not vice versa. This reality is helpful for understanding complementarianism for it is not that a wife cannot lead her husband, as if she is incapable ontologically, it is simply the reality that she was made as a wife with a role fitting to her gender in the marriage relationship, and that is, to submit to her husband. The same may be said for the distinction of the roles of men and women in the local church.
Moreover, Ware’s critique of Erickson and McCall was helpful since if they take their arguments to their consistent end, their only choice is heresy. If what Ware and the other contributors in this book are arguing is merely another expression of what the church has expressed for 1700 years, then Erickson and McCall must either (1) deny the orthodoxy handed down by Church History, (2) affirm the orthodoxy handed down by Church History and abandon their denial of hierarchy among the immanent Trinity, or (3) affirm Church History and labels themselves heretics as well. Yet, they are unwilling to do any of these. Therefore, the burden of proof is on them for defending why they affirm the Nicene Creed in light of the distinct personal-property possessed by each Person that is not possessed by the other Persons.