This review appeared in the Jan-Mar 2014 vol. 171 no. 1 issue of Biblotheca Sacra, DTS’s quarterly academic journal.Subscribe Today
The New Evangelical Subordinationism? Perspectives on the Equality of God the Father and God the SonWipf & Stock Pub, Eugene, OR August 16, 2012
For this book the editors collected sixteen essays on the theme of equality of persons in the Godhead. Many of the essays had been published previously and several are sections of larger works. Several explicitly link their view of the Trinity to the issue of the relationship between men and women and others do not, but it is clear that this question is in the forefront or the background for most of the chapters. They represent a variety of positions, from strong complementarianism to egalitarianism. As the editors explain, “Many evangelicals, moreover, view the issue of subordination within the Trinity as pivotal to contemporary disputes about the role of women in church, home, and state. If the relations of the divine persons constitute a paradigm for human life, persons on all sides of the gender question argue, human relations ought to reflect either the divine persons’ exceptionless equality or their orderly differentiation of roles” (p. xi). Missing in this description, and in the book itself are mediating positions between the two poles of “exceptionless equality” and strict “differentiation of roles.”
The authors of the essays are experts in the disciplines of New Testament studies, systematic theology, psychology, philosophy, education, and biblical studies. They represent a variety of viewpoints from a variety of perspectives. The book lacks a coherent order or structure, which is both its strength and weakness. The essays stand alone, and that is a strength. But it is difficult to see how they relate to each other; that is a weakness.
In the concluding essay Jowers explains that “the authors of the preceding essays all agree on these points: (1) There is only one God. (2) The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, considered individually or collectively, are God. (3) The persons of the Father, Son, and Spirit are eternally distinct. Jowers then states that the authors agree on little else (p. 411). Readers of the essays in this book will recognize the lack of irony in that statement. Differences in methodology, views of the immanent and economic Trinity, perspectives on divine attributes and revelation, and perceptions on salvation and divine mission divide these writers.
The editors describe the volume as made up of a “multitude of arguments for and against the notion that the Son qua divine eternally submits to the authority of his Father. In order to read this work profitably, the reader must approach it with a certain degree of emotional dettachment. Although emotions run high on each side of the debate whether the Son eternally submits to his Father, the following essays indicate that none of the widely held views on this subject is utterly without foundation” (p. xxi). However, it is unlikely that emotional detachment is possible on an issue that is emotionally charged, nor would it be a good thing to pursue even if it were. Further, it is unlikely that several of the authors would agree with the editors that all the views represented in this volume have legitimacy. One of the authors describes another evangelical theologian as “incorrect” in his view. He charges him with being “close to obliterating the distinctions among the members of the Trinity.” He accuses him of “coming very close to the ancient heresy of modalism.” He adds that his view is “certainly not a position that is consistent with hundreds of texts which show unique activities being carried out by one person of the Trinity with respect to another person of the Trinity” (p. 258). It hardly sounds like this author believes that the view he is criticizing has much legitimacy.
The issues of equality of persons and distinctions of roles and functions in the Godhead are important Trinitarian questions with significant implications. Within evangelicalism, a variety of views and perspectives are held, and theological dialog on this topic is often heated. This volume represents this diversity and allows the reader to sort through the differences in the arguments and presentations. This is a healthy and helpful discussion.
—Glenn R. Kreider