As you have probably noticed, a spirited trinitarian debate is currently taking place on the interwebs. Contributions have come ab intra and ab extra the Reformed complementarian camp (see what I did there?), and they mainly revolve around the question of the Eternal Functional Subordination (EFS) of the Son.
Here’s a quick summary of the issues, and what follows is my attempt at a bibliographical summary for my own records. If you see anything missing and/or unclear, please let me know.
Theologians speak of the Trinity in two ways: (1) the economic Trinity, which refers to trinitarian operations ad extra—toward the outside—in creation, providence, and redemption; and (2) the ontological, or immanent, Trinity, which refers to the Trinity in operations ad intra—toward the inside—within the inner life of the Trinity.
The nature and extent of the analogical relationship between the economic Trinity—how God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit relate to creation, providence, and redemption—and the immanent Trinity—how God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit relate to one another—is where this debate is centered. That is, if the Son is subordinate and submissive to the Father in redemption—something virtually everyone agrees on—what reality is this analogous to (if any) in the immanent Trinity?
EFS proponents argue that Christ is subordinate to the Father in redemption because the Son is functionally subordinate to the Father in the immanent Trinity. Those against EFS disagree that the Son can be subordinate or submissive in the immanent Trinity in any way.
From what I can tell, this debate so far has boiled down to the nature of the will of God. If the will of God cannot be conceptually untethered from the essence of God (as Mark Jones argues below), then we have to say there is only one will in God (because the three persons in the Godhead have the same essence). If this is true, it would be difficult to maintain the Son’s submission to the Father in the immanent Trinity, while in the economic Trinity the submission would be explained in terms of the Son’s human nature that he took on at the incarnation. However, if the will can be conceptually explained in terms of personality (as Mark Ovey argues below), then the Son can be said to submit to the Father without compromising divine simplicity or ontological equality.
I pray this discussion will lead to God receiving more glory as we behold the wonders of the Trinity.
Against Eternal Functional Subordination:
- Liam Goligher, “Is it Okay to Teach a Complementarianism Based on Eternal Subordination?” | “Reinventing God” (these two posts kicked off the debate, followed quickly by Carl Trueman’s “Fahrenheit 381” below) | “Dr. Liam Goligher Responds to Dr. Mike Ovey“
- Carl Trueman, “Fahrenheit 381,” | “A Surrejoinder to Bruce Ware,” | “A rejoinder to Wayne Grudem“
- Mark Jones, “Why did the Son become incarnate? Because he submitted?” | “God’s Will And Eternal Submission, Part One“
- Scott McKnight, “Is it New? Yes. Is it Orthodox? No.” | “The Battle Rumbles Along: The Trinity of Complementarians” (especially helpful on this post are comments —yes, I’m referring you to the comments section—from Alistair J. Roberts) | “Rumbling On“
- Mike Bird, “The Coming War: Nicene Complementarians vs Homoian Complementarians” | “More on the Calvinist Complementarian Divide on the Trinity“
- Darren Sumner, “Some Observations On The ‘Eternal Functional Subordination’ Debate“
For Eternal Functional Subordination:
- Bruce Ware, “God the Son–at once eternally God with His Father, and eternally Son of the Father” (This post was in direct response to Goligher and Trueman in order to address the theological nature of EFS)
- Wayne Grudem, “Whose Position on the Trinity is Really New?” (This post was in direct response to Goligher and Trueman in order to address the historical nature of EFS)
- Denny Burk, “A brief response to Trueman and Goligher” | “The Obedience of the Eternal Son” | “Fred Sanders on the obedience of the Son“
- Mark Ovey, “Should I Resign?“
- John Stevens, “Are We All Heretics Now? Reflections On The Furore About Eternal Subordination Within The Trinity“
Willing to affirm Eternal Obedience of the Son
- Matthew Barrett, “Better late than never: The Covenant of Redemption and the Trinity Debates“
- Fred Sanders, “18 Theses on the Father and the Son“
Third Party Participants:
- Mark Thompson, “ERS: Is there order in the Trinity?“
For Further Reading:
- Scott Swain and Michael Allen, “The Obedience of the Eternal Son“
- Keith E. Johnson, “Trinitarian Agency and the Eternal Subordination of the Son: An Augustinian Perspective“
- Fred Sanders, “Things Eternal: Sonship, Generation, Generatedness“
- Economic Trinity: refers to the Trinity in relation in creation, providence, and redemption
- Ontological Trinity: refers God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in relation to one another from eternity past
- Immanent Trinity: another name for the ontological Trinity
- Ad Intra/Extra: refers to the inward (ad intra) and outward (ad extra) operations of the Trinity. Ad Intra correlates to the ontological/immanent Trinity and ad extra to the economic Trinity.
- Taxis: Greek for “order.” Often refers to the eternal generation of the Son from the Father and the eternal procession of the Spirit from both the Father and Son
- Eternal Functional Subordination (EFS): God the Son submits to the Father from eternity past and in eternity future both ad extra, in creation, providence, and redemption, and ad intra, in the inner life of the Trinity. Everyone who espouses EFS affirms homoousis, the Father, Son, and Spirit having the same essence and nature.
- Eternal Generation: a way to describe the taxis of the Trinity in terms of order of subsistence—the Son shares in the essence of the Father through generation, while the Spirit share in the essence of the Father and the Son through procession
- Arianism: A heresy named after the 4th century heretic Arius that says the second person of the Trinity, God the Son, is a created being.
- Subordinationism: to be distinguished from functional subordination. A heresy that holds the Son is ontologically subordinate to the Father, having an inferior essence (related to Homoiousian below)
- Homoiousian: Related to Subordinationism, Homoiousian describes the essence of the Son as compared to the Father as similar (homoi-) but not the same (homo-).