[This post was originally published nearly 2 years ago on a different blog site, but has since been removed. So that my readers may still have access to this article, I have republished here under a different title.]
As the layman class, of which I am a member, begins to come to terms with the possibility that their Sunday School teacher may have led them astray by teaching that the Son of God has been subordinate to the Father for all eternity, recurring questions and rejoinders are nevertheless heard in small groups and church foyers across the reformed-ish world. They may have already come to terms with, for example, the multiple wills objection and have become thoroughly convinced of the historical novelty of ESS/EFS/ERAS, even rightly concluding that the Council of Nicea and Athanasian Creed roundly contradict the teaching. But, being students of the Scripture, submitting admirably to its authority, and seeking peace within the Church of God and charity towards those who may err, I have in my experience heard the following responses to ESS/EFS/ERAS critics over and over, and have read very little direct response to these rejoinders at the popular, accessible level:
What Should Be Clear
Though I did intend in the first post of this series to disagree with Swain and Allen’s essay, “The Obedience of the Eternal Son,” I certainly did not want to misrepresent it. I think I have stated clearly that neither Scott Swain nor Michael Allen held to the Eternal Functional Subordination of the Son (EFS), nor was their essay intended to support it. It would make no sense in the context of their piece to argue that they did. The point of their essay was to show a path such that one could affirm the obedience of the eternal Son of God without succumbing to such ahistorical revisions of Trinitarian doctrine and metaphysics as found in EFS. They refer specifically the specter of identifying “obedience as the Son’s distinguishing personal property (usually identified as the Son’s ‘role’ in the Trinity),” pointing to Grudem and Ware in the footnote (p. 74). Further, an eternal “functional” obedience would fare no better on these terms since the constant assumption throughout the piece is that one cannot divide the Being and acts of the Son of God.
Proponents of the Eternal Subordination of the Son (ESS) are indeed aware of and openly opposed to the Semi-Arian teaching of an ontological subordination of the Son to the Father, that is, a subordination and hierarchy within the very nature, essence, or being of God; for such a position clearly contradicts the Nicene Creed, dividing the one Nature and Will of God, calling into question the co-equality of the Persons. Rather, they locate this subordination and hierarchy of authority within relations of function or role amongst the persons of the Godhead. This, they claim, distinguishes their position from the Arian heresy and shields them from their critics. As Bruce Ware puts it,