[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:
In my previous post, “ESS, Slavery, and the Metaphysic of Oppression,” I first rejected the simple metaphysic of “unequal in nature, therefore unequal in authority” as Biblically inapplicable to human relations. I next noted that with the failure of the simple metaphysic, defenders of slavery within the Church turned to a metaphysic of “equal in nature, yet subordinate in subsistence”, or a metaphysic of the inequality of equals. I next noted that Complementarians in modern evangelicalism have also turned to the metaphysic of “equal in nature, yet subordinate in subsistence” to rescue male headship from the feminist onslaught, but with a much more robust footing supplied by the supposed Eternal Subordination of the Son (ESS) teaching. I rejected this position as well as a metaphysic of oppression, grounded as it is in Trinitarian error and the subordination of persons as to their very subsistence.
Of course the questions/push back from evangelicals has been to question how one could still believe in male headship in the home, as I do, yet reject both of the above metaphysical principles. It is a good question and warrants more than a brief answer. If the metaphysic grounded in the ESS view of the Trinity is a metaphysic of oppression, then one must believe in the inequality of nature to maintain male headship, right? And if one rejects both, then aren’t we left with egalitarianism as the only remaining option? I, of course, have no newfangled answer, nor my own special way of treating the subject; it has been treated better and more extensively by others. Rather, I believe that the very asking of this question just shows how much subordinationist thought has infiltrated evangelicalism, so I hope only to point the reader in a different direction and perspective to continue studying the issue.
To those for whom ESS (Eternal Subordination of the Son) or EFS (Eternal Functional Subordination) or ERAS (Eternal Relation of Authority and Submission) or (is that all of them?) does not ring a bell, the following may not be all that interesting. Though debated off and on for at least the last 20 years or so, the popular claim that the Son of God is equal to the Father yet subject to His authority in all eternity, has over the Summer of 2016 come under intense scrutiny; and rightly so. Confessionally Reformed Christians and scholars from many quarters have demonstrated this teaching to plainly run afoul of Nicene Orthodoxy, with the potential to shipwreck some of the very pillars of orthodox Trinitarian doctrine.
So I was (momentarily) delighted when Ligionier Ministries updated their Statement on Christology to include an addition to “Affirmations and Denials” Article 2 (in bold below):
We affirm that in the unity of the Godhead the eternally begotten Son is consubstantial (homoousios), coequal, and coeternal with the Father and the Holy Spirit.
We deny that the Son is merely like God (homoiousios) or that He was simply adopted by the Father as His Son. We deny the eternal subordination of the Son to the Father in the ontological Trinity.
My delight quickly evaporated, however, when my very next thought was, “So does Wayne Grudem!”, the popularizer-in-chief of ESS/EFS/ERAS. He and most all proponents of the teaching also deny that the subordination or submission to authority is according to the Trinity as ontologically conceived. They point out consistently that such a position would constitute classic, literal, Arianism—to which we must agree.