Book Reviews,  Theology/Bible

The New Evangelical Subordinationism?

In recent years, evangelicals have engaged in a vigorous debate over the doctrine of the Trinity. One group argues that the Father and the Son are equal in authority and power with the Son submitting Himself to the Father only temporarily during the incarnation. Another group argues that the Son’s submission to the Father is functional (not ontological) and eternal.

The debate has generated a great deal of discussion not only because it effects the foundational doctrine of God, but also because of its connection to evangelical debates over gender roles. Egalitarians tend to hold the first view of the Trinity while some (though not all) Complementarians hold to the latter. There are voices on both sides of the debate who resist the connection of intratrinitarian relations to discussions about gender roles. This reticence is curious to me since it is the apostle Paul himself who invokes the analogy (see 1 Cor. 11:3).

In any case, the discussion is ongoing, and some of the major parties to the debate have just contributed to a book of essays on the topic. The book is titled The New Evangelical Subordinationism? Perpectives on the Equality of God the Father and God the Son (ed. Dennis Jowers and H. Wayne House). All sides of the debate are represented here, and the contributors include Bruce Ware, Wayne Grudem, Kevin Giles, Craig Keener, Michael Bird, Linda Belleville, and more. I have an essay in this volume as well. Here’s the table of contents:

1 – The New Evangelical Subordinationism: Reading Inequality into the Trinity – Phillip Cary

2 – Equal in Essence, Distinct in Roles: Eternal Functional Authority and Submission among the Essentially Divine Persons of the Godhead – Bruce A. Ware

3 – Subordination within the Trinity: John 5:18 and 1 Cor 15:28 – Craig S. Keener

4 – “Son” Christology in the New Testament – Linda L. Belleville

5 – Christ’s Functional Subordination in Philippians 2:6: A Grammatical Note with Trinitarian Implications – Denny Burk

6 – Trinitarian Agency and the Eternal Subordination of the Son: An Augustinian Perspective – Keith E. Johnson

7 –The Eternal Relational Subordination of the Son to the Father in Patristic Thought – H. Wayne House

8 – The Formula of Baptism and the Equality of the Godhead: Joseph Bingham (1668-1723) and the Trinitarian Controversy in Late-Stuart England – Yudha Thianto

9 – An Evangelical Statement on the Trinity – William David Spencer

10 – Biblical Evidence for the Eternal Submission of the Son to the Father – Wayne Grudem

11 – The Trinity without Tiers – Kevin Giles

12 – Subordination in the Trinity and Gender Roles: A Response to Recent Discussion – Michael F. Bird and Robert Shillaker

13 – Relation and Person: Potential Contributions of Karl Rahner’s Theology to Evangelical Trinitarian Debates – Mary Veeneman

14 – A Trinitarian Model of Marriage – Jack and Judith Balswick

15 – Complementarian Trinitarianism: Divine Revelation Is Finally True to the Eternal Personal Relations – J. Scott Horrell

16 – The Inconceivability of Subordination within a Simple God – Dennis W. Jowers


  • Nick Norelli

    A lot of this looks like previously published material that I’ve seen elsewhere. I’m sure some stuff has been reworked for this volume, but do you know how much of it is fresh content?

  • Andrew Wilson

    This looks fascinating. Do any of the chapters (it’s hard to tell from the titles) engage with the question of how you can have three persons sharing one will, and yet with submission between them?

  • Don Johnson

    Since a person tends to become more like whomever (or whatever) they worship, getting God right according to the whole counsel of Scripture is important.

    • Don Johnson

      Can you please explain how this might even be possible?

      It sounds to me like confused thinking to think this is possible, but I might be missing something.

  • Alistair Robertson

    Don, I was being a bit tongue-in-cheek, though I appreciate it was impossible to tell. My preferred way of phrasing is something like this: The relationship between the members of the. Trinity is such that it was properly the Son who took on flesh and became subordinate to the Father.

    Having said that, the Three/One -ness of the Trinity does allow for the use of the concept of subordinatiion properly qualified. In today’s climate, however, “subordination” is a word open to both deliberate and innocent misunderstanding, so in these discussions I avoid it – usually – with regard to the inner life of Trinity.

    But I’m not sure Denny intended to open this particular discussion with his post. I’ll leave it there.

  • Suzanne McCarthy

    How do you parse the phrase “obedience unto death?” For women who suffer violence, this poses difficult questions. Is it really God’s will that women submit, as Christ submitted? Should women submit to violence, and if not, how does one derive resistance to violence from the model of Christ’s submission?

  • Suzanne McCarthy


    I also want to ask why you do not respond to Hoover’s article. I found it quite convincing and it does not depend on a particular interpretation of the articulate infinitive. You may be able to refute NT Wrights point on that score, but you do not discuss Hoover’s very strong research on the meaning of harpagmos, that it refers to using something that one already has?

    What is your response to Hoover?

  • Brian Pendell

    I’m just a layperson and not the person queried, but I would like to address Suzanne’s question as one who saw this abuse firsthand as a child:

    “How do you parse the phrase “obedience unto death?” For women who suffer violence, this poses difficult questions. Is it really God’s will that women submit, as Christ submitted?”

    I would say that Christ expects all humans to “render to Caeser what is Caeser’s , and to God what is God’s”. One cannot render the obedience due a perfect God to an imperfect man, husband or no.

    Consider the apostles when they were commanded not to speak any more in the name of Jesus. Consider Jesus’ own rocky relationship with the scribes and Pharisees and priests of the temple. Human authorities can’t be given the same due God is, because human authorities are flawed and fallible.

    To put it bluntly, allowing yourself to be punched and kicked by a bully is not the Biblical view either of submission or of marriage. It debases the bully by not calling him to account, it debases the victim who ALWAYS has to cover up for the bully, it debases the church community that tolerates this abuse.

    The fundamental law of the NT is to love your neighbor, and your husband, as yourself. I don’t see how allowing your husband to be a violent obnoxious bully fulfills the intent of the law in any way.

  • Suzanne McCarthy

    Then women need to be taught to resist. All too often this discourse keeps women in abuse far too long. Women, and I would add, men also, must be instructed to resist abusive behavior long before it becomes violent. If ministers preach that women should submit as Christ submitted, some will die, some will suffer permanent damage, and some will recover. There has to be accountability. How does the minister share in the physical and psychological suffering of women who are obedient into death? How does this kind of relationship bring glory to God? How can It be appropriate to imply that women should bear this kind of suffering in the marriage relationship?

    • Debbie Kaufman

      Good words Suzanne. For example, a few weeks back the best friend of my youngest daughter told her husband that she wanted a divorce. He proceeded to stab her in front of her children. The kids (3 and 1) were watching. He also kicked the 3 year old in the head. Bleeding, she talked him down by promising to stay with him, and begged him to take the kids in the other room. This went on for over an hour. She talked him into taking her to the hospital where she was treated for a stab wound in each arm, in her back, narrowly missing her lung, and on her face. He is in jail. This type of teaching, in which most passages concerning women are skipped, doesn’t mean to promote violence but those brought up in the church and those who aren’t this is what it produces whether it is meant to or not.

  • Suzanne McCarthy

    And I don’t think one has to reject the Bible in order to combat this. In Greek, the word we translate as “head” is not used for authority or leadership. It is used for a small raiding party, or advanced scouting party in the army, so it can never be used in normal discourse for a general or leader.

    Instead, one could understand 1 Cor 11:3 as “Christ shares his nature with man, man shares his nature with woman, and God shares his nature with Christ.” In that simple way, we affirm the true divinity of Christ, his incarnation, and the equality and full humanity of women.

  • Kathryn Elliott Stegall

    “Completely apart from the issue of the role of women, the church must either renew its commitment to belief in the Trinity as the church has defined it in the past, or we must again address the question, debate it openly, and change the creeds and confessions if need be. But no fair judgment can be made if the issue of subordination within the Trinity is dealt with at a glance, while our full attention is really with the subordination of women. We cannot allow our beliefs to be eroded through unchallenged statements of assumption just because they are confidently stated numerous times.

    Subordination in Trinity?

    I have been very hesitant to state my thoughts as boldly as in the preceding paragraphs. Yet, I can come to no other conclusion. Subordination within the Trinity is being proclaimed as a given, a tenet of Christianity. I hope that as arguments are put forward to keep women in their subordinate place, the great truths the Christian Church has fought so hard to make clear will not be abandoned.
    Let’s be careful! We dare not revert to denying Christ’s equality with God as integral to a rationale that denies woman’s equality with man.” (The Full Rights of Sons on

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