Trinity, Processions, and Missions: Gaining Clarity in the Current Debate

For the last couple of weeks, many people have been discussing the doctrine of the Trinity, especially as various theologians have linked a doctrine of complementarianism to the eternal relationship between the Father and the Son. This relationship has been characterized by some as an eternal relationship of authority and submission or by others as an eternal subordination of the Son.

In this episode, we address the current controversy by looking at the eternal relationship among the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. These three persons are one God, equal in power and glory. Their essential relationship entails no relationship of authority, subordination, or submission. They are related by an irreversible taxis: the Father is unbegotten, the Son is begotten of the Father, and the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. Theologians often call this the immanent or ontological Trinity.

Yet, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit freely will to create, and eventually to redeem a people unto himself. This free, yet still eternal agreement, to redeem is known as the pactum salutis or Covenant of Redemption. This is an economic relationship that involves willful submission. The persons of the Godhead espouse different roles for the accomplishment of redemption. Theologians often call this the economic Trinity.

How does divine ontology relate to the economy? Listen to this important discussion as we establish important doctrinal categories en route to a genuine advancement of the conversation.

After listening to this discussion, please consider two previous episodes of Christ the Center that deal with similar issues:

Catch up on the entire discussion by consulting Adam Parker’s omnibus post.


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Christ the Center focuses on Reformed Christian theology. In each episode a group of informed panelists discusses important issues in order to encourage critical thinking and a better understanding of Reformed doctrine with a view toward godly living. Browse more episodes from this program and learn how to subscribe.

29 Responses

  1. I cant help but think that the eternal, perichoretic relationship between the persons of the Trinity makes the idea of a pactum salutis superfluous.
    In other words, an intertrinitarian covenant seems to suggest an imperfection or at least a defeciency in the perichoretic relationship.
    Why does God need to establish an intertrinitarian covenant to do anything if He is already in perfect unity from all eterity?

    Great episode. Looking forward to more discussion on the subject.

    1. CM, I think the reason for the pactum salutis is to make a distinction between the what God is by necessity and what God is/does by free choice. How does one drop the pactum salutis and still maintain the distinction between God’s eternal plan of redemption and God’s essential triune attribute (for example).

      1. I get your point. I think the pactum salutis may help us make those important distinctions, but God is of course, not in need of any such help. The idea of the pactum salutis seems like a well meaning but not completely helpful theological convention like that Venn diagram of the Trinity they were talking about.

  2. Enjoyed the conversation and would like to read more particularly regarding the notion of hypostatic consciousness. Is there a list of good reading on this that could be shared?

  3. Good stuff. To God be the glory. Thanks.
    I was surprised no one mentioned Rahner’s dictum!
    Also, it seems we need more theology proper in this continuing discussion – God and eternity/time seems to be an important foundational discussion to this one.
    I continue to appreciate you guys.

  4. This is exactly what I was looking for. Seems like the key to the whole debate that has been missing on both sides. Thank you, gentlemen!!

  5. Question, if 1 Cor 11:3 doesn’t refer to the eternal son because it uses the name “Christ”, what about Jude 5 which speaks of Jesus delivering His people from Egypt? Would you go with the textual variants which omit that name?

    Overall, definitely with Trueman, Jones, etc. Really appreciated this podcast.

    1. The same is true of 1 Corinthians 10:4. But both these texts speak of the Son’s presence with God’s covenant people, so the incarnation is hinted at.

  6. Thanks for this extremely helpful and clarifying podcast. I think all participants in this controversy should be *forced* to listen to this before continuing their discussion.

    1. Bentley,

      Thanks for the correction. I’ll fix it. I saved the article in Pocket, which listed Giles as the author. They must be doing something weird with the author tag on the site.

  7. Thank you brothers! You served the church well in helping us to think clearly through this controversy and move forward for the glory of the Triune God. The encouragements regarding the tone and respectful interaction that must take place in standing for the truth here was so important.

      1. Name* ;-),

        The will he possesses as divine is the divine triune will. We can’t pit unity against diversity in the Godhead, which I feel tends to happen when we start comparing the two numerically. Unity and diversity are limiting concepts in our consideration of the Trinity. As Son, he distinctly subsists in the divine essence. And therefore as a distinct hypostasis (person), he exists in a distinct mode (not modalism) of willing. The same is true for his consciousness. The one God is triunely conscious.

        I don’t think of this numerically—as in the unity of God is a consciousness, and then the three persons have their own consciousness, leaving us with four consciousnesses. We cannot overstress that this distinction is without separation. The hypostases indwell each other exhaustively, that is, perichoretically, such that each hypostasis fully and distinctly (though not separately) subsists in the divine essence.

        Thanks for the question! This is a fascinating and important discussion.



      2. Camden,

        Just to be clear, do you agree with:

        1. the Son is conscious of himself not being the Father…

        2. the Son wills to come again on a charger…

        3. the Father does not will to come again on a charger, and…

        4. all three persons will the consumation of all things in Christ?

        In a word, doesn’t the one divine will come to expression in a plurality of persons?

      3. Camden,

        Sorry for the mix up with “name.”

        Just before the 40 min mark Lane Tipton says, “While there is an essential unity to God, an essential will, there is also a hypostatic conception of the will.”

        Around the 43 min mark he says, “The Father Son and Spirit are distinct willing agents, they are distinct hypostases who will distinctively and particularly as agents in the pactum salutis.”

        Now to will is an act – as as far as classical Trinitarianism is concerned, the only divine acts not predicated of the Godhead are generation and spiration. Those two notional acts are the foundations for the relations of origin that constitute the divine persons. Are the acts of will ascribed by Tipton to the Father, Son, and Spirit new notional acts to be compared to generation and spiration?

      4. I know this is quite late…, but still… Could you please elaborate on the idea that there even is such a notion as “personal will” when it comes to the Persons of the Trinity? Dr. Tipton refers to this notion as being well grounded tradinionally, and to me the “traditional” dimension of the idea of divine personal “wills” seems to be lacking…

  8. I think the reason for the pactum salutis is to make a distinction between the what God is by necessity and what God is/does by free choice. How does one drop the pactum salutis and still maintain the distinction between God’s eternal plan of redemption and God’s essential triune attribute (for example).

  9. Letham doesn’t “reject” PS. His position is more nuanced. Of course he recognizes that it doesn’t have confessional status. He is concerned that it undermines the full agreement of the one divine will that comes to expression not just in the Father and Son but also the Holy Spirit. There are other reservations too, but it’s not a crass rejection of the PS. It’s a matter of careful clarification for him.

    Thank you Lane for teasing out that each person of the Trinity is a self-conscious person that possess the one undivided will, while recognizing that although All will the Son come, it’s only the Son who wills that He himself come. You wrote a great piece in WTJ years back that addresses what I believe to be the latent modalism in the western church.

  10. LT,

    Can’t we say that the eternal and freely willed submission of the Son as understood in the PS reveals a disposition peculiar to Him? In other words, isn’t it incongruous that the Father becomes incarnate in any possible world? I can’t see how one side of the debate can avoid capriciousness within the Godhead.

    I believe Letham’s appendices in his work on the Trinity are quite useful and relevant to the present discussion. Related, I appreciate his discussion on Calvin’s understanding of Nicea, in particular as it relates to Gregory Nazianzen. Bob’s reference to Warfield on Calvin drove me back into volume 5, Calvin and Calvinism. Would enjoy discussing off line the eternal generation of person and autotheos.

  11. “Why does God need to establish an intertrinitarian covenant to do anything if He is already in perfect unity from all eternity?”


    I believe the Pactum helps distinguish the eternal will of God from His ontic perfection. God is necessarily triune etc., apart from willing it so. Yet His attributes don’t necessitate the divine decree.

  12. The most important point in this discussion is the concept of actual consciousness within the persons of the Godhead! Yes there is a single Divine Will which all three persons share, yet each person knowingly decides (wills) to act as He does.
    This understanding precludes any ontological subordination!

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