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Eternal Relations in the Trinity: A Brief Summary of the Current Controversy

The evangelical Internet is abuzz with discussion about ad intra relations within the Trinity. Bruce Ware and Wayne Grudem have been recognized as presenting forms of Eternal Functional Subordination (EFS) of the Son to the Father in their respective books, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: Relationships, Roles, and Relevance (Crossway) and Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Zondervan). Owen Strachan and his co-author Gavin Peacock hold to what they term Eternal Relations of Authority and Submission (ERAS) in their book, The Grand Design (Crossway).

This current discussion is bound up with complementarianism, an articulation of God’s design for the relationship between men and woman. Eternal subordination or submission is appealing to many, because it seems to bolster the case for complementarianism by rooting it in divine ontology, or at least the divine economy. It raises the issue above any conjecture of being arbitrary. Strachan is the president of The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW). Grudem serves as a board member, and Ware serves as a council member.

Many recognize that there are potential serious theological consequences for traveling this path. Carl Trueman, Liam Goligher, and Fred Sanders have written notable responses. Our colleague Jeff Waddington reflected on the issue as well. Regrettably absent from most of the discussion is the pactum salutis, or covenant of redemption (Jeff is the sole exception I’ve seen [UPDATE: and Mark Jones]). I suspect that a deeper familiarity with this historic Reformed doctrine would answer some of the questions proponents of EFS and ERAS raise. But at the end of the day, rooting complementarianism in the pactum salutis is problematic as well.

We plan to treat the subject thoroughly on a future episode of Christ the Center. In the meantime, I encourage you to listen to two previous episodes of Christ the Center that deal with the issues at hand:

Catch-Up on the Conversation (updated)


On Key

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