In Gender Debate, Jesus Is 'Subordinate'

By Banks, Adelle | The Christian Century, February 20, 2007 | Go to article overview

In Gender Debate, Jesus Is 'Subordinate'


Banks, Adelle, The Christian Century


FOR CENTURIES, the equality of the persons of the Holy Trinity has been standard Christian teaching. And for decades, evangelical Christians have argued over proper roles for men and women. Lately, however, some evangelicals who favor greater authority for males are tinkering with trinitarian doctrine.

Drawing on their interpretations of the Bible, these evangelicals link their belief that women should be submissive to men with the analogous belief that Jesus is forever subordinate to God the Father.

Proponents call it a crystal-clear "scriptural revelation." Critics call it "bad theology" and "extremely disturbing."

The relatively private and esoteric theological discussion went public at the annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society in Washington, D.C. In a gathering where papers typically are politely delivered and received, the late November session on "The Trinity and Gender" prompted outright debate.

"There is a relationship of authority and submission in the very Godhead on the basis of which the other authority-submission relationships of Christ and man, and man and woman, depend," argued Bruce Ware, professor of theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.

The title of Ware's paper, "Equal in Essence, Distinct in Roles," signaled his view that the Bible's use of father-son terminology demonstrates an "eternal relationship" rather than an "ad hoc arrangement." He continued: "We have scriptural revelation that clearly says that the Son came down out of heaven to do the will of his Father."

Kevin Giles, an Australian who wrote a 2006 book disputing the idea of Jesus' eternal subordination to God, countered Ware's views. "The Father and the Son do not relate to one another in exactly the same way as a man and a woman might do, and to suggest so is bad theology," he wrote.

Giles argued that the suggestion that Jesus is eternally subordinate in authority denies that he has the same power and essence as God and the Holy Spirit. ETS past president Millard Erickson of Truett Theological Seminary at Baylor also challenged Ware's views as having biblical, practical and theological problems.

Beyond the scholarly meeting, the debate continues between two groups that have differed on gender matters. The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood believes that men should have the leadership roles in the church and the home. On the other side, Christians for Biblical Equality promotes "gift-based," rather than gender-based, ministry and favors having women serve at various levels in the church and in the home.

Mimi Haddad, president of the Minnesota-based equality organization, is co-leader of ETS's Gender and Evangelicals Study Group, which brought the scholars together for the recent seminar. "The reformulation of the Trinity by gender hierarchalists is utterly astounding and clearly [unorthodox] theologically," she said. "We find it extremely disturbing."

Wayne Grudem, a founder of the opposing council and a professor at Phoenix Seminary in Arizona, says the debate pits what are often called complementarians--those supporting different roles for men and women--against egalitarians, or those affirming equal roles. …

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