Monday, August 29, 2016
Eternal subordination--yes or no?
As I see it--which is from afar, I'll grant you--maybe the best way to see the whole argument is via a phrase given to the whole mess: it's all about "eternal subordination." (In a way, that's a joke, but I don't expect you're laughing.) If you aren't tuned in to the argument, "eternal subordination" is a phrase that requires some serious unpacking.
Parse it out this way. Within the complementarian crowd among us--and their numbers are legion--some theological fisticuffs have broken out having to do with the Trinity, which is one of the most famous doctrines of Christianity but isn't in the Bible at all, although it's certainly implied and can be inferred (you've got to watch your words with this whole business, and I'm trying). Anyway, you can't footnote the Trinity with simple chapter and verse--let's put it that way. But this whole things starts with the nature of the trinity.
Still with me? If you'd like, you can take notes.
Complementarian theology has championed a view of the Bible's truth that keeps the roles and gifts and blessings of men and women divinely apart--men being men and women being women. Complementarians argue the church needs to see the genders as different, exclusively so. Complementarians choose certain passages of Paul's letters and believe them normative for all time and space--you know, passages like women should remain silent, etc. Among complementarians there are no women deacons or elders or (gasp!) preachers.
Complementarians have achieved their numbers as combatants in the fights over whether or not women can fill any of those offices. They shake their heads no because the Bible tells them no. Whole denominations like the Presbyterian Church of America (PCA) and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) have created their foundations, in part, from arguments of complementarianism (yes, that's a mouthful).
One of the leaders of that movement is a theologian named Wayne Grudem, the founder of a theological think tank called the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW). Once upon a time, when I was an elder in a Christian Reformed Church (CRC), Grudem was used on me like a pike, one of those long swords preferred by combatants in hand-to-hand medieval battles. But that's another story, as is the fact that Grudem recently penned a long explanation for his support for Donald Trump, support which could hardly be surprising since the alternative is (are you still with me?) a woman.
Anyway, here's the good news (that's a joke too). There's a fight within the complementarian camp these days around the question of the place of Jesus Christ vis-a-vis God the Father: to wit, is God the Son still separate from God the Father, both of them now once again in glory; or have the two somehow fused into just one God?
Theology isn't for the weak-kneed.
And I admit it. I sort of like tedious theological questions like can God create tonnage he can't clean-and-jerk? A part of me (I'm not sectioned--it's just an expression) rather appreciates that intelligent human beings are wrangling about Christian doctrine, as long as I myself don't have to go to war over things like "eternal submission."
The issue has some eternal relevance (that's a joke too) if you're still at war about women's roles, because complementarians argue that their view of exclusive gender differences are derived, scripturally, (which my spellcheck tells me isn't a word) from the relationship between God the Son and God the Father--who are, of course, separate but equal.
But are they eternally so? That's the question. (Talk amongst yourselves.)
Once more. Today, what is the relationship between God the Son and God the Father? Is there such a thing as "eternal subordination" in the heavenly realm because if there isn't, then maybe we can rethink our exclusive complementarian thoughtfulness.
I've tried to be fair and balanced, but I got a dog in this fight. A decade or more ago, the OPC and the PCA broke off fellowship (that's a different essay) with the CRC, in part on the basis of theological platforms created by the CBMW to refute the notion (biblically) that women can hold church office. (BTW, this whole pot of alphabet soup is Reformed. Some are just more biblical than others. Go ahead and fill in the blanks yourself--only you can, really.)
In its latest issue (Sept 2016), Christianity Today lays out the quarrel in an article (p. 21) just a few pages past a news item (p. 19) which claims the PCA is considering women's ordination--not to be preachers (good heavens, no), but at least to be deacons.
I just hope those folks gone to war about all of this eventually draw the line at "eternal subordination" because it would be nice if somehow they'd see the possibility for my sister (PCA) and me (CRC) as well good friends (OPC) to get back in fellowship (they broke it off officially when the CRC ordained women preachers).
Let's not be silly about this: my sister and I have great fellowship anyway, eternal subordination or not.
I think that's the way it should be.
Does all of that make any sense?
Posted by J. C. Schaap at 6:49 AM