Egalitarians Argue for Orthodox Doctrine of the Trinity at Evangelical Theological Society

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At the nation’s largest gathering of evangelical scholars, egalitarians and CBE International led the way in defending a traditional view of the Trinity—a central tenet of Christianity—and built on past years’ momentum.

In June of 2016, controversy erupted among evangelical complementarians—those who believe that God ordains gender-based “roles” for men and women, along with an associated hierarchy in which exclusively men are leaders. The debate, however, was not over gender roles per se, but concerned the core Christian doctrines, the Trinity. The controversy was ignited by the publication of the book “One God in Three Persons: Unity of Essence, Distinction of Personas, Implications for Life” edited by theologians Bruce Ware and Jon Starke.

One group of complementarians defend a traditional view of the Trinity, that the three persons of the Trinity are co-equal in nature, power, and authority. They assert that when God the Son, Jesus, was on earth, as portrayed in the Gospels, he was subordinate to the God the Father. The authors of “One God in Three Person” counter this, arguing that though they share one nature, the Son is eternally subordinate to the Father. This view, called Eternal Functional Subordination (EFS) is regularly used by many prominent complementarians to support the idea that women and men can be equal in nature, but functionally divided by a hierarchy whereby women are permanently subordinate to men.

The controversy has remained in the spotlight. This year, the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) made the Trinity the theme of its annual meeting, held in November in San Antonio, TX.

The debate itself is nothing new. Egalitarians, who hold that the Bible undermines any gender-based hierarchy, have argued against EFS for years, according to Dr. Mimi Haddad, the president of CBE International (CBE), the flagship organization of the evangelical egalitarian movement:

“Kevin Giles, a prominent egalitarian Trinitarian scholar, along with others, like Gilbert Bilezikian, was among the first to sound the alarm about this unorthodox teaching. In books and numerous articles in CBE’s academic journal, Priscilla Papers, Giles and others have argued convincingly that there is no eternal hierarchy within the Trinity and that such a view is little more than a modern reincarnation of the ancient heresy known as Arianism.”

CBE and its egalitarian community of scholars continued defending against EFS at this year’s ETS meeting. In a much-publicized panel session, egalitarian scholars Kevin Giles and Millard Erickson argued against EFS while prominent complementarian scholars Bruce Ware and Wayne Grudem argued for it. The session was compelling and the egalitarian case sound, according to Dr. Haddad:

“Those who oppose EFS—egalitarian or complementarian—have orthodox scholarship, logic, and philosophy on their side, and it showed in this debate,” Haddad recalls. “Giles and Erickson argued so impressively that Ware and Grudem even retreated from certain aspects of their EFS view, a view they have proclaimed for years. To see such progress in one event was astounding.”

CBE also sent ETS members a special journal, entitled “Preserving the Trinity” that brought together egalitarian and non-egalitarian scholars to explore the dangers of EFS and affirm instead for the traditional view. In addition to the journal, CBE hosted an exhibit booth at the ETS meeting. CBE’s advocacy at this year’s ETS builds on last year’s, when CBE published first-of-its kind research on the experience of women at ETS and the evangelical academy. The study prompted an apology from current ETS president Dr. Dan Wallace for the society’s engagement with women. According to Dr. Haddad, this year’s meeting saw an increased effort to ensure openness to a variety of voices on controversial topics, something that many in the egalitarian minority at ETS have not experienced in recent years.

“We are pleased with the current leadership of ETS, and on their renewed efforts to keep the organization tied to its original vision as a society of theologians under the broad umbrella of evangelicalism, rather than one dominated by particular sets of views on various issues, including gender,” said Haddad.

In its effort to advance a biblical foundation for gift-based rather than gender-based ministry and service, CBE sponsors annual conferences, facilitates local chapters, hosts an online bookstore, and publishes two award-winning journals. For more information, visit http://www.cbeinternational.org.

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Tim Krueger
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