The New Evangelical Subordinationism: Reading Inequality Into the Trinity -- By: Phillip Cary

Journal: Priscilla Papers
Volume: PP 20:4 (Autumn 2006)
Article: The New Evangelical Subordinationism: Reading Inequality Into the Trinity
Author: Phillip Cary


The New Evangelical Subordinationism:
Reading Inequality Into the Trinity

Phillip Cary

PHILLIP CARY (Ph.D., Yale University) is director of the philosophy program at Eastern University in St. Davids, Penn. He is also a scholar-in-residence at the Templeton Honors College. He is the author of Augustine’s Invention of the Inner Self: The Legacy of a Christian Platonist (Oxford University Press, 2000).

I still wonder how it could have happened. During the twenty years that Priscilla Papers has been publishing, opponents of biblical equality have become so enamored with the idea of subordination that they want to make it part of God. I would not have believed it until I encountered the work of Kevin Giles, an Australian Anglican priest who is the most articulate critic of this strange development. In his new book, Jesus and the Father: Modern Evangelicals Reinvent the Doctrine of the Trinity (Zondervan, 2006), Giles shows how a whole generation of conservative evangelicals has embraced a new-fangled version of the ancient Trinitarian heresy of subordinationism. They do not hide their motives. They are determined to see in God what they wish to see in humanity: a subordination of role or function that does not compromise (they insist) an essential equality of being. Therefore, they teach that just as woman is created equal to man but has a subordinate role at home and in church, so the Son of God is coequal with the Father in being or essence but has a subordinate role in the work of salvation and in all eternity. They even think—quite mistakenly, as Giles shows—that this is what the Bible and Christian orthodoxy have always taught.

So it is clear enough why we have this new version of ancient heresy, but it is still astonishing. It is especially startling to someone like me who has returned to the evangelical orbit after studies among conservative ecumenical theologians, the kind of Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant scholars who call themselves “evangelical catholics” (which in circles attuned to European theology has the ring of paradox or maybe a mixed marriage, since evangelische is just German for “Protestant”). In these circles, theologians have found time and again that the way to discern our underlying unity in Christ is to rediscover the ancient orthodox (Nicene) doctrine of the Trinity as the basis for all Christian life and thought. It is dismaying to think that so many evangelicals are separating themselves from this common basis of Nicene orthodoxy, with its thorough rejection of any teaching of subordination in the Trinity, in order to ride their hobby horse about the subordination of women.

However, it also affords egalitarian evangelicals an opportunity that is worth...

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