Saturday, April 25, 2009

Wayne Grudem and heresy

So I was just wrapping up a great conversation on New Leaven. At the end of the conversation Suzanne McCarthy (of Suzanne's Bookshelf -- translation, Abecedaria -- foreign language keyboarding, silence is the ornament -- personal) and I were dialoguing. Suzanne frequently writes on egalitarianism vs. complementarianism. Complementarianism is just a smidge to the left of patriarchy, on a left right axis, there are complementarians that would not qualify as supporters of patriarchy and there are patriarchal doctrines that many complementarians would reject. So for example, complementarians will quote Dabney's materials without appealing to his authority while patriarchs openly embrace Dabney.

Anyway if we cut through the details the complementarian argument is basically women should be oppressed politically and especially in the church because the bible teaches that girls have cooties. So again cutting through the details Suzanne is is a top notch amateur linguist who spends a great deal of her time proving that the bible does not in fact teach that girls have cooties. Which is similiar to my defense series where I disproved the historical claim that the girls & cooties theology has been a constant through Christian history.

What was interesting about the thread was that Suzanne raised a point which shows a fairly clear cut heresy in complementarian writing, which means looking at the details. First, you may want to read the notion of the economic trinity, "ontological equality but economic subordination" directly from Grudem himself in his Systematic Theology (p251). Bruce Ware in his 2006, Equal in Essence, Distinct in Roles: Eternal Functional Authority and Submission Among the Essentially Equal Divine Persons of the Godhead argued:
The Father and Son are fully equal in their deity as each possesses the identically same divine nature, yet the eternal and inner-Trinitarian Father-Son relationship is marked, among other things by an authority and submission structure in which the Father is eternally in authority over the Son and the Son eternally in submission to the Father. There is, then, an eternal and immutable equality of essence between the Father and the Son, while there is also an eternal and immutable authority-submission structure that marks the relationship of the Father and the Son
Normally trinity stuff bores me, but what is important here is to show that subordination does not imply inequality. Unlike the patriarchs the complementarians don't want to actually assert that women are less then men, just that they ontologically equal while being functionally subordinate. Scripture isn't clear on this at all with regard to men and women but they assert it is clear on this with regard to the Godhead. Further they argue that marriage is meant to teach us mystically about the nature of God's relationship. A perfect example of this argument is from the opening statement of my debate with Frank Turk of TeamPyro.

So to summarize so far what we have is a triad:
  1. The son is subordinate in authority to the father
  2. The church is likewise subordinate to Christ
  3. Wives are likewise subordinate to their husbands
Attack point (1) and the whole argument falls apart. The counter attack is that point 1 is a clear cut violation of the creeds. Now this is tricky. The words "authority" and "power" have diverged in English language meaning. The word that is getting translated to authority (or right) is the greek word (ἐξουσίαν, exousia). In the Latin Vulgate this is getting translated to the word potestas.

So for example 1Cor 11:10:
ESV: That is why a wife ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels.
Greek: διὰ τοῦτο ὀφείλει ἡ γυνὴ ἐξουσίαν ἔχειν ἐπὶ τῆς κεφαλῆς διὰ τοὺς ἀγγέλους
Vulgate: deo debet mulier potestatem habere supra caput propter angelos

The problem of course is that for 1700 years Christians have asserted the equality with respect to potestas. Now in the creeds potestas gets translated as power:

latin: In Deitatis unitate personæ tres sunt unius ejusdemque essentiæ, potential ac æternitatis; Deus Pater, Deus Filius, ac Deus Spiritus Sanctus.” (Westminster Confession Latin)

English: “In the unity of the Godhead head there be three persons, of one substance, power, and eternity: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. (Westminster Confession English)

or to pick another example (again from Suzanne):

non secundum imparem potestatem uel substantiam uel aliquid quod in eo patri non sit aequale missus est, sed secundum id quod filius a patre est, non pater a filio

For he was not sent in virtue of some disparity of power or substance or anything in him that was not equal to the Father, but in virtue of the Son being from the Father, not the Father being from the Son.
  1. The creeds assert there is no difference in potestas between father and son
  2. If you believe the creeds are biblical then there is no difference in exousia between father and son
  3. Thus if you believe the creeds you must hold that the doctrine that the bible teaches that the son and father are equal only in dunamis but that the son is subordinate in exousia is false.
  4. Hence the argument the son is subordinate in authority (in English) is false.
  5. Hence the little triad arguing for the subordination of women is false.
Or to put it simply if you buy Grudam / Ware position you are advocating Arianism. This argument has actually been responded to be the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood though (IMHO) they fail to address the key point (link). As an aside Arian Christians have a long history of treating women well, I'm sure they don't like their beliefs being co-opted by the girls have cooties crowd.

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See also:

8 comments:

Suzanne McCarthy said...

So Ware and Grudem have both been head of ETS whose creed says that Christ is equal in power and glory to the Father, and this creed is descended from the Westminster Confession. It means equal in authority and glory.

Matthew N. Petersen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Perhaps the arians in the ETS should reconsider their position. I find it interesting that they keep digging themselves into a deeper and deeper hole in their pursuit of male supremacy. Sad!

Don Johnson

CD-Host said...

Yep, this is a lot like the biblical justifications for slavery one saw in the early 19th century after abolitionism became a popular movement. It discredited Calvinism the last time, amazing they are going to make the same mistake again.

Paula said...

I read that Trinity debate and commented in my blog, starting here, in case anyone is interested.

RefCal said...

"if we cut through the details the complementarian argument is basically women should be oppressed politically and especially in the church because the bible teaches that girls have cooties."

Oh Boy. This is confusing two entirely separate issues in conservative churches, both of which have biblical roots. Let's see if we can separate them.

1. Men and women should keep a social distance from each other due to the Bible's injunction to flee youthful lusts, etc. (the cootie factor).

2. Men and women should play separate roles in the church due to the order of creation (the silent women issue).

CD-Host said...

Hi Refcal --

I agree that (1) and (2) are both conservative claims but Grudem is focusing on a counter argument to the claim that subordination implies inequality. The question is not merely one of separate roles but subordinate roles, "separate but equal" might be plausible but Grudem needs "subordinate but equal" which is less plausible.

CD-Host said...

Another reference:


Augustine's de Trinitate:
Secundum hoc iam potest intellegi non tantum ideo dici missus filius quia uerbum caro factum est, sed ideo missus ut uerbum caro fieret et per praesentiam corporalem illa quae scripta sunt operaretur, id est ut non tantum homo missus intellegatur quod uerbum factum est, sed et uerbum missum ut homo fieret quia non secundum imparem potestatem uel substantiam uel aliquid quod in eo patri non sit aequale missus est, sed secundum id quod filius a patre est, non pater a filio.

(translation) And according to this manner we can now understand that the Son is not only said to have been sent because the Word was made flesh, but therefore sent that the Word might be made flesh, and that He might perform through His bodily presence those things which were written; that is, that not only is He understood to have been sent as man, which the Word was made but the Word, too, was sent that it might be made man; because He was not sent in respect to any inequality of power, or substance, or anything that in Him was not equal to the Father; but in respect to this, that the Son is from the Father, not the Father from the Son.