CBMW’s Blog Series on the Eternal Subordination of the Son

In an article this week, Christianity Today addressed the recent Trinity debate. The point of the article was to consider the practical concerns that many of us have had with the Eternal Subordination of the Son (ESS/EFS/ERAS) doctrine and the implications for women in particular. It’s not a bad piece, although it’s a little disjointed. I was thankful that our concerns were represented fairly. However, there is a disturbing aspect of the article.

Those who spoke for the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW), such as new president Denny Burk, continue to deny any formal connection between CBMW and the ESS/EFS/ERAS teaching:

CBMW maintains a neutral position in the Trinitarian debate. Its core beliefs—outlined in the 1987 Danvers Statement—do not delineate a position on this particular issue, said Denny Burk, who replaced Owen Strachan as the organization’s president in July.

CBMW’s only blog post on the Trinity comes from its founder, Grudem, in defense of the Eternal Relations of Authority and Submission (ERAS) position. Other prominent complementarians, such as Al Mohler, argue that ERAS is not heretical but also not essential.

“It’s good and right for brothers and sisters to be talking about this issue,” said Burk. “There’s room for people on all sides of the question” under the Danvers Statement, which he says will be his focus as president. (emphasis added)

In my previous article on CBMW and the Eternal Subordination of the Son, I gave many examples of why it’s not accurate to say that CBMW is neutral in the current debate. But it is also not accurate to say that CBMW only has the one post on the Trinity. A quick search on CBMW’s website for “eternal subordination” will return a number of hits. There are several posts responding to or reviewing books by egalitarians who have written against ESS/EFS/ERAS.

There is also an interesting series of posts specifically on the Eternal Subordination of the Son. Eternal Subordination of the Son: The Basics, Part I, II, III, and IV and Eternal Subordination of the Son: Pastoral Implications, Part V were originally posted back in 2008. Unfortunately, something happened to the text of the posts. As others have noted, the text of these five posts is identical and unrelated to the topic. It seems to have come from a different post on headship written by Mary Kassian back in 2008.

I discovered the messed up posts when I was researching for my last post on CBMW and ESS, and I was very disappointed not to be able to read the originals. But thanks to the miracle of the internet, I can share with you the original content! The posts were originally run between February 18-February 22, 2008. The author of parts I-IV is Jeff Robinson, who was editor of the Gender Blog on CBMW where the posts first appeared. Jeff Robinson’s bio on The Gospel Coalition says:

Jeff Robinson (PhD, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is a senior editor for The Gospel Coalition. He also pastors a church plant in Louisville, Kentucky, and serves as senior research and teaching associate for the Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies and adjunct professor of church history at Southern Seminary.

Part V of the series was written by David Kotter, who was the executive director for CBMW in 2008. David Kotter is currently the Dean of the School of Theology at Colorado Christian University and also Visiting Scholar and a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics.

The following are excerpts from the original posts. From Eternal Subordination of the Son: The Basics, Part I

What is the doctrine of the “Eternal Subordination of the Son” and why is it important for the gender debate?

This week, Gender Blog will examine the basic assertions of this doctrine from biblical/theological, historical and pastoral angles. Today, I want to briefly state the doctrine itself and argue that it is a crucial biblical teaching that must neither be shunted aside as “too cloaked in mystery to deserve consideration” nor rejected as heretical.

This series will make use of several sources, with the centerpiece being a paper on the topic delivered by former CBMW President Bruce A. Ware at the 2006 meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society national meeting in Washington, D.C.

To quote Ware in summary, “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.”

As Ware points out in his 2005 book Father, Son, & Holy Spirit: Relationships, Roles & Relevance (Crossway), this doctrine is crucial because it tells us much about the nature of God, which, in turn, demonstrates how God intends that His triune nature be expressed in our human relationships. There is both unity and diversity, authority and equality in the Godhead; these transfer to our relationships within both the home and church and paint a beautiful picture of Christ’s redeeming love for His church (Eph 5). (emphasis added)

From Eternal Subordination of the Son: The Basics, Part II

Today, in Part II of our series on the eternal subordination of the Son, we begin making a biblical case for the eternal functional authority/submission structure within the Godhead. Again, this summary draws heavily on former CBMW President Bruce A. Ware’s 2006 address at the Evangelical Theological Society national meeting, “Equal in Essence, Distinct in Roles.” The biblical case begins with three points from Ware.

The Father, then, is understood as supreme over all, and in particular, He is supreme within the Godhead as the highest in authority and the One deserving ultimate praise.

For further study:

  • Bruce A. Ware, Father, Son, & Holy Spirit: Relationships, Roles & Relevance (Crossway).
  • Bruce A. Ware, “Tampering With the Trinity,” audio address; print version. (emphasis added)

From Eternal Subordination of the Son: The Basics, Part III

In our continuing examination of the doctrine of the eternal subordination of the Son to the Father, we conclude the biblical/theological case today with a look at two key issues: the submission of the Son in eternity past and His submission in eternity future. Once again, this synopsis draws heavily on Bruce A. Ware’s 2006 ETS paper as referenced in the first two parts (Part I, Part II) of this series.

The Son will submit to the Father in eternity future. At least 15 New Testament references speak of Christ as sitting on the Father’s right hand. As Wayne Grudem points out in his excellent book Evangelical Feminism & Biblical Truth (Multnomah, 2005), these have their background in Psalm 110:1 and show that the risen and exalted Son, while being fully God and equal in essence to the Father, sits in a position that represents his own acknowledgement of the Father’s greater authority.

For further study:

  • Christopher Cowan, “The Father and the Son in the Fourth Gospel: Johannine Subordination Revisited,” in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, March 2006. Available here.
  • Peter R. Schemm, Jr., and Stephen D. Kovach, “A Defense of the Doctrine of the Eternal Subordination of the Son,” in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, Sept. 1999. Available here. (emphasis added)

From Eternal Subordination of the Son: The Basics, Part IV

Likewise, we are not the first Christians to see an intra-trinitarian authority/submission structure in Scripture.

The doctrine under consideration in this series, however, must not be confused with the heresy of Arius and others. The orthodox view of subordination has been affirmed by many in the mainstream of orthodoxy throughout church history, including: 

  • Athanasius (c. 296-373) argued against Arianism at the Council of Nicaea in 325 and saw his view emerge victorious. Yet, in his Orationes contra Arionos (Orations against Arius), he articulates the eternality of the Son and expresses a clear order within the Godhead.
  • John Calvin (1509-1564), a father of the Reformation and author of the first systematic theology, the Institutes of the Christian Religion. Calvin adopted Augustine’s view of the Trinity.

For further study:

From Eternal Subordination of the Son: Pastoral Implications, Part V

At the conclusion of this series, we must ask about the pastoral implications of the eternal subordination of the Son.  What does this doctrine show us about the character of God and what effect should this truth have on our hearts and relationships today?

Nevertheless, 1 Corinthians 11:3 leads us to understand that there is a direct connection between the Trinity and our roles in marriage.  In this verse, Paul writes, “But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of the wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.”  Hierarchy has always existed in the Trinity itself, because the head of Christ is God.  The goodness of hierarchy is built into the very fabric of creation. 

How this is expressed in marriage is especially beautiful. If headship and submission can exist between the equal persons in the Godhead itself, then we can understand how the same type of relationship can exist between equal persons in marriage.

What difference does the doctrine of the eternal submission of the Son make in our hearts? It reassures a wife that her role in marriage is not ignoble or demeaning.  If this imitates the role that Jesus Christ assumes in the very Godhead, then a wife’s role is fundamentally noble and good.

There are few things more counter-cultural and gospel-displaying than a wife joyfully imitating Jesus Christ in his submission to the Father.  Though Jesus was in the form of God, he did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but humbled himself.  (emphasis added)

As you can see from these excerpts, and I encourage you to read the full posts, the doctrine of the Eternal Subordination of the Son has been fully embraced and clearly taught by CBMW. These articles were written by a CBMW editor and an executive director. They ran on CBMW’s own website as representative of the doctrinal position of the organization. The posts appealed to Bruce Ware and Wayne Grudem as authorities on ESS (notice they use ESS and ERAS interchangeably).

The articles teach that ESS is not a take it or leave it doctrine. Despite what Denny Burk wants to say today, ESS has been taught as the only biblical position. In part I, Robinson says that we “are bound to joyfully affirm all that the Bible affirms. That factor alone is reason enough to classify this doctrine as important for further study.”

It is also clear that from the beginning the doctrine of the Eternal Subordination of the Son was linked to the version of complementarity taught by CBMW. As I’ve said before, ESS/EFS/ERAS has been a part of CBMW from the earliest days. It is foundational to all they teach and cannot be separated out.

8 thoughts on “CBMW’s Blog Series on the Eternal Subordination of the Son

  1. NJ says:

    Rachel, thank you for everything you’ve been doing. These guys need to continue to have the heat turned on them. I agree that a only a full repudiation and apology to the body of Christ would suffice to extricate them once and for all from the erroneous doctrine of ESS.

    As Todd Pruitt put it:

    “One of the more peculiar features of the current debate is the men who insist on agreement in the applications of the Bible’s teaching on the roles of men and women but allow great diversity of opinion on the nature of God.”

    “How is it that we must agree on women’s roles in society but not on the Son’s role in the Trinity?”

    Well, I think we know where their priorities are.


    • DataLor says:

      Indeed! As if dealing with the nature of God is somehow less a matter of treading (and at least potentially trampling) upon sacred ground than inquiring into the nature of relationships between mere creatures. Imago Dei and the reflecting nature of of husband and wife with regard to Christ and the church, while of tremendous importance, still leave a yawning gulf between the two. And if someone is so committed to the idea of submission carrying with it fundamental inferiority in the one submitting that they aren’t moved by the fact that the policeman, an employer, the President, etc. have varying degrees of legitimate authority and thus a right to varying degrees of submission (and this ordained by God according to scripture) yet of course that doesn’t imply in the least that any of them are ontologically superior to you, or if they have a sufficiently anarchistic approach to authority, is appealing to ESS/EFS/ERA likely to be the trump card? I’ve barely peaked into the whole discussion and have not come to a conclusion as to whether ESS/EFS/ERA is correct or partly correct. But I know there are places where if you go at all you must do so with a great deal of fear and trembling. So basically I’m asking, “Why go there?” At this point it seems really dicey to me.


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