The Fight for the Trinity: Michael Bird explains the Eternal Subordination debate (Part 1)

The doctrine of the Trinity came under intense scrutiny last summer (2016), but it wasn’t from unbelieving philosophers or Jehovah’s Witnesses. A debate raged for the better part of three months amongst evangelical theologians, concentrating within the complementarian camp. This intramural controversy seriously threatened to dissolve the unity of complementarians and evangelicalism as a whole.

The contention was over the issue of the Son’s eternal submission to the Father. Here’s the question: is Jesus, as the Second Person of the Trinity, eternally subordinate to the Father in an economic sense, even if he is equal in the sense of substance or essence?

In the video below, Michael Bird describes (with his typical comedic flair) how the controversy, which centered on the meaning and extent of the Son’s relationship to the Father, played out amongst evangelical theologians. Michael contributed to the debate himself, and at one point suggests that, rather than speaking of the Son’s “subordination,” a term that reeks of Arianism, we should talk in terms of the Son’s “obedient self-distinction.”

Furthermore, Michael questions the popular idea that human marriage is a reflection of the hierarchy inherent in the Trinity, a view he sees as unhelpful and a bit absurd: human marriage is not “two guys and a eunuch.”

This video is worth watching in order to gain a balanced perspective on this critical debate that has threatened to tear evangelicalism apart. Check it out, and then head over to the Logos Talk blog, where Dr. Peter Leithart weighs in on the recent debate concerning relationships in the Trinity:

Watch Drs. Wayne Grudem, Millard Erickson, Fred Sanders, Bruce Ware, and Kevin Giles make a case for their conclusions in one of the most pressing debates in contemporary theology: Is God the Son subordinate to God the Father in eternity, or not?

Get the Perspectives on the Trinity course today.

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Written by
Tavis Bohlinger

Dr. Tavis Bohlinger is the editor of Word by Word's Lecture Hall and Creative Director at Reformation Heritage Books. He holds a PhD from Durham University and writes across multiple genres, including academia, poetry, and screenwriting. He lives in Grand Rapids with his wife and three children.

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Written by Tavis Bohlinger