Systematic Theology Geeks, Rejoice!

Millard Erickson is widely considered one of the evangelical world’s pre-eminent scholars on the doctrine of the Trinity, and his works of systematic theology are standards in a majority of seminaries across the country.

Recently, though, seminaries have begun adopting Wayne Grudem’s systematic theology, supplementing or even replacing Erickson’s work. But Grudem has a faulty view of the Trinity. He is a subordinationist, a holder of the heresy condemned by Athanasius and other church fathers that teaches that Jesus is eternally subordinate to the Father in the Trinity — not simply in his incarnation, but for all eternity. Worse, Grudem, a founder of the staunchly non-egalitarian Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, has taken a heretical doctrine and applied it horrifically to gender relations, teaching that as Jesus and the Father are ontologically equal but “functionally” different, requiring Christ’s permanent subordination, men and women are ontologically equal but different in function and role, requiring, then, woman’s permanent subordination to men.

Bad theology leads to bad practice, and this is a perfect example. The success of CBMW, Grudem, and Doug Wilson allies Tim Bayly and John Piper lies in their ability to convince the Church that centuries of gender hierarchy and patriarchy, however “benign,” represents the essence of Christ’s Gospel — himself subordinate to the Father — and is justified not only by a very few verses in Scripture wrongly interpreted, but also by the inherent makeup and essence of the Trinity.

Undoubtedly and lamentably, most of the evangelical Church is complementarian — non-egalitarian in gender issues and content with people serving by gender, not Spirit giftedness, in church, home, and society. But the resurfacing of the heresy that prompted the Athanasian Creed has only recently morphed into an apologetic for non-Biblical sexism, largely through the efforts of Grudem, Piper, Bayly and CBMW. The prominence of Grudem’s systematic theology in seminaries and Bible institutions, with its erroneous grasp of the eternal unity and love found in the Holy Trinity, is disturbing, although not altogether surprising. Just as all manner of evil was deemed permissible in the name of anti-Communism in decades past, it’s becoming clear that no damage to foundational evangelical theology is too objectionable if taught in defense of restricted gender roles and in the name of women’s permanent subjection.

So I’m especially thrilled, because these things are not just fascinating to me but vitally important to the Church, that Erickson has responded to Grudem, et al, and their subordinationist theology in a new book called “Who’s Tampering With The Trinity?” In it, he dissects the heresy, defends the integrity and unity of the Trinity, and analyzes the faulty application of Trinitarian subordinationism to family relations. I’ll get the book as soon as possible. You should, too, especially if you’ve come to believe that the greatest devotion a woman can show her Savior is to imitate, in relation to her husband, the subordination of Christ to the Father.

Doctrine cannot be separated from practice, and the CBMW crowd has seized upon a teaching that tries to justify male supremacy and, although I imagine this isn’t their intent, causes violence to the Church’s understanding of the essence of the Trinity. It doesn’t just cause theoretical violence to doctrine, but encourages a sexism that has resulted in real violence to women. Subordinationism is an insult to the Trinity; this in itself ought to break our hearts. But the application in male-female relations is a particularly vicious weapon in the arsenal of the evangelical sexist. Erickson’s decades of work in theology and teaching is cause for praise to our God.

His contribution to the subordinationist debate is cause for one woman seeking to follow Christ with all her heart to rejoice with particular enthusiasm — and spread the joy to you as well. Even at the risk of being called a geek, a wonk, or a grind.

Trust me. That would be an improvement . . .

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