As I have been reading about the trinity over the past two years I have realized that it is actually fairly small questions that are at the root of the big debates.
This makes sense because Christians agree about the vast majority of Christian theology. There is very little debate about the fact that the Trinity has three members. That all three members of the trinity are God. Or that the Trinity is made up of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit.
But a relatively small debate has gained importance over the last 30-50 years because of another debate within the church, the role of women.
In summary, complementarian Christians (Erickson avoids that term) look to the eternal subordination of the Son to the Father as the biblical model of how women should always submit to men (as husbands and/or pastors) as best illustrated by the Ephesians 5:22-23.
On the other side of the subordination debate, Egalitarians (again Erickson avoids the term) assert that the biblical evidence points that Jesus voluntarily submitted to the Father to be incarnated on Earth, die and be raised again. But prior to the incarnation and eternally after the Son is equal to the Father (and the Holy Spirit). This is illustrated best by the Philippines 2:6-11 hymn that Paul was quoting.
The real strength of Who’s Tampering With the Trinity is model for how Christians can investigate differences of theology that are important in their implication, but without rejecting the other’s Christianity. People on all sides of the disagreement are Christian, most are Evangelicals, all uphold the importance of scripture and the authority of historic Christianity (creeds, Church Tradition, etc.) as tools in working through the debate.
Erickson is probably best knowns for his book on Systematic Theology (one that I used in my undergrad Systematic Theology class.) What really shines through in this book is that Erickson uses his training in philosophy, logic and rhetoric to analyze the debate and main arguments of each side. This is an argument that must have one side or the other be right (there is not a compromise solution possible).
I came into the argument with a clear preference (against eternal subordination) as did Erickson (also against eternal subordination). But there are many areas where I had not considered all of the ramification or arguments that Erickson brings up. Both sides claim that their side is the historic position of the church. Both sides claim that they have the preponderance of the biblical evidence. Both sides claim that the result is important to other theological enterprises. So I am intrigued by the ways that Kevin Giles especially attempts to work through finding a solution.
I think both sides will find their arguments presented fairly and accurately and Erickson has words against everyone when their arguments get sloppy. This is how to write careful theology.
The last chapter (implications) is probably the most important. I think that many theological thinkers do not consider the ramifications of their theology well. They only consider how they came to their theology (is it biblical, what has the church taught, does it rationally make sense, etc.). But the implications are important. Issues like slavery, church’s movement to prohibition and Blue laws, the modern purity movement, etc. all suffered from too little thinking about the implications of the theology that led to those social issues.
I am not sure I agree with all of Erickson’s conclusions. However, when Bruce Ware concludes, because of his understanding of eternal subordination, that we should neither pray to the Son nor direct our worship toward the Son, but only to the Father, there is pretty good evidence that the implications of eternal subordination are worth thinking about.
The publisher provided Bookwi.se with a PDF of the book for purposes of review.
Related Book Reviews on the Trinity
- Fresh Air: The Holy Spirit for an Inspired Life by Jack Levison
- The Quest for the Trinity by Stephen Holmes
- Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything by Fred Sanders
- The Mystery of God: Theology for Knowing the Unknowable
- God’s Life in Trinity edited by Miroslov Volf
- Delighting in the Trinity: An Introduction into the Christian Life
- The Doctrine of the Trinity in the Early Church by Franz Dunzl
- Our Triune God: Living in the Love the the Three in One