Maybe the Trinity Has Nothing
to Do with Complementarianism
Like John Paul II in Roman Catholicism Cornelius Van Til was canonized by the Reformed camp almost before the dirt was shoveled onto his casket. Along with Calvin, Kuyper, and Warfield Van Til is a Reformed saint, at least in America. I first experienced Van Til and his Creator-creature circles at the (soon to be revived) Pensacola Theological Institute. Then, in seminary we read him and studied his thought.
Looking back, I am not sure I ever understood Van Til. Perhaps in addition to Greek and Hebrew the seminary should have offered language courses in Van Tillian and Vossian. I kept worrying that I would be exposed as one of those who did not yet "get Van Til" while all my friends were numbered among the enlightened.
Anyway for any who have been asleep or are caught up in rapturous thought about the the PCA's repentance for its racial sins, I will inform you there has been raging a debate about the doctrine of the Trinity. Those who are excited about the new committee on women's ministry might want to pay attention to this debate.
The reason for this debate, as best I can tell, is disagreements about complementarianism - the ontological natures of manhood and womanhood, the economic roles and role-relationships of men and women, and the spheres of life (just home and church or every area of life in which males and females have dealings with one another?) in which male "leadership" and qualified female "followership" ("headship" and "submission" are impolitic terms) are operable.
What does Van Til have to do with this? Well, as best I understand him, for Van Til the doctrine of the Trinity is foundational to the understanding of everything else. Everything is grounded in the eternal ontological Trinity and the interpersonal relationships of the Persons of the Godhead.
So, those who want to argue that the relationship of man and woman is ontological in nature (man was created to lead and woman to follow - leading is essential to manhood and following is essential to womanhood) and therefore extends to every area of life, would like to ground their teaching in the eternal relationships of the Trinity. Is the Son eternally in submission to the Father because submission is essential to sonship? (Tim Bayly uses the curious term "eternal economic subordination" of to describe Son's relationship with the Father.) In other words, was the Son subordinate to Father before his incarnation and will he be after he has subdued all things to himself and then submits himself to the Father that God may be all in all? Is the Son subordinate in eternity past and eternity future?
You can see where the proponents of "fat (compared to Carl and Aimee's "thin") complementarianism and the proponents of patriarchy would like to take this. If the nature of the very Son of God is to be subordinate to the Father and subordinate always in all things, why is it surprising then that man made in the image of the Trinitarian God should exercise headship in every area of life and that woman also made in the image of the Trinitarian God should be subordinate in every area of life? The natures and roles of man and woman are grounded in the Trinity and the eternal interpersonal relationships of the Persons.
To this others have responded that this is not Nicene (as clarified by Constantinople in 381) Christianity. Historic Christianity confesses that the Persons of the Trinity are the same in nature, all three Persons being fully God, and therefore eternally equal. The Son is voluntarily subordinate to the Father and the Spirit voluntarily subordinate to the Father and the Son in the plan and work of redemption, but in eternity there is no Trinitarian subordination. The Persons of the Trinity are equal in attributes, powers, authority, willing, and glory. They are in perfect harmony not because of the subordination of one to the other but because they are equally God. God does not disagree with himself. (Now there is a whole 'nother rabbit trail here for those who follow N.T. Wright and the linguistic Biblical theologians who don't like systematic or creedal theology. They believe this whole discussion is unnecessary and meaningless inasmuch as it does not arise from the vocabulary and concerns of the Bible but from the imposition of Greek thought categories on the Bible.)
This is Van Til's fault as he taught that everything is related to God the Holy Trinity. So, if the subjects are man and woman, male and female, headship and subordination, the right understanding is to be found by relating the subjects to the Trinity.
But I ask, Couldn't you leave the doctrine of the Trinity out of this discussion about the sexes? Couldn't those who want to argue about the sexes exegete and debate the texts? The doctrine of the Trinity is not going to settle the disagreements about man and woman, leadership and submission.
In the interests of full disclosure: I am an egalitarian in my understanding of the Trinity. I am complementarian in my understanding of man and woman - too fat for Aimee, I think, but emaciated in the view of the Baylys. To tip my hand on the questions in the previous paragraph, I think that the problem with those who want on the basis of 1 Corinthians 11 to argue for the eternal subordination of the Son is they fail to do their exegesis with sufficient deference to the analogy of faith (historic Trinitarian doctrine).
Maybe Van Til should be allowed to sleep.