The evangelical blogosphere engaged in a major theological debate about the Trinity this summer, with more than 150 posts published within five weeks. Malcolm Yarnell, theology department chair at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, said he had “never seen anything like it.”
The debate focused on Christ’s relationship to God the Father. Some argue that the Son is eternally subordinate to the Father, while others say the Son was subordinate in his earthly life only. It transformed a decades-old proxy war between some complementarians and egalitarians over what the Trinity reveals about God’s design for gender roles into a civil war between complementarians (see CT’s explainer, Gender and the Trinity).
While complementarian women wrote only a handful of the posts, they played a significant role in launching the conversation and raising concerns over how the distinction can play out in the pews.
The original post came from Presbyterian pastor Liam Goligher. He stated that theologians Bruce Ware and Wayne Grudem are distorting Trinitarian relations in order to uphold their view of gender roles. (Grudem is the founder of the complementarian Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood [CBMW].)
Goligher’s post appeared at Housewife Theologian, a blog written by Aimee Byrd and hosted at an Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals website. Byrd, alongside co-hosts Carl Trueman and Todd Pruitt, have challenged certain complementarian rhetoric and teaching for years.
“She is the one continually bringing it up to these men and calling out patriarchy,” said Hannah Anderson, author of Made for More, a book about Christian women and identity. “She can ask the question that men wouldn’t have thought to ask.”
Anderson also critiqued the link being made between eternal subordination and gender roles in a post co-written by Wendy Alsup on the blog Practical Theology for Women.
The women speaking up in this debate see the Trinity issue as tied to ongoing concerns about how complementarian leaders discuss and apply teachings on gender. While these women affirm male headship in the home and male eldership in the church, they suggest that complementarianism’s current emphasis on authority and gender roles restricts a fuller understanding of femaleness, maleness, and true complementarity.
The Internet has given lay women from across denominations an entry point into conversations once reserved for seminarians and theologians. “For a lot of time, women have not been in ‘the room where it happens,’ ” said Alsup.
When Rachel Miller, news editor for The Aquila Report and blogger at A Daughter of the Reformation, saw the first post go up on Byrd’s website, she assumed that it would be overlooked, as when she, Byrd, and others had critiqued eternal subordination before.
“I invited a man to write and suddenly, men were concerned and noticing it,” said Byrd, who belongs to an Orthodox Presbyterian church and advocates for stronger theology in women’s resources, including in her book Housewife Theologian.
But plenty of theologians in the debate didn’t mention gender roles at all, as most regard the Trinity as an unrelated issue.
“The women I’ve read have approached the subject in very similar ways to the male theologians, with the obvious exception that the application has been followed through into areas that affect them while the male theologians have often left the application out of the picture,” said Andrew Wilson, a teaching and training pastor in the UK. “I’d imagine the debate is more personal for the women.”