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Thu, 04 Apr 2013 - 1:18 PM CST

Who’s Tampering with the Trinity? An Assessment of the Subordination Debate

Millard J. Erickson, (Kregel Publications, 272 pp., paperback)


Millard Erickson, prolific evangelical theologian and author, presents a careful analysis of the two positions in the subordination debate and concludes with his assessment of the proper approach. Here is the basic concern he addresses: During the earthly ministry of Jesus, He consistently affirmed His subordination to the Father. He prayed to the Father, submitted His will to that of the Father, and affirmed that at all points during His earthly sojourn He did the will of the Father and expressed the Father’s message. Is this, then, a pattern for how the Trinity is eternally structured? Is there a subordination of authority within the Trinity expressed by the Father’s superiority and the subjection of the Son and Holy Spirit to Him? Or, is there eternal equality of authority within the Trinity, such that, when Jesus ministered physically on the earth, He was voluntarily submitting to the will of the Father for redeeming fallen humans?


Erickson identifies the side of the argument that sees an eternal hierarchy of authority among the Trinity as the gradational-authority view. The proponents of this view do see the members of the Trinity are equally divine, but assert that there is an eternal subordination of the Son and Holy Spirit to the Father. Among the theologians in this camp, according to Erickson, are: Charles Hodge, Augustus Strong, Louis Berkhof, George Knight, Bruce Ware, Wayne Grudem, and Robert Letham.


Erickson gives the title equivalent-authority view to those who see within the Trinity eternal equality in authority and allow that during the earthly physical ministry of Jesus there was a voluntary submission to the authority of the Father. Among the theologians Erickson identifies holding this view are: Benjamin B. Warfield, Loraine Boettner, J. Oliver Buswell, Jr., Paul King Jewett, Gilbert Bilezikian, Stanley Grenz, and Kevin Giles.


Erickson presents both sides fairly, making extensive use of the proponents own writings. He clearly sets out the criteria by which we should decide theological issues, traces the historical development of both sides of the debate, apprises the reader of the practical implications of each view, and offers his own judgment. Erickson asserts that the equivalent-authority view is the correct approach to take to the Trinity.


This book is not an easy read, but it is a very valuable one. Whether the reader agrees with Erickson’s conclusion, one must appreciate the judicious presentation. The irenic spirit of the book is winsome in itself and the clarity of argument is very helpful.


Reviewed by James H. Railey, Jr., D.Th., professor of theology, Assemblies of God Theological Seminary, Springfield, Missouri.

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