Denny Burk, the new president of CBMW, has posted an update on his take-aways from the Trinity debate. I am encouraged to see some of the statements he made in that update, particularly how he affirms Nicene Trinitarianism, identifying with it “all the more fervently (and with greater clarity),” saying, “I believe in eternal generation, a single divine will, inseparable operations, and the whole Nicene package.” This is great to hear from the president of CBMW. I also affirm with Burk that Scott Swain and Michael Allen’s works have offered much help to clarify teaching.
And yet, I am still uncertain about what he means in some of his explaining on Eternal Functional Subordination of the Son. And I am especially perplexed by his conclusion that CBMW has only existed to promote the Danvers Statement, and for that reason CBMW can remain silent when it comes to the Trinity controversy (starting after this post by their president, I presume). So I would like to briefly question those two claims,and then offer an alternative for what Denny Burk could do as president of CBMW.
Before this debate, I understood the “eternal” submission of the Son as a mere affirmation that the Bible teaches that the Son submits to the Father in some sense in eternity. It is called “eternal” not because of any ontological inequality of essence or being, but merely because the Bible indicates that the Son submits to the Father in some sort of economic/functional sense in eternity (i.e., before the incarnation and after the consummation). I would have understood it as nothing more nor less than that.
This perplexes me. From the beginning, critics of ESS have affirmed an economic submission of the Son, particularly making a point to explain the context for how that applies in the covenant of redemption, while firmly insisting that there is no eternal subordination in the ontological relationship within the Trinity. From the beginning, we have been providing very specific quotes from ESS proponents that teach otherwise, asking for a retraction of this unorthodox teaching on the Trinity and affirmation of confessional Nicene Trinitarianism. And yet, Burk was among the first to take to Twitter accusing us of being closet feminists and accusers of the brethren (**correction—when pushed on the ‘accuser of the bretheren’ comment on Twitter, Burk tweeted in response that it’s “unnecessarily inflammatory, and I am sorry for writing it. I will delete it.” I shouldn’t have brought that one up again.) for this important distinction. So it was a bit strange to read this explanation of how he understood ESS “from the beginning” and square that with how he reacted in the beginning of this debate.
While it is good to see Burk distance himself from the EFS of Ware and Grudem, he still wants the big umbrella that would affirm the orthodoxy of their teaching on the Trinity. This is very troublesome, and I will comment more on its impact in my conclusion.
Burk concludes that there is no need for CBMW to get involved in this Trinity stuff anymore and paints a picture as if CBMW’s teaching has nothing to do with all this controversy:
I am a Danvers complementarian. That view of gender is not and never has been reliant upon an analogy to the Trinity. Biblical complementarianism neither stands nor falls on speculative parallels with Trinity…
CBMW exists to promote the Danvers vision, which is silent on this current controversy. For that reason, my view is that CBMW does not need to be adjudicating the Trinity debate.
This conclusion is just plain irresponsible. Much of the teaching that we have been critiquing has come from CBMW sponsored events, the latest book by the former CBMW president, and writings from men who are either on the CBMW council or board. In fact, here is a CBMW document from 2001 on their position on the Trinity, connecting ESS directly to complementarian position. It contains statements such as these:
These arguments will be weighed and support and will be offered for the church’s long-standing commitment to the trinitarian persons’ full equality of essence and differentiation of persons, the latter of which includes and entails the eternal functional subordination of the Son to the Father, and of the Spirit to both Father and Son.
Because the structure of authority and obedience is not only established by God, but it is, even more, possessed in God’s own inner trinitarian life, as the Father establishes his will and the Son joyfully obeys, therefore we should not despise, but should embrace proper lines of authority and obedience. In the home, believing community, and society, rightful lines of authority are good, wise, and beautiful reflections of the reality that is God himself. This applies to those in positions of God-ordained submission and obedience who need, then, to accept joyfully these proper roles of submission.
We more readily associate God with authority, but since the Son is the eternal Son of the Father, and since the Son is eternally God, then it follows that the inner trinitarian nature of God honors both authority and submission. Just as it is God-like to lead responsibly and well, so it is God-like to submit in human relationships where this is required. It is God-like for wives to submit to their husbands; it is God-like for children to obey their parents;… We honor God as we model both sides of the authority-submission relationship that characterizes the trinitarian persons themselves.
You can’t make a claim that ESS and CBMW complementarianism aren’t connected when there’s an official statement on your website connecting the two. And what has happened since then is a building upon this connection. In fact, just as recently as this spring, at CBMW’s last official conference, “The Beauty of Complementarity,” many statements were made connecting ESS/EFS to complementarianism, and not in the way Burk is now trying to frame it within an economic context, but rather an ontological one of authority and submission. Conveniently for the then president Owen Strachan, this conference also coincided with the release of his new book, firmly connecting ESS/ERAS with complementarity—a book that Denny Burk, Albert Mohler, and Bruce Ware all wholeheartedly endorsed.
Furthermore, Owen Strachan pushed the matter in his conference talk, stating, “The gospel has a complementarian structure.” The implication is that anyone who does not subscribe to his teaching on complementarity, the one that directly connects ESS to “biblical” manhood and womanhood, is denying the gospel. There were many respected leaders at this conference who could have expressed their concern on some of the teaching going on next to their own. But they didn’t, rather they stood by silently while the entire paying audience absorbed it, sanctified testosterone and all.
So seeing Burk write that there is no connection, downplaying any relation between CBMW and the errant teaching on the inner life of the Trinity just isn’t true.
In his post, Burk gives advice to his readers to listen to their critics. This is what I have been begging CBMW to do from the start, not only with the extremely important teaching on the Trinity, but also with the other strange teachings they have published on complementarity.
What Denny Burk Can Do Now
I am currently reading Rusty Reno’s The Idea of a Christian Society, and am making huge connections on why Burk’s conclusion here is so damaging. It’s why I have been speaking up all along. Reno makes a case for how the lower class society, or underclass, is picking up the tab for what he calls the “nonjudgmentalism” moral consensus of the upper class. This is exactly what I see happening within the new Calvinist evangelicalism. It doesn’t hurt Denny Burk or Albert Mohler to endorse these books teaching ESS or ERAS, to affirm the orthodoxy of Grudem, Strachan, and Ware’s teaching on the Trinity and complementarianism, and to continue to headline together at conferences. But I see who picks up the tab for this irresponsibility, and it is the regular church-going people who are trying to honor God in their singleness, or as wives and husbands.
I have seen it in my own experiences, and I am seeing in all the emails I am getting from women who can’t use a word like career, lest it sound too ambitious; women who have no voice in their church, because the men are the leaders who make all the valuable input; women who are stuck in ministries that teach “True Womanhood,” yet are considered divisive to point out heretical teaching on the Trinity in their book study (even after pointing out a statement that the Trinity consists of “individual and distinct beings”); women who are frustrated because they do not fit into the “biblical womanhood” box of nursery duty and pot lucks and feel marginalized in their own church; and women who have expressed their conflict of desiring to be “good complementarians” while wanting to cry when they read some of the material from CBMW. Worse, I hear from women who are in and who have come out of abusive situations under this kind of irresponsible teaching. I’m not surprised that they end up questioning it all. When our loudest and highest paid complementarian voices advocate such a poor theology and environment for women, Christians want to reject complementarianism.
So when Burk and Mohler say that CBMW is all about the Danvers Statement and has no connection with ESS, I am not buying it. Not only that, I am suspicious when I read the Danvers Statement. With all the teaching coming from CBMW linking an ontological role of authority and subordination within the Trinity to womanhood and manhood, I am concerned by what they mean with some of the language. For example, this affirmation:
- Distinctions in masculine and feminine roles are ordained by God as part of the created order, and should find an echo in every human heart (Gen 2:18, 21-24; 1 Cor 11:7-9; 1 Tim 2:12-14).
So what Denny Burk could do is listen to all of this critique and think about the people who are affected by all the teaching that has come out of and influenced by CBMW. Good for him that he is seeking more clarity this summer on his confession on the Trinity, but what about all that has already been promoted and endorsed?
You can’t continue to endorse unorthodox doctrine on the Trinity as a model for manhood and womanhood and be healthy. You can’t ignore the voices of many and be healthy. You can’t go on Twitter saying we want scalps, are accusers of the brethren, and are closet feminists because we have legitimate concerns about the content of their teaching and be healthy. I am tired of the throat clearing posts that include wonderful statements against abuse and promoting loving leadership from the same people who refuse to directly address, retract, and correct teaching that fuels abuse from their own men. It isn’t right.
I would love to see CBMW clean house and actually be the leaders they write about sometimes, I really would. But I am not going to accept a veneer of concern without real change. At this point it appears that all the proponents of ESS will still be people of influence there. No one from CBMW has made a statement retracting the teaching on ESS/ERAS/EFS, rather they continue even in Strachan’s resignation announcement to promote his book that teaches it. They continue to assure us that it is orthodox. And none of Ware or Grudem’s writings on it have been retracted either. They are all leaders there still. Nor has there been any explanation or apology for the Sanctified Testosterone teaching or Soap Bubble Submission (although that particular post has disappeared). Nothing. All of that teaching needs to be retracted, with apologies at this point, for CBMW to have any credit in my book. Denny Burk could lead the way in doing that.
*Originally published on August 11, 2016.