Subordinate but equal : the intra-Trinitarian subordination of the Son to the Father in the theologies of P. T. Forsyth and Jürgen Moltmann
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In the New Testament and in the early church fathers’ writings, the Son is understood to be ontologically equal to the Father and subordinate to him. Whether understood as ingenerate-generate, sender-sent, commanded-obedient, subordination shows the distinction between the Father and Son. As seen in church history, minimizing these distinctions can lead to modalism and pressing them too far leads to Arianism. In the Bible, obedience or subordination does not mean ontologically inferior. Rather, obedience results from faith and love. Although some fathers connected obedience to Christ’s humanity, they were doing so while rejecting the Arian argument that the Son’s obedience meant he was ontologically inferior. They affirmed the voluntary obedience of the Son as an expression of his love for the Father and rejected any sense of coercion or determinism. The doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son from the Father’s ousia held together the equality and subordination of the Son to the Father. Beginning with Christ’s atoning work rather than metaphysics, P. T. Forsyth and Jürgen Moltmann believe that the Son’s obedience is crucial for the atonement to be the free act of grace of the Sovereign God. Because of this, the Son’s obedience must be divine, and thus eternal. Otherwise, the obedience would be from Christ’s humanity, and humanity would contribute in inappropriate ways to the atonement. They also believe that subordination, obedience, humility, and servanthood complete the understanding of divine love. The unity provided by the same divine love is expressed according to the particularity of the Person. In the Trinitarian relationship, the Son’s eternal obedience is his free response to the Father. Here subordination is not oppression, but perfect love freely given to the perfect Lover. This fuller conception of divine love that a proper emphasis on obedience affords has great potential to help Trinitarain theology contribute to the elimination of oppression and the improvement of human relationships and to do so in a manner consistent with the biblical witness.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
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