Book Review: Trinity without Hierarchy

Bird, Michael F, and Scott D Harrower, eds. Trinity Without Hierarchy: Reclaiming Nicene Orthodoxy in Evangelical Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic, 2019.

TWHIt is with thanks to the book review program at Kregel Academic that I have the opportunity to review this book.

Mike Bird and Scott Harrower edit a volume put together in response to assertions about a particular kind of subordination within the doctrine of the Trinity. There was concern that the ancient heresy of Arianism was again making its way into formulations of Trinitarian thought. They question the motivations of those who insist on such subordination. For some, the Trinity is a prop for promoting a particular aspect of complementarian ideology. Certain strands of complementarian theology make use of the Trinty to argue their own view on gender roles in marriage and in the church.

In the Preface, Bird notes that after reading multiple works by complementarians, “where the language of subordination and hierarchy are championed,” (10) he is “now convinced” Brice Ware, Wayne Grudem, and others argue for “something analogical to a semi-Arian subordinationism” (10). They are not pure Arians in their theology of the Trinity but they are close. Bird states, “they resemble a species of semi-Arianism called “homoiamism”” (10). This is an approach to the theology of the Trinity that has an “overreliance on the economic Trinity in Scripture for formulating immanent Trinitarian relationships,” that leads to “subordination characterized by a hierarchy” within the Trinity, which in turn makes Jesus lesser than the Father in power and in glory (10).

Bird is absolute in his insistence that there are many problems with this view because it relates, once again, to their ultimate motives – characterizing the Trinity in such a way as to support the subordination of women to men in relationships, both in marriage and in the church.  He states

The problem … is that a quasi-homoianism was drafted into the complementarian narrative by a small cohort of theologians in order to buttress their claims about gender roles and to define what distinguishes them as complementarians. In which case, something like homoianism is being utilized as scaffolding for complementarianism with the result that a defense of complementarianism involves a defense of quasi-homoianism (11).

Not all who support complementarianism support this quasi-homoianism. Rather, it is a particular group who have advocated for it. They know better. To support such is to go against the Nicene Creed. This book then seeks to argue against this form of subordination within the Trinity and “this brand of quasi-homoianistic complementarianism” (11).  It includes articles by both complementarians and egalitarians who argue for a non-subordinationist, and non-hierarchical view of intra-Trinitarian relationships.

The central thesis is that

the evangelical consensus, in keeping with it’s catholic and orthodox heritage, affirms that the Trinity consists of One God who is distinct and equal persons, and the distinctions do not entail subordination or hierarchy (11).

Drawing on perspectives (the various chapters within) from biblical, historical, and systematic theology, the goal of the book as a whole is to present Trinitarian theology in non-subordinationist and non-hierarchical fashion so as to rescue the doctrine of the Trinity from inappropriate debates about gender and authority in American Evangelical circles (11).

The book is well done and well argued. Many theologians and pastors often argue that the Trinity is a model for human relationships and community life within the church. This is true. Christians can look to God for how they are to love one another in relationships. However, it is not right to use the Trinity as a prop for promoting a particular view of how subordination should work in gender roles and how one thinks relationships should function. This brand of complementarianism risks creating a false image of God so as to institute inappropriate human relationship dynamics. Instead, a theology of the Trinity should encourage mutual love and services to one another.

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