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.

Book Review: For the Life of the World

A review for Miroslav Volf and Matthew Croasmun’s book For the Life of the World: Theology that Makes a Difference (Brazos Press, 2019). 

In the brave new world of pluralism and competing universalities, the queen has been dethroned (44). For ages, theology, even “academic” theology, was the one “science” humanity looked to for help with life’s questions of truth and goodness (57). Now, instead of looking to academic theology for answers, humanity has turned to technology and the hard sciences for life direction. Due to an identity crisis (external and internal) in the guild, academic theologians have lost their place of prominence amongst the ivory towers of academia. Consequently, academic theology lost value in a world searching for answers. Even the church has no place for academic theologians.

When they should be front and center proclaiming the potentiality of a flourishing life with the world as “God’s home” (7) they fluster about gesticulating repristinations or ongoing critique. In their search for significance, they find a shrinking job market (36), a shrinking audience (39), and a shrinking reputation (43). In an effort to cope, they shy away from the truth and turn inward leading to reductions of theology (46), and distortions of normativity (51). The result? Theology is no longer a theology for the life of the world, it is a theology for a guild of specialized academics.

For academic theology to reestablish relevance, academic theologians must return to their first love (Rev 2:4). Love for the person and work of Jesus Christ and the flourishing life he exemplified while he walked among us, needs renewal. They must repent and do the things they did at first. With love for God and the world, their love for knowledge must align with modes of thinking prayer as they seek to proclaim the message of a crucified and risen Lord who is the hope of the world and the hope of a truly flourishing life.

a PhD in Biblical Studies?

should you get one?  Here is what Dave Black, professor of New Testament and Greek at SEBTS says on his blog (dated July 9, 2019):

There’s been a lot of online discussion lately about whether or not you should get a Ph.D. in Biblical Studies. So few jobs. So few opportunities. Such a major commitment of time and money. Are you sure you want to do this?

Big shock: If God calls you do to something, He will take care of the place of service. I wouldn’t accept doctoral students unless I believed that. If you’re not sure, ask yourself: What does it seem that God has predisposed me toward? Do I love to teach? Do I really and truly enjoy research and writing? As in: Nerd Alert. Then, as God begins to move you in a certain direction, obey. Go with it. It’s God’s responsibility to gift you. It’s yours to show yourself obedient. God has spoken clearly on this matter (1 Cor. 12:4-6). Since the Spirit has gifted you, the Lord will appoint you to a place where you can exercise that gift, and the Father will determine the results of your service. Certainly you’re taking a big risk. But all of life is like that. Christianity is an adventure. If it wasn’t, we wouldn’t need faith.

Believer, God has equipped you to love, to serve, to minister to others. Spend time with the Spirit today. Ask Him to point you in the right direction. If you’re already using His gift to serve others, thank Him for it. There is hardly anything more rewarding in this world.

Well, some different things have happened for me.  I got into a Chaplain Residency program and began to see a possible new place for me in ministry since I knew through repeated experiences that pastoring a church was out of the question.  So I’ve gone with it.  I’ll admit it’s been a challenge.  Getting a hospital chaplain job is hard, and I spent two years working in an unhealthy hospice office situation.  I have the skill sets to be a chaplain, I just have had some pretty negative experiences.  But I have also had some good ones too.  Like Dave says, you follow the leading of the Spirit and go where he leads.  The righteous shall live by faith and not by sight.  We can’t always go with what we see and or experience.  We have to trust the leading of the Spirit and go with him.

Even so, I know I have a calling and a gifting for being a teacher in the body of Christ.  I have waited a long time and even contemplated going to get a Ph.D. with Dave at SEBTS (not that that is needed to serve the church in teaching, by no means whatsoever).  Circumstances prevented that and it’s okay.  Sometimes, in a life of faith, we see an opportunity, we strike while the iron is hot, we make a move, and it pays off.  Other times, as challenging as it can be, we wait on the Lord for his timing, even years and or decades and pass as we faithfully wait. Debbie did her DMin and I worked and supported her while she did that.  It’s paid off.  She’s now on as full-time faculty at Grand Canyon University and its a HUGE lift for our family.

Last year April I was let go from the toxic hospice situation I was in.  I was hard but I was burning out and getting frustrated with the circumstances.  I had been praying for a change and asking God what to do.  I didn’t know I was going to be fired.  But about two weeks prior to that I had found out about a doctoral program at Evangelical Seminary in Myerstown, PA.  They started a new ThD.  When I learned about it I thought, could this be it?  I started praying for an opportunity to do the program.  I applied and was accepted.  But then, it happened that we needed to move back to Arizona because things were not working out for us in eastern North Carolina.  The move resulted in our moving in with Debbie’s parents for a year and my delaying the ThD program.  We prayed we’d get good work so we could support ourselves and move forward with our lives.  The GCU job was the biggest answer to our prayers yet thus far in our marriage, we’ve ever had.   I will be starting up with the ThD in August with the first residency in September.  I have my concerns but the path is open and I know the Lord will make a way.  How? Because so far he has.

Following the Lord isn’t always smooth sailing and can get rough at times.  In the end it will be worth it.

Mark 1 and the Signs of the Kingdom

I’ve begun reading the gospel of Mark with my family on Sunday nights for our weekly family devotions, I read a chapter to them and then ask questions and talk about what we read. I have a 12-year-old, a 9-year-old, and a 2-year-old. The 2-year-old isn’t involved as much of course. And, well, it’s a process with the older ones. I don’t push it hard with them.  I’m just wanting them to think a little.

In chapter 1 of Mark I had an interesting realization. Sometimes reading the Bible aloud can have that effect. It makes you hear things differently and have realizations.  Some people call them “revelations.” As I was reading, I started to see a theme emerging.  It happened after I had read v. 14 and 15:

14 After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 15 “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (2011 NIV)

And was somewhat further supported when I got to verse 35-38:

35 Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. 36 Simon and his companions went to look for him, 37 and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!” 

38 Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” 39 So he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons. (2011 NIV)

I had realized something.  It seemed that Mark was wanting to convey something early on in his Gospel and that is: the signs of the kingdom follow the proclamation of the kingdom.

My realization was that the theme flowed out of Jesus’s proclamation: “The kingdom of God has come near.  Repent and believe the good news!

This was a question I asked of the text: how do we know the Kingdom of God has come near?  The answer is found in continuing to read on in Mark 1.

As we read on, we see that Jesus calls his disciples, he drives out an evil spirit in the synagogue, he heals Simon’s mother-in-law and many others; (pause: he goes to a lonely place to pray and recharge), he heals a man with leprosy.

I don’t know why yet, but the realization just has sat with me.  It’s been ruminating.  The message of “the gospel” (the good news) is that the kingdom of God has come near.  And how do we know that?  We know it because of the signs and wonders that follow this proclamation.

Signs and wonders followed Jesus’ proclamation of the gospel – God was here and he is on the move! People were repenting. People were being healed and delivered. Evil spirits were being driven out.  Mark starts his gospel out with Jesus on the move!

This makes me think of Mr. Beaver’s declaration to the Pevensie kids in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. He drew them in close and said to them quietly but affirmatively, “Aslan is on the move!” and how with that, winter came to an end. How did they know? Because the snow was melting.

The arrival of Jesus on the scene in Palestine signifies that the Kingdom of God has come and Satan’s rule is over.  We now live in a world that is ruled by God and not the devil. We can live and reign with him and see his kingdom extended all over the world. Let us  “Repent and believe the good news!”

Embedded and Deliberative Theology

this is an OLD post here, but contains two very important concepts for Christians to understand about Christian Theology.

Seeking the Kingdom

Recently I read a book called How to Think Theologically by Howard Stone and James Duke. In it they argue that one fundamental aspect of being Christian (and I would argue being human) is that we ought to intentionally think – and to think theologically.

First, we need to understand what theology is, which they define as a “seeking after understanding – a process of thinking about life in the light of the faith that Christians engage in because of their calling.”[1] Because theological reflection is a process, it centers on two common practices: listening and questioning. This back and forth movement encourages humility.

I love the idea that Christian theology is at its root a matter of faith seeking understanding. It is a deceivingly simple idea that is also complex. There are two types of theology that we all have: embedded and deliberative. Embedded theology is what…

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Taking Every Thought Captive – What does it mean?

this is really good – give it a read

Reuben Smith, MS, PLPC Mental Health and the Church

Judy approaches her friends at church and reveals that she is struggling with persistent doubt and depression. She tells them she reads her Bible every day, prays, attends church, and serves others. “But the thoughts keep intruding” she confesses. One of her friends gently takes her by the hand, looks into her eyes with great concern, and says “Judy, you just need to take those thoughts captive and make them obey Christ.” The people in the circle nod in agreement and Judy politely thanks her friend. They pray together and then continue with the church activities. Judy goes home feeling much better. Later that afternoon, the depressive thoughts return in earnest. Judy is perplexed. Didn’t she and her friends “capture” these thoughts? Why are they back? Judy’s faith is strong and her friends mean well. But she cannot comprehend how to “capture her thoughts” which have plagued her for years…

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Did Jesus Preach to Dead People After He Died?

sharing here to read later

Epiphanies and Orthodoxy

There is a very peculiar passage of Scripture in the first book of Peter which seems to suggest that Jesus went to preach the Gospel of repentance to those who had already been condemned to hell! What makes this passage even more peculiar is that it is set in the context of a perfectly sensible and unsurprising passage all about suffering for doing what is right.

Direct translation:

He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, in/by which also he went/having gone and preached to the spirits in prison. He preached to those who formerly disobeyed, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. (1 Peter 3:18-20)

As we read this direct translation a number of questions arise:

  1. When it says Christ was “made alive…

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