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Subordinación funcional eterna y su relación al adventismo contemporáneo
Theological developments in regards to what is understood by many as the most foundational Christian doctrine, the doctrine of the Trinity, seem to have always been with us. Yet, in recent times, there has been somewhat of an emphasis on a trend within evangelical Christianity –including Adventism- that proposes than an eternal functional subordination (hereafter EFS) exists among the members of the Trinity. One of EFS’ main contemporary voices is evangelical theologian Wayne Grudem. Thus, the primary focus of this research is to present the basic tenets of EFS as they are proposed by Grudem. Because Grudem’s EFS view has also marginally surfaced within Adventism, the secondary focus of this research is to briefly present how contemporary Adventist thinkers are relating to it. But let us first turn to Grudem.
Wayne Grudem’s Eternal Functional Subordination (EFS)
In a section of his well known Systematic Theology entitled “All Analogies Have Shortcomings,”  Grudem states that “Scripture nowhere uses any analogies to teach the doctrine of the Trinity,” and that “no analogy adequately teaches about the Trinity” since “all are misleading in significant ways.” However, despite of these precautionary statements, Grudem seeks to understand the Trinity largely through the Father-Son analogy. He substantiates his venture partly by arguing that “in the Bible a person’s name is a description of his or her character” and that “likewise, the names of God in Scripture are various descriptions of his character.” As he sees it, “the closest we come to an analogy [for the Trinity] is found in the titles “Father” and “Son” themselves, titles that clearly speak of distinct persons and of the close relationship that exists between them in a human family.” Grudem clearly acknowledges the distinction of persons as well as the relational closeness portrayed by the Father-Son analogy. And yet, Grudem goes on to argue that this analogy predominantly refers to distinctions in roles of authority and subordination.
Distinctions in Roles of Authority and Subordination
Grudem emphatically asserts that the three persons of the Trinity are fully divine and share all the attributes of God. And yet he believes that in order for the Trinity to be composed of three legitimate individual persons, the following question needs to be asked: “what are then the distinctions between the persons?” In other words, for the Trinity to be three different persons, there needs to be at least one necessary distinguishing element. In identifying this necessary distinction, Grudem makes reference to the “different functions” of each person “both in creation and redemption.” In this regard he writes:
The only difference between them is the way they relate to each other and to the creation. The unique quality of the Father is the way he relates as Father to the Son and Holy Spirit. The unique quality of the Son is the way he relates as Son. And the unique quality of the Holy Spirit is the way he relates as Spirit. 
Further on, the way that the members of the Trinity relate to each other, according to Grudem, has to do with certain roles that mark their relations of authority and subordination. As he see it, God the Father has the function or role to “plan, and direct and send the Son and the Holy Spirit,” and the Son has “the role of obeying, going as the Father sends, and revealing God to us.” In short, the Father has “the role of commanding” and the son “the role of obeying.” Thus, for Grudem, the Father-Son analogy speaks of roles which portray relations of authority and subordination among these divine beings.
It is worth clarifying at this point that although Grudem’s main focus seems to be the Father-Son analogy, he does to an extent feature the role of the Holy Spirit. About the Holy Spirit he writes:
We may say that the role of the Father in creation and redemption has been to plan and direct and send the Son and Holy Spirit . . . . The father directs and has authority over the son, and the son obeys and is responsive to the directions of the father. The Holy Spirit is obedient to the directives of both the Father and the Son.
In this Grudem identifies the role of the Holy Spirit by analogy and not by direct reference to specific Bible texts, unlike the cases of the Father and Son. Nevertheless, he seems to be comfortable with this interpretive procedure, concluding that in their roles “the Father eternally is first, the Son second, and the Holy Spirit third.”
Having argued for these Trinitarian roles, Grudem goes on to distinguish them from what he identifies as the ontological Trinity.
Grudem goes on to argue that while “the Son and Holy Spirit are equal in deity to God the Father,” they are still “subordinate in their roles” to the Father. The distinction of these concepts –“equal in deity” and “subordinate in roles”- calls for clarification. On one hand, Grudem identifies the Trinity’s divine being, nature or essence, as “ontological equality.” Thus he states, “it may be said that there are no differences in deity, attributes, or essential nature between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Each person is fully God and has all the attributes of God.” On the other hand, Grudem identifies the differences in roles separately from what he regards as the ontological Trinity. Basically, for Grudem, the members of the Trinity have “ontological equality but economic subordination.” In other words, they are “equal in being but subordinate in role.” Therefore, the differences that Grudem attributes to the members of the Trinity are placed at the level of divine roles (functions), and not, according to him, at the level of divine being (ontology).
A further development in Grudem’s view is his understanding of these Trinitarian roles of authority and subordination to be eternal. This indeed could be considered the core of Grudem’s EFS view.
Eternal Roles of Authority and Subordination
In a significant addition to his Trinitarian role subordination view, Grudem states that “differences in role are not temporary” but these are indeed “the different ways the three persons act as they relate to the world and . . . to each other for all eternity.” He explains this in more detail as follows:
If we do not have economic subordination, then there is no inherent difference in the way the three persons relate to one another, and consequently we do not have the three distinct persons existing as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit for all eternity. For example, if the Son is not eternally subordinate to the Father in role, then the Father is not eternally “Father” and the Son is not eternally “Son.” This would mean that the Trinity has not eternally existed.
This paper is a work in progress and part of a larger project. In this particular forum I will present a section that is mostly descriptive and deals with overarching theological concepts and ideas rather than with the Scriptural data underlying these. Yet, I believe that the descriptive task is and essential step inthe process of understanding Wayne Grudem’s Eternal Functional Subordination as well as in understanding how Adventist thought relates to his views.
This trend has received different names throughout the years, but will I consistently identify it as eternal functional subordination (EFS) as this is, in my opinion, the term more frequently used. I want to acknowledge that Grudem does not use the terminology EFS, and instead refers to economic subordination in referring to the same concept, but I will nevertheless utilize EFS in order to be more consistent with the broader usage of the concept in this discussion. As of late, a more recent terminology has surfaced as Eternal Relations of Authority and Submission (ERAS). Again, for the purposes of this paper I will retain the EFS terminology.Additionally, I want to clarify that the terms “function” and “role” seem to be virtually interchangeable in the work of the authors featured in this paper, and therefore I will also use them interchangeably as I discuss their work in this research.
Wayne Grudem is current Professor of Theology and Biblical Studies at Phoenix Seminary, Arizona. For more information on Grudem see www.waynegrudem.com. Grudem’s views certainly did not come in a vacuum. Without intending to take away from the complex historical background of EFS as well as the various proponents of this position, I would like to use Grudem’s work as a contemporary representative. Besides Grudem, the work of Bruce Ware seems to be quite influential in this line of thought. See particularly Bruce A. Ware and John Starke. One God in Three Persons: Unity of Essence, Distinction of Persons, Implications for Life (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2015), and Bruce A. Ware, Father, Son, & Holy Spirit: Relationship, Roles, & Relevance (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2005). For an excellent survey and historical background of the key thinkers, issues and controversies involved around EFS, see Millard J. Erickson, Who’s Tampering With the Trinity? An Assessment of the Subordination Debate (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2009), as well as Bruce Ware, Keith Yandell, Tom McCall, Wayne Grudem, “Do relations of authority and submission exist eternally among the Persons of the Godhead?” (Trinity Debates: January 1, 2008, http://henrycenter.tiu.edu/resource/do-relations-of-authority-and-submission-exist-eternally-among-thepersons-of-the-godhead/, accessed March 12, 2014).
Other helpful references for understanding this trend in contemporary discussion are the following: Gilbert Bilezikian, “Hermeneutical Bungee-Jumping: Subordination in the Godhead,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 40/1 (1997): 58; Chung-Hyun Baik, The Holy Trinity –God for God and God for Us: Seven positions on the Immanent-Economic Trinity Relation in Contemporary Trinitarian Theology (Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2011); Gilles O. P. Emery and Matthew Levering, eds. The Oxford Handbook of the Trinity (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011); Kevin Giles. “The Doctrine of the Trinity and Subordinationism” (Evangelical Review of Theology (2004) 28:3, 270-284); Giles, “The Evangelical Theological Society And The Doctrine Of The Trinity” (Evangelical Quarterly (2008) 80.4, 323–338); Giles, The Eternal Generation of the Son: Maintaining Orthodoxy in Trinitarian Theology (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2012); Giles, The Trinity & Subordinationism: The Doctrine of God & the Contemporary Gender Debate (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2002); Giles, Jesus and the Father: Modern Evangelicals reinvent the Doctrine of the Trinity (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2006); Wayne Grudem, Evangelical Feminism: A new path to Liberalism? (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2006); Grudem, Evangelical Feminism and Biblical Truth: An Analysis of more than 100 Disputed Questions (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012); Grudem, Countering the Claims of Evangelical Feminism: Biblical Responses to the Key Questions (Colorado Springs, CO: Multnomah Publishers, 2006); Grudem, ed. Biblical Foundations For Manhood And Womanhood (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2002); Grudem, Women In the Church: A Biblical Study On The Role Of Women In The Church (Berrien Springs, MI: Biblical Perspectives, 1987); Stephen R. Holmes, The Quest for the Trinity: The Doctrine of God in Scripture, History and Modernity (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2012); Denis W. Jowers and H. Wayne House, eds. The New Evangelical Subordinationism? Perspectives on the Equality of God the Father and God the Son (Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2012), particularly see chapter 2: “Equal in Essence, Different in Roles” by Bruce A. Ware, chapter 10: “Biblical Evidence for the Eternal Submission of the Son to the Father” by Wayne Grudem, chapter 11: “The Trinity Without Tiers” by Kevin Giles, and chapter 16: “The Inconceivability of Subordination Within a Simple God” by Dennis W. Jowers.; Roderick T. Leupp, The Renewal of Trinitarian Theology: Themes, Patterns & Explorations (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2008); Giulio Mapero, and Robert J. Woźniak, eds. Rethinking Trinitarian Theology: Disputed Questions and Contemporary Issues in Trinitarian Theology (London: T&T Clark, 2012); Declan Marmion and Rik Van Nieuwenhove, An Introduction to the Trinity (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2011); Thomas McCall. “Theologians, Philosophers, and the Doctrine of the Trinity” in Philosophical and Theological Essays on the Trinity. Thomas McCall and Michael C. Rea, eds. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009); McCall, Which Trinity? Which Monotheism? Philosophical and Systematic Theologians on the Metaphysics of Trinitarian Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2010);
John C. Peckham, Canonical Theology: The Biblical Canon, Sola Scriptura, and Theological Method (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2016), see specifically chapter seven.; Peter C. Phan, ed. The Cambridge Companion to the Trinity (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2011); Ronald W. Pierce and Rebecca Merrill Groothuis, gen eds., Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity Without Hierarchy, 2nd Edition (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2005); John Piper and Wayne Grudem, eds. Recovering Biblical Manhood And Womanhood: A Response To Evangelical Feminism (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1991); Fred Sanders, The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010); Ben Witherington III, “The Eternal Subordination Of Christ And Of Women” (Wednesday, March 22, 2006, http://benwitherington.blogspot.com/2006/03/eternal-subordination-ofchrist-and-of.html); Keith Yandell, “How Many Times Does Three Go Into One?” in Philosophical and Theological Essays on the Trinity, Thomas McCall and Michael C. Rea, eds. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009).
Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids, MI:
Zondervan, 1994), 240-241. Although he has written elsewhere on the topic, I will mainly focus on Grudem’s Systematic Theology, since it is in this particular work that he has developed his view of EFS more at length. I consider Grudem’s Systematic Theology to be most beneficial to understand EFS also because it includes some chapters and sections where he particularly addresses his Trinitarian views in isolation from his views on gender roles, unlike most of his works. It is a book that has been widely used and distributed across evangelical communities. Apart from it, Grudem has mostly written about the topic in connection with gender roles and his views have been featured in multiple academic and non-academic forums as well as in social media. His most popular work in regards to gender roles is: Evangelical Feminism and Biblical Truth (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012). Other of his works that go along the same line are Evangelical Feminism: A New Path to Liberalism (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2006); Biblical Foundations For Manhood And Womanhood (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2002). Multiple other resources can be found on his webpage www.waynegrudem.com.
Ibid., 241. Yet, Grudem cautions “not to take any of these descriptions by itself and isolate it from its immediate context or from the rest of what Scripture says about God. . . . Each description of one of God’s attributes must be understood in the light of everything else that Scripture tells us about God. If we fail to remember this, we will inevitable understand God’s character wrongly.” Ibid., 241.
Ibid., 248. Grudem distinguishes attributes from personal distinctions. For him, attributes are blended with God’s being, as they are “not . . . only characteristics of some part of God, but rather . . . characteristics of God himself and therefore characterictics of all of God.” Ibid.,178. Grudem clarifies that we “ should not think that the personal distinctions are any kind of additional attributes added on to the being of God.” Ibid., 253. Thus, when it comes to identifying a necessary distinguishing element among the persons of the Trinity, he argues that “the only way it seems possible to do this is to say that the distinction between the persons is not a difference in “being” but a difference in “relationships.”” Ibid., 253. (See how he elaborates in regards to the “being” of God on Ibid., 252-255.) He justifies this by explaining that “somehow God’s being is so much grater than ours that within his one undivided being there can be an unfolding into interpersonal relationships, so that there can be three distinct persons.” Ibid., 253, emphasis mine. This seems to be why, according to Grudem, the differences of role do not touch upon the “being” or “essence” of God.
Grudem, Systematic Theology, 248. Grudem distinguishes between person and being. See Ibid., chapter 14, section 3, entitled “What Is the Relationship Between the Three Persons and the Being of God?”
Philosopher of religion Keith Yandell (Affiliate Professor of Philosophy at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois.) has argued that Grudem’s eternal functional subordination presupposes the philosophical concept known as indiscernibility of identicals, which states that things that exactly resemble one another cannot be distinct. The complete definition of the term as it appears in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy reads as follows: The Identity of Indiscernibles “is a principle of analytic ontology first explicitly formulated by Wilhelm Gottfried Leibniz in his Discourse on Metaphysics, Section 9 (Loemker 1969: 308). It states that no two distinct things exactly resemble each other. This is often referred to as ‘Leibniz's Law’ and is typically understood to mean that no two objects have exactly the same properties. The Identity of Indiscernibles is of interest because it raises questions about the factors which individuate qualitatively identical objects. Recent work on the interpretation of quantum mechanics suggests that the principle fails in the quantum domain (see French 2006).” (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/identity-indiscernible/) Other sources: https://ndpr.nd.edu/news/59094-leibniz-s-principle-of-identity-of-indiscernibles/, accessed March 25, 2016). See also Gonzalo Rodriguez-Pereyra, Leibniz's Principle of Identity of Indiscernibles (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2014).) On a very informative debate at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (TEDS) entitled “Do relations of authority and submission exist eternally among the Persons of the Godhead?” (Trinity Debates: January 1, 2008), Yandell states that in embracing this concept Grudem is departing from a philosophical assumption and imposing it on the biblical data. Yandell strongly questions “the assumption that Christian doctrine entails that particular reading of the indiscernibility of identicals” while candidly stating: "I simply don’t think that any of the biblical authors had foresight and had read the Discourse on Metaphysics." Yandell, Trinity Debates: January 1, 2008. (Leibniz's Discourse on Metaphysics is where he expounds the principle of the Identity of Indicernibles. See, for example, G. W. Leibniz, Discourse on Metaphysics and Other Essays (Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., 1991), 9th edition.) Further on, Yandell argues that the persons of the Trinity don’t have to be necessarily different in roles (functions) or any other attribute in order to be distinguished as different persons, since “the fundamental difference could be in the bearers of the properties even if the bearers are identical in properties.” Yandell, Trinity Debates: January 1, 2008. He also argues that, given the uniqueness of God, we need a concept different than the Greek philosophy concept of substance in order to define Him. Ibid.
Grudem, Systematic Theology, 248. He connects these to the “economy of the Trinity.” Ibid.
Ibid., 246. Grudem states the following: “if the Son together with the Father sends the Spirit into the world, by analogy it would seem appropriate to say that this reflects eternal ordering of their relationships. This is not something that we can clearly insist on based on any specific verse, but much of our understanding of the eternal relationships among the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit comes by analogy from what Scripture tells us about the way they relate to the creation in time. Ibid., emphasis mine.
Grudem, Evangelical Feminism, 214.
Grudem, Systematic Theology, 249.
Ibid., 251. For Grudem, “the word ontological means ‘being.’” Ibid.
Ibid., 251. Grudem places the roles under the “economic subordination” of the Trinity.
Ibid. He adds: “Both parts of this phrase are necessary to a true doctrine of the Trinity: If we do not have ontological equality, not all the persons are fully God. But if we do not have economic subordination, then there is no inherent difference in the way the three persons relate to one another, and consequently we do not have the three distinct persons existing as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit for all eternity. For example, if the “Son” is not eternally subordinate to the Father in role, then the Father is not eternally “Father” and the Son is not eternally “Son.” This would mean that the Trinity has not eternally existed . . . . This is why the idea of eternal equality in being but subordination in role has been essential to the church’s doctrine of the Trinity since it was first affirmed in the Nicene Creed, which said that the Son was “begotten of the Father before all ages” and that the Holy Spirit “proceeds from the Father and the Son.” Surprisingly, some recent evangelical writings have denied an eternal subordination in role among the members of the Trinity, but it has clearly been part of the church’s doctrine of the Trinity (in Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox expressions), at least since Nicea (A.D. 325).” Ibid., 251.
This is precisely the core debatable point when it comes to EFS discussions. Almost all will agree that there is a temporary subordination of the Son in regards to the fulfilling of the plan of salvation, but not everyone would agree that the subordination is indeed eternal.
Ibid., 251. He adds: “But why do the persons of the Trinity take these different roles in relating to creation? Was it accidental or arbitrary? Could God the Father have come instead of God the Son to die for our sins? Could the Holy Spirit have sent God the Father to die for our sins, and then sent God the Son to apply redemption to us? No, it does not seem that these things could have happened . . . These roles could not have been reversed or the Father would have ceased to be the Father and the Son would have ceased to be the Son. And by analogy from that relationship, we may conclude that the role of the Holy Spirit is similarly one that was appropriate to the relationship he had with the Father and the Son before the world was created.” (Grudem, Systematic Theology, 249).
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