Review of “One God in Three Persons” edited by Bruce Ware and John Starke

The debate over the roles of men and women in the church and home has inadvertently created another debate over how the Father and the Son relate to each other within the Trinity. Egalitarians argue that it is unfair for women to not be able to serve as pastors simply because they are women and complementarians reply that differences in role do not imply inferiority in nature based on 1 Corinthians 11:3 where the Father is said to be the head of Christ, yet Christ and God are equal to each other. This has lead to many accusations that complementarians are introducing Arianism into evangelical theology by claiming that there is an eternal relationship of authority and submission between the Father and the Son. One God in Three Persons is a collection of eleven articles defending the belief that there is an eternal functional distinction of roles between the Father and the Son. The submission of the Son to the Father did not just exist while Christ was on earth, but has existed from all eternity and will exist in eternity future. This work is essentially a response to the arguments set forward by egalitarians in the book The New Evangelical Subordinationism? which is another collection of essays on this topic but by those on both sides.

It is interesting to note that the authors do not all agree with each other on many of the issues raised in this book. When it comes to eternal generation, whether terms such as “subordination” or “subordinationism” should be used, whether 1 Corinthians 11:3 applies to Christ before the incarnation, whether Christ has one will or two, and whether different verses offer direct or indirect support for their position, the authors are not always in harmony with each other. This is an apparent weakness which demonstrates that those who hold to ERAS (eternal relationship of authority and submission) or EFS (eternal functional subordination) are still working out the implications of their beliefs and how this truth relates to the other doctrines of Scripture.

While I could give a summary of every chapter in the book, I will just focus on Kyle Claunch’s article “God Is the Head of Christ” which I thought was the most insightful. He argues that 1 Corinthians 11:3 “does ground gender complementarity in the immanent Trinity, but it does so indirectly, by way of good and necessary inference” (82). The economic Trinity reflects the immanent Trinity, but there is not a one-to-one correspondence. A recent objection to the position of this book is that if the Son eternally submits to the Father, then God would have more than one will in contrast to dyotheletist orthodoxy and result in polytheism since the Father and Son would each have distinct wills. But I think Claunch’s response to this objection is excellent: “the one will of the Trinity is exercised by the Trinitarian persons, each one willing according to his place in the intratrinitarian order of subsistence. The Father exercises the will of God for the incarnation according to his place as first in the order of subsistence. So, the Father wills the incarnation as the one sending the Son. The Son exercises the will of God for the incarnation according to his place as second in the order of subsistence” (91-92). In other words, the one will of God is exercised differently by each person. Each person expresses that will differently according to their place in the trinitarian economy. It is the will of the triune God for God the Father to have authority over the Son and for the Son to be eternally obedient to the Father. It is not that one will is in submission to another, but that each person’s expression of that one will is different according to their unique personal properties as Father or Son. But I would disagree with Claunch’s argument that 1 Corinthians 11:3 only refers to Christ as an incarnate man since the term “Christ” can be used to refer to the Son before the incarnation (Eph 1:3-5; 2 Tim 1:9; 1 Pet 1:19-20).

If you are interested in understanding the current debates going on in trinitarian scholarship, then One God in Three Persons is for you. If you are looking for a book explaining and defending the Trinity, then Robert Morey’s The Trinity: Evidence and Issues and James White’s The Forgotten Trinity are better options.

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2 thoughts on “Review of “One God in Three Persons” edited by Bruce Ware and John Starke

  1. James, Kyle Claunch here. Thank you for your helpful review of the book and your kind and accurate assessment of my contribution. I first saw the review on Amazon. I’ve enjoyed browsing your blog here, however. Keep up the good and faithful work!

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