The following passage from J.I. Packer’s 1973 classic Knowing God was quoted by Marilyn in a comment on the Complegalitarian blog, and I have checked and slightly corrected it from my 1975 copy (p.64):
It is the nature of the second person of the Trinity to acknowledge the authority and submit to the good pleasure of the first. That is why He declares Himself to be the Son, and the first person to be His Father. Though co-equal with the Father in eternity, power, and glory, it is natural to Him to play the Son’s part, and find all His joy in doing His Father’s will, just as it is natural to the first person of the Trinity to plan and initiate the works of the Godhead and natural to the third person to proceed from the Father and the Son to do their joint bidding. Thus the obedience of the God-man to the Father while He was on earth was not a new relationship occasioned by the incarnation, but the continuation in time of the eternal relationship between the Son and the Father in heaven. As in heaven, so on earth, the Son was utterly dependent upon the Father’s will.
Thus Packer’s way of teaching the eternal subordination of the Son is to claim that the Son has a “nature” which is different from that of the Father, according to which it is “natural” for him to do one thing and “natural” for the Father to do something else. Note that in the context Packer is clearly referring to the divine nature of the Son, not his incarnate human nature.
Doesn’t that conflict with the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity, according to which the Father and the Son have the same divine nature (homoousios)? Doesn’t it contradict these extracts from the Athanasian Creed?
we believe and confess that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and man. God of the substance of the Father, begotten before the worlds; and man of substance of His mother, born in the world. … Equal to the Father as touching His Godhead, … One altogether, not by confusion of substance, but by unity of person.
Doesn’t it go against Philippians 2:6, where we read that Christ Jesus was “in very nature God” (TNIV)? In orthodox Trinitarian thought, the pre-incarnate divine nature of Christ is not some second-class divinity, not a “nature … to acknowledge the authority and submit to the good pleasure of the first [person]”. No, it is the same nature, substance or essence (ousia) as that of the Father.
Perhaps Bishop Ingham is right to accuse Packer that “that he has publicly renounced the doctrine … of the Anglican Church of Canada”, which presumably still requires him to ascribe to the Apostles’, Nicene and Athanasian Creeds. In fact, of course, Packer wrote the words in question long before he moved to Canada, so perhaps he should never have been licensed to minister there.
For the orthodox view, I quote the church father Basil as quoted here:
We perceive the operation of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit to be one and the same, in no respect showing differences or variation; from this identity of operation we necessarily infer the unity of nature.