Nick Norelli continues his discussion of eternal subordinationism in the Trinity, which I reported earlier, by posting a link to a critique of Kevin Giles’ work by Phantaz Sunlyk (a.k.a. Matt Paulson). In fact the link that Nick posts is incorrect; this is the correct link.
Sunlyk’s paper is long and complex. I have skimmed a large part of it, although I skipped most of part III and part VI. At this point I can make the following necessarily provisional comments. To summarise, Sunlyk has made some telling criticisms of Giles’ work, although he fails to understand its thrust because of his unfamiliarity with the viewpoint Giles is interacting with. But in fact Sunlyk upholds Giles’ main point concerning the Trinity, that the relationship between the Father and the Son should not be understood in terms like “The Father commands, and the Son obeys.”
Sunlyk is clearly an expert on the nuances of Trinitarian theology, and seems to have good grounds for finding some faults in Giles’ thinking. He makes a convincing case that in the theology of Athanasius “the relationship between the Father and the Son is asymmetrical“, and that this became the orthodox position. I’m not sure that Giles really disputes this, although Sunlyk seems to claim that he does.
In part IV paragraph 5 of his essay Sunlyk makes clear that his doctrine of “functional subordination”
is so distinct from … the doctrine that Giles critiques (under various names and which is never defined, the chief means of illuminating its meaning being comparing it to a husband and wife relationship wherein the husband “calls the shots” and the wife “obeys” …) that it must be made clear at the outset that the two bear no substantial resemblance to one another.
So Sunlyk infers
that Giles has, among other things, missed the point and gone astray, rather than that he has correctly identified the orthodox doctrine and mistakenly rejected it.
Well, it seems to me that Giles missed the point Sunlyk refers to because he was not intending to hit it. He was interacting not with Sunlyk’s version of “functional subordination” but with the quite different teaching under the same name which he found in the works of certain “contemporary conservative evangelicals”, of whose works Sunlyk admits ignorance.
The problem seems to be that these “contemporary conservative evangelicals” have correctly identified that in the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity “the relationship between the Father and the Son is asymmetrical“, and inferred from that that it is a relationship of subordination. Giles’ argument is essentially that this is an incorrect inference.
And I agree. Asymmetry in a relationship does not necessarily imply subordination in that relationship. It certainly does not imply that one party is obliged to submit to and obey the other. It doesn’t even imply that one is at a higher level than another, for it is possible for two entities or persons to be different and complementary without there being any ranking order between them. I cannot see any meaningful sense of “subordination” which is implied by Athanasius’ teaching that the relationship between the Father and the Son is asymmetric.
And Sunlyk also seems to agree, at least concerning any obligation to obey, for he writes (part IV paragraph 40):
it must also be agreed that [Giles’] rejection of any form of functional subordinationism wherein one center of consciousness is seen as restricting and dominating another center of consciousness is fully in line with the traditional confession of the orthodox and catholic Christian faith. Thus far, Giles’ case against subordinationism is sound.
And with this, as far as I am concerned, Sunlyk concedes Giles’ main point, which is that the doctrine of functional subordination as taught by Grudem and others, the version summarised as “The Father commands, and the Son obeys”, is not consistent with “the orthodox and catholic Christian faith”.
Sunlyk’s own definition of functional subordination is very different (part V paragraph 28):
the united activity of the persons is such that it originates in the Father and is effected by the Son.
I suspect that Giles would find this version of the doctrine much less objectionable than Grudem’s version.
No doubt some of Sunlyk’s criticisms of Giles are valid and important, although I am astonished by their vehemence. But some of them are absurd. He asks (part V paragraph 15):
As for contemporary Catholic theologians, why was Rahner’s affirmation of this doctrine not mentioned, and why was Yves Congar completely ignored? Why was Kasper’s insistent affirmation of this doctrine relegated to a footnote, and even then watered down to the point that it appears as though he need not even have affirmed it at all? Why is Gerald O’Collins’ clear affirmation of this doctrine unmentioned, though he is cited elsewhere in support of Giles? Why was Hans urs von Balthasar—the twentieth-century Catholic theologian of the Trinity—wholly overlooked on this point?
This from someone who freely admits that he is not acquainted with the works of major Protestant authors on this subject like Hodge and Grudem – and yet despite this he presumes to criticise Giles’ response to them. Giles is a Protestant writing for Protestants, so why should he not ignore these Catholic authors (although he does not ignore the Catholic Rahner), in the same way that Sunlyk has ignored almost all modern Protestant authors?
Sunlyk then claims, even accuses, that Giles holds to an egalitarian model of the Trinity, of which he writes (part V paragraph 18):
The defining characteristic of egalitarian models of the Trinity is the affirmation of the symmetry of relations between the persons within the immanent Trinity—that all three equally “get to call the shots” with respect to operations ad extra is nothing more than a natural outcome of this affirmation.
But is this actually Giles’ view? Maybe he holds that all three equally “get to call the shots”, but the implication in the sentence just quoted is not reversible: this view does not imply symmetry of relations in the Trinity.
Indeed, as Sunlyk writes (part V paragraph 33),
most Trinitarian theologians have done their theology of the Trinity without the benefit of being utterly preoccupied with the contemporary gender debate.
Indeed this is probably true of all the ones that Sunlyk has read. But there are some modern writers on the Trinity who are utterly preoccupied with the gender debate, such as Grudem. And these are the ones whom Giles is attempting to refute. Sunlyk should let him do so and keep out of arguments which he doesn’t properly understand.