Sunday, February 10, 2008

Subordinationism and King Arthur's Round Table

OK, I want to start by saying I am getting in WAY over my head by commenting on trinitarian theology, but here we go! I'm currently reading Kevin Giles' The Trinity & Subordinationism which discusses the concept of the subordination of the Son to the Father within the Godhead and whether this was a temporal state of affairs during the incarnation (i.e. because of Jesus's manhood) or whether this is an eternal state of affairs due to some dividing issue of role/substance etc within the Godhead. The relationship between the Father and Son is used by both sides of the Gender Debate to legitimise their stance on whether women are to be always subordinate to men.

I am finding it very interesting! I'm about 1/3 of the way through and so far he has been looking at what various theologians have believed throughout the last 2000 yrs on this issue of subordination. His goal is to show that orthodox Christianity interprets scripture in light of the doctrine that all members of the Trinity are equal and of the same substance, whilst in three persons. He wants to do this as he points out that you can make an argument from scripture for both positions and that quoting particular bits of scripture at the other side will not resolve the problem, and so he is more interested in the broad scope of scripture. There is a bit of a problem in what he says about the context of the reader being an input to the interpretation of scripture - that's a very postmodern view and as far as I can tell is an excellent definition of eisegesis.

However, so far I have been fascinated by his discussion of the various ways people have grappled with the three-but-one nature of God, it has shown me a number of areas where my own beliefs have been quite inconsitent, and in all truth heretical! Now if you were to ask me whether I believed that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit were equal within the Godhead, I would have said yes. But at the same time, I've realised that I do tend to think of them in a hierarchy with the Father as "Boss". Jesus and the Spirit as somewhat lesser, partly because they intercede between the Father and us (Heb 7:25, Rom 8:26-27), and so that sort of emotionally makes them feel a bit "closer" to me, or more "like" me, and thus less like the Father. But to say all persons in the Trinity are equal but yet some how in hierarchy is like Orwell's line in Animal Farm, "All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others". Which is an oxymoron.

OK, so here is my highly untheological contribution to the discussion. Another reason I think that I've fallen into thinking about the Trinity in terms of hierarchy is that when we name the three persons we typically say "Father, Son and Holy Spirit" in that order... Check out things like the Athanasian Creed, Nicene Creed, Apostles' Creed. Even in the great commission we are instructed to go, "baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" (Mt 28:19). I've also noticed that a lot of songs have them in that same order, I say a lot, because I have noticed as a bit odd when this order isn't followed. Again this is a highly untheological reflection, but I'm wondering if just listing them consistently in that order gives the impression of hierarchy?

This is where King Arthur's Round Table comes in! Because language is two dimensional maybe in listing the persons of the Trinity thusly it creates a sense of them in "a line" or company organisation chart where the Father is CEO, Jesus is the COO and the Holy Spirit is the hardworking plebs! However the picture of tables occured to me this morning. If you are planning a wedding and doing the seating arrangements then you would list people and they would appear to be all sitting in a row, if you just use words (E.g. Bill, Sally, Esther). However, if you have diagrams of the floor layout, you might discover that they are actually going to be sitting at round tables. In which case if you start your list with Bill or with Esther or any of the others is inconsequential because there is NO position at the table that is higher than the others.

This was the point with King Arthur's Round Table. It was built round so the Knights wouldn't fight about position in the court, but recognise that they were all equal. What is significant in the round table configuration is who is sitting either side of each person. And when there are three around the table, each can be defined by their relationship to the other. Just as Bill can be defined as sitting to the left of Sally and the right of Esther, so Sally and Esther can likewise be defined in terms of the relationship to Bill and each other. This I think applies in the Trinity as well, the Father is the Father of the Son, and the Son is the Son of the Father etc.

So my highly untheological thought is this, we should wrap that 2D list around a 3D model of a roundtable. In this way, we can avoid the Arian heresy of thinking that Jesus and the Spirit are somehow lesser than the Father. They are all metaphorically sitting nicely around a roundtable next to each of the other persons, and each equally capable of passing the butter.

God (the whole three persons co-eternal, and co-equal) Bless,

No comments: