Saturday, June 12, 2010

A timely response to Graham Cole's article.

This weekend (June 11-14), Christians for Biblical Equality (CBE) are having their annual international conference in Melbourne.  One of the speakers will be Graham Cole, a former principal of Ridley and now a colleague of Don Carson at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Chicago, America.   A recent paper of his 'Women Teaching Men the Bible: What's the Problem' is often cited as a good example of thoughtful reasoning for the Egalitarian viewpoint.

While I'm a stay-at-home-dad (Hooray for paternity leave!) with the conference going on I thought now would be a good time to put down a few responses to Cole's paper.  Note however I give these as my own opinions, which don't necessarily reflect those of my Parish or Diocese.  Nor do I mean any disrespect for people who hold a different view. My main thesis is that this paper of Cole's is not the theological silver bullet it's presented to be, some of what he says is valid but the paper doesn't make a water-tight case for the Egalitarian viewpoint.  But always, as iron sharpens iron, we glean the truth of Scripture together, in love and with respect.

Cole's Introduction
Cole briefly outlines how he encountered the issue of gender roles and the debate about women in church leadership.  (I, like Cole, have a background in the Brethren Church and a connection to the Anglican Church, we even have mutual friends.)  Cole says his paper gives only "seven lines of consideration for holding this view and point[s] out that full argumentation in support (theological and exegetical) would belong more properly in an academic theological journal.  And by 'consideration' I mean things to bear in mind in making a decision about a particular matter."  It could be described as an extended blog series!  But just to be clear, every Christian issue can be spoken about superficially and also with great depth, this debate about gender roles and church leadership is no exception.

Consideration 1: Authority comes from God and his Word
"First, authority comes from God and his Word and not in part from the sex of the preacher."  I wholeheartedly agree with this and Cole's next couple of sentences about being a Berean! ( examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. Acts 17:11)

Consideration 2: 1 Corinthians 11:3 and Trinitarian Taxis (Order)
This is where Cole begins to become unstuck.  "Second, I am not persuaded that a woman preaching to a mixed congregation somehow overturns our view of the essential Trinity and with it good church order."    Cole is eager to distinguish between the economic and essential Trinity, he argues 1 Corinthians 11:3 (the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.) should be understood in a messianic context, with no apparent insight into the Godhead.

This is problematic for two reasons.  It presupposes an erroneous view of the Trinity and unnecessarily widens the gap between God's activity in the world and God's eternal nature.  The persons of the Trinity are equal in essence, but distinct in their roles.  (For example the Father is not subordinate to the Son.)  Cole on the other hand seeks to weaken this construction by unnecessarily widening the gap between the activity of God and God's eternal nature.  However if we belabor this difference, we're left with two Trinities, or at least a Trinity in God's activity as reported through Scripture and another mysterious being in the sky we can know next to nothing about.

Clearly the apostle Paul connects his discussion of relational ethics with the Godhead at the beginning of chapter 11 of One Corinthians.  Taken with what else we know about the Trinity, from Scripture, it is evident, submission and authority relationships exist within the Trinity.  The "messianic vocation of Jesus" cannot be disconnected from his place and role in the Godhead.

Stay tuned for the other five considerations.


Andrew Bowles said...

I think that Cole here is merely attempting to maintain Nicene orthodoxy. I'm not sure what criteria you're using to determine that his view of the Trinity is erroneous, because there are certainly no creedal statements to the effect that the Son is eternally subordinate to the Father. In fact the Athanasian creed specifically denies this - 'So likewise the Father is Lord, the Son Lord: and the Holy Ghost Lord...And in this Trinity none is afore, or after another: none is greater or less than another'. Ah, you say, but I'm talking about their 'roles'. But when you introduce the concept of roles you are speaking economically, not of the intra-Trinitarian relationships. Since all the Persons of the Trinity are consubstantial, there is no innate different between them apart from their mode of generation: unbegotten, begotten, and proceeding. And the economic viewpoint is complicated by the relationship between uncreated and created as well as the union of divine and human natures in Christ.
If we try to read this back too straightforwardly into the immanent Trinity we end up with Monarchianism or Arianism. I understand the issue you're raising but it seems that the Church decided long ago that the theological method that you're proposing is unhelpful. How can you prevent an Arian reading if the messianic role of the Son is an attribute of his eternal hypostasis?

Jon said...

Thanks for posting this link Luke. I like Cole's article, nmost likely because I already agreed with his viewpoint! I find the trinitarian argument a little obscure (one for the theologians, perhaps), but his later arguments very clear and getting to the heart of the matter. Looking forward to reading what you have to say about them.

Al Bain said...

Hi Luke. I did quite a bit of reading about this at College and even wrote an essay on Giles' book in which he accused the Sydney Anglicans of Arianism.

I don't agree with Giles' main point. And I think he handles Barth in a sloppy manner (unfortunately his book and Doyle's et al responses ended up being about what Barth did and did not say rather than about the substantive issue).

But I haven't been persuaded by the egalitarians who, it seems to me, have hijacked trinitarian theology and brought it into a place it feels far from comfortable in.

So I tentatively agree with Cole's argument that this is not a trinitarian issue and am a bit surprised that you so quickly accuse him of becoming unstuck.

Clearly the apostle Paul connects his discussion of relational ethics with the Godhead at the beginning of chapter 11 of One Corinthians.

Clearly? Not to me.

The thing that really irks me about this is that some of the big names in Sydney (who I won't name) have accused Cole of having the tail wag the dog. They think that he has crafted his exegesis to fit his complementarianism.

I think that is unfair, ad hominem and lazy.

Luke said...

Hi Al,

1. You said Cole is a Complementarian I presume you meant Egalitarian.
2. The broader context of those chapters is worship and then the local context of 1 Cor 11:2-16 seems to be relational ethics. Perhaps I should have said "and Paul connects part of this discussion with Christ's role in the Godhead." Any clearer?
3. I don't know much about the ins and outs of the Sydney scene, I admire them from a distance!

Hi Jon,

How did you come across Cole's paper? And yes, the more fun bits come later.

Hi Andrew,

1. "Nicene orthodoxy" is loose phrase, everyone is keen on maintaing it!

2. If the Athansaian creed was our sole criteria then that would prevent any discussion of an economic and an essential Trinity.

3. Mode of generation isn't the only difference mentioned in the Athanasian Creed, personhood is also maintained "For there is one Person of the Father, another of the Son and another of the Holy Ghost." Just because the interpersonal relations weren't discussed directly in the creed doesn't mean we're being anti-creedal in formulating them from Scripture.

4. I'd prevent an Arian reading by examining how the mode of generation and personhood is explained and demonstrated through Scripture. Again the converse problem (and Cole's in this case) is a Jesus who tells us nothing about the Godhead.

@Everyone, thanks for the feedback.

Anonymous said...

Luke, isn't Cole just warning against those who would try to collapse the gap altogether into some kind of 1:1 correspondence between the Godhead and gender?

The line he's hitting at is that "For women to preach
to men is to fly in the face of the very nature of God as the (essential) Trinity". Is that a line you'd advance?

By the way, in the ever-expanding Ridley library I saw Millard Erickson's "Who's tampering with the Trinity? An assessment of the subordination debate". Looks good!


Luke said...

Good question Arthur, I agree think it's overstating it to say the Egalitarian viewpoint tampers with the Trinity, that could be what Al is getting at. However I would say the discussions are for better or for worse closely related, conclusions in one overflow into the other. (By the way I believe Andrew for example is orthodox and I also believe this debate isn't a test of orthodoxy however unlike some I think this issue won't go away because it's too connected to too many other issues in important ways. In many ways it's those connections that interest me most.)

Jon said...

Luke your article includes a link to Cole's paper:) Sleepless new baby mode?

Luke said...

I am in sleepless new baby mode, "sleep", what an usual word!

However, I wanted to include the link, no point in suppressing information!

Luke said...

LOL "unusual"

Andrew Bowles said...

I'm glad you think that I'm orthodox. I do try. :)

I can't get into this issue more without writing an essay length response. But my point with referencing the Nicene creed is that it maintains the consubstantiality of the Father and the Son, and I am concerned that this principle is being violated here.

I don't have confidence in the type of theology being done around this issue because both sides have a stake in making an analogy between Trinitarian and human relationships, which has always been a fatal error. Cole is right that we should not entangle the Trinity in the gender debate. I think the messianic vocation of Jesus fits far more neatly into the Chalcedonian categories of the divine-human nature of Christ and is more fruitful there.

I hope you can get some sleep sometime soon, like about six months.

Anonymous said...

What Andrew said. :)