You can be a complementarian but..

You can be a complementarian but, you can’t get there through the doctrine of the trinity.

That’s the conclusion those who hold to complementarianism but want to be theologically and intellectually honest (as well as in line with the historic teachings of the church) should come to after reading Steve Holmes’ (Prof. at St. Andrews) recent review of Crossway’s book edited by Bruce A. Ware and John B. Starke, One God in Three Persons: Unity of Essence, Distinction of Persons, Implications for Life.

I recently picked up a new book arguing in more detail than I have seen before the thesis that the doctrine of the Trinity, specifically the Father-Son relationship, gives warrant for what tends to get called a ‘complementarian’ understanding of gender relations – the idea that there is something inherent in human nature and intended by God in male authority and female submission. The book is: Bruce A. Ware and John B. Starke (eds), One God in Three Persons: Unity of Essence, Distinction of Persons, Implications for Life (Wheaton: Crossway, 2015).

I did not expect to agree with the various authors: not only have I taken a fairly straightforward stand against ‘complementarianism’, I have argued even more forcefully that analogies from the triune relations to human interpersonal relations are always poor; a set of essays using the latter form of argument to defend the former conclusion is, well, not something I would have written a commendation for, even if they had been foolish enough to ask me… That said, reading books with which you disagree is much more important than reading books with which you agree; if they are well-argued and adequately researched, they sharpen you and force you to refine your thoughts; sometimes they even contribute to a change of mind, and, as I often tell students, the only way to prove you have a mind is to change it occasionally…

* * *

It is an edited volume; inevitably the essays vary in quality. The worst are genuinely bad. Unfortunately, the nadir is the opening essay, by Wayne Grudem, which in part lists a series of fairly central points in classical Trinitarian dogma (most egregiously, inseparable operations), and then claims each must be wrong by gesturing towards a few unexamined proof-texts. Now, of course, I accept the theoretical possibility of challenging the ecumenically-received doctrine on the basis of serious and careful exegesis; I am Baptist, evangelical, and Reformed, and hold to sola scriptura tenaciously. That said, ‘serious and careful exegesis’ involves rather more than quoting an English translation of a verse and asserting its meaning is obvious; further, I have the view, perhaps old-fashioned, that one ought to understand the faith before trying to overthrow it.

Although I disagree with Holmes regarding his conclusions about complementarianism in general (and it should be noted that I hold to a different sort of complementarianism than most), I completely agree with Holmes conclusion regarding this project – that you can’t get to complementarianism through the doctrine of the Trinity. Holmes says that you might be able to get to it some other way – he waves at Ephesians 5 – though he thinks that ultimately doesn’t stand. Either way, Holmes is right – this type of Trinitarian argument should be avoided.

You can read the whole review on Steve’s blog.


Published by cwoznicki

Chris Woznicki is an Assistant Adjunct Professor of Theology at Fuller Theological Seminary. He works as the regional training associate for the Los Angeles region of Young Life.

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