Tag Archives: trinity

My Paper on EFS is Now up on the Evangelical Philosophical Society Website

An Examination of Recent Philosophical Responses to Thomas McCall’s Argument Against Eternal Functional Subordination

by Christopher G. Woznicki

Since Thomas McCall first published Which Trinity? Whose Monotheism? Philosophical and Systematic Theologians on the Metaphysics of the Trinity in 2010 numerous papers have been written responding to his philosophical arguments against eternal functional subordination.

Among recent philosophical responses to McCall’s position a paper co-written by Philip Gons and Andrew Naselli and another by Bruce Ware stand out as the most significant. Gons and Naselli argue that McCall’s argument conflates the term “essentially” with “belonging to the essence.” Ware puts forth a reductio ad absurdum argument against McCall and shows McCall’s logic entails a denial of homoousios.

This paper enters into this debate by examining Gons and Naselli’s argument. It engages with recent philosophical literature dealing with the meaning of the term “essence” in order to show that their argument against McCall is unfounded.

The paper then turns to Ware’s argument to show that he has made a category mistake in comparing the property of being eternally begotten and the property of being functionally subordinate in all time segments in all possible worlds. Having critically examined these recent philosophical responses to McCall we see that McCall’s argument still holds up against its objectors.

The full-text of this paper is available for FREE by clicking here.

The Trinity Among the Nations: The Doctrine of God in the Majority World

Theology in the late 20th and early 21st centuries has been marked by t51utithkxzlwo trends. The first is a revival of Trinitarian theology. This trend has attempted to place the Trinity at the center of theology and church life. The second is a turn towards the majority world. It has been well documented that in the 20th century the church experienced explosive growth in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, whereas the “Western church” has dwindled. From this growth in the majority world church we are beginning to witness a shift in how theology on the global stage is being done. In The Trinity Among the Nations: The Doctrine of God in the Majority World, editors Gene L. Green, Stephen T. Pardue, and K. K. Yeo bring these two trends together to produce a volume that “brings the global church to theological dialogue regarding kaleidoscopic understandings of the Trinity” (p. 2).

You can read the rest of my review in the latest issue of Themelios (41.2).

Analytic Definitions of EFS

In light of the whole EFS debate raging on twitter right now – I thought I might add to the discussion some analytic definitions of EFS. Afterall, part of the appeal of analytic theology is the clarity and nuance it brings to what often seem to be muddled theological discussions. So lets put Eternal Functional Equality and Eternal Functional Subordination under the analytic chopping block!


We begin with definitions and distinctions between the two basic positions involved in this debate: 1) Eternal Functional Equality (hereafter EFE) and Eternal Functional Subordination (hereafter EFS). The distinction between these two positions can best be thought of in terms of three different questions concerning 1) nature, 2) duration, 3) application (Gons and Naselli, 2015) Once these questions are answered one clearly sees the distinctions between the two basic positions.

Eternal Functional Equality

One definition of EFE holds that “the Father and Son are completely equal in all contingent ways: all subordination is voluntary, arbitrary, and temporary.” (Gons and Naselli, 2015) However this definition contains elements which not all EFE proponents would hold. For instance, consider the part of the definition about the subordination being arbitrary. This implies that any person of the Trinity could hypothetically be subordinate in temporary ways. As an example consider the incarnation. The incarnation in both EFE and EFS would count as temporal subordination. Including “arbitrary” in the definition of EFE would imply that proponents of EFE would hold that the Father could have hypothetically been incarnate instead of the Son and therefore be temporarily subordinate. This is simply not a view that all proponents of EFE would hold to. Some proponents of EFE might want to say that temporal subordination is not arbitrary. For instance, some proponents of EFE might believe no other persons of the Trinity besides the Son and the Spirit could have be temporally subordinate. Thus we might want to get rid of the part about subordination being arbitrary. Now consider the part about subordination being voluntary. It is not clear what it would mean for one of the persons of the immanent trinity to voluntarily become subordinate. Its is not clear what this would mean because when speaking of the Trinity we speak of the Trinity having one will.  Although it is understandable that Gons and Naselli would include “voluntary” as a part of their definition, as to avoid a view that would imply that the Son (or any other person of the Trinity) would be forced into temporal subordination, it is unnecessary to their definition. We might also want to get rid of the part of the definition that includes the part about subordination being temporal. We can get rid of this because this is already implied in the part of the definition about being equal in all non-contingent ways. Even though we have removed many parts of Gons and Naselli’s definition, it is nonetheless a good starting point for defining EFE. The revised definition of EFE ends up something like this:

  • EFE: The Father and the Son are completely equal in all non-contingent ways: all subordination is economic.

Eternal Functional Subordination

[Note: Bruce Ware, one of the leading proponents of EFS prefers to call it “eternal relational authority submission” as this supposedly avoids the negative connotations that come with the word “subordination.” However for the sake of using language common to most theologians involved in this discussion I will continue to use the term EFS.]

Bruce Ware describes his position by saying “Faithfulness to Scripture requires affirming both the full equality,” up until this point all orthodox Christians would be in agreement. However, he goes on to add “and the eternal authority submission. Equality and distinction must be upheld for Trinitarianism to be true.” All orthodox Christians would agree with the final sentence, yet not all orthodox Christians would agree that the distinction comes through “eternal authority submission.” However we must keep in mind that this is just a preliminary description of this position, Ware gives more clarity regarding his definition of EFS:

This view holds that God reveals himself in Scripture as one God in three persons, such that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are fully equal in their deity as each possesses fully and eternally the one and undivided nature; yet the Father is revealed as having the highest authority among the Trinitarian persons, such that the Son, as agent of the Father, eternally implements the will of the Father and is under the Father’s authority (Ware, 2015)

There are several important parts in this definition: 1) equality in deity, 2) the Father being revealed as the highest authority, 3) the Son existing as an agent under authority, and 4) the Son eternally being under authority implementing the Father’s will. One possible way to make sense of these claims is to say that

2) Soft EFS: In this possible world it is everlastingly true that at times t-tn the son is incarnate and thus functionally and temporally subordinate. (McCall, 2010)

McCall calls this position “Soft EFS.” Under this position the Son is subordinate to the Father during the time of his incarnation and redemptive work, and this is true at all times. McCall notes that this is something that even proponents of EFE would not necessarily object to. He makes this claim by appealing to modal logic. He says that “the proposition the incarnate Son is functionally subordinate at times t–tn, if continently true, is always contingently true.” If it was true at t1 it would be true that it was true at t1 now and forever more. This is clearly not what Ware means, so this simply cannot be what EFS amounts to. We may want to give a thicker account of what EFS amounts to. Using McCall’s language Gons and Naselli give us a definition of a “hard” version of EFS. Thus defining “Hard EFS” as:

3) The Son is eternally and necessarily subordinate to the Father, not in terms of deity, but in his role in relationship to the Father. (Gons and Naselli, 2015)

This is helpful but it still leaves too many ambiguities as to what this position really entails. What do we mean by “eternally?” After all we saw in McCall’s definition that “eternally” might imply different sort of things. What do we mean by “necessarily?” What sort of necessity is McCall talking about? Is this de res or de dicto necessity? Given these ambiguities McCall’s definition is much more helpful:

4) Hard EFS: The Son is functionally subordinate to the Father in all time segments in all possible worlds; there are no time segments in any possible world in which the Son is not subordinate to the Father. (McCall, 2010)

One possible problem with this definition is that it implies that God is temporal. Nevertheless “time” language helps us clarify the fact that we are making a distinction between the immanent Trinity and the economic Trinity. Nevertheless it is clearer than Gons and Naselli’s definition. It is clearer in that it allows us to answer our three questions. In regards to question one, we answer that it is necessary, i.e. it is true in all possible worlds. In regards to question two, it is eternal in the sense that it is not only for a segment of time. Regarding question three, it is purely economic. Now that we have our two definitions (propositions 1 and 4) hopefully discussions about what we mean by EFE and EFS won’t be as muddled.


Does God Pray? – Katherine Sonderegger

Last week Katherine Sonderegger came in to deliver a paper to the Analytic Theology Seminary. She put forth the provocative question: Does God Pray? Here are my notes from her talk.


  • Does God pray?
    • Answer to this question (exploration of God in prayer) has potential to answer a lot of Trinitarian and Christological questions.
  • Can the Triune God pray?
    • Instinct – We pray, God does not.

The Traditional Account

  • Prayer (tradition says) is a form of lack
    • Human creatures need to pray, their prayer is need.
    • This would make it seem as though God could not pray, b/c God does not lack whatsoever
    • (In one sense prayer can never be answered, our lack – b/c of creaturelyness – will always be)
  • Prayer seeks the unseen (think of it as simply asking)
    • Distinctive part of prayer: seeking out of the unseen
      • What distinguishes prayer from other forms of asking is who it is directed to, prayer stands alone
      • Human act of asking is analogous to prayer
    • Prayer is relation to God, the unseen stands in the realm of eternity, God is the goal of creation
      • To have relation with such reality is to have the formal relation to prayer
    • God’s realation to the creature in prayer is “idea/notional,” ours to God is “real.”
  • It seems we must affirm that prayer belongs to creatures, the Tradition has seemed to define it in such a way that places it in the domain of humanity
    • Places prayer in to the creator/creature distinction
    • Prayer simply marks out that distinct line b/w Creator & Creature

The “Alternative” Account

  • Could it be said that the one almighty God could pray? We are brought to this question through Scripture.
  • Is divine prayer an instance of “accommodation” i.e. of humanizing God, for our sake?
    • The bible does not simply refer, the word of blessing which is just God himself lies within this book.
    • Holy Scripture will convey and contain a teaching about God in human words and for human ears.
  • Romans 8
    • Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words, Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God
    • This is the Spirit who prays with us and for us
    • Language – emphasizes mystery.
    • The characteristic description of the creaturely act here is ascribed to the Holy Spirit
    • Its eschatological
  • What shall we make of this for the doctrine of prayer and for the doctrine of the Trinity?
  • In Romans 8 – Paul has given us a glimpse of the economy
    • This entire section of the letter concerns those who are in Christ Jesus
    • Non condemnation rests on the Father giving the Son for us
    • Christ gives himself for
    • Its anchored in the divine sending and being sent to rescue and redeem
    • This just seems to be the pattern of the divine economy
    • Through Romans 8 – are verb forms which mirror this economy
  • This illuminates how the sending of the Son and Spirit can be a new event in the life of God.
    • Thomas – we should not speak of processions and missions, rather they have eternal and temporal end.
    • According to Scriptural witness something has taken place in the life of God toward us
    • Seems to imply that God experiences something “new” which is only possible with us – God hands himself over to us, undergoes this new even with us.
      • Apart from creation God could not have these events for his very own
    • The temporal missions are the birth of the new for God himself
    • But the Tradition firmly asserts that God is eternal, perfect, complete, does not lack, become, does not undergo something new
  • Consider Jesus at prayer (alongside passages of Spirit praying)
    • Quite striking is Jesus steady rhythm of being at prayer both privately and publically
  • In Scripture – Spirit and Son are wrapped up in seemingly same characteristics of creaturely prayer
  • How does this shed light on the inner life of the Trinity?
  • Might we suggest that the divine processions are prayer?
    • Father “utters the word”
    • Father “breathes, spirates, expresses”
    • This reflects prayer

Jonathan Edwards, Sex, and the Trinity (New Paper)

Teens getting pregnant, bundling, and boys chasing around girls making fun of their periods – no its not your local jr. high – its Puritan Pastor Jonathan Edwards’s church. If you want to know what “youth” ministry was like in Jonathan Edwards day take a look at my latest journal article:  Bad Books and the Glorious Trinity: Jonathan Edwards on the Sexual Holiness of the Church

You can now read it for free over at the McMaster Divnity College’s Journal of Theology and Ministry website. Print copies of the article will be available through Wpif & Stock Publishers soon.



Sanctified by Grace – The Triune God

Sanctified by Grace (Eilers and Strobel) is an attempt to do theology in a way that involves more than the comprehension of Christian truth, rather it is an attempt to do theology in a way that helps bring about Christian faithfulness.

In their preface to the book Eilers and Strobel write that the normal Christian life is 9780567383433intimately and inescapably theological and that the work of Christian Dogmatics can and should participate in the sanctification of the Holy Spirit who forms Christians in the likeness of Christ.

Having said that they notice that there is often a divide between doctrine and theology on the one side and spirituality and ministry on the other. In this book they hope to help tear down that false dichotomy. In my own opinion the doctrine that they start with fits this theme very well. If there is a doctrine that many Christians see as useless, though true, is the doctrine of the Trinity. Thus inviting Fred Sanders to write a chapter on this topic which gives itself over so easily to this false divide is a great move.

In this chapter Sanders sets our spiritual growth in the middle of a Trinitarian truth, specifically Trinitarian adoption. He argues that believers are adopted into the life between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The eternal begetting of the son stands behind the temporal mission of the Son to save humanity. The Spiration of the Spirit stands behind the Spirit’s work in uniting us to the Father and Son. Thus, the Christian life itself can only be understood in light of the Trinity.

For me the highlight of this chapter included his discussion of how eternal processions give rise to temporal missions. The relationship between these two is often tricky and convoluted. Most theologians intuitively know there is a link, but that link is hard to pin down. Sanders does a good job of explaining the connection without being dogmatic about the “link” between the two.

Another highlight was his discussion of adoption. Sanders does a fine job navigating between the view that our sonship is merely metaphorical and the opposite view that we become totally immersed in the life of God (erasing the creator/creature distinction). Rather by advocating a soteriology of Trinitarian adoption, he is able to maintain our intimacy but distinction from God.

Overall Sanders does a great job of showing how the doctrine of the Christian life is shaped by Trinitarian though, specifically the eternal processions of the Triune God. He succeeds in showing that the Christian life is filial by essence.