Of all the subjects I struggled with in high school, physics was the worst. My inability to comprehend even the basics of the subject crushed my pride, and drove me towards the humanities and English (where you could make words mean anything if you tried hard enough). Only years later did I discover the difference between theoretical and applied physics, and how each discipline helps you understand the other. My high school taught applied physics in a theoretical vacuum, believing that focusing on the so-called “practical” parts of physics would keep us engaged. A lot of my friends flourished with that approach (which no doubt accounts for my bruised ego). In my case, the opposite occurred. Unmoored from the “why” of theoretical physics, the “what” of applied physics was frustratingly difficult to understand.
Theological debates can function in much the same way. Some people – primarily theologians with lots of letters after their names, or those who aspire to be them – often default to the theoretical. Theologia in abstracto, as it were. Latin, Greek, and church history are totally their jam. Other, mostly the laity, prefer to default to so-called “practical” theology. They’re interested in how an argument is going to change their marriage, their parenting, or some other aspect of daily life (and if they don’t think it will, they quickly move on). Then there’s the lonely few in the middle, looking at both sides and wondering why we, er, I mean people, have to choose between the two.
For the last six weeks or so, the Reformed Internet has been abuzz with what, to some, might read like a theologia in abstracto debate on the relationship between the three persons of the Holy Trinity. Several of the participants have tried to keep the debate tethered to its practical implications for inter-gender relationships. But for the most part, the controversy has centered on contemporary arguments over ancient creeds, and ancient and modern interpretations of the words and phrases therein.
This is not a bad thing.
In fact, I think it’s been a great thing. A lot of people are sort of shaking their heads like you do after an involuntary nap, looking around and saying, “What’s a Nicene Creed?” If that’s you, get thee to the Internet for a few minutes and read something about it, and how it came to be. It will help with the “why” and “what” of the current debate.
It might, though, still leave you scratching your head about the “so what” – the practical implications of what still might seem to be a pretty heady topic.
The now widely distributed and helpful Books At A Glance bibliography frames the debate timeline, and its participants, around three posts in June of last year, which review or comment on Bruce Ware and John Starke’s (no relation) book “ One God in Three Persons”, and Liam Goligher’s post at Mortification of Spin, published almost exactly one year to the day later, with back and forth responses flying multiple times per day thereafter. The approach and content of the posts, places them pretty squarely on the “theoretical” side of the conversation. A lot of Latin phrases, names and dates are deployed, and the focus of the argument is primarily on Trinitarian relations, albeit with a healthy sprinkling of allusions to the “practical” implications for complementarianism (as it is increasingly murkily defined).
But the years prior to the Ware and Starke’s book, and especially during and after the twelve months between those two sets of posts, have been far from silent on the “so what”.
Going back several years, there has been a separate (but not entirely so) stream of conversation going on at the (mostly) “practical” level, about increasingly troubling trends in the way practical applications of complementarianism have found their way into different types of Bible teaching, both in print, and on social media. About a year ago, an increased attempt was made to trace the origins of these teachings back to their theological source. As the study and conversation progressed, the root cause of the problematic teaching was found in a questionable perspective on the Trinity. Once identified, the logical next step was to try and raise the issue as a whole – the questionable doctrine, and its serious practical consequences – to invite more intentional thought and conversations amongst its proponents, and to offer an opportunity for reconsideration and correction.
After the debate ignited last month, many of those same writers continued their conversations, connecting higher level arguments to their ground level implications, not just in speculative scenarios, but in examples of living print, in places of ongoing influence in ordinary Christian pastors’, and pew sitters, every day lives.
These posts are absent from the current bibliography, so that the debate might seem to have emerged from nowhere, now currently hovering over the Reformed Internet inside a bit of a scholastic theological bubble. I offer them up below, embedded into a subset of the ones referenced at Books at a Glance, in the hopes that they’ll provide some helpful context, and practical grounding, in how this debate came to be, and why some of us with only a few letters after our name are invested in it.
The more observant of my readers may note a chromosomal commonality shared by the authors of these posts, and be tempted to commence conspiracy theory-ing as to the reason for their exclusion. In the spirit of 1 Corinthians 13 forbearance, can I encourage you not to do that right now? Instead, in the spirit of this post (which, yes, I wrote, so that’s a little tacky, but to be honest I wrote it with women like Rachel Miller and Aimee and Wendy in mind), can I invite you just to read and consider what’s been written and argued, and how God wants you, personally, to respond?
March 10, 2009
March 13, 2013
May 8, 2015
May 22 2015
May 28, 2015
August 17, 2015
August 25, 2015
8 MAY 2015
Fred Sanders, “Things Eternal: Sonship, Generation, Generatedness” (8 MAY 2015), on The Scriptorium Daily at http://scriptoriumdaily.com/things-eternal-sonship-generation-generatedness/ [accessed 23 JUN 2016].
22 MAY 2015
Stephen Holmes, “Reflections on a new defence of ‘complementariainism’” (22 MAY 2016), on Shored Fragments at http://steverholmes.org.uk/blog/?p=7507 [accessed 23 JUN 2016].
1 JUN 2015
Fred Sanders, “Generations Eternal and Current” (1 JUN 2015), on The Scriptorium Daily at http://scriptoriumdaily.com/generations-eternal-and-current/ [accessed 23 JUN 2016].
September 2, 2015
Dr. Valerie Hobbs
October 7, 2015
April 21, 2016
April 22, 2016
April 24 , 2016
April 26, 2016
3 JUN 2016
Liam Goligher, “Is it Okay to Teach a Complementarianism Based on Eternal Subordination?”
(3 JUN 2016), posted by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian at
June 6, 2016
June 13, 2016
Wendy Alsup and Hannah Anderson
June 20, 2016
June 22, 2016
June 23, 2016
June 30, 2016
July 7, 2016
July 8, 2016
July 11, 2016