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How Does a Trinitiarian Understanding of God Shape Eccesiology (2)

November 12, 2007

Differing Views

There are, however, vastly different opinions on how a Trinitarian understanding of God shapes ecclesiology. The main two views which I will interact with are between a feminist and an evangelical orthodox view. However, even within these two positions are varied opinions concerning fellowship, worship, and the communication of the gospel.


Concerning fellowship, there is, seemingly, comparable positions between evangelical and feminist positions on how a Trinitarian understanding shapes ecclesiology. Both positions would argue that there should be an adhering to a Trinitarian example. There should be present in humanity a mutual love and “radical other-mindedness.”[1] As there is a faithful relationship and reciprocated affection within the Godhead,[2] so there should be among his children. Yet there is a critical difference between the two opinions as where this specifically applies. Within a feminist’s perception, this adherence should apply to all humanity. Elizabeth A. Johnson writes, “Spun off and included as a partner in the divine dance of life, the world for all its brokenness and evil, already does embody it in those sacramental moments of friendship, healing, and justice breaking through”[3] Yet, within an evangelical position, a triune adherence would only apply to a redeemed and born again community.[4] Both positions, however, would agree that if one is to image the Triune God, there is an anticipated emulation within its creation in fellowship and community.


Within the realm of how a Trinitarian understanding of God shapes worship and the communication of the gospel in evangelical ecclesiology, there are substantial differences in perceptions between a feminist and an orthodox evangelical position. Specifically in worship, there is search for more and more “inclusive images of God that tempt to compliment and correct the almost exclusively male images”[5] within feminist theology. They argue that there is a crucial need and allowance of diversity within the depth of Trinitarian grammar.[6] Referring to and worshipping God as “Mother” acknowledges the fact that “she” is a nurturing and begetting God. Worshipping God simply as Father does not rightly evoke to mind the entire “divine mystery.”[7] There is also support for a wider use of image because of the growing awareness of younger children’s perception of “mother” as someone who is faithful and comforting, yet “father” as someone who was never there.[8] Yet, an orthodox position would heavily argue for a masculine use for God and any feminine application to God would be simply metaphoric and not meant to apply to his personhood. It would be unwise to apply a sort of cultural diversity of humanity towards the Trinity, or silly to “measure him by our own senses.”[9]


Finally, within the realm of communicating the gospel under a Trinitarian understanding of God, the positions are vastly diverse. The most common difference is in the understanding of subordination within the Godhead. The understanding of subordination has substantial implications within a complimentarian evangelical since this type of relationship is the manner in which God redeems mankind through Christ functionally submitting to the will of Father in redeeming the world. Also, this has further implications in understanding the Church’s submission to Christ as her Head, and the wife submitting to her husband as head in displaying Christ’s relation to his Church in redeeming them. In the complimentarian understanding of redemption, the Trinity is responsible for the redemption of his Church, but is first ascribed to the Father in sending his Son and applying the punishment of our sin upon him. The Son, then in complete submission to the will of the Father, becomes incarnate and completes his distinct charge of our great High Priest by becoming our sacrifice and interceding on our behalf. The Spirit, then, in redemption is the Spirit of resurrection that raised the Son from the dead and raises from the dead the children of God.[10] Furthermore, the actuality of the Son being the eternal Son, and the Father being the eternal Father seems to imply an eternal relationship of authority and submission within the community of the Trinity.[11]


There are two main opposing views to the evangelical complimentarian view demonstrated above. An evangelical egalitarian would argue that subordination in role would logically conclude in the inferiority of persons and would therefore suggest tritheism.[12] Full equality of the Father, Son, and Spirit cannot include subordination. Some would appeal to the subordination of the Son only within the time of his incarnation, but not eternally.


A feminist theologian would mainly argue against both the previous argument of a masculine pronominal reference to God and the relationship of authority and submission within the Godhead. The masculine reference to Father and authority over the Son leads to a men’s superiority over women as people and the Son’s inferiority under the Father as God.[13]

[1] Elizabeth A. Johnson, She Who Is (New York: Crossroad, 1992), 222.

[2] John J. O’Donnell, The Mystery of the Triune God (London: Sheed & Ward, 1988), 100-111.

[3] Elizabeth A. Johnson, She Who Is, 222.

[4] Bruce A. Ware, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: Relationships, Roles, and Relevance (Wheaton: Good News Publishing, 2005), 14.

[5] Daniel L. Migliore, Faith Seeking Understanding, 75.

[6] Patricia Wilson-Kastner, Faith, Feminism, and the Christ (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1983), 121.

[7] Elizabeth A. Johnson, She Who Is, 54.

[8] Brian Wren, What Language Shall I Borrow? (York: Crossroad, 1989), 14.

[9] John Calvin, Library of Christian Classics. Edited by John T. McNeil. Institutes of the Christian Religion (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1960), 121.

[10] See John Owen, The Death of Death in the Dead of Jesus Christ (Ediburgh: Johnstrone and Hunter, 1852. Reprint, Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 2002), 51-69.

[11] Bruce Ware “Tampering With the Trinity: Does the Son Submit to the Father?” Journal of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood 1, no. 6 (Spring 2001): 7.

[12] Kevin Giles, Jesus and the Father: Modern Evangelical Reinvent the Doctrin of the Trinity (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006), 205.

[13] Paul K. Jewitt, Man as Male and Female: A Study of Relationships From a Theological Point of View (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1975), 84.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. John permalink
    November 21, 2007 12:01 pm

    John, you say:
    “Yet, an orthodox position would heavily argue for a masculine use for God and any feminine application to God would be simply metaphoric and not meant to apply to his personhood.”
    Musn’t our use of both the fatherhood and motherhood of God be used metaphorically? The Orthodox position, it seems to me, must affirm the preference for referring to the first person of the Trinity as Father (as was Jesus’ custom), however, it is not as though our category of “Fatherness” really defines the first person of the Trinity. It is rather the inverse. The first person of the Trinity should define our understanding of true “fatherness.”

  2. jbstarke permalink*
    November 21, 2007 1:25 pm

    Hey John, Thanks for the comment. I think you are right in the sense that even the masculine use of God is metaphoric, since God is not defined as either, but Scripture does explicitly use masculine terms as “him” and “Father” that does reach farther than a metaphoric use. Surely, his fatherhood defines our fatherhood rather than the reverse, but I don’t think his fatherhood is metaphoric in the same way his “motherhood” is metaphoric. I don’t think Scripture allows us to make that parallel. What do you think?

  3. John permalink
    November 21, 2007 5:56 pm

    I think maybe the difficulty here is that “metaphor” doesn’t really quite “do the trick” here… but neither do any other words. says metaphoric is “a figure of speech in which a word or phrase literally denoting one kind of object or idea is used in place of another to suggest a likeness or analogy between them (as in drowning in money); broadly : figurative language.”

    Obviously that is not really what I mean when I say the masculine use “Father” is metaphoric for the first person of the Trinity. I think more what I mean is that it is incomplete. Does scripture refer to God strictly in masculine language? Sure. How much meaning can we assess to that? I’m not sure.

    In Trinitarian terms I think we must refer to the second person of the Trinity in masculine language. The particularity of Jesus of Nazareth is, in fact, who the second person of the Trinity is.

    But when it comes to the first and third members of the Trinity, it’s a little slippier. I think that it is most appropriate to refer to both in the masculine, but I think that the fact is they are beyond the masculine and, in fact, contain feminineness in themselves as well.


    Well, if
    A) we are made in God’s image
    B) being man and women is more than “skin deep”
    then the essence of womanhood must be contained in God himself somehow.

    Your thoughts?

  4. jbstarke permalink*
    November 26, 2007 1:52 pm

    John, Yes, it is an interesting paradox that God references to himself and is referenced to in masculine terms in Scripture and yet women image God just as much as men. Imaging God, then, does not primarily have to do with our sex. The common feminist phrase, “If God is male then male is God” does not seem to work in my opinion.
    Yet, I don’t think this forces God, even the first and third person, to be a-sexual or “pan”-sexual. Since God refers to himself as Father and Son, giving himself masculine pronouns and so forth, there seems to me to be a peculiar masculine sense to him. It is certainly most appropriate to refer to him as masculine and not feminine.
    Sorry about the delay is response. Lets keep talking.

  5. John permalink
    November 29, 2007 8:04 pm

    I heartily agree with your critique of “If God is male then male is God,” and yet I am fearful of the statement “Imaging God, then, does not primarily have to do with our sex.” Surely I agree that our imaging of God is not primarily a sexual imaging… and yet, I think there is something confusing about that statement as well. It begins to hint at the egalitarian perspective that sexuality is a secondary and even inconsequential human characteristic. (If you don’t understand why I say this, then ask away and I’ll explain.)

    Let me ask two questions that confuses me: are the angels (who are asexual) created in the image of God? Does our sexuality have anything to do with superiority to the angels?

    Finally, let me ask another question: in the whole discussion as to whether or not God is male, female, or asexual, what exactly do we mean by that (outside of the fact that the second person of the Trinity is clearly male)? Obviously we’re not referring to sexual organs. We’re also not referring to levels of testosterone or estrogen… we’re referring to some sort of “maleness,” right? But what does that mean? Are we referring to the “headship” position of the male? If so, then it seems that is appropriate for the Father, but inappropriate for the Son and Spirit. If all we’re doing is being faithful to scriptural usage, I’m fine with that. I would, in fact, find relating to God with feminine pronouns in a church service unorthodox… but only because I feel like it breaks a scriptural precedent.


  6. jbstarke permalink*
    November 30, 2007 4:45 pm

    John, Thanks for the questions. I think I am able to clarify what I meant by answering those questions. I cannot finish my thought right now, but let me at least start. I certainly think our sex has something to do with how we image God, just not primarily. I just don’t want to say primarily because I think my wife images God as female just as much I do. So my maleness is not the primary category that is imaging God. But there is certainly something beyond sexual organs, hormones, etc. that is “male” about God that does not limit the female creation from imaging him as much as male. I will get back to this soon, but feel free to make any other comments or questions meanwhile. There is certainly a mystery to all this that limits is difficult I believe. I don’t know what I mean that God is neither male, female, or asexual. Do you? 🙂 I will do some more thinking.


  1. A Trinitarian Discussion « John Ploughman

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