In my previous article, I argued that characterizing the eternal relations of the immanent Trinity as authority and submission blurs theological and philosophical distinctions that are crucial for maintaining Trinitarian orthodoxy. Further, because EFS is employed by its main proponents to ground a certain version of anthropology and gender roles, we must also address EFS’s implications for the doctrine of humanity. As EFS totalizes authority and submission in Trinitarian relations, it totalizes authority and submission in men and women respectively, thus distorting the image of God and human relationships.

Genesis 1:27 tells us that God made man “in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” While the concept of the image of God is mentioned only a handful of times in the whole Bible, it is an important concept and its implications run throughout Scripture.[1] Theologians have long debated the significance of the image of God in man,[2] but there seems to be a relative agreement that the image of God may be understood in several senses, including: the individual human, the human in community (i.e., the family), the human community as a whole, and also Christ the Second Adam, the perfectly divine and human image of God. All of them may be said to bear, or to be, the image of God.

For our purposes, here I focus on the image of God at the individual and communal levels. Speaking at the level of the individual, Bavinck writes:

[T]he whole human being is the image and likeness of God, in soul and body, in all human faculties, powers, and gifts . . . All that is in God—his spiritual essence, his virtues and perfections, his immanent self-distinctions, his self-communication and self-revelation in creation—finds its admittedly finite and limited analogy and likeness in humanity.21

But the image of God is not only seen in individuals. Later, speaking now of the human destiny in community, Bavinck continues:

Adam was not created alone. As a man by himself was incomplete . . . by himself, accordingly, neither was he yet the fully unfolded image of God . . . Only humanity in its entirety—as one complete organism, summed up under a single head, spread out over the whole earth, as a ruler controlling the earth and the whole of creation—only it is the fully image, the most telling and striking likeness of God.

While an individual person is the image of God, the individual was created in mutual dependence on others. The mandate to be “God’s viceregents of creation”[3] could not, by God’s design, be accomplished by man alone. For the purposes of our discussion, it is important to note that, while there may be many differences between human beings—gender, ethnicity, relationship status, social status, hierarchical structures, etc.—the image of God in humanity points us to our fundamental equality in relation to and unity with one another. It is no coincidence, therefore, that the apostle Paul speaks of redeemed humanity as “one in Christ Jesus” despite our many differences (Gal. 3:28-29).[4]

I am confident that most EFS proponents, and even the ones whose writings I have been critiquing in these two articles, would wholeheartedly agree with everything I have said and quoted about the image of God. However, I believe their theological commitment to a totalization of authority and submission both in the Divine life and in human life necessarily leads to a contradiction or distortion of the picture just portrayed. This happens by the way in which gender is described in EFS theology.

In the initial chapters of Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, John Piper quotes the insightful words of another evangelical, Paul Jewett:

Sexuality permeates one’s individual being to its very depth; it conditions every facet of one’s life as a person . . . All human activity reflects a qualitative distinction which is sexual in nature. But in my opinion, such an observation offers no clue to the ultimate meaning of that distinction. It may be that we shall never know what that distinction ultimately means. But this much, at least, seems clear: we will understand the difference—what it means to be created as man or woman—only as we learn to live as man and woman in true partnership of life.[5]

Piper bemoans the tension that Jewett expresses as he confesses his inability to define exactly what it means to be created as a man or a woman, while at the same time asserting that sexuality goes to the core of our sexual beings. Considering that, Piper proceeds to provide and explain his own definitions of manhood and womanhood.

On biblical manhood, Piper writes: “At the heart of mature masculinity is a sense of benevolent responsibility to lead, provide for and protect women in ways appropriate to a man’s differing relationships.”[6] On biblical womanhood, Piper writes: “At the heart of mature femininity is a freeing disposition to affirm, receive and nurture strength and leadership from worthy men in ways appropriate to a woman’s differing relationships.”[7] Piper acknowledges that these definitions are attempts and partial.[8]

I believe there is much to commend in Piper’s definitions (e.g., “benevolent responsibility,” “freeing disposition”) and subsequent explanations. At the same time, it is apparent that EFS trinitarian theology has shaped his definitions of manhood and womanhood. Notice the nouns that characterize manhood—leadership, provision, and protection—and womanhood— affirmation, reception, and nurturing. These are all wonderful things indeed. But are the first three exclusively, or even mostly, male characteristics? And are the last three exclusively, or even mostly, female characteristics? Even when packaged in the most positive language possible, for Piper, and other EFS theologians, authority is at the core of what it means to be a man and submission are at the core of what it means to be a woman.

To be clear, authority and submission are not the problem; there is a place for them (e.g., Rom. 13:1- 7; Eph. 5:22-24; Col. 3:18-4:1; Heb. 13:17). What we find in EFS theology, however, is an attempt to over-define gender through authority and submission. As EFS theology reads authority and submission into the essence of the persons of the Trinity, so it reads authority and submission into the essence of men and women respectively in a totalizing way, making authority and submission the very core of the meaning of each gender. They define and encompass all of life. Authority and submission are ontologized—totalized—by EFS theology.

This over-definition of gender goes also hand in hand with a tendency to emphasize difference over sameness when it comes to men and women. From the perspective of EFS theology, at the core of our being there is difference. Again, it is undoubtedly true that men and women bear differences; God did not make the two genders identical. Yet the image of God in them and their union with and in Christ make them more similar than different. Consider Galatians 3:28-29: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.” Male and female believers are not identical, our differences are not obliterated, but at the most fundamental level, we are one.

Does this cast aside all talk about gender roles? No! But based on Genesis 1-2, and Galatians 3:28-29, we should start out from our similarities and work towards our differences. The fact that we are fundamentally the same in our human faculties, our call to exercise dominion over creation, together with our relational capacity, should lead us not to ignore our differences but at least to relativize them. The fact that Christ is Lord over all should relativize our positions of authority (Col. 3:24; 4:1).

The totalization of authority and submission by gender is certainly dangerous[9] for and demeaning of women, as it places them always in a dependent,[10] weaker[11] role. EFS theology is at the end of the day male-centered, or authority-centered. It, presumably unintentionally, turns general human virtues—such as leadership, provision, and protection—into virtues that are male-specific.[12]

However, considering the above discussion on the image of God, EFS theology is also dangerous for men. At the very least, deeming all women as naturally in need of men for leadership, provision, and protection, will negate women’s potential to contribute to the reflection of God’s image and discourage the exercise of their gifts and talents, relegating those gifts to a second place, also boosting men’s pride[13] and a false sense of superiority.[14]

One further consequence of over-defining gender, as EFS theology does, is that it tends to create more confusion than gender clarity, both for women and men. What if men and women do not fit the EFS stereotypes of “leader” and “follower” or “dominant” and “submissive”? They will feel pressure to be something that they are not, or worse, they will question their manhood or womanhood. This is especially dangerous considering the influence of gender ideology.

Totalizing authority and submission hurts both men and women.

Wayne Grudem accuses egalitarian evangelicals of adjusting their doctrine of the Trinity to further their agenda. He says, “so deep is their commitment to an egalitarian view of men and women within marriage that they will modify the doctrine of the Trinity and remake the Trinity in the image of egalitarian marriage if it seems necessary to maintain their position.”[15] Ironically, the same could be said of those who, like Grudem, promote a novel doctrine of eternal relations in the Trinity.

As Kevin Giles has put it, the Trinity is not our social agenda—or, at least, it should not be! He writes, “the great danger in believing that the Trinity models or prescribes our social agenda is that, instead of Scripture, interpreted in the light of the theological tradition now codified in the creeds and confessions, being the basis for our doctrine of the Trinity, our concerns on earth may dictate our theology of the Trinity.”[16]

In this and my previous article, I have sketched out some of the theological errors as well as some implications of EFS for our anthropology. Authority and submission are biblical categories, but they must not be applied to the eternal relations in the Trinity. Authority and submission are good things, but they are not life-defining, and must not be employed in a way characterizes the totality men and women’s identity as God’s creatures.

Theology is practical. Whether orthodox or unorthodox, it will manifest itself in our lives. Even if our theology is orthodox, this side of heaven we will never live up to our theology. Still, we must make every effort to confess orthodoxy and live orthopraxy. As EFS continues to have a far-reaching influence among evangelical circles, these thoughts are offered as a small contribution towards its eradication from our theology and practice.

[1] Allen, Michael et al. Christian Dogmatics: Reformed Theology fo the Church Catholic, 169.

[2] See Bray, Gerald. “The significance of God’s image in man.” 21 Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 554.

[3] Dempster, Stephen. Dominion and Dynasty, 59.

[4] Kelly Kapic speaks of the “democratizing effect” of the biblical portrayal of the image of God. This portrayal “cuts against ethnic, social, economic, and other differences that so separate humanity from one another and also pit person against the earth. Human creatures were made as interconnected beings, linked to the earth and to one another, even as they represented Yahweh to the rest of creation.” Christian Dogmatics, 188.

[5] Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, 34.

[6] Ibid, 35.

[7] Ibid, 46.

[8] Ibid, 35.

[9] Glenn Butner’s critique of EFS’s view of the single will of the incarnate Son is insightful—and terrifying. “In the theology of EFS, the divine will is divided either because will is a personal property alone, or because the singular will is possessed in three divisible modes attributable to each of the three divine persons respectively. In the logic of EFS, all divine actions are divided insofar as the Father commands and the Son subsequently obeys. However, if all divine acts are accompanied by distinct actions of commanding and obeying such that, if one affirms EFS, it becomes extremely difficult to deny that the penal dimension of Christ’s death was something the person of the

Father did to the person of the Son, and not merely something that the Godhead does in and to the humanity of Christ . . . those who affirm EFS must argue that penal substitution is scriptural and then grant that someone in authority inflicting suffering on a subordinate is central not only to the logic of the gospel, but to the Trinitarian nature of the Godhead . . . EFS teaches the powerless to submit themselves to the powerful even to the point of death.” “Against Eternal Submission: Changing the Doctrine of the Trinity Endangers the Doctrine of Salvation and Women.” Priscilla Papers 31, no. 1 (Winter 2017): 15-21. Religion and Philosophy Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed February 19, 2018). 19.

[10] It is striking that Ware spends an entire chapter arguing for male headship and male-priority in God’s image and a derivative image of God in the woman through the man based on Genesis 1:26-27 and 1 Corinthians 11:1-16 and never once deals with verses 11 and 12 in the Corinthian passage: “Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman. And all things are from God.” Biblical Foundations, 71-91.

[11] Piper goes so far as to suggest that a strong, muscular female body, while it may be attractive, is not properly feminine. Recovering, 34.

[12] Luke 8 speaks of several women who provided for Jesus and his disciples out of their own means.

[13] Ware advocates for a general deference from women towards men, based on male headship and temporal priority: “the temporal priority of the male in the image of God means that in general, within male-female relationships among singles, there should be a deference offered to the men by the women of the group, which acknowledges the woman’s reception of her human nature in the image of God through the man, but which also stops short of a full and general submission of women to men.” Biblical Foundations, 91-92. Consider also Piper’s personal/impersonal, direct/indirect principles for deciding what kind of work is appropriate for a woman: “To the degree that a woman’s influence over man is personal and directive it will generally offend a man’s good, God-given sense of responsibility and leadership, and this controvert God’s created order.” Recovering, 51. If a man is offended by the fact that he must take directly orders from a woman, it is his pride and arrogance that are the problem, not the woman’s position at work!

[14] Piper quotes approvingly of J.I. Packer when he describes a scenario in which a female boss has a male secretary as a situation that “will put more strain on the humanity of both parties than if it were the other way around. This is part of the reality of creation, a given fact that nothing will change.” Recovering, 45.

[15] Biblical Foundations, 52.

[16] Giles, Kevin. “The Orthodox Doctrine of the Trinity.” 21.

Timo is the Pastor of Community at Capital Presbyterian Reston, part of the Capital Pres Family of churches in Northern Virginia. He holds a BA from Catholic University of Chile, and an MA from Reformed Theological Seminary, Washington, DC. He has worked as a translator, editor, and seminary administrative staff, and has served as pastoral assistant/intern at various churches in the DC metro area. Timo lives in Herndon, VA, with his wife Kaitlin and their kids.

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