Home > Books, Theology > William P. Farley: Gospel-Powered Parenting

William P. Farley: Gospel-Powered Parenting

I worked out yesterday’s post on Trinitarianism without looking at the section of Farley’s book I want to cover today, and it turned out without knowing it I’ve bumped into a discussion of authority within the Trinity that has been going on elsewhere without knowing it.

Farley spends almost no time in this book talking about love, but lots of time talking about discipline and authority; in Chapter 8 (Foundations of Discipline) he talks about how parents’ responsibility for discipline flows from the authority God has given them, and he lapses into a common mistake made by conservative Christians with an authoritarian bent: he talks about the authority parents have over their children in terms of the authority God has over His Creation. It’s important to distinguish between these two and remember that God does not delegate His authority; instead, He delegates responsibility; God establishes authority relationships among people, but we obey the various authorities over us out of obedience to God and out of respect for Him, not because He has delegated His authority to the person in temporal authority.

Anyway, here’s the pull quote from page 158, with emphasis in the original:

The Trinity is the original community. It has always been and always will be. God created humanity to glorify the moral beauty of this primal Society. Here is the point: The Trinity is inherently authoritative and hierarchical. Therefore, if Christian culture, including families, is to imitate God, it must be also.

He goes on to quote Bruce Ware (emphasis mine):

We live in a culture that despises authority at every level… We find it hard to think about authority for one simple reason: We are sinners who want to be in charge of our own lives… One of the lessons of the Trinity is that God loves what we despise; namely, God loves, exercises, and embraces rightful authority-submission relationships. God loves this authority-submission structure because God embodies this very structure in his Trinitarian relations of Persons.

And then Farley goes on to work out what Ware means by authority-submission relationships within the Trinity and cites Philippians 2 (“did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,” etc.).

First of all, let me say this is a reading of that proof text I’d never seen before. I had always understood it to be a proof text for Jesus’s equality with God, not His submission under God, that what Paul was talking about was how Jesus could be human and still God.

Second, this is an example of what I referred to yesterday: the Trinity isn’t an example of anything. It’s a theological concept we use to make sense of how Jesus can be God and there not be multiple Gods. I might humbly suggest that anyone who sets about to explain all of society in terms of the Trinity runs the risk of getting his theology ahead of his Christianity.

Third, this is not historical Trinitarianism as described by the Athanasian Creed:

And in this Trinity none is before, or after another; none is greater, or less than another. But the whole three Persons are coeternal, and coequal. (Et in hac Trinitate nihil prius aut posterius, nihil maius aut minus: Sed totae tres personae coaeternae sibi sunt et coaequales.)[link]

It wasn’t until today that I realized that this is a hot topic in some circles: see e.g. this fairly recent post from The Wartburg Watch [link]:

They propose a new doctrine, The Eternal Subordination of the Son (ESS). This is a convenient new doctrine cooked up by Bruce Ware which states that, “ The eternal subordination of the Son means that Jesus Christ is eternally the Son of God, equal in essence and in eternal divine nature with the Father, that the Father exercises eternal authority over the Son in function, and the Son eternally submits to the authority of the father”.

While I can’t recommend everything at that post (I don’t know enough about Al Mohler to agree or disagree), and I’m not always on board even with the tone taken at TWW, I’m surprised to see this justification being presented as orthodox within the SBC.

My understanding of the historical definition of the relationship between the husband/father and his wife and the rest of the family is defined by Paul the Apostle in terms of Christ’s love for the Church, so I’m surprised to see someone defining this relationship in terms of the Trinity. It doesn’t make any sense to me; it’s certainly heretical in the old sense of the word, and probably an actual theological error.

Which strikes me as odd given that when I saw Bruce Ware at Calvary Santa Fe (last year, I think) he didn’t look like a heretic, etc.

  1. Watcher
    November 5, 2010 at 1:31 pm

    While the word “heretical” gets tossed around with the doctrine they call ESS over at TWW a lot, they have so far not dealt with the claim made by less strident people looking at it that it looks an awful lot like a piece of the idea of the covenant of redemption, propounded most clearly by John Owen in the 17th century. A whole segment of post-reformation reformed scholastics treated the covenant of redemption, and so far I haven’t heard anyone calling Owen a heretic.

    • November 5, 2010 at 2:34 pm

      To be clear, I’m using the term “heretical” to mean “divisive,” as I understand that was its original usage.

      The more I think about this the more I’m inclined to argue that Paul set forth an analogy for order within the family, and did so without Trinitarian language, so there’s a second question regarding why anyone would trade one model for the other.

      I can’t vouch for what’s being said over at The Wartburg Watch, but I’m not sure they have to deal with John Owen to deal with Bruce Ware. His reading of Paul seems pretty clear to me, and at minimum I don’t agree with him.

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