Bruce Ware has written another response in defense of his position concerning the eternal relations of authority and submission between the Father and the Son in the immanent Trinity. He has written it in the form of an open letter to Liam Goligher, Carl Trueman and Todd Pruitt all of whom have strongly criticized Ware’s view. I would like to offer a few
more thoughts on what Ware has written (his letter can be found here).
First, Ware states that he ultimately wishes to be faithful to Scripture as the ultimate authority, and for this I can only applaud him. That said, it is clear throughout his letter that he desires to stay within the bounds of orthodoxy established by the ecumenical creeds and that indeed his think that his position does so. He states, however, that “among those things that distinguish the Father, from the Son, and from the Spirit, is an eternal relation of authority and submission which again reflects their eternal modes of subsistence and is shown in all of the works of the Trinitarian persons as depicted repeatedly throughout the whole of the Bible” and that this “should not count against my orthodoxy”.
I would contend that the first part of this statement militates against the second for the simple fact that in orthodox Trinitarian theology, the only thing that distinguishes the hypostases of the Father, Son, and Spirit in their immanent relations is their modes of origination. This is convincingly demonstrated by Stephen Holmes in his book “The Quest for the Trinity”. Quite simply, if Ware holds that there are multiple “things that distinguish the Father, from the Son, and from the Spirit” among which “is an eternal relation of authority and submission”, then this view falls outside the bounds of orthodoxy. This does not necessarily mean that his view is not biblical, because Scripture will always stand authoritatively over tradition. But it certainly isn’t orthodox.
Second, he still has not, in my opinion, successfully refuted the charge that his position raises the spectre of tritheism on the basis of the necessity it implies of assigning two distinct wills to the Father and the Son in order to speak of their eternal relations of authority and submission in any meaningful way. As others noted, I found his explanation (found here) of each of the hypostases (i.e. persons) ‘activating’ the single divine will in differing ways to be equally problematic for the simple fact that it seems to treat the divine will as though it were an impersonal thing, almost like an instrument or a tool, to be taken up and utilized in differing ways.
Perhaps I am misreading him on this, but it seems to be the implication of the way in which he articulates the ‘activation’ of the divine will by each of the three hypostases. One ‘activates’ only that which in some way is external to oneself and is not already operative. But this would imply a disjunction (rather than a mere distinction) between the single ousia (the being of God to which the single divine will belongs) and the three hypostases (who activate that will differently). To me, this objectification of the divine will seems more beholden to substance metaphysics than to the God self-revealed in Jesus Christ.
Third, I would say that his position fails to integrate an adequate Christology into the discussion. It seems to run the risk of a docetic Christology (i.e. Christ only appeared to be human) by treating the biblical examples of Christ’s submission, obedience, and glorification of the Father as purely revelatory of his eternal relation to the Father. As the Protestant tradition has historically affirmed, however, Christ’s obedience is properly understood as his vicarious work on our behalf, his active righteousness by which we are justified and sanctified in him. I would argue that according the New Testament, Christ relates to the Father in submission and obedience not because of his eternal relation to the Father but because of his incarnate relation to us; in this way he offered up to the Father vicariously on our behalf the perfect human life by which we are justified and sanctified through union with him.
As Paul teaches in Romans 5, Christ’s incarnate submission reflects the fact that he is the last Adam whose obedience overcomes the effects of the disobedience of the first Adam and brings justification and life to those over whom sin and death had previously reigned. Thus, in the garden of Gethsemane, Christ’s prayer to his Father “Your will be done” is not indicative of eternal Trinitarian relations but constitutes instead his undoing and reversal of Adam’s rebellion in the garden of Eden where he in effect said, “My will be done”. To paraphrase something that T.F. Torrance was fond of saying, this account would reveal how Christ descended into the depths of our corruption and through his vicarious obedience bent our rebellious wills back to God. Even when encountering a text such as 1 Corinthians 15:28 (to which Ware points as evidence of Christ’s eternal submission), it is important to remember that after the resurrection when our redemption will be fully realized, Christ will still forever be the incarnate “firstborn among many brothers” (Rom. 8:29). This, I would argue, is a better way of understanding the way in which the Christ relates to the Father in the economy of salvation and henceforth into eternity.