The Trinity and the position of Eternal Subordination
A review of Michael J Ovey's book 'Your Will be Done. Exploring Eternal Subordination, Divine Monarchy and Divine Humility.' Latimer Studies 83
The doctrine of the Trinity, as well as that of the person of Christ, are woefully neglected in the Church today. Often, it is waved away as too difficult, or it is insisted that everyone already knows about it and would find it boring. It seems that it would be difficult for the modern parishioner to properly detect an erroneous teaching and may dismiss teaching that is erroneous. One may adopt wrong teaching but they also may be overly zealous and dismiss a belief that is within the realm of orthodox belief. In his book “Your Will Be Done”, Michael Ovey sets out to defend his position of the Eternal Subordination of the Son against those who quickly dismiss it as Arianism in new clothes. Ovey condemns this dismissal as both unfair and almost sinful. He labors to show through church history, the Bible, and theology that his position is actually the one held by the majority of the greatest theologians of the patristic era and is taught in scripture. Ovey defends his position in these three areas because most critics of Eternal Subordinationism deny the teaching on these three grounds.
Historically, Ovey focuses mainly on theologians Athanasius and Hilary and their use of subordination in their defense of Nicene Christianity against Arian and Modalist understandings of the Son and his relation to the Father. Ovey displays these two theologians’ teachings on the matter and shows that indeed they do use subordination language in their writings. Biblically, Ovey focuses on the passages in John’s Gospel that seem to show the Son’s subordination to the Father. He shows that these passages on their plainest reading actually do teach that the Son is subordinate to the Father. Theologically, Ovey focuses on the early creeds and explores the controversies surrounding their formulation to conclude that they do not dismiss Eternal Subordination when they could have. Ovey concludes that those who formulated these ancient creeds did not see the Eternal Subordination of the Son to the Father as a problem or else they would have addressed it.
The crux of Ovey’s argument, and the position of Eternal Subordination of the Son in general, is that Jesus Christ is revealed as the Son and is indeed a true Son. If he is a true Son, then he is by nature obedient to his Father. This roots his subordination in his person and not solely in the economy of God. This, Ovey asserts, is not a bad thing. In fact, any negative feelings toward this relationship is more attributed to modern distaste for power structures than anything else. Placing the subordinal role of the Son in his person totally rules out the idea that the Son is only subordinate in his incarnation. Ovey explains that this does not do justice to the biblical data nor is it similar to how the early theologians explained it.
Whether one agrees with Ovey or not, this book is helpful in two ways. First, it helps dismiss the common myth that those who hold to the Eternal Subordination position are Arians or Semi-Arians. Ovey makes clear that his position is not that the Son is in some way a creature as Arians do. Rather, he seeks to show that his position is promoted, or at least not ruled out, by patristic writers such as Hilary, Athanasius, and others. Second, the book helpfully orients one to the actual position held by Eternal Subordinationists. So often positions are dismissed without given a fair hearing and this book helpfully lays out what those who hold to the position actually believe. Overall, the book is a worthwhile read for both adopters and opponents of Ovey’s position. It gives all an understanding of what is actually held by those in the Eternal Subordination school of thought while challenging those quick to dismiss it with a thorough apology for the position.