Friday, 21 June 2013

The Trinity: Explaining the Mystery?

I recently learned about Steven Tracy, a complementarian who has written a book called "Mending the Soul" (a well-researched overview addressing the subject of domestic abuse within the church).   Although I haven't read his book, I just finished his 16 page lecture entitled 1 Corinthians 11:3 : A Corrective to Misunderstandings of Male Headship which he presented at the Evangelical Theological Society.

Let me first say that I commend Steven for the significant work he is doing to bring much needed attention to the abuse issue within leadership contexts like ETS.  Steven is aware of the many ways that "headship" and "male authority" are being misinterpreted and misapplied and he is therefore attempting to bring some much needed clarity to what headship is, and what it isn't.

I need to confess that I actually read Steven's paper backwards, starting on pg. 16 and working towards the beginning. (Hey, some people read their Bibles that way.)  That should help to explain why his concluding statement is what sounded my first alarm: "The most instructive model for male leadership is the headship of the Father over the Son".  [italics my own]

Steven's use of the word "instructive" is problematic for me since it is a word that is somewhat synonymous with the word "explain", something we've been taught NOT to do when it comes to the doctrine of the Trinity.  We all know how teachers give "instruction" and "explanations" interchangeably and so we have to be very careful when applying the word "instructive" to how we talk about the Trinity.  Although the word "Trinity" itself does not appear anywhere on the pages of scripture, there are sufficient biblical references where God refers to himself in the plural form (such as "Us" and "We") to warrant its use by the Church.

Most theologians and teachers who tackle this subject first clarify 2 key reasons why the early Church fathers felt that it was important to establish the doctrine of the Trinity in writing:
(1) They wanted to protect the Doctrine of the Trinity from heresies that were infiltrating the church
(2) They wanted to "preserve the mystery" without trying to "explain" the mystery.

These clarifications are extremely important since the Church has always recognized our human incapability of fully comprehending the relational dynamic between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Can we actually instruct people on how the Divine Community functions?  Have the intimate details of this Divine relationship been revealed to us?  My answer is "No", and it's exactly because of God's transcendent nature that we are exhorted to preserve the mystery and not try to explain it!!!  We need to let God be God and stop trying to figure out the mechanics of His God-ness.  He forms an exclusive category all by Himself and the great mystery of His Triune-ness is what sets Him apart as God!

(I'm not sure to what extent the early Church fathers tried to make the same connections to gender roles that Steven is trying to make but, if they did, their "traditional" views of women would likely not even fit within what most complementarians would consider a biblical view today.  For more info on this, see my post:  Is the Traditional View of Women a Biblical View?)

In light of these cautions to "preserve" and "not explain", I came away from Steven's paper with a sense that "trying to explain the Trinity" is precisely what he was doing.  Although he was attempting to bring some necessary balance to the lopsided heavy-weighted patriarchy that still exists in the home and church, he kept a surprisingly big stone in his back pocket which he slid back onto the scale in his closing comment.  By saying that "the most instructive model for male leadership is the headship of the Father over the Son",  he caused the scale to shift dramatically back towards an ambiguous imbalance of male power, layering that imbalance with some pretty presumptuous and faulty logic.

When we talk about "instructional working models" for relationships, I think it's fair to assume that such a model should be clearly understood and defined.  That's what a "working model" is.  It is tangible, explainable, and therefore able to be reproduced.  However, we've already established that the Trinity's "working model" is one that cannot be explained in tangible terms that will make sense to our human minds.  Our limited information only takes us so far.  That's why we're supposed to leave the "explaining" part out of the discussion.

Yet Steven's argument seems to suggest that our relationships can indeed be "instructed" by a model that we cannot explain.  He is basically telling men that their "role model" is the Father and the woman's "role model" is the Son.  Ok, so what does that look like in human terms that can be "modelled" into our relational dynamics??  How does the balance of power and authority work itself out between the Father and the Son, the husband and the wife?  How does the the Son's usage of his authority "instruct" the wife how to use her authority?

To add to my frustration, after 11 pages of "fleshing out" a biblical interpretation of male headship and authority (by reminding men that women are their equals and are to be given delegated authority as the Father delegates authority to the Son), Steven's words suddenly drop off the page without telling us what a woman's authority actually "looks like".

On page 11 he writes:  "While it goes beyond the scope of this article to flesh out the full extent of female authority...."  Say what???  Why is he running out of words and paper right when it comes to a woman's part in all of this?  I'm holding my breath here, wanting and needing to hear what authority women DO have but the discussion gets tabled right in this moment.  I need to know how far reaching IS a woman's authority and power, which is apparently being modelled after the authority and power of the Son.

But, alas, there appears to be no more time or space left to "flesh out" this very important matter for women.  The ambiguity of silence strikes again!!

It is precisely this ambiguity and deafening silence related to "working models in marriage" that leaves the door wide open for inequality and the imbalance of relational power.  Interpretations and suggestions of hierarchy within the Trinity are now being used by leaders to argue why the female gender is ontologically subordinate to the male gender....both in this life and in eternity to come.

With all due respect, my reason for playing devil's advocate in this post is to help complementarians see the foolishness of trying to turn the mystery of the Trinity into a "working model" for marriage.  I am not a scholar and I will not even try to climb into the apostle Paul's brain to see what he was really trying to say in the 1 Cor. 11 passage.  All I do know is that it cannot mean what complementarians are saying it means.  They are trying to micro-manage a text that needs to remain part of a much broader and mysterious illustration. I feel they're trying way too hard to hold onto some illusive notion of hierarchy over their wives, and women in general, and they're using the "unexplainable" doctrine of the Trinity to stake their claim.

I'm assuming that this is why Steven Tracy has chosen not to "flesh out the full extent of female authority"....perhaps he realizes that his illustration can only be taken so far.  Any attempt to put a "working model" on a woman's authority, modelled after the authority of Jesus, will likely come back to bite him and so he has chosen to leave this instruction for another day.  It is perhaps in light of these "theological stretching tactics" that Gilbert Bilezikian responded with his well-known argument (from March 1997) entitled Hermeneutical Bungee Jumping: Subordination in the Godhead.

As much as Steven has tried to help the cause of women, his silence on the authority a woman DOES possess is a glaring omission on his part (and on the part of other complementarians who promote the same "working model").   Many complementarians seem to have forgotten that men and women, husbands and wives, are ALL being conformed into the image of Jesus Christ the Son.  Jesus called ALL of us to "love one another as I have loved you".  We are ALL called to wash one another's feet as Jesus modelled so beautifully for us.  Jesus is the God/Man that BOTH genders are to model their lives after.

Galatians 3 :28 completely levels the field within the Christian community as it declares so beautifully: "There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." Our mutual status and position in Christ overlaps in profound ways as the Bible affirms that  every woman is a son and every man is a wife and a Bride.

I also find it rather significant that the verse just prior to the I Cor. 11:3 discussion describes the "working model" for ALL believers as being one that imitates the Son.  In  1 Corinthians 11:1  Paul says, "Imitate me as I imitate Christ."

I personally do not believe the Trinity can be stretched into an "instructional model" for the roles of men and women but if someone is able to flesh this out for me, it might help me make some sense of this argument.

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