Roger Olson – Is there hierarchy in the Trinity?

Roger Olson

Professor Roger E Olson (who, by the way, resembles surprisingly to my father) has just published on his blog (thanks to Scot McKnight for the link) a very well written article (first in a series) on the present debate in American evangelicalism on subordinationism within the Trinity.

For those who are not familiar with this dispute, complementarians try to argue that women’s subordination to men, by divine design, parallels the eternal subordination of the Son (and the Holy Spirit) to the authority of the Father.

Now, no orthodox theologian denies the subordination of the Son (and the Spirit) to the Father in economy (salvation history). In what the immanent Trinity is concerned, however, according to the historical faith of the Church (as fully developed by the Capadocian Fathers and then asserted repeatedly by the doctors of the church in all ages), the fact that the Father of the source of the Godhead (from which the Son is eternally begotten and the Spirit eternally proceeds), does not imply any subordination in authority of ontology.

To believe that would make us fall into the ages old heresy of subordinationism. This is precisely the error that, merely out of sheer theological ignorance, complementarians risk to fall into in their zeal to (mis)use theology in order to pursue their ideological agenda.

Thus, argues Olson,

My suspicion is that many evangelicals who write about the subject are not properly or carefully enough making this distinction. My theses going into this discussion are that 1) There is subordination of the Son and Spirit within the economic Trinity including in terms of authority over, and 2) The subordination of the Son and Spirit to the Father within the immanent Trinity has only to do with source, fount, origin of the divinity of the Son and the Spirit which does not automatically include a hierarchy of authority (i.e., obedience to). And I will argue that we cannot claim to know very much about the immanent Trinity, so even that (thesis 2) is arguable so long as we do affirm the immanent Trinity. In sum and in brief, I will argue that it is possible (if not necessary) to believe in the “monarchy of the Father” even within the immanent Trinity without making the Son and Spirit subordinate to the Father in terms of authority (i.e., obedience).

I highly recommend this superb article to those interested in serious theological reflection.

Author: DanutM

Anglican theologian. Former Director for Faith and Development Middle East and Eastern Europe Region of World Vision International

2 thoughts on “Roger Olson – Is there hierarchy in the Trinity?”

  1. No, you are not wrong in what decent complementarians are concerned. Yet, there are others, who presuppose an inherent (that is, ontological and structural) subordination in terms of authority, and that is dubious theologically, and purely ideological. I will return to this shortly, I hope.


  2. Would a complementarian argue that there is a ontological difference between man and woman – that men and women are not equal as beings? I do not think so.

    They usually argue (as far as I know) that there is a subordination in the ‘economy’ – in the sense of house/community/church. No complemetarian would argue that there is an ontological difference/subordination.

    AM I wrong? I don’t think so! 🙂


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