This is the weekly Q & A blog post by our Research Professor in Philosophy, Dr. William Lane Craig.
I have spent the last eight years attending a oneness church, however, after listening to your defenders class, as well as Dr. David Pawson's teachings on the trinity, I have been convinced that oneness theology is heresy. Most of my questions regarding Trinitarians have been answered and the theology is beginning to make a lot of sense as I listen to yours and Pawson's teachings. The one issue I have a hard time understanding is the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit being co-equal as you teach in your defenders class.
If that is that case, what do Trinitarians do with 1 Corinthians 15:20-28? Is Jesus subordinate to the Father or co-equal? This verse seems to imply that Jesus will be subordinate to the Father in the end. Dr. David Pawson seems to teach that Jesus was eternally the son and will be subordinate to the Father. Pawson teaches that Jesus was always the son and that God loved having a son so much that He created the human race so that He'd have more, is that not true in your view? You seem to say, though, that you believe the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all co-equal, not just equally God, but equal in position. My old pastor, who was a oneness theologian teaches that this means that Jesus was one in the same with God the Father and just a separate mode that God has and is using for a season. I think the third option is heresy, but I'm curious what you think about the options listed and what alternatives you might have to offer.
Dr. William Lane Craig’s Response
I am so glad that you have managed to extricate yourself from this unitarian heresy, Philip! The modalism of your former minister cannot make sense of Jesus’ earthly interaction with his Heavenly Father, since he certainly wasn’t talking to himself!
So how should Trinitarians understand I Corinthians 15.20-28?
But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. ‘For God has put all things in subjection under his feet.’ But when it says, ‘All things are put in subjection under him,’ it is plain that he is excepted who put all things under him. When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things under him, that God may be everything to every one.
V. 28 clearly states that the Son will be subject to God the Father. Although I do not know Dr. Pawson, it sounds to me from your account as if he embraces the view given credal status at the Council of Nicaea (325), that the Son is eternally begotten of the Father and so proceeds from the Father, just as a ray of sunshine proceeds from the sun. In that sense the Son is always subordinate to the Father, and so his final relinquishing of his Kingdom to the Father represents nothing really new. (Leave aside the curious view that “that God loved having a son so much that He created the human race so that He'd have more.”) On this traditional understanding, God the Father is the font of God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.
Suppose we do not adopt the traditional doctrine of the Son’s procession from the Father with respect to his divine nature but treat the divine persons as three underived members of the Trinity. Even on this view, we shall want to distinguish between what is called the ontological Trinity and the economic Trinity. The ontological Trinity concerns God as He is in Himself, unrelated to the world, while the economic Trinity concerns God as He stands in relation to creatures. Ontologically, the three persons, being underived and perfectly equal, do not stand in any relations of subordination. But in relation to creatures, for the sake of our salvation the second person of the Trinity submits to the first, taking on a human nature, and the third person acts in the place of the second, continuing the ministry of the Son between his ascension and return. So in the economic Trinity there are relations of subordination among the persons of the Trinity.
What’s important to understand is that subordination does not imply inferiority. The Son and the Father are in every respect co-equal, but out of love for us and for the sake of our salvation, the Son submits to the Father. The Trinity thus provides a beautiful model of the family, in which the wife, though co-equal with her husband, willingly submits to him. Feminists who denounce such submission on grounds of inequality have failed to understand that functional submission need not spring from inferiority but can be undertaken among equals for the sake of some overriding aim.
In I Corinthians 15.20-28, it’s important to remember as well that it is the incarnate Son who is under discussion. As the Son of Man, Jesus is given all authority and power over the world (Daniel 7.14). But in the consummation of the ages, the Son himself surrenders the Kingdom to and is subject to the Father. As man, Christ must be subordinate to God, since his human nature is not divine but creaturely.
This post and other resources are available on Dr. William Lane Craig's website: www.reasonablefaith.org