Bruce Ware and Roles Within the Trinity (A Similiarity with Origen?)

I like Bruce Ware.  He’s a systematic theologian and he writes the way that I think: in outline form.  I recently finished his book, Father, Son, & Holy Spirit: Relationships, Roles, & Relevance, and thought it was a great introduction to a study on the Trinity.  In the book he focuses on the way in which the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit relate to one another, to us, and the impact this should have in our own lives as believers.

As he discusses how the Trinity relates to each other, I could not help but see Ware come to the same conclusions I found in my study on Origen.  He affirms that there is no distinction in nature among the Trinity.  All members of the Trinity are fully God, equally God, and eternally God.  Thus the Father is not one-third God and the Son and Spirit the other thirds.   The question them becomes, “What distinguishes the Father, Son, and Spirit from one another?”  If it is not their nature (since all possess equally and fully the one undivided divine nature), then what is unique to the Father that sets him apart from the Son?  The answer Ware gives is simple: “what distinguishes the members of the Trinity from one another is their particular role within salvation and the relationships that each has with the other.   I found this to be the same conclusion that Origen gave in several of his writings concerning subordinationism.  The authority/submission roles seen within the Trinity are not a submission of nature, but of role in relationship.  The Father establishes redemption, the Son accomplishes that redemption through his sinless life, death, and resurrection, and the Spirit applies this redemption, all to the glory of the Father.  The authority of the Father over the Son, and of the Father and Son over the Spirit, is full of wisdom, goodness, care, and love.  The submission of the Son to the Father and of the Spirit to the Father and Son is always joyful obedience, not begrudging duty.  The implication for us inside of this Trinitarian framework is immense.  Ware applies this to husbands and wives, of employees to employers, and of the church to its leadership.

Ware goes on to discuss what distinguishes the Son and the Spirit inside of the Trinity and to give concrete applications of these truths to our lives today.  I thought the book was well-written, easy to follow, and gave a plethora of biblical support for his findings.  It would be a great introduction for a class that was looking to begin an exploration of the Trinity and its importance to our understanding and engagement with the God and each other.


Posted on June 23, 2010, in Biblical Theology, Early Church, Historical Theology, Theology, Theology Proper and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.

  1. How would you respond to some of the criticisms that have been raised against Ware’s approach (among others) that he is really taking his gender roles and ministry roles agenda and reading that back into the Trinity? In other words, does he really present a compelling case that his argument really does move from Trinity to the specific applications he discusses, or is it possible the these case studies are applying a subtle pressure on the shape of his trinitarian logic?

    • Not only does Dr. Ware eisegete essential hierarchicalism from male female gender roles into the Trinity, a type of super-subordinationism, but his approach seems like a thorough going onto-theology that reduces God’s mystery into the contours of mis-applied Aristotelian categories…and yes I tried to query him about it.

      I was once reminded that if one speaks (as a while back at a NW Conservative Baptist Convention in Bend) about the Trinity for more the 20 minutes, one chances words broaching heresy exponentially.

      My tuppence…

  2. Billy – thanks for your review of this book. I have been reading other things about Ware and glad you gave him some attention here.

    How does Ware apply the economic relations of the Trinity to husbands and wives? And how does he apply the Spirit to this relationship? When Paul has an opportunity to talk about the marriage relationship, he doesn’t appeal to the Trinity but to Christ and the Church (Eph. 5), and there the husband is in the Christ role of authority not submission (which I assume he would want to give to the wife).

    Bigger Question: Why does he think we have to apply the economic relations of the Trinity to our own social situations in the first place?

    • Billy gave me some lame excuse about moving and not having internet access for a while. He said he’d log in with some responses as soon as he can.

  3. What?! Carrier pigeons don’t work anymore? Come on, Billy!

  4. Ok, I’m back in the land of the internet. Sorry for the absence. My wife and I were having to move and I had not internent for about a week. Let me attempt to respond:

    Marc, I think his case is compelling for this reason: Ware establishes the specific roles within the Trinity prior to any type of application. Scripture clearly speaks of God as Father. If God is Father then he must be the perfect father and perfect example of what it means to be a good Father. Ware then simply asks the question, “What example does God set for fathers as The Father?” I think the line of argumentation is completely coherent and defendable. The same line of reasoning is then used for other such relationships (i.e. children to parents, churches to leadership, etc…) I found his argument to move in the right direction: from Trinity to gender/ministry roles, not in reverse.

    Pat, sorry for the crickets!!!!! Although Eph. 5 does not appeal directly to the Trinity it does appeal to an authority/submission paradigm that Ware asserts is modeled in the Trinity. Just as Christ is no less than God in nature or deity, the Son still joyfully submits to the Father in his particular role in redemption. In 1 Cor. 11:3 Paul ties all of this together when he states, “But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.” Christ gives both an example of authority and submission. This type of authority/submission example that is modeled by Jesus to the Father, Ware then applies to the marriage relationship and the church.
    As to the question of why he feels we need to apply economic relations of the Trinity to our own social situations in the first place, I think his response would be, “What better example do we have to follow?” God the Father, as the supreme authority of the universe, exercises his authority perfectly, faithfully, and lovingly. What better example do those in authority have to appeal to? The Son submits to the Father although he is God. What better example do those who submit to another in authority have to follow? To be sure, the world offers other examples of authority/submission roles, but those within the Trinity are the best.

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