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Manuscript Type

Article

Abstract

Over the last forty years, the debate over gender roles in the home, church, and society has escalated in an unprecedented way among evangelical Christians due to the introduction of an alien argumentation that grounds the permanent, functional subordination of women to men in the being of God. This argumentation—which is termed “neo-subordinationism” in this article—states that there is a prescriptive hierarchical ordering of the immanent Trinity that is recognizable through the economic Trinity. In this Trinitarian hierarchy, the Son and the Holy Spirit are said to be ontologically equal but eternally subordinated in role and authority to the Father, with the Holy Spirit also functionally subordinated to the Son (for those who accept the filioque). Likewise, women are ontologically equal but permanently subordinated to men in role and authority. As such, they cannot serve in certain leadership capacities in the home, church, or society. This novel argument has shifted the gender debate from discussing anthropology and ecclesiology to theology proper, a shift that has been called the “turn to the Trinity.”

This article argues that, while theology proper should inform all other areas of theological studies, reading perceived differences of gender roles into the immanent Trinity has serious systematic consequences. Thus, the equality of the Trinity should be preserved by excluding neo-subordinationism from the debate on gender roles. This is accomplished, first, by briefly reviewing the history of the gender debate with a particular focus on the emergence of modern complementarian and egalitarian perspectives and the entrance of neo-subordinationism into complementarian argumentation among evangelicals generally and Seventh-day Adventists specifically. Second, four significant problems of neo-subordinationism for Christian theology are discussed: (1) its failure to adequately account for all the canonical data, (2) its inherent logical inconsistencies, (3) its inaccurate reporting of church history, and (4) its ramifications for soteriology and the character of God. Finally, the article concludes with some recommendations for how to proceed in the gender debate without injuring intra-Trinitarian ontology.

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