Perspectives on EFS

As I survey the landscape of literature concerning the eternal functional subordination of the Son I see five basic views:

  1. The Son never submits to the Father, even after the incarnation. Authority and submission are seen as incompatible with intimacy and love and the kingdom of God.
  2. The Son submits to the Father only after the incarnation. The incarnation itself is not an act of obedience. Obedience is only creaturely.
  3. The Son submits to the Father before the incarnation (e.g. in creating the world), but only economically and ad extra (with respect to creation).
  4. The eternal Son submits to the Father before creation and ad intra (in the internal life of God) and this is grounded in the Son’s eternal generation from the Father.
  5. The eternal Son submits to the Father before creation, but this is agnostic to or in lieu of eternal generation.

Views 3-5 agree that the incarnate Son’s willing submission is an expression of his eternal Sonship, of his “filial identity.”

Views 4-5 see the Father’s primacy of authority as a personal property and not an essential divine attribute.

Update (Oct 5, 2021). Matthew Barrett describes a spectrum of views:

I very much affirm and teach (1) eternal generation, (2) one divine will in the triune God, and (3) two wills in Christ incarnate (dyothelitism). However, affirming these three doesn’t automatically put me in a “camp.” So hold off your assumptions. Those who have read the Ware/Starke book (and Fred Sanders’ review of it) will recognize that just as there is diversity among those who reject eternal submission, so too is there diversity among those who affirm eternal submission in the Trinity (something carelessly overlooked by the initial responses). This means, then, that some affirm all three of the above points but still see some place for “obedience” or “submission” (some prefer different words) in the Trinity in eternity. In other words, there is a spectrum.

About this spectrum, it’s obvious by now that there are two polar opposites of the spectrum: (1) Those who reject eternal generation, one will in the Trinity, and two wills in Christ and by consequence go the route of a (soft?) social trinitarianism, and, on the other end of the spectrum, those who (2) affirm the three previous beliefs but see absolutely no place for the obedience and submission of the Son to the Father in eternity. I do not align with either polar opposite and my reasons have to do, at least in part, with the pactum salutis…

I think that those who reject any and all forms of obedience in the Godhead in eternity overreact (understandably to the social trinitarianism they see). I agree with them in their affirmation of eternal generation, one divine will in the Trinity, dyothelitism Christology; however, to go to the other extreme and say that there is absolutely no place for obedience in eternity is a problem precisely because it ignores the biblical reality of the covenant of redemption. (More on this in a minute.)