Letham Reviews Giles on Subordinationism

Robert Letham reviews Kevin Giles’s The Trinity and Subordinationism (Downers Grove: IVP, 2002) in this eight-page appendix:

Robert Letham. “Appendix 2: Kevin Giles on Subordinationism.” Pages 489–96 in The Holy Trinity: In Scripture, History, Theology, and Worship. Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian & Reformed, 2004.

Letham explains,

Kevin Giles, vicar of St. Michael’s Church in North Carlton, Australia, has for thirty years contended for the ordination of women. . . .

He targets conservative evangelicals who maintain a hierarchical view of the sexes on the basis of a presumed hierarchy of being, function, or role in the Trinity. By subordinationism he means the idea that the Son is eternally set under the Father. . . . All forms of subordinationism [Giles argues] are ruled out, both by Scripture and church tradition. From this it follows that arguments for the subordination of women cannot be buttressed by appeal to the Trinity.

Letham disagrees with Giles for three major reasons:

1. Hermeneutics

“His hermeneutics are open to serious questioning. . . . His text is a piece of putty, to be shaped by each successive cultural epoch.”

2. Ethics

“This lack of fixity in biblical interpretation is matched by a similarly open-ended basis for ethics. . . . Requirements grounded in creation [Giles argues] do not apply to us today. . . . None of the biblical exhortations to women to be in submission apply today (pp. 203, 268) [Giles argues], for Paul’s statements are culturally conditioned and do not apply to us.”

  1. “Where, we ask Giles, is the word of God to be found? Out of which culture(s) of the world does God scream? Do his screams emanate from anywhere other than white, professional, Western circles at the start of the twenty-first century? When cultures clash, are God’s sounds discordant? Who is to determine what cultural changes are canonical?”
  2. “A second problem concerns Giles’s selectivity. . . . [W]hile paying lip service to the order, [Giles] does not give anywhere near corresponding stress to the distinctions of the three persons. His selectivity comes to the fore in his treatment of three theologians in particular”: Charles Hodge, Karl Barth, and Robert Letham. Giles approvingly and uncritically cites theologians who are not robust Trinitarians, and he selectively “shows little interest” in theologians who do “not strengthen his case at all.”

3. Theology

  1. Giles has “some troubling modalistic tendencies.” He “is certainly blind to the dangers of modalism.”
  2. Giles argues in a “self-defeating” way. He “misses the point that if the Son submits to the Father in eternity, his submission could hardly have been imposed on him, for he is
    coequal with the Father, of the identical divine being. He submits willingly. . . . [I]f he did so in the Incarnation without jeopardy to his deity, why is this not so in eternity?”
  3. Giles “equates leadership with superiority, submission with something lesser.”
  4. Giles “never comes to grip with Romans 5:12–21. . . . If the sin of Adam affects the whole race, it also affected Eve. If it affected Eve, then Adam was in some way her head and representative. . . . Giles never discusses Romans 5. It would overturn his case. It is inconvenient for him.”

Related: Trinity Debate: Ware-Grudem vs. McCall-Yandell


  1. says

    First time reader and first time caller, but I had to connect with you after not saying a formal goodbye in the airport. They put me on another plane, and after running from the check-in through security through the shuttle and up escalators and down halls, I made my flight just in time. Hope your cute girls were there for you, holding their sign!

    A couple of thoughts on this post.

    1. If Giles “equates leadership with superiority, submission with something lesser,” then isn’t he committing the Arian mistake of thinking that subordination necessarily means inferiority? It’s ironic that the very people who are thinking like Arius accuse complementarians of being Arian (or uncomfortably close).

    2. If I remember right, Giles thinks that perichoresis eliminates the possibility of functional subordination. I don’t know why he thinks so, but I remember that was the bottom-line reason he gave in his book. I just don’t see it.

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