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Trinity issue not tied to CBMW pres. resignation

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (BP) — Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary professor Owen Strachan has announced his resignation as president of The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, citing a need “to step back” from “filling two vocational roles” simultaneously.

A theological debate this summer regarding the relationship between God the Father and God the Son — a debate that has included criticism of CBMW — “played no part” in Strachan’s decision to resign, he told Baptist Press in an email.

“I Iove CBMW and have resigned to focus on my major God-given priorities: my family, my teaching and my writing,” said Strachan, associate professor of Christian theology at Midwestern. “Filling two vocational roles has been edifying and exhilarating, but I believe it wise to step back at this point. The growing portfolio of CBMW meant that each year we had more on our plate, and while I’m grateful for God’s blessing on our work, I am also grateful to step back.”

CBMW is a Louisville, Ky.-based organization that promotes complementarianism, a position stipulating the fundamental equality of men and women as well as a distinction between their roles in the church and home.

Strachan became CBMW executive director in 2012 and was appointed president in 2014. The organization “flourished under Strachan’s leadership, with significant increase in financial support, a stronger online presence and the start of a bi-annual National Conference,” according to a July 12 CBMW news release.

During Strachan’s tenure as president, CBMW reintroduced a print edition of its Journal of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood and released two books edited or written by him, the organization stated. Giving increased 250 percent during his tenure as executive director and president — from approximately $85,000 in 2012 to nearly $300,000 in 2015.

Strachan announced his resignation to the CBMW board of directors in early June and had been considering it for a year, he said, well in advance of an online debate on the Trinity that provoked more than 140 blog posts by evangelical scholars in the U.S., Europe and Australia between June 3 and July 11, according to count by Jack Jeffery of booksataglance.com.

“The summer of 2016 has been surprisingly active in terms of theological debate, but the online discussion has played no part in my decision,” Strachan said, noting, “My decision was made months ago. In the fall of 2015 I determined that I would likely resign after our [Together For the Gospel] pre-conference” in April.

Trinity debate

At issue in the debate is the argument of Strachan and other theologians — including Bruce Ware of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Wayne Grudem of Phoenix Seminary — that God the Father and God the Son eternally have been equal in divinity but that the Son eternally has submitted to the Father. Strachan articulated that view in his 2016 book “The Grand Design,” coauthored with Gavin Peacock, and defended it in subsequent blog posts.

Strachan and other proponents of this view — known as “eternal relationship of authority and submission” (ERAS) — additionally argue that the “authority-submission dynamic” within the Trinity illustrates the proper relationship between a husband and wife: possessing different roles but equal in value.

Among the critics of ERAS is Liam Goligher, pastor of Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, who wrote in a June 3 blog post that ERAS “poses a clear and present danger to our understanding of who the Christian God is.” The Son submitted to the Father during His earthly ministry, Goligher wrote, but not for eternity.

Proponents of ERAS “verge on idolatry” and should be excluded “from holding office in the church of God,” Goligher wrote.

Author and speaker Aimee Byrd, on whose blog Goligher’s post appeared, argued ERAS is held by people with “the gender agenda.” While calling some of CBMW’s materials “helpful,” she accused the organization of advocating teaching that “reduces women to ontologically subordinate roles.” Some husbands “have even used this kind of teaching to fuel abuse in their relationships.”

Among ERAS critics are both complementarians and biblical egalitarians — those who believe Scripture grants equal authority and leadership roles to men and women in families and churches.

Southern Seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr. wrote in a June 28 internet commentary that charging ERAS proponents with heresy, as he said some have done, is “precisely the kind of nonsense that undermines orthodoxy and obscures real heresy.”

Mohler, a complementarian, added, “I do not share” the theological proposals of ERAS proponents “concerning the eternal submission of the Son to the Father, but I am well aware that nothing they have taught even resembles the heresy of the Arians [an ancient group who argued the Son was not equal in divinity with the Father].”

Malcolm Yarnell, author of “God the Trinity: Biblical Portraits,” coauthored with his wife Karen a series of five blog posts in which they “do not approach the Trinity according to” the ERAS model but urge the two sides to grant one another’s legitimate points.

The Yarnells encourage ERAS opponents to “retract any calls for the removal of ERA[S] theologians from their teaching offices.”

In an email to BP, Malcolm Yarnell, professor of systematic theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, said the ERAS debate “is a big deal among scholars. I have never seen anything like it, in the sense that these are major scholars hitting the blogs.”

As for Strachan, he told BP he is “thankful that the global complementarian movement is pulsing with life and health. God is building His church. Because of God and His own interest in His church, I am fully confident that CBMW’s best days are ahead of it.”

Strachan will continue to serve CBMW as a senior fellow.