Truth Project 7: Sociology (The Divine Imprint)

The beginning of the seventh tour of the Truth Project sounded like we were revisiting the topic of the fifth tour: science. Del began by quoting Psalm 19, about the heavens declaring the glory of God, and talked to his audience about the design of a chicken egg. The chicken egg, he said, poses a problem: the problem of order. What we have is an orderly cosmos, and “God is not a God of disorder” (1 Cor. 14:33). Del doesn’t just say that God is a God of order, but also says (quoting James 3:16) that disorder is a vice.

Here is where he makes the transition to the current topic. God is “displayed in great glory through the physical creation, but even more so in the order that He has created in the social realm.” God’s social system, Del says, is where “the real battleground lies.” Since God is triune, he is social by nature. And the way that he has ordered society is bound up in his Trinitarian nature. Del quotes the Westminster Confession:

In the unity of the Godhead there be three persons, of one substance, power and eternity: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost; the Father is of none neither begotten, nor proceeding; the Son is eternally begotten of the Father; the Holy Ghost eternally proceeding from the Father and the Son.

Del then looks at how this Trinitarian nature of God plays out in social systems, beginning with the family. In the family, the husband and wife are one in the same way that the Father and Son are one. The wife submits to the husband in the same way that the Son submits to the Father. Authority, submission, oneness and unity are shared by the Trinity and the family.

Then he turns to look at the church as social institution, comparing it to the Trinity and to the family. Christ he puts at the top (where the Father and the husband are in the other spheres), then he puts the leaders (in the place of the Son and the wife, respectively), and then he puts the flock (in the place of the Holy Spirit and the children). The flock is supposed to honor elders the way children honor their parents (1 Timothy 5:17).

Relationships are important, Del says, but at the Fall, relationships were severed: God and Man, Man to Man, Man and Creation, and Man internally. Social order is bound up in the nature of God because he created social institutions with the divine imprint of who he is.

Then Del argues that our culture attacks the sphere of family. Divorce is commonplace, though God says “I hate divorce” (Malachi 2:16). Husbands are inconsiderate of their wives, though Peter says that their prayers will be hindered if they do that (1 Peter 3:7). The family, Del concludes, is serious business.

The way that Del draws parallels between God’s Trinitarian nature and various social systems is, I think, problematic. When he diagrams the Trinity, he draws a triangle within a circle with the Father at the top, the Son below that and to the right, and the Holy Spirit at the bottom. He draws the same diagram when he describes social institutions. The problem with this is that he gives the impression that, simply because the Son submitted to the Father in his earthly life, there is inequality within the Trinity. When he says that the Son submits to the Father the same way that wives submits to husbands, and the same way that elders in a church submit to Christ, he is coming dangerously close to the heresy of subordinationism. I say “coming dangerously close” because Del may not believe that the Son is eternally unequal with the Father. But what he says does give that impression.

I admire Del’s effort to show that God’s concern for order proceeds from his nature, but I think that he went about it in entirely the wrong way. When you see Trinitarian relationships in anything but the Trinity itself, I think that you are treading on very dangerous ground, because you are making a parallel that the Bible itself does not make. The Trinity is mysterious, so comparing it to things that we know more about can be helpful at times. But comparisons are only just that: comparisons. When we really start to think of the relationships within the Trinity in terms of relationships within the family, we have diminished the Trinity. I know that Del is only trying to show his audience that God is a God of order, but I’m afraid he does more harm than good here.


19 thoughts on “Truth Project 7: Sociology (The Divine Imprint)

  1. Elliot,

    Thanks for another review. You’re right, the way Del puts it is highly misleading – and frankly disturbing. Is that understanding of the Trinity he’s promoting common? Based on the popularity of the series, it might become so. Weird.

  2. are you trying to make a point with an impression? I think you should listen carefully to what he is trying to explain. to think that you got the impression of inequality just because looking at the diagram is really problematic.

  3. Gideon,

    I have listened carefully to what he is trying to say. That is how I was able to write a summary of the tour before I critiqued it. I said that he gave the impression of inequality within the Trinity because he does not actually use the word “unequal,” and I don’t like to put words in people’s mouths.

    Nevertheless, during our group discussions, one of the people in my group referred to this tour and expressed the thought that the Son was less than the Father. That is how I came to be concerned about Del’s diagrams that import trinitarian relationships into other spheres besides the Godhead. I don’t think Del is careful enough to remain biblical here, and he leads others into being unbiblical if they start to see trinitarian relationships in areas other than the Godhead.

    So yes, I am making an argument from an impression. Del’s diagrams do in fact lead people to believe that there is inequality within the Trinity, but I would like to give Del the benefit of the doubt and say that Del probably doesn’t really think there is inequality. I won’t call him a heretic, but by not guarding carefully enough against giving the impression that the Son and Spirit are less than the Father, he could lead other people astray.

  4. Remember, too, that Del said at the start his analogy will fall short because you can’t explain an infinite God using finite language/understanding. Nobody should expect Del’s (or anyone’s) diagram and/or explanation to fully represent the reality of God.

  5. SteveK,

    I think you’re letting Del off way too easily here. Del is teaching doctrine to thousands of people, after all (James 3:1). Del did indeed say that his analogy would fall short, and it is true that you can’t explain an infinite God using finite language.

    But even though we should not expect to capture the whole reality of God in finite language, we should be disciplined enough to express what we can accurately and truthfully. The Bible itself uses finite human language, and yet I think you and I would agree that what it communicates about the nature of God is still true. The problem with what Del teaches is not that it is expressed in finite language; it is that what he teaches about the nature of God isn’t completely biblical.

  6. Who is greatest in the kingdom of God? He who is least. Well then, who set aside His glory and become a servant to all? Jesus, the Christ, the Son God. So, in Jesus’ eternal submission to the Father, He is forever righteously exalted by the Father. The Son is eternally equal with the Father because He eternally submits; and in this He has the name above every other name.

    1. Ryan,

      Virtually all Christians (including me) will agree with you that the Son subordinated himself to the Father during his incarnation.

      Much more controversial, however, is the idea that the Son eternally submits, that there is inequality or hierarchy within the Trinity. This is not the historic position of the church. Athanasius, Augustine and Calvin all argued against the idea that the Son is eternally submitted to the Father. The Nicene Creed says the Father and the Son are “of one being (homoousios),” and the Athanasian Creed says all three persons are “coeternal and coequal.” I think these all accurately express what you find in Phil 2:5-11: the Son was equal with the Father before his incarnation, humbled himself and became obedient during the incarnation, and after his resurrection was exalted.

  7. I think making Jesus’ submission an area of inequality is not what Del was doing. I will watch the video again but I do not remember him using the term “inequality” but “diverse”. Give me a few days to rewatch it.

    For me, what Del was saying made biblical sense.

    What is wrong with the order and line of authority Del shows for the family? Was, in any way, Del making the wife an unequal person to the husband? Do we remove the authority and order from the equation so children have no authority or order to see demonstrated? Are children unequals?

    Just a few thoughts as I pass through. Will be back later today and check out other comments.

  8. Elliot,

    How do we determine social order if we don’t use God’s example set within the trinity? You mayhave answered this somewhere and I missed it but I really would like to know.

  9. Jon,

    I am not saying that Del used the word “inequality.” I’m only making the case that the way he presents this material can leave that impression (see the above discussion in the comments). My main problem with Del’s diagram was that it was confusing.

    My brief, and all too glib, answer to your second comment, about how to determine social order, is “with the Bible” – and the Bible doesn’t actually say that we ought to model social order on the Trinity.

    Of course, it’s more complicated than that. The Bible contains some passages on social order that no Christian would condone today (e.g. Deut. 21:10-14), so we do need to do some interpretive work in order to apply the Bible to our own day. Here is where a lot of Christians disagree; we’re not all sure what the best way is to apply the Bible. One book that I’ve found helpful in thinking through this question is “The Blue Parakeet” by Scot McKnight.

    A very good blog post to look at with regard to the issue of gender and the Trinity would be by John Stackhouse, here:

  10. Elliot,

    Your critique here applies not only to Del Tackett but to the apostle Paul, who says the same thing: “But I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.” And it does say “is,” not “was.”

    Stackhouse (in your link above) suggests a great deal of circumspection when applying the intratrintarian life to human relationships. But here’s the thing: Paul does it. We can’t be so circumspect that we’re too timid to follow Paul as he follows Christ.

    1. Tim,

      Thanks for the comment, and thanks for pointing out 1 Corinthians 11:3. But it probably won’t surprise you to find out that I don’t think Paul and Del are doing the exact same thing. Del says that the “trinitarian formula” is stamped on several different spheres of human existence, and he gives examples of the family, the church and the state. There are no biblical examples of intratrinitarian relationships being “stamped” onto church or state. Even in this passage, which seems to refer to family, children (whom Del puts in the place of the Holy Spirit) are not mentioned. Even though men and women are mentioned in this passage, Del is still making a leap to include children and wrap the whole thing up in a Trinitarian bundle.

      In addition, as Stackhouse mentions, 1 Cor. 11:3 is pretty ambiguous, and so in spite of it I still think we’re best off using circumspection when applying intratrinitarian relationships to human ones. In the first place, we don’t know whether Paul was talking about husbands and wives, or women and men in general. Most translations I’ve read opt for the latter. There has also been a lot of disagreement about what Paul means by “head” in this passage. Does he mean “authority over”? In that case, is he saying that Christ is less than God [the Father]? Or does he mean “source”?

      I agree with you that Paul does it, but with two caveats: one, we can’t agree on exactly what Paul is getting at, and two, Del certainly goes beyond Paul in this tour, as well as subsequent tours, of the Truth Project.

  11. Elliot,

    Thanks for responding. The lack of general agreement about the exact point Paul is making doesn’t much disturb me; the fact that he is making it by analogy to the Trinity (and that Stackhouse would counsel him not to) is sufficient to establish the point. I would add at this juncture that John does something similar in the sphere of the church: Jesus prays for all Christians to partake in the intratrinitarian life (John 17:21-23), and in so doing, he pointedly compares the oneness of the Body with Christ to the oneness of the Father and the Son. Of course the analogy breaks down somewhere, but He makes it, and that matters.

    One can respond to the lack of certainty by saying “We don’t know what Paul’s doing, so we’d better not try to follow his example,” or one can respond by saying “We don’t know what Paul’s doing, and we’d better find out so that we can follow his example.” The former is fear and disobedience; the latter is confident trust that God’s revelation to us is actually meant to reveal something, and in due course He will make it plain to the obedient.

    Compare it to sharing Christ. One of the most common excuses for failure to evangelize is “I don’t know how; I don’t know what to say!” Experienced evangelists know that there is no cure for that except to begin, in whatever halting way, by evangelizing. You learn what to say by doing it, not by staying home. You won’t do a perfect breaststroke your first time in the pool, but you don’t get closer to a perfect breaststroke by staying out of the pool altogether. So it is here.

    Now if you want to say “Sure, certain aspects of the trinitarian life are reflected in human relationships, but not like that! Children are not analogous to the Holy Spirit!” — fair enough. That’s a whole different argument.

    But to object (as you did) on the grounds that the trinitarian relations can’t be used (by analogy) to describe what human relationships should look like–the same objection applies to Paul and John. To further object that this implies inequality within the Trinity–again, the critique applies to Paul and John, who presumably would not agree with you.

    Tackett may be wrong in how he cashes out the details, but the general strategy already appears in Scripture.

    If you’re willing, I’d love to join you in exploring a critique of Tackett on the premise that the trinitarian life teaches us *something* about human relationships, and finding out *what* (and where the analogy breaks down) is an important task. In other words, I’m willing to see Tackett’s trinitarian sociology replaced by a better trinitarian sociology, but not by a non-trinitarian sociology (contra Paul and John). Let me know if you want to play; it would be a fun topic to explore in more detail.

    1. Tim,

      I’d be happy to revise my critique to say that what I object to is not seeking to model our relationships on the Trinity, but instead the way that Del does it.

  12. Interesting, I did not see “inequality” expressed at all. It left me with an impression of diverse roles within equality. Wives are not less than equal to the Husband, but rather they are equal while having a different role. These roles are NOT there because somehow the woman is “less” than the man, but rather they are there as a picture of the trinity. As far as children in the position of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit, according to Scripture, does not speak on His own accord, but rather testifies to the Son. He brings honor to Jesus. In the same way children honor their parents. Just a point.

    1. The verse you quote regarding the Holy Spirit is John 16:13. It says that “when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is to come.” Does this mean that children should only speak what they hear? Does this mean that children can foretell the future? In John 5:19, Jesus says that he can do nothing by himself. Does this mean that children are like him, too?

      I don’t understand why Del (and, apparently, several people who have found this blog) is so interested in importing Trinitarian ontology into the family. (and church, and state, etc.) Sure, it wraps everything up in a neat little bundle, but in order to maintain that bundle, we start bringing our preconceived notions to the text and twist the text to suit them. Del begins with a verse that is talking about propriety in worship (“God is not a God of disorder”) and constructs an entire social order out of it. This is eisegesis, not exegesis. He isn’t coming to the text on its own terms. And when we follow his neat diagrams where everybody in society represents some member of the Trinity, we might have a bunch of neat diagrams, but I think we have left the Bible behind.

  13. I think you have got this wrong mate. Del proves this by backing everything he says up with scripture. This is a very good tour. I enjoyed it thoroughly.

    1. There’s a difference between scripture and our interpretation of scripture. The scripture I read doesn’t contain diagrams. It is Del’s interpretation that I object to.

      I think that the main difference between me and Del (and perhaps also those in this comment thread who have disagreed with me) is our doctrine of revelation. It seems to me that Del looks on the Bible as a book of foundational certitudes on which we may build a system. This system we build is then tacitly given the same authority as the Bible.

      I don’t think that the Bible should be thought of that way, which is why I object so strongly to Del’s making diagrams. The Bible is God’s Word. It has authority. But its main purpose is not to give us data on which we build theories. Its main purpose, I think, is to show us what God is like and bring us into relationship with that God.

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