Debating the Simple God



In the last few years, few issues have been more controversial among Reformed evangelicals than the debate over the eternal subordination of the Son to the Father.[1] To the extent that God’s intra-triune life has been thought to be the foundation and model of inter-human relationships, many have perceived their various social programs (particularly in relation to the sexes) to be at stake, at times driving the debate’s resolution in a particular direction. One meta-issue continually at the forefront in the debate over eternal subordination concerns the traditional doctrine of God’s simplicity. In classical Christian theology, it is insisted that God is not composed of parts. The simple in divine simplicity is not simple as opposed to complex, but simple as opposed to composite. It is clear that, for instance, God is not a composition of soul and body. But from the classical theist perspective, the doctrine of divine simplicity goes further than this. God is also not composed of His attributes. They do not inhere in Him as accidental properties of a fundamental “God” substance. Rather, God’s existence is simply as His attributes, which simply are Him, and which (then) are to be seen as diverse ways of naming all that is in God. What is more, since there is only one God who just is (for instance) His own will, it is problematic—from a classical perspective—to speak of the Son as “submitting” to the Father in the intra-triune life from eternity past. It is difficult to see how this would not imply a multiplicity of wills of which God’s supposed “one will” is an amalgam. Read more…