A few years ago, a number of prominent pastors called the eternal functional subordination view (EFS) outside of the bounds of orthodoxy. Some saw such attacks as imputing heresy to EFS. And one recent book considers EFS in the same orbit as Homoianism, a particular strand of Arianism (the denial that the Son shares the same divine essence as the Father).
It is worth, then, reviewing Gregory of Nyssa’s response to Eunomius, a so-called Anomoean who could call the Son “God” while also affirming that the Father is greater than the Son. It is worth doing so because many of us repeat the same arguments as Eunomius but with orthodox conclusions.
Eunomius, a so-called Anomoean could call the Son “God” while also affirming that the Father is greater than the Son. Gregory of Nyssa (and his brother Basil) knew that this was theological gibberish. If the Son is less than the Father and does not share the nature of the Father (as Eunomius claimed), then “God” is a worthless nickname.
They were right. Words matter. It matters how we talk about God.
To call the Son God but then affirm that he does not share the nature of the Father equivocates on the most basic level. The Son is not both God and not God at the same time. He shares in the Father’s nature fully. That is why he is God. And for no other reason.
Still, Eunomius’ argument matters because we often repeat his argument today, although for different reasons than he did. Eunomius argued for a sort of Arianism (so-called Anomoeanism). Hence, Gregory called such a view heretical because it affirmed the inferiority of the Son to the Father by (among other things:
(1) Making the Father supreme or dominant over the Son,
(2) introducing mutability into the godhead,
(3) imputing Christ’s human obedience into the divinity of God.
These same errors exist today although in non-heretical forms.
Many evangelicals affirm that the Son eternally submits to the Father who is supreme in the triune taxis. They often affirm that God changes in certain ways (covenantal relationships, etc.). And they often read the form of the slave into the form of God, that is, they read Jesus’ human obedience into the divine life of God through a sort of uncritical biblicism.
The reason why EFS is not heretical is because EFS proponents confess that the Son is consubstantial with the Father. Hence, it is incredibly irresponsible to call such readers heretics.
To call someone a heretic damns them to hell. To do so because of the above three frameworks that parallel Anomoeanism’s method but not its conclusion (that the Son is unlike the Father) is once again irresponsible and wrong.
Nevertheless, the biblicist method of Eunomius, Arius, Socianus and the rest always seems to lead to dark places. We need to guard the next generation of believers who do not have the theological convictions of Nicea but had adopted the theological method of Arius.