Tim Keller, Sex, and Eternal Submission Doctrine: Summing up the Sexualization of the Trinity with Shirley Taylor

Tim Keller, Sex, and Eternal Submission Doctrine: Summing up the Sexualization of the Trinity with Shirley Taylor

Read more in my book “Dethroning Male Headship: Second Edition” just published.


This series of posts started with a simple reference to my great disappointment in the statements that Tim Keller has made concerning the Trinity.  Someone at Spiritual Sounding Board asked for more information regarding the specifics of what Keller teaches, not realizing how significant I found this question.  I couldn’t just quote him without demonstrating that his peers also taught and said the same kinds of things, and I wanted an opportunity to refute them.  As this meme demonstrates, Keller is not some odd example who made a few poorly communicated statements.

These doctrines argue that husbands rule and reign over their wives because, as the teaching asserts, Christ is subordinate to God the Father who rules and reigns over His Son.  The Father is the exemplar for men and the Son is the exemplar for women within this paradigm.

Why it’s problematic

If someone’s belief enhances their ability to love God and love others as they love themselves, making them good neighbors and with whom most can all live peaceably, it wouldn’t matter.  But I believe strongly that the belief system that Keller and his colleagues share deters both the understanding and love of God for the Christian and results in many varieties of harm to all people, especially to women.  The teachings also foster a cruel, gnostic elitism that I’ve called “survival of the spiritually fittest.”  Though we Christians are called to be known by our love for one another, I am still often left speechless at the high degree of cruelty that the gender debate still fosters.

Ideas have consequences, and I find two most troubling consequences that result from these teachings claiming that marital sex concerns and mirrors the life of the Three Divine Persons in the Trinity.  Some engage in this debate because these ideas hinder women from participating in ministry which is troubling enough, but these same ideas are used to dehumanize women which can also result in abuse.  In terms of theology, I’m deeply disturbed by the theological implications.  In effect, they result in a sub-Christian understanding of God’s identity which robs Christ of His full deity

An Index to Posts on the Sex and Trinity Connection

The posts that address these issues concerning sex and the way that the developed are explored in the following posts in Five Parts.  They center around Tim Keller’s statements, and most include commentary from Shirley Taylor — both from her books and from some of our private exchanges:

I:  Tim Keller on the Meaning of the Sex Act in Marriage

II:  Sex, Tim Keller, and the Replacement of Salvation by Faith

III:  The Genesis of Eternal Subordinationism

IV:  Is the Trinity a Sex Orgy?

V:  The Connection between Marriage and Holiness  (The meaning of Ephesians 5:22-29)

A Quickhand Chart

Here’s a chart of the development of these doctrines which are further explored in the posts in this series.  They are critical to understanding the doctrines and the motives of those who teach them.


About bwebaptistwomenforequality

Shirley Taylor writes with humor and common sense, challenging the church body to reclaim equality for Christian women.
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7 Responses to Tim Keller, Sex, and Eternal Submission Doctrine: Summing up the Sexualization of the Trinity with Shirley Taylor

  1. Baptist wife (Nancy2) says:

    Keller, Piper, Wilson, Grudem, ware, Strachan, etc. …… I have come to the conclusion that these men have some serious inferiority complexes. They fell compelled to degrade and demean women to make themselves feel good.

    Oh, and ESS …. Doesn’t that mean that Jesus suffered and died, not because he loved us and wanted to save us, but just because God the Father ordered him to sacrifice himself??? These guys even demean Jesus and the salvation that he offered us through his death!


    • How right you are! The problem also is with pastors who will not stand up to them and demand an accounting for their false teaching. Instead my pastor quotes Keller. Well, he has stopped since I told him that my mind hits the delete button every time I hear Keller’s name mentioned. Thanks for writing.


  2. Dash says:

    Christian patriarchy and radical Islam are one and the same thing. That the theology differs in its appearance is of zero consequence. Theological misogyny is theological misogyny, no matter what the origins.


    • Yes! You are right. I don’t understand how a pastor can sit in his easy chair and watch tv and see Muslim women and not connect what he is teaching to that same restriction. Thanks for pointing this out. In my new book, Dethroning Male Headship Second Edition (Amazon and Kindle) I parallel it to another, equally serious mindset. That is to witches. The Council on biblical Manhood and Womanhood teach that women are listening to the devil, and that only having a strong husband in the family, can the family be saved. Don’t believe it? Read my book just out.


  3. brambonius says:

    What is the role of Frank Violas book here????


    • Cindy K says:

      Perhaps it might be helpful to you to read the previous post, noting that the post under which you comment here is a summary of a series of them. I must have felt that “Summing up the Sexualization of the Trinity” and the first statement noting that this was part of a seires was sufficient to direct the reader back to those previous posts. I think that it would be helpful to understand my thesis if you would refer back to this one.

      In the event that what I’ve written there doesn’t clearly elucidate the inclusion of Viola’s book in this summary, I’m happy to reiterate:

      As the original author of the writing here, I believed that Viola’s example demonstrated how pervasive and bizarre the Eternal Subordination of the Son (ESS) doctrine has become, especially outside of the Southern Baptist/T4G subculture.

      Frank Viola generally is not associated with the typical crowd that seems perversely focused on gender, yet many people I’ve talked who’ve read this book were disgusted by what reads like a theme of ESS with a sexual focus. I bought a copy with the intent of disproving their impression, only to be sorely disappointed. I have one friend who actually threw Viola’s book away and destroyed it by pouring more trash on it because she believed that Viola described what sounded to her like sexual perversion. I believe that this kind of approach to anything having to do with the Trinity has become commonplace because people in Evangelicalism — particularly leaders — are all but blackmailed into accepting the ESS doctrine in some manner. Individuals might actually be more supportive of women in ministry and may reject the alleged connection between the Trinity and marriage that Knight cooked up, but they are pressured into other aspects of it. I believe that Viola demonstrates this very thing in his writing.

      I had a hard time believing that Tim Keller ascribed to this kind of discussion and the ESS doctrine, and I had the same initial response when I heard of this from Frank Viola. If anyone had read this kind of prose 30-40 years ago, it would have been dismissed as nonsense if not heresy. Today, it is quite a different story in our sex-saturated church culture.

      I’ve read only Viola’s “Pagan Christianity” book, and I don’t know anything about his stance on other matters such as whether he follows ESS or just a Social Trinitarian view only or what his stance is on the alleged connection between the Godhead and marriage. What I do know is that much of his language and the discussion in the noted book in the post uses what I find to be bizarre and inappropriate language.


      • brambonius says:

        Reading more posts I do see what your concerns are, but I would frame Viola completely. He is not reformed at all, and more charismatic and a proponent of ‘organic church’ and also quite egalitarian when it comes to marriage and women in church positions. He’s more of a mystical type with a charismatic background, and he uses quite weird metaphors indeed.

        So I would not trace his weird metaphors to the whole line you’ve laid out here, but to a completely other tradition that never had much to do with American baptists at all.

        Using sexual metaphors for the relations in the trinity or the relationship God-man is something that has a long history in more mystical traditions within catholic and orthodox monastic traditions (and probably even in Judaism), even long before the advent of protestantism (I do have a CD of catholic singer John Michael Talbot called ‘the lover and the beloved ‘, in which he sings some quite weird metaphorical poetical texts from old mystics that are much worse than Viola in that regard) and that has its roots in the non-literal reading of Song of songs (which was common throughout all church history and in most Jewish traditions) and the metaphor of Christ and the bride.
        I would suppose that they would say it’s backwards, and that sex and romance is a metaphor and that the Divine Love is the real thing though…

        I’ve found the book again, and In remember again why I found it hard to read. It consists out of 3 very metaphorical/allegorical explanations of the plan of God throughout the bible (the bride of God, the house of God, the invasion of the family of God as a new species) where it’s very hard to see where metaphor and poetry end and more literal explanations begin… The latter might not occur at all actually it seems that he tries to explain something in pictures that he is unable to put into straight explanations at all, in a traditional mystical fashion…

        I can see how the sexual metaphors are inappropriate, but I never believe that he would ever come to any conclusian from it that can be used to subjugate women. He stands completely out of an “evangelical bubble of those who are blackmailed by the appeal to authority” anyway as a proponenet of organic church and a harsh critic of several forms of authoritarianism (including the ‘covering’ doctrine in certain charismatic circled against which he has written a book).


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