Monday, November 26, 2012

What's in a name?

Sean Gerety has labelled me a Unitarian on several occasions now (example). I am not sure whether he intends to address my response to that particular post beyond his reply to a single verse I only mentioned in passing and which, since several others who hold to a similar position as myself disagree with my interpretation, is not likely indicative of whether my more broad views are false. What I am fairly sure of is that Sean knows I believe in the deity or divinity of Christ and the Spirit. He simply believes that because I refer to the Father alone as aseity and autotheos, my definition of deity or divinity fails to take into account that these predicates are actually attributes rather than personal properties. The charge of Unitarianism seems to based on what he thinks are the logical implications of my views rather than what my actual views are.

In that case, I may as well call him a Tritheist, for he holds to both generic unity and rejects that the Son and Spirit are subordinate to the Father in any ontological sense. To defend against this charge, he may appeal to the idea there is one definition of "God," but this no more precludes the fact this definition would be predicable of multiple persons than the idea that there is one definition of "human" precludes the fact this definition would be predicable of multiple persons. As there are multiple humans, so there must, on Sean's view, be multiple Gods. As an alternative defense, Sean may say that the Son and Spirit are in some sense subordinate to the Father, just not in respect of their natures. I would completely agree with that, but because Sean has said "aseity" and "autotheos" are attributes common to each person, it seems to me that he has eliminated the very means by which the "second" and "third" persons of the Trinity can in some ontological or non-economic sense be subordinate to the "first" (cf. link).

Now, ascribing unwanted labels to each other - however accurate they may be - is not really what I'm interested in. I'm much more interested in hearing Scriptural or philosophical counter-arguments and rebuttals to my views. Nevertheless, as in the absence of such it appears that Sean's charge of Unitarianism is the most likely to present prejudicial challenges to third party readers, I think it will be useful to examine just why it is he thinks I'm a Unitarian and whether it's true. 

However, to do that in one post would require me to cover more material than I am prepared to cover, and I suspect it would also be more than anyone would be prepared to read in one sitting. So I will explain in future posts why I do not consider myself a Unitarian. In short, while I believe the Son and Spirit are subordinate to the Father only insofar as they are eternally begotten of and spirated by (i.e. derived from) the Father, I assert they are both [eternal and necessary] divine persons, which is, in fact, one possible meaning of the word "God" (simply not the monotheistic meaning). I agree with the Trinitarian formula of the Nicene Creed and many of the early church fathers's views who formed or benefitted from it. I do not see how, if I show these things to be the case an contrast them to Unitarianism, this charge will be able to stand, and I expect Sean to retract it if I do. If I am wrong, I will accept the label and hope to reign discussion back towards Scripture and the logical implications of it. That's where it should be in the first place, but I can only take what I'm given.

I hope Sean comes to agree with me, but this will only be possible if, as I did, he opens himself to the possibility that what he and many mainstream Reformed Christians currently think are wrong. If it's possible in epistemology, it's possible in theology proper.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Eternal Adoption[ism?]

Several Reformed theologians hold to the position that the "person" of the Son is generated whereas the Son's participation in the "divine essence" is not.

For the strictest of Clarkians this would be rather bizarre, since for them the person of the Son is the sum of His predicates. Tautologically speaking, the person of the Son is the definition of the Son, and "definition" is precisely what Clark equated with "essence." In other words, if the person of the Son is generated, that would seem to imply, given Clark's terminology, that the essence (definition) of the Son is generated.

This would be a problem if they wish to hold, as did Clark, that the Son is autotheos. But I suspect this is, in fact, probably not a case of inconsistency so much as an inconsistent reliance on Clark's definitions. I imagine that these Clarkians who argue that the Son's essence is not generated mean that the divine nature or set of attributes of the Son is not generated. In other words, the Father doesn't "communicate" the [or a] divine nature to the Son if such implies the divinity of the Son is in some sense derived from the Father; rather, Clark (and probably these Clarkians) thinks "communicate" merely suggests that the Son has the [or a] divine nature "in common" with the Father. This would suggest that the Son may well communicate the [or a] the divine nature to the Father, but the strange sound of this suggestion is not the focus of this post.

The main point of this post is what I now turn to: even if one holds to this now qualified Reformed view that 1) the Son is autotheos, and 2) the person of the Son is generated but not His essence, terminological difficulties remain in respect to the meaning of "generation." If the Son is autotheos, how is it that His "person" can be generated? What does that mean? Generation is a word which implies logical, if not temporal, derivation. But if the "second person" of the Trinity is self-existent and autotheos, He cannot be said to be eternally generated; that is, the second person wasn't "generated" per se, since the second person qua second person is allegedly underived, self-existent, and God-of-Himself. 

Rather, it would appear that in this case, "eternal generation" actually means the second person merely eternally assumed the personal property of Sonship. If the second person of the Trinity only derives His property of Sonship from the Father, it's misleading to say the second person qua second person is eternally generated. For the person of the Son isn't generated at all.

At most, the second person derives His personal property from the Father, not His person from the Father. But then it would be more appropriate to refer to the Son as eternally adopted. Furthermore, this neo-Adoptionism appears to make the relationships among the persons arbitrary, for I see no reason to think that the personal properties could not be reversed. To us, the first person may be the Father and the second may be the Son, but why may it not have been the case that the first person be the Son and the second the Father? Or, why must the second person have "derived" His property from the first if each of the persons of the Trinity are autotheos, ontologically co-equal in every respect?

I cannot see how eternal generation is compatible with the view that the persons of the Trinity are each autotheos and self-existent.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Whose Hammer?

Over at God's Hammer, Sean Gerety seems concerned that I am "departing from the faith" following an extended conversation between ourselves and other Scripturalists in a rather long comment thread on facebook (link). Much of the ground Sean covers in his post was trodden in our discussion, so I am not sure whether it was meant for me to address or if Sean simply wanted to warn others about me. At any rate, I am provoked to respond. Sean writes:
However, I would have thought that for Christians everywhere the essential deity of Christ was an issue that was beyond dispute. Silly me. God is, after all, three Persons of one essence or substance; not three Persons of three essences or substances. 
As Sean later notes, I claim that the Father, Son, and Spirit are each deities or divine persons. The real question is what it means to be a deity or divine person, a question I will get to in a moment. Regardless, while I don't have a problem saying the persons of the Trinity are "of one essence or substance" if by that Sean means they are generically united according to the set of divine attributes each univocally but distinctly possesses (link), Sean's statement that "God... is three persons" is problematic, for Sean - as thoroughgoingly Clarkian as one can be - agrees with Clark that "The [divine] attributes constitute the definition of God." But substituting this definition for "God" in Sean's statement, we get the idea that "the divine attributes are three persons." This does not make sense; rather, the divine attributes are exemplified in three persons. Attributes are predicated of persons. Persons are not predicated of attributes.

There seems very little to recommend this definition of God, Clark's approval notwithstanding. Sean's blog is called "God's Hammer." But to whom or what does the hammer of Jeremiah 23:29 belong? A set of attributes? Does a set of attributes "declare"? Is Scripture the "word" of a set of attributes? Of course not. It is the word of the Father (cf. 23:1-6). I am not aware of any Scripture in which "set of divine attributes" can intelligibly be substituted for "God." In fact, the WCF's use of singular personal pronouns for "God" was what first led me to question the idea "God and His attributes are one." Rather, it seems to me there are two primary Scriptural meanings of "God" - 1) the Father in a peculiar, preeminent sense; 2) a divine person in general. In either case, it seems to me it always refers to a single person. 

That there are multiple possible meanings of the word is fairly obvious. For instance, Jesus is referred to both as God (e.g. Romans 9:5) and the Son of God (e.g. Mark 1:1). Obviously, Jesus is not the Son of Himself. Equally obvious is that Jesus is not the Son of a set of attributes. Or consider John 1:1-2. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the word was God. He was in the beginning with God." Sean is correct; the Word, Jesus, was God and dwelt among us. Who could deny it? And yet, the Word was not "with" Himself, He was "with" the Father (cf. 1:14, 18). Jesus was with God - a distinct person - and yet Jesus Himself was God. This seems to me to be a pretty clear case that "God" can have multiple meanings. The trick is to determine which meaning applies when. Sean argues, for instance:
Certainly, Jesus Christ is autotheos, divine of Himself. From Jesus’ confession that he is the self-existent I AM and the Almighty Jehovah of the Old Testament, to John’s insistence that the Word was God and dwelt among us, to doubting Thomas’ confession that Jesus is his Lord and His God, even to Jesus’ own testimony that he is the Alpha and the Omega of Revelation, the biblical and exegetical evidence is overwhelming that Jesus Christ is very God of very God.  Yet, it seems that some men, even those calling themselves Christian Scripturalists, think all this is doubtful and Jesus’ confessions concerning his own essential equality with the Father are really confessions of the Father’s unique divine nature and who alone can properly be called God.
John 8, 20:28, and Revelation 1:8 were primary texts Sean used to support the view the Son is self-existent and autotheos in our previous discussion. I think I responded sufficiently to each of these in the course of the facebook conversation: 1) Granville Sharp's sixth rule would imply that the "God" to whom Thomas referred was someone other than the "Lord" [Jesus]; 2) the Greek word for "Almighty" in Revelation 1:8 everywhere else refers to the Father, and as the Father is clearly the referent of "God" in 1:1 and 1:6, it is most natural to regard "the Lord God... Almighty" in 1:8 as referring to the Father; 3) I am not necessarily opposed the idea that Jesus can bear names usually designated of the Father (e.g. YHWH) insofar as He is the perfect image of His Father whom He represents to us - just as a messenger can come in the name of his king - but in these cases we would do well to distinguish between the proper and improper or derivative attribution of them; 4) in the same breath that Jesus refers to Himself as the "I AM," he says that He was taught by the Father (John 8:28). But given Sean's two-person theory of Jesus and that He was speaking as the divine Son sent by the Father (cf. 8:29), how is this possible if the Son is autotheos? Might "I AM" imply eternality rather than self-existence?

On the other hand, the point that the Father alone is always the referent of "one God" (Romans 3:30, 1 Corinthians 8:6, Ephesians 4:6, 1 Timothy 2:5) or "[only] true God" (John 17:3, 1 Thessalonians 1:9, 1 John 5:20) in Scripture did not seem to make much of an impression. I am not sure why. The idea that monotheism is true because there is one "God and Father" (Romans 15:6, 2 Corinthians 1:3, 11:31, Galatians 1:4, Ephesians 1:3, 4:6, Philippians 4:20, 1 Thessalonians 1:3, 3:11, 3:13, 1 Peter 1:3, Revelation 1:6), one "God our Father" (Romans 1:7, 1 Corinthians 1:3, 2 Corinthians 1:2, Galatians 1:3, Ephesians 1:2, Philippians 1:2, Colossians 1:2, 2 Thessalonians 1:1-2, 2:16, Philemon 1:3), etc. seems like a neat solution to any tension between monotheism and the Trinity - much more neat, anyway, than the little to no support for a view of God as a set of attributes.

Further, on Clark's view, the reason monotheism is true is because there is one definition of "God." Clark equated "essence" with "definition." Because there is one definition of God constituted by the divine attributes, there is, in essence, one God. But while I admire Clark in general, I don't see how he could have thought this was a legitimate response to the charge of tritheism. There may be one definition of "human," but because there are multiple subjects to whom this definition can apply - Sean, Clark, and myself, for instance - there are multiple humans. Similarly, because there are multiple subjects of whom the set of divine attributes may be predicated - the Father, Son, and Spirit - it logically follows that there are, on Clark's view, multiple Gods. And as Clark goes, so does Sean. The difference is that Clark admitted he may have been wrong:

The discussion of the main problem in the doctrine of the Trinity may now be called completed, even if it is not complete. Other students and scholars may add to, subtract from, modify, contradict, or otherwise alter the foregoing. Such responses would be a great improvement over the present almost universal neglect of the doctrine. It would turn the attention of the somewhat faithful churches from their sociological sentimentalism to the basic doctrine of the Bible. (The Trinity, Individuation)
Returning to the question of what it means to be divine, though, Sean is adamant that it includes the predicates of "aseity" (self-existence) and being "autotheos" (God-of-Himself):
The way Hedrich and Shelton get around this juxtaposition of orthodoxy and glaring heterodoxy is through a clever use of redefinition. When it’s argued that self-existence is a distinguishing attribute of the divine nature and is central to God’s essence, self-existence is magically redefined as a “personal property”;  a “personal property” unique to the Father and to the exclusion of the other two Persons (or should that be lower case ‘persons”). But, what can the “personal property” of self-existence be besides a divine attribute?   On the one hand there is a subordination of persons not of nature, on the other there is a subordination of both persons and nature.  In Shelton’s anti-trinitarianism, and despite claims to the contrary, the Father is an ontologically superior being who the other two Persons are united to in a limited and derivative way. 
Firstly, I want to make clear that if and when I have stated the Son is ontologically subordinate to the Father, I do not mean that the Son's divine nature is lesser than that of the Father's. What I mean is that the Father and Son [and Spirit] have their own, unique definitions, and these definitions include more than the fact each are divine; that is, they include the individuating principles or predicates unique to the persons. Given that Sean believes in eternal generation, he should recognize a personal property of the Father is the fact He is unoriginate. A personal property of the Son is that He is eternally begotten. A personal property of the Spirit is that He is eternally spirated. Etc. With this clarification, there should be no confusion as to what it means when I assert that self-existence and being autotheos are personal properties or unique predicates of the Father.

Now, if this view is true, it should be obvious that the definition of the Father has one or more preeminent properties as compared to the definitions Son and Spirit such that although the latter would not have lesser divine natures, their persons would be subordinate to the Father's person. But to say that the persons of the Son and Spirit are subordinate to the person of the Father - a statement which Sean wrote "sounds perfectly fine" - is no different than saying the Son and Spirit are subordinate to the Father. That is all I meant by ontological subordination, although it may be better to simply cut out that middleman altogether and simply say the Son and Spirit are subordinate to the Father.

Secondly, I am curious as to what Sean means when he says I have magically redefined self-existence as a personal property. What is the source of the original definition? The Reformers? Scripture? If the latter, I do not think he has convincingly argued for the Son's or Spirit's self-existence or being autotheos. As I mentioned earlier, I think this leads to tritheism unless the persons are collapsed and/or a faulty definition of "God" is assumed. I'm also not sure what eternal generation and procession entails if not a communication of divine nature from the Father to the Son and Spirit; analogously, what does a human father's generation of a son entail if not a communication of human nature from the father to the son? I don't know why the Father assumed the role of the head of the economic activity of the Trinity or why He is referred to as "God" in special senses - one, only true, Almighty, etc. - if the Son and Spirit are in every way equal to Him.

If I am becoming more entrenched in my position, it is only because I am being underwhelmed by the alternatives.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Late Night Thoughts

Interesting late night thoughts are double-edged. On the one hand, I hate boredom, so the fact I can entertain myself is a blessing. But usually, I'm too lazy to get out of bed to write any of these thoughts down, and thinking about them usually deprives me of much needed sleep.

To give an example, I was thinking about the relation between time and the Trinity, topics I have been concentrating on for the past few months. Specifically, I was trying to think of a consistent set of theories from among what alternatives I am aware of. I don't really mean for the following to be a strict argument - more like a rare, real life anecdote. I'm in a funny mood, I guess.

"Subordination of the Son to the Father insofar as a divine nature is communicated to the former by the latter in eternal generation seems to be the best explanation for the Trinitarian issue of generic unity which avoids both tritheism and the collapsing of the persons... but if eternal generation is true, the Son is in some sense caused by the Father, so to distinguish Him from creatures it will be necessary to contrast creatures to divine persons... the most obvious way to do that would be by emphasizing the eternality of the latter... but then, since eternal generation would imply some sort of causation, the B-theory of time in which events are ordered in the direction of causation would seem to be precluded or at least in need of modification, as that would suggest the Son is not eternal... but if, on the contrary, something like William Lane Craig's time is true, while that may account for the eternality of the Son, it would mean that the thoughts of the omniscient divine persons change in accordance with irreducible tensed propositions to reflect the temporal "flow" of reality... but if the thoughts of the divine persons change, not only can't a strong view of immutability be maintained like Paul Helm would want, it would suggest a person cannot, as Gordon Clark thought, "be" what he thinks, for then the divine persons themselves would be continually changing due to their change in thoughts... so maybe Clark's metaphysic needs adjusting... or maybe immutability refers to the moral character or rational nature of the persons... ah, screw it, I'll forget all of this by morning."

Enough to keep anyone awake, huh? Good night folks.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Connect the Dots

Before you, there is a paper extending up and down, left and right as far as the eye can see. On this paper, there are trillions and trillions of dots, much too many to count. Each of these dots represents a distinct proposition. If you connect the dots which represent true propositions, you will see a most beautiful picture, beautiful beyond imagination.

But how do you know which propositions are true? Where do you begin? You guess. You start connecting dots you would like to be true, but pretty soon you've crossed and re-crossed over so many lines that the tangled mess you see makes it evident that at some point, you've connected to at least one dot representing a false proposition.

You erase the picture and start again. But you think more carefully about how to begin this time. You remember as a child drawing rudimentary connect-the-dots images by following a series of numbers. You think that if you begin with dots representing propositions which claim to be the root of knowledge of other propositions, you might achieve similar results.

So you begin with one such dot with which you are familiar. You think a great many people would have pictures starting with this dot. You see no harm in trying it. Even when this leads to another distorted picture, you shrug and start again. You didn't expect to get it right the first or second time anyway. Who could expect you to?

But then you falter again. And then again. And again. And each time you think you can make a slight adjustment which will hold the core together, you come across a dot representing a proposition which collapses the entire system.

Soon, you encounter dots which not only overthrow particular attempted drawings but question the entire enterprise. They tease you, reading, "you did not draw connect-the-dot images as a child," and "no one else would start with that dot," and "you are indeed expected to get the picture right the first time," and "there is no beautiful picture to be found after all." Each dot brings a new frustration.

It's not long after that you begin to despair: How much time have I spent on this stupid dream! Demonic dots seem to leap off the paper, each prompting, demanding you answer overwhelming questions: What is time? Who am I? Where am I? Depression and fatigue set in, and you wonder if there's a time limit for the completion of the picture... if there is even paper on which to draw. What are these words I am thinking? Do words represent thoughts, or are they the thoughts, or do they represent something else about which I am thinking, or...? You fancy yourself going mad. Am I in control of my thoughts? Was I ever? What's the point?


My reader, the prospect is too big. You can't do it by yourself. Contrary to what some will tell you, as if they could even know, it is not in your trying to construct a masterpiece that you will find happiness - this doomed effort will not yield a happiness worth knowing, at any rate - but rather in the recognition of one already drawn by another.

If one tried, on his own, to connect the dots from scratch, he could, at best, only discover a few necessary conditions for knowledge. Even then, he would never know if he had a sufficient condition - and this fact would undermine any possibility of justifying knowledge-claims of these necessary conditions - because that presupposes eternal omniscience. To claim to know one proposition presupposes knowledge that its truth value isn't contingent on the truth value of an unknown proposition. This is only possible if one is eternally omniscient or has received self-authenticating revelation from one who is eternally omniscient.

The fact is, dots have already been connected for us if we are but willing to trace the lines of God's word. That is the self-attesting source from which we must begin, to which we return, and by which we will be able to see a picture of true worth.

Ecclesiastes 12:11 The words of the wise men are like goads, and masters of these collections are like well-driven nails; they are given by one Shepherd.
12 But beyond this, my son, be warned: the writing of many books is endless, and excessive devotion to books is wearying to the body.
13 The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person.
14 For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil.