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:
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 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)
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.