Sunday, September 30, 2012

Apologetics and Speculations

I do think that there is a place for speculation in apologetics, such as when providing a defense - which, given available information, we neither know to be true or false - against allegations of internal contradictions. In these cases, the point is to shift the burden of proof to the accuser. But care must be taken to keep in mind the fact that the defense is just a speculation, not fact, and to make sure that it is actually the case that the speculation is compatible with what is currently knowable.

To give an example of what I mean, I've finally gotten around to reading John Owen at length, which I had been meaning to do for some time. You can read his work on the Priesthood of Christ here, though I bought the paperback which smooths out some of the eyesores. While I plan to write on what he has to say about the priesthood of Christ, I came across an excellent section in which Owen takes Socinians to task for suggesting that the incarnation of the Son would have occurred even if man had never sinned. I think it's a good illustration of why I think that counter-factual reasoning in particular is dubious:

10. As to the first opinion, concerning the incarnation of the Son of God without respect unto sin and redemption, there are many pretences given unto it, which shall be afterwards particularly considered. They say that “the manifestation of the glory of God required that he should effect this most perfect way of it, that so he might give a complete expression of his image and likeness. His love and goodness also were so perfectly to be represented, in the union of a created nature with his own. And herein, also, God would satisfy himself in the contemplation of this full communication of himself unto our nature. Besides, it was necessary that there should be a head appointed unto the whole creation, to conduct and guide it, man especially, unto its utmost end.” And sundry other things they allege out of the Bible of their own imaginations. It is granted that even in that state all immediate transactions with the creatures should have been by the Son; for by him, as the power and wisdom of God, were they made, John 1:3; Hebrews 1:2; Colossians 1:16,17. He, therefore, should have immediately guided and conducted man unto his happiness, and that both by confirming him in his obedience and by giving him his reward; an express document whereof we have in the angels that sinned not. But for the opinion of his being incarnate without respect unto redemption and a recovery from sin and misery, the whole of it is ἄγραψον, or unwritten, and therefore uncertain and curious; yea, ἀντἰγραψον, or contrary to what is written, and therefore false; and ἂλογον, or destitute of any solid spiritual reason for the confirmation of it.

11. First, It is unwritten, — nowhere revealed, nowhere mentioned in the Scripture; nor can an instance be given of the faith of any one of the saints of God, either under the old testament or the new, in this matter. The first promise, and consequently first revelation, of the incarnation of the Son of God, was after the entrance of sin, and with respect unto the recovery of the sinner, unto the glory of God. Hereby are all other promises, declarations, and revelations concerning it, as to their end, to be regulated; for that which is the first in any kind, as to an end aimed at, is the rule of all that follows in the same kind. And therefore that which men ground themselves upon in this opinion is indeed neither argument nor testimony, but conjecture and curiosity. They frame to themselves a notional state of things, which they suppose beautiful and comely, (as who are not enamored of the fruits of their own imaginations?) and then assert that it was meet and according unto divine wisdom that God should so order things unto his own glory as they have fancied! Thus they suppose, that, without respect unto sin or grace, God would take unto himself the glory of uniting our nature unto him. Why so? Because they find how greatly and gloriously he is exalted in his so doing. But is this so absolutely from the thing itself, or is it with respect unto the causes, ends, effects, and circumstances of it, as they are stated since the entrance of sin, and revealed in the Scripture? Setting aside the consideration of sin, grace, and redemption, with what attends them, a man may say, in a better compliance with the harmony and testimony of Scripture, that the assumption of human nature into union with the divine, in the person of the Son of God, is no way suited unto the exaltation of divine glory, but rather to beget false notions and apprehensions in men of the nature of the Godhead, and to disturb them in their worship thereof; for the assumption of human nature absolutely is expressed as a great condescension, as it was indeed, Philippians 2:5-8, and that which served for a season to obscure the glory of the Deity in him that assumed it, John 17:5. But the glory of it lies in that which caused it, and that which ensued thereon; for in them lay the highest effects and manifestations of divine love, goodness, wisdom, power, and holiness, Romans 3:24-26. And this is plainly revealed in the gospel, if any thing be so. I fear, therefore, that this curious speculation, that is thus destitute of any scriptural testimony, is but a pretense of being wise above what is written, and a prying into things which men have not seen, nor are they revealed unto them.

12. Secondly, This opinion is contradictory to the Scripture, and that in places innumerable. Nothing is more fully and perspicuously revealed in the Scripture than are the causes and ends of the incarnation of Christ; for whereas it is the great theater of the glory of God, the foundation of all that obedience which we yield unto him, and of all our expectation of blessedness with him, and being a thing in itself deep and mysterious, it was necessary that it should be so revealed and declared. It were endless to call over all the testimonies which might be produced to this purpose; some few only shall be instanced in. First, therefore, On the part of the Father, the sending of the Son to be incarnate is constantly ascribed unto his love to mankind, that they might be saved from sin and misery, with a supposition of the ultimate end, or his own glory thereby: John 3:16, “God so loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Romans 3:25, “Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation.” Chap. 5:8, “God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ, died for us.” Chap. 8:3, “For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh.” 1 John 4:9; Galatians 4:4, 5. Secondly, On the part of the Son himself, the same causes, the same ends of his taking flesh, are constantly assigned: Luke 19:10, “The Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.” 1 Tim. 1:15, “This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” Hebrews 2:14, “Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil.” Galatians 2:20; John 18:37, “To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth,” — namely, of the promises of God made unto the fathers concerning his coming; Romans 15:8. See Philippians 2:6-11. And all this is said in pursuit and explication of the first promise concerning him, the sum whereof was, that he should be manifested in the flesh to “destroy the works of the devil,” as it is expounded 1 John 3:8. This the whole Scripture constantly and uniformly giveth testimony unto, this is the design and scope of it, the main of what it intends to instruct us in; the contrary whereunto, like the fancying of other worlds, or living wights in the moon or stars, dissolves the whole harmony of it, and frustrates its principal design, and therefore is more carefully to be avoided than what riseth up in contradiction unto some few testimonies of it. I say, that to ascribe unto God a will or purpose of sending his Son to be incarnate, without respect unto the redemption and salvation of sinners, is to contradict and enervate the whole design of the revelation of God in the Scripture; as also, it riseth up in direct opposition unto particular testimonies without number. Origen observed this, Hom. xxiv. in Numer.: 

“Si non fuisset peccatum, non necesse fuerat Filium Dei agnum fieri; sod mansisset hoc quod in principio erat, Deus Verbum. Verum quoniam introiit peccatum in hunc mundum, peccati autem necessitas propitiationem requirit, propitiatio vero non sit nisi per hostiam, necessarium fuit provideri hostiam pro peccato;”

— “ If sin had not been, there would have been no necessity that the Son of God should be made a lamb; but he had remained what he was in the beginning, God the Word. But seeing that sin entered into the world, and stood in need of a propitiation, which could not be but by a sacrifice, it was necessary that a sacrifice for sin should be provided.” So Austin,Serm. 8 de Verbis Apostoli, tom. x., “Quare venit in mundum peccatores salvos facere. Alia causa non fuit quare veniret in mundum.”

13. Thirdly, This opinion is destitute of spiritual reason, yea, is contrary unto it. The design of God to glorify himself in the creation and the law or covenant of it, and his design of the same end in a way of grace, are distinct; yea, they are so distinct as, with reference unto the same persons and times, to be inconsistent. This our apostle manifests in the instance of justification and salvation by works and grace:

“If it be by grace, then it is no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then it is no more grace: otherwise work is no more work,” Romans 11:6.

It is impossible that the same man should be justified by works and grace too. Wherefore God, in infinite wisdom, brought the first design, and all the effects of it, into a subordination unto the later; and so he decreed to do from eternity. There being, by the entrance of sin, an aberration in the whole creation from that proper end whereunto it was suited at first, it pleased God to reduce the whole into a subserviency unto the design of his wisdom and holiness in a way of grace; for his purpose was to reconcile and gather all things into a new head in his Son, Jesus Christ, Ephesians 1:10; Hebrews 1:3, 2:7, 8. Now, according to this opinion, the incarnation of the Son of God belonged originally unto the law of creation, and the design of the glory of God therein. And if this were so, it must, with the whole old creation and all that belonged thereunto, be brought into a subordination and subserviency unto the succedaneous design of the wisdom of God to glorify himself in a way of grace. But this is not so, seeing itself is the fundamental and principal part of that design. “Known,” indeed, “unto God are all his works from the beginning.” Therefore, this great projection of the incarnation of his Son lying in the counsel of his will from eternity, he did, in wisdom infinite and holy, order all the concernments of the creation so as they might be disposed into an orderly subjection unto his Son incarnate. So that although I deny that any thing was then instituted as a type to represent him, — because his coming into the world in our flesh belonged not unto that estate, — yet I grant things to have been so ordered as that, in the retrieval of all into a new frame by Jesus Christ, there were many things in the works of God in the old creation that were natural types, or things meet to represent much of this unto us. So Christ himself is called the “second Adam,” and compared to the “tree of life,” whereof we have discoursed in our exposition on the first chapter.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Drake Shelton's Triadology: A Summary

In a Christian context, debates about monotheism and trinitarianism seem to reduce to this: who are [or is] the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, who or what is God, and how are these related to one another? Drake’s view is as follows:

There are three divine persons: Father, Son, and Spirit. To be divine is to be eternal, omniscient, good, just, etc. These are universals which may be predicated of the Father, of the Son and of the Spirit; that is, each is divine because there are a set of distinct, divine attributes which may be predicated of each of them. Why this is the case will be explained momentarily.

Whereas these attributes are what each has in common with the others, each is individuated from the others by his respective property or properties. So, for instance, the Father is eternally unoriginate, the Son is eternally begotten or generated from the Father, and the Spirit eternally proceeds from the Father.

Hence, the Father, Son, and Spirit must be distinct persons. To be a person is to possess a mind capable of reflexively indexing a certain set of propositions. So, for example, the reasons that the Father, Son and Spirit are distinct persons or minds is that only the Father can think “I am unoriginate,” only the Son can think “I am eternally begotten,” and only the Spirit can think “I eternally proceed.”

[These variances in reflexive thought do not imply that omniscience is impossible. The subject of the proposition "I am unoriginate" is, for the Father, "the Father," and both the Son and Spirit also assent to the proposition "the Father is unoriginate." Propositions are the meanings of declarative statements, and the meaning of the Father's thought "I am unoriginate" is synonymous with "the Father is unoriginate." Reflexive knowledge can accordingly be considered an indexation of propositional thought.]

Eternal generation and procession may be distinguishing properties, but they also point to the source of unity among the persons: the Father. It is the Father who communicates His divine nature, essence, or attributes in the Son and Spirit whose very persons are metaphysically grounded in the Father. This is not to say that the Son and Spirit are creations, however. Each is eternal and consubstantial with the Father in respect to His divine nature, for both persons causally extend from the Father necessarily rather than as an act of free will. And though eternal generation and eternal procession can be considered types of emanation or consubstantial extension from the Father, it is not Neoplatonic since such causality is a property of the Father alone. But the point is that the Father is the point of unity among the divine persons, not an abstract set of attributes which each person allegedly possesses of Himself. The Son and Spirit are not "autotheos." From this, Drake concludes that in the ontological as well as economic Trinity,

There is a subordination of persons but not of nature. The nature in the Father, Son and Holy Ghost is the same in character. However, the Father is the source of the Son and Spirit and all operation... Therefore, the Son is said to obey these commands and operations of the Father (John 10:18, Heb 10:7). The Son never commands the Father but the Father commands the Son. Jesus said in John 14:28 that the Father was greater than he was. The very terms Father and Son require a subordination of some kind.

It may be better, when first trying to grasp this view, not to think of the divine nature abstractly at all. There is certainly nothing wrong with the question, "what is the divine nature?" The divine nature is an idea – a proposition enumerating the attributes which must be predicable of an person in order for him to be divine – analogous to human nature. But neither divine nor human nature in themselves are minds or persons but attributes which identify divine or human minds or persons. Now, I may be said to be human and Jesus may be said to be divine, but in both cases the person is the subject.

As such, "God is three persons," "God is Triune," etc. are false. These propositions make the subject an impersonal divine nature and lead either to the view that the three persons are merely modes of God, which is the error of Sabellius, or to the view that the three persons are in some sense merely parts of God, which is unintelligible. It is no more proper to state that "God is three persons" than it is to state that "human is x number of persons."

This is a danger of considering the doctrine of the Trinity by beginning with the divine nature abstract from persons of whom it may be predicated. Hence, it is often the case that those who hold to the Western or Latin view will first ask “what” – not “who” – is God yet proceed to use personal [relative] pronouns in describing God’s attributes. This turns the divine nature into a person and either leads to a quaternity or a collapsing of the Trinity into [parts of?] one person.

The alternative to this conception of "numeric unity" is "generic unity" which in Drake's words, means that "the divine nature is generic in the sense that it defines the necessary predicates of three different things: three different divine minds." The only subjects to whom the genus "deity" can apply are the Father, Son, and Spirit. These persons are said to be united because of each the genus "deity" may be predicated, albeit with the qualification that the ground of this unity lies in the Father's eternal communication of this genus in the Son and Spirit.

The debate regarding generic and numeric unity is primarily about the ground of unity, though, of course, why one thinks the Father, Son, and Spirit may be said to be united will affect how one thinks they are united. Generic unity holds the Father as the principle of unity whereas numeric unity holds the divine nature as the principle of unity. The latter view, therefore, requires that the Son and Spirit are autotheos. Drake argues the contrary: "Aseity is not a divine attribute. It is a personal property of the Father. If Aseity is an divine attribute then this denies the eternal generation of the Son, which requires derivation."

The debate between numeric and generic unity is important because, for example, the view of the divine nature as absolutely simple presupposes that the principle, cause, origin, or source of unity among the Father, Son, and Spirit lies in the divine nature "itself" (numeric unity), whereas a view of the divine nature as allowing for real distinctions would be perfectly compatible with the Monarchy of the Father (hence, with generic unity). Absolute divine simplicity is problematic because it is unable to account for how men can participate in the divine nature (2 Peter 1:3-4) given that there are no real distinctions in it. In fact, if there are no real distinctions in the divine nature, some sort of Neoplatonic Monad seems to follow. Real distinctions in God's knowledge and attributes, for instance, are good and necessary to the perfection of the Trinity.

Given these considerations about individuation, personhood, the divine nature, unity, etc., what does "God" means? Drake writes:

I have found that the word “God” can mean at least 6 things in this discussion: 1. The Father/Monarchy; Concreted person; 2. The Divine Nature; abstract substance; or that an uncreated person possesses a divine nature 3. Godhead 4.Source of operation; 5. Auto-theos: that is uncaused 6. An indirect sense in that the Logos and the Holy Spirit are called God as they inter-dwell (perichoresis) and are consubstantial with the Father.

Drake usually uses definitions 1, 4, and 5 when referencing "God." So, for example, Jesus is referred to as the Son of God. Just as the Son is a person, “God,” in this context, is a person – namely, the Father. As the Nicene Creed states, “We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen.” The one God is the Father. The Father alone is Monarch, autotheos, inoriginate, the principle of unity, etc. Drake doesn't use definition 3.

As for definitions 2 and 6, “God” may in this sense be predicated of the Son and Holy Spirit, but in these cases such is due the fact they are persons who are divine; that is, to say Jesus [or the Holy Spirit] is God is a reference to the essence communicated from the Father. Even in this sense, “God” is an adjectival predicate, not a subject.

The most serious charge against this position is that it implies tritheism rather than monotheism, and Christianity is a monotheistic religion. But this charge can be answered only when it is clarified who or what the "one God" is. On Drakes view, Christianity is monotheistic insofar as the Father is the only person of the Trinity of whom “God” can be predicated qua personhood (cf. definitions 1, 4, and 5): “On my Nicene view, being the one God is a hypostatic property of the Father, not a divine attribute.” This does not preclude the divinity of the Son and Spirit:

God is not three gods as in Tri-theism but God is the Father and with the Father are his Word and Spirit in whom the Father communicates the divine nature. There is only one God, one divine nature and one divine operation. God is the only cause though there are different agents of action in the world. Causality requires infallible operation to produce a uniform effect. The Father is this cause. God is static and immutable. Ad extra the action of God is one in that all things are different aspects of one eternal act. This eternal act is governed by the plurality of Ideas or Thoughts in God as his nature Ad Intra. This eternal act is good because it is in accord with his divine nature/thought affirmations.

Does this mean that on Drake's view, Christianity is tritheistic with respect to definitions 2 and 6 for "God"? Yes. But since whenever Scripture references the "one God" it is always with reference to the Father, this is irrelevant. In the contexts of Scripture in which monotheism is emphasized, only definitions 1, 4, and 5 are applicable anyways. Where, then, is the error? It's principle of individuation coupled with it's rejection of an abstract divine nature as the principle of unity among the Trinity precludes Sabellianism. It's rejection of the Son and Spirit as created in favor of the monarchy of the Father as presented in Scripture, the original Nicene creed, and the Cappadocian Fathers precludes Arianism. Unitarianism appears to be an undefined catch-all which, if applied in this instance without accompanying counter-arguments, would signal a pejorative hit-and-run tactic.

None of this is meant to imply I have no more questions or concerns about this view. But then, those questions or concerns are not solely related to Trinitarianism. For instance, I still have questions about which theory of time is true or whether the idea of multiple possible worlds is intelligible, and the implications of Drake's strict view of the Trinity would seem to demarcate what possibilities are live options. But then, I'm going to have the same or similar questions with respect to any Trinitarian position, and I'd probably have further questions specifically relevant to that Trinitarian view.

To conclude then, Drake's view is the most coherent I have read. I would recommend his posts on Triadology (cf. here, here, here, and here), particularly for the sections of Scriptural support for his preference in using definitions 1, 4, and 5 for "God."

* Personal note: a thanks to Drake for reviewing this post and making some suggestions.

Monday, September 3, 2012

The Procession of the Spirit and the Filioque

I know of very few Scripturalists who make significant contributions to the common philosophy that Clark, Robbins, Cheung, etc. have each developed in his own way. Being able to read, retain, and reproduce what good arguments these men have learned by God’s grace and revelation is a worthy goal. But I think that Scripturalists who attempts to further this common philosophy deserve recognition. As it seems to me that Drake Shelton’s Triadology is an instance of this, I want to provide a summary of and comment on his view for those who are, like I was and to some extent still am, unacquainted with the eastern perspective of the Trinity.

While I continue the process of summarization, I wanted to comment on five objections Drake makes against the Filioque, an issue I think is a little more open-ended than some other doctrines related to the Trinity. Drake seems to agree when he writes, “I do not have that strong of a feeling about the doctrine but I must say that much heresy and division could have been avoided if the root errors of the Filioque would have been exposed.” He does proceed to defend single procession, however. I think these arguments are interesting but ultimately require elaboration in order to be sound proofs that the Filioque is false:

Argument 1. Drake cites Robert Letham as saying “Augustine’s beginning with the trinity rather than with the Father, as the Cappadocians had done, together with his stress on the divine simplicity, makes the Filioque almost inevitable.” From this, Drake concludes, “if Divine Simplicity is wrong, so is Filioque.” But this does not follow, for the Filioque could be [almost] inevitable for reasons other than divine simplicity. Of course, the onus would be on the one who affirms the Filioque to provide these reasons, but that seems to be what most of these arguments come down to. Rather than refuting the Filioque, it seems to volley the burden of proof back to the proponent of the Filioque. In a post on the Monarchy of the Father, Drake says, "If then the Father is Monarch/hypostatic origin and cause, causality need not be predicated of the Son and therefore need not posit the Filioque." It's true that, given the available evidence, the Filioque seems superfluous. But impossible? I don't know that these arguments go so far as to show that. Scripture seems to be silent on the ontological relation between the Spirit and Son, which, if true, is why Argument 2 fails:

Argument 2. Drake asserts that the Filioque “posits a subordination of the Holy Spirit.” I believe I am correct in stating that Drake means to imply this is unacceptable due to an underlying premise: as persons, the Holy Spirit is co-equal with the Son. But this premise is not established. If the Son and Spirit can be subordinate to the Father, why not the Spirit to the Son? Now, the silence of Scripture can cut both ways. Instead of the Spirit proceeding from the Father and Son, perhaps the Son is generated by the Father and Spirit. So I hope I'm not giving the impression that I lean towards acceptance of the Filioque. On the contrary, my intuitions lie in the opposite direction. But that's not enough, which is why I hope this post will lead to a definitive answer.

Argument 3. The Filioque “confuses the distinct properties among the divine Persons.” Why must “cause” be a predicate of the Father alone? Even if the Filioque is true, aseity would remain a distinguishing property of the Father. Furthermore, even if the Father and Son shared a common predicate that the Spirit does not, this would only be relevant if the Spirit can be shown to necessarily be co-equal with the Son.

Argument 4. The Filioque is said to posit “the Son as a cause and therefore a Father.” One defense against this could be that the Son cannot be a "Father" unless He were unoriginate. After all, the Monarchy of the Father is said to be the principle of unity among the persons of the Trinity; the Son and Spirit are identified as such in accordance to their relation to the Father from whom they ultimately logically derive, not according to the way in which they relate to each other.

Argument 5. Drake cites Photius as asking, “what does the Spirit gain which He did not already possess in His procession from the Father?” I'm not sure this is phrased as well as it could have been, so if I may, Photius' problem with the Filioque is this:

The Son extends from or is generated by the nature of the Father. The Father and the Son are consubstantial; that is, the one divine nature is predicated of distinct individuals. The Spirit is also consubstantial with the Father and Son. Given this, how can the Holy Spirit proceed from the Son as well as the Father? In what way could the Holy Spirit proceed from the Son?

It cannot be from the divine nature of the Son that the Spirit proceeds, for there is nothing in the divine nature of the Son which could supplement the divine nature of the Father in the procession of the Spirit. The divine nature just refers to a set of predicable attributes that identify a subject as divine. The Son possesses no more of these attributes than the Father - the Son is not "more divine" than the Father, as if that could even make sense.

This means, however, that if the Spirit extends from the Father's nature at all, to say that the Spirit proceeds from the Son as well is to say that He proceeds from the Son in some respect other than from His nature. But what, then?

That is the argument. But here too the argument would end with an open-ended question. It seems to me that a full refutation of the Filioque depends on answers to one of these questions:

  • Is there a subordination of the Spirit to the Son?
  • Does the Filioque stem from absolute divine simplicity, or is there another reason one could believe it?
  • Is causality a property of the Father alone?
  • Does causality imply fatherhood? If so, so what?
  • Can the Spirit be said to proceed from the Son in some respect other than His nature? Why not?
To me, the 1st, 3rd, and 5th questions seem the most promising.