Monday, January 7, 2013

Triadology and Triablogue

Steve Hays, a primary contributor at Triablogue, mentioned me several times in a recent reply he made to a post by Drake Shelton (link). Over the years, I’ve commented on his blog several times, and I appreciate the breadth of topics he has taken the time to address. He’s always been cordial – even encouraging – towards me.

But in the past few months, I’ve come to accept a position on the Trinity that appears to be highly controversial in Reformed circles. Insofar as I would be more inclined to agree that my position is more in line with the early church than with the classic Reformers, this isn’t so surprising. It’s the fact that the position to which I hold has been seemingly singled out by Reformed Protestants who are themselves in disagreement that is a little more surprising. For example, see here and here as well as here and here.

There are several reasons this could be the case. Perhaps each proponent of these different views feels that he has already said his piece about the others’, whereas each feels that it is time for the proponents of my view to step up to the plate. Or perhaps the position I espouse is considered to be closer to or even actual heresy, in which case it merits a harsher and fuller rebuke.

Whatever the case may be, in responding to Steve I am somewhat at a default disadvantage. I was chuffed when I crossed the 200 post mark on this blog last month. Steve and his cohorts have put together more than 10,000 blog posts. Virtually all of my posts about Trinitarianism have been in the past 6 months. He has posted about Trinitarianism for the past 8 years. Steve has been posting for longer than I’ve known what Calvinism is.

But even aside from disparity in theological experience, exposure, or expertise, I am at a disadvantage in another sense: I am not sure what blog posts or comments of mine Steve means to allude to when he makes certain statements. I can trace my blog discussions with Sean Gerety back to facebook. For a while, at least, each of us was keeping up with what the other had to say about the Trinity. But I don’t know how much of this Steve has read, let alone to which of my statements his recent article refers. For instance, Steve writes:

I also notice that Drake and Ryan both fail to draw a rudimentary distinction between theos as a proper noun and theos as a common noun. I went over that ground with unitarian Dale Tuggy.

I am not sure what I have said that gave Steve this impression, but I think I have drawn this “rudimentary distinction” here, for example:

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. 

And here:

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).

And when I summarized Drake’s view, I noted he too has said “God” can have a broader or narrower application (link):

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.

So perhaps Steve means that we do not put this distinction into proper practice. Maybe so. But then, I don’t necessarily consider a particular interpretation of John 20:28 to be a hill I need to die on anyway. I’m open to correction, given good argumentation. But I would prefer to discuss more central tenets. I do not mean to dictate the terms of discussion away from what are thought to be areas of weakness in my position, however, so if indeed this passage is or serves as an indication of something more significant than I think is possible, I’m sure I can trust Steve to tell me why.

The one other time Steve mentions me, I again am not sure what statement I’ve made that prompted his remark:

vii) This is not the only unitarian move made by Drake’s party. For instance, Ryan draws a distinction between the Mighty God and God Almighty. Once again, that’s a classic unitarian tactic. Anyone who’s debated Jehovah’s Witnesses will recognize that move.
They act as if that’s a theologically significant distinction. They also disregard equally exalted titles applied to Jesus, viz. “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end” (Rev 22:13). 

Though I may have, I honestly don’t recall making this distinction. I recall noting that in the New Testament, “Scripture always refers to the Father as Παντοκράτωρ or παντοκράτορος (“Almighty”).” I don’t think it’s fair to say I “disregard” titles applicable to both the Father and Son. In a discussion about whether the differences between the Father and Son are significant enough to warrant suggestion of the legitimacy of a subordination with respect to the immanent Trinity – or, if you prefer, whether the similarities are significant enough to warrant suggestions of the legitimacy of a co-equality of the persons of the immanent Trinity – it is only natural that one person will tend to focus on differences while another will focus on similarities.

In any case, by this point I have heard enough insinuations and accusations from Sean to be immunized against superficial comparisons with Jehovah’s Witnesses, Unitarians, and semi-Arians. I believe my position is within the bounds of Trinitarianism as established in the [pre]Nicene Fathers, an assertion I have so far defended here and here. But this is obviously not to say there is no further point to discussion.

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