It seems that when a discussion gets underway on this list some members prefer to return to the question of whether one can now know one is saved. Then follows all sorts of confusion that would take days to sort out, probably to no one's satisfaction. So no progress is made.
First, the issue is not skepticism. Even if a sinner cannot know (in the proper sense of the word) that he is saved -- and so far no one has shown that he can -- Scripturalism furnishes us with many truths when all other methods fail, and so skepticism is avoided.
Second, knowledge requires explicit statements in Scripture or deductions from Scripture. It is not the same as assurance or certitude or certainty.
Third, opinions may be true or false. (It is absurd to say that some propositions are neither true nor false.) So Jack's (a hypothetical person) opinion that he is saved may indeed be true, but no one has yet shown how he can deduce it from Scripture. Those who think he can so deduce it must show how it can be so deduced -- but don't try it here for at least a year.
Fourth, Jack's failure is not due to any doubt about Scripture (and it is impossible to doubt a proposition one believes -- one either assents or one does not) but solely to the problem of self-knowledge. He knows the major premise, All believers are saved. He opines the minor premise, I am a believer. Therefore the conclusion, I am saved, can rise no higher than opinion.
Finally, the question is not how does one know one knows? but how does one know? Scripturalism says, one knows only by explicit statements in or valid inferences from Scripture.
Now, gentlemen, move on to another topic.
My reply was short:
Sean, do you opine the canon of Scripture or know it? If the former, does that not mean your axiom and its attendant theorems could be false, in which case knowledge is impossible? If the latter, do you not agree that such would necessitate that you are regenerate due to the fact only God's sheep listen to, hear, and follow the voice of the Shepherd (1 John 4, John 8, 10)? If so, then why isn't that self-knowledge? Or if you would not agree, why not?
Unfortunately but unsurprisingly, I never received a response to this inquiry. After three or four other members made arguments for self-knowledge from Scripture and the WCF, Sean singled out one, a person who with whom I've corresponded for years, by writing:
Mary, do you think someone who denies that Jesus Christ is the one true God and Lord, maker of heaven and earth (John 1:1-3), has any reason to believe, or if you prefer, know, they are a child of God?
Aside from the fact John 1:1-3 does not mention "the one true God," it will not escape the attention of the critical reader that Sean is changing the subject. He started a discussion on self-knowledge. When faced with several challenging objections to his skeptical position, he transitions to Trinitarianism.
Now, I have no objection to discussing Trinitarianism and have done so for months. But I've had enough conversations with Sean to recognize his bait-and-switch. Clearly, Sean's comment is irrelevant to the topic he started. For even if we suppose I am not a Christian, would this refute my argument? No. Despite our disagreements, I assume Sean considers John 8, 10, and 1 John 4 to be canonical. So if these passages teach that one who is not a sheep is not regenerate and cannot hear, follow, or listen to the voice of the Shepherd, then the argument still appears to stand. That I would not be able to know it would not be relevant to whether Sean could be able to know it.
Nevertheless, although she handled Sean deftly, Sean made a few more misrepresentations before I was able to respond. Naturally, the concern for me which this poster showed prompted me to write a summary of why I hold certain Trinitarian views, correcting Sean where appropriate:
Hi Mary. I'm not sure how much exposure you have had to several issues relevant to why I hold to the Trinitarianism of the Nicene Creed, Novatian, Alexander of Alexandria, Athanasius, and other early church fathers rather than that of Calvin, Van Til, or Clark. So before answering your questions, I thought it would be best to give a broad sketch of some of this material.
Firstly, I think all Trinitarians would agree with a few tenets:
1. Monotheism: there is one God.
2. The Father is God, the Son (Jesus) is God, and the Holy Spirit is God.
3. The Father is distinct from the Son, and both are distinct from the Spirit.
4. The Father, Son, and Spirit each univocally though distinctly possess divine attributes: each is omniscient, eternal, good, etc. Each possesses a mind and a will. On the other hand, they are individuated or distinguished from one another by properties: for instance, only the "first person" is the Father, only the "second person" is the Son, and only the "third person" is the Spirit. They have different thoughts (e.g. "I am the Father") and make different choices with their different wills (e.g. "I, the Son, will to die"), though all of these variances are with the same purposes and ends in mind, of course.
For the past 6 months or so, I have been attempting to reconcile point 1 with point 2. Without qualification, point 2 seems to be an indication of support for tritheism. In fact, I think Sean's position logically resolves either into my own or into tritheism. As it stands, Sean can't consistently affirm point 1, monotheism (see my concluding paragraphs).
The solution I came to was to affirm that what the phrase "one God" means in point 1 is not the same as what "God" means in point 2. In point 2, I think the word "God" means "divine [nature]" or "deity." The Father, Son, and Spirit are each able to be called "God" because each possesses the divine attributes or divine nature. But "[one] God" has more than one meaning. Clearly, when Jesus is said to be the "Son of God," he is not the Son of a divine nature or set of divine attributes - He is the Son of a particular person, the Father.
So one meaning of God is Father. Another meaning of God is divine. I think John 1:1-2 supports this: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with [the Father], and the Word was [divine]." The Word was not the Father, which is Sabellianism. Nor was the Word with some abstract divinity, for the Word Himself is divine.
Now, when we examine the passages in which the New Testament which refer to the "one" God (Mark 10:18, 12:29, 1 Corinthians 8:6, Romans 3:30, Galatians 3:20, Ephesians 4:6, 1 Timothy 2:5, James 2:19) or "[only] true" God (John 3:33, 5:44, 17:3, Romans 3:4, 16:27, 1 Thessalonians 1:9, 1 Timothy 1:17 1 John 5:20), we find that they each refer to the Father alone. Thus, I think monotheism is true because we have one Father: "Have we not all one Father? Has not one God created us? Why then are we faithless to one another, profaning the covenant of our fathers?" (Malachi 2:10). But Trinitarianism is also true because there are three distinct yet equally divine persons. And while this post is primarily about what Scripture and logic dictate - we are Protestants, after all - please note that the Nicene Creed refers to the Father as the one God, not the Trinity.
You might wonder why the Father alone is called the one God if the Son and Spirit are really equal with Him in respect to their divinity. The reason is to be found in the different properties each possesses. The Father, Son, and Spirit are each equally divine. But only the Father is uncaused: the Son and Spirit are, respectively, eternally begotten and eternally spirated of or from the Father. It is for that reason they are subordinate to the person of the Father. It is analogous to a human relationship between a father and son: when a father begets or generates a son, that son possesses humanity. The son is no less human than is his father. But because the son derives humanity from or has humanity communicated to him from his father, he is subordinate to his father. The obvious difference between this and the Trinity is that the relationship between the Father and Son/Spirit is eternal, not temporal, and divinity is communicated rather than humanity.
So the Son and Spirit are co-equal in respect to nature but not in respect to person[al properties]. If they were co-equal in the latter case, then there really is no reason that one person should obey the other. The relationships themselves would be arbitrary.
I think this is a fair summary, and I am of course willing to expand on or point you to posts in which I elaborate on these arguments, so to answer your specific questions:
"So it is a matter of semantics, then?"
In one sense, yes, and in another sense, no. Sean seems to deny that "God" can have multiple meanings, so semantics is relevant. But these semantics have significant implications.
"But Ryan (and I ask this with all humility), when Jesus says I am my Father are ONE---would this language not be considered the same as “one God?”"
Define "one God." We would agree they are not the same person, right? But isn't the "one God" a person? If so, then doesn't it make more sense to say that Jesus and the Father are one in some other sense (e.g. John 17:11, 21-23)?
With respect to what Sean says, then, he is lying when he says I deny the full divinity of the Son and Spirit. He is equivocating when he says I don't believe the Son and Spirit are co-equal with the Father. He is raising a red herring in citing Thomas' confession. The truth is, I tried for several months to get him to answer specific questions about Trinitarianism, and he has offered no reply. He says the Father, Son, and Spirit have one will. I ask if the Father willed to die or assume humanity as did the Son. No reply. He says the Son and Spirit are autotheos and aseity. I ask how then the relationships among the Trinity can be non-arbitrary. No reply. He says there is one God because there is one definition of God. I ask if there is one person because there is one definition of person. No reply. He says the Father, Son, and Spirit are inseparable. I ask how that establishes monotheism. No reply. He says I'm a Unitarian. I ask if he thinks the early church - including the primary opponent of Arius with whom my position is in full agreement - was comprised of Unitarians. No reply. [I am being polite when I say his historical understanding of the Trinity is skewed.] Etc.
So why does he bring up the Trinity now, in a completely different context, after failing to respond for so long? Honestly, it is because he realizes he is facing another uphill struggle on yet another topic: my arguments for the necessity of self-knowledge. In my first post, I use the Socratic method to anticipate the possible responses he could have to my questions. Since the answers to these questions lead to a rejection of his denial of self-knowledge, he blatantly changes the subject, making the same misrepresentations for which I have corrected him dozens of times. He used the same bait-and-switch method when we discussed the Trinity. Will he respond to the arguments I make for the Nicene view of the Trinity in this comment? I really don't have anything else to say. Just watch and see.
I hope your worries are calmed and that you are doing well. Thank you for your kind words.
I have said all of this on my blog at one time and in one form or another. However, seeing it in all at once puts into perspective how systematic Trinitarianism really is. As I said, the discussion board has been useful. In any case, my prediction about the substance of Sean's reply quickly came to fruition:
While Ryan calls me a liar, keep in mind that despite his attempt to paint his view as "Trinitarian," he admits he rejects any view of the Trinity that would be recognized by "Calvin, Van Til, or Clark" not to mention the Westminster Divines or any Christian church anywhere. Further, while pretending to hold to the Nicene creed (he doesn't) he completely rejects the Athanasian creed which states in part:
"So there is One Father, not Three Fathers; one Son, not Three Sons; One Holy Ghost, not Three Holy Ghosts. And in this Trinity none is afore or after Other, None is greater or less than Another, but the whole Three Persons are Co-eternal together, and Co-equal. So that in all things, as is aforesaid, the Unity in Trinity, and the Trinity in Unity, is to be worshipped. He therefore that will be saved, must thus think of the Trinity."
I think you'll figure out shortly who is the liar.
Again, what had I just said in my last comment?
"Will he respond to the arguments I make for the Nicene view of the Trinity in this comment? I really don't have anything else to say. Just watch and see."
Again, this is just what occurred in our discussions several months ago. I make half a dozen or so Scriptural and logical arguments for my view, and Sean passes these by, instead focusing on historical theology. Although Sean is being disingenuous in his representations of this history, even if he weren't, none of it could bind my conscience.
But this is well-trodden ground before. I ask Sean who the Nicene Creed calls the one God, the Trinity or the Father. No reply. I ask Sean whether the Creed says the Son is God of Himself (autotheos) or God of God. No reply. So who is really pretending to hold to the Nicene Creed? Look no further than the person who thinks the Trinity is the one God or that the Son [or Spirit] is autotheos: Sean.
Does Sean explain why I should accept Calvin, Van Til, or Clark's view? No. Does he explain why I should accept the Athanasian Creed? No. Does he respond to any criticisms of their views which I have made? No. Does he interact with the works of early church fathers on whom I have commented? No... Is this all sounding too familiar?
Now, if I cared enough, I could perhaps find support for my Trinitarian position in Reformed authors. But given that historical theology isn't conscience-binding, I really find it ridiculous for Sean, a fellow Scripturalists of all things, to use it [with less than stellar effect] as his primary rebuttal. That's a Roman Catholic method, not a Protestant one. Nevertheless, I recall several statements which support my view with which Sean cannot agree. One is given by Jonathan Edwards who, speaking of the immanent Trinity, eternally subordinates the Son and Spirit to the fount of divinity, the Father, so as to non-arbitrarily explain their economic activity:
"Though a subordination of the Persons of the Trinity in their actings, be not from any proper natural subjection one to another, and so must be conceived of as in some respect established by mutual free agreement, whereby the Persons of the Trinity, of their own will, have as it were formed themselves into a society, for carrying on the great design of glorifying the deity and communicating its fullness, in which is established a certain economy and order of acting. Yet this agreement establishing this economy is not to be looked upon as merely arbitrary, founded on nothing but the mere pleasure of the members of this society, not merely a determination and constitution of wisdom come into from a view to certain ends which it is very convenient for the obtaining. But there is a natural decency or fitness in that order and economy that is established. It is fit that the order of the acting of the Persons of the Trinity should be agreeable to the order of their subsisting. That as the Father is first in the order of subsisting, so he should be first in the order of acting. That as the other two Persons are from the Father in their subsistence, and as to their subsistence naturally originated from him and are dependent on him, so that in all that they act they should originate from him, act from him and in a dependence on him. That as the Father with respect to the subsistences is the fountain of the deity, wholly and entirely so, so he should be the fountain in all the acts of the deity. This is fit and decent in itself. Though it is not proper to say, decency obliges the Persons of the Trinity to come into this order and economy. yet it may be said that decency requires it, and that therefore the Persons of the Trinity all consent to this order, and establish it by agreement, as they all naturally delight in what is in itself fit, suitable and beautiful."
Finally, it seems Sean is a little huffy that I call him a liar. Sean, you don't get kid gloves any more. You don't get the benefit of the doubt. I've bent over backwards to explain my view to you dozens of times, and if you still don't see fit to correctly represent it, I have no problem calling you out. If you want to use this as your excuse to exit this conversation - an exit which, I suspect, was and is forthcoming in any case - that doesn't bother me. My responses to you are no longer to convince you but to prevent you from doing spiritual and intellectual harm to others. Your allegiance to Clark is taking precedence to Scripture, whether you realize it or not.
This particular discussion really is a microcosm of our months of discussion. Sean picks a topic. I respond. Sean switches topics. I point this out but respond anyway. This continues for a while, then Sean waits a few weeks and starts the process all over again. It's one charade after another. The difference is, I expect it now. It is perhaps for this reason that the conversation took a rather nasty turn after my last comment above. In my last blog post, I pointed out Sean's hypocrisy in moralizing on his blog while making backhanded remarks behind closed doors. As a close to this post, I hope readers will remember the following as just one more evidence of this (Sean's comments are indented, my replies are not):
You're losing it Ryan. Now you're threatening me? Do you really think I'm afraid of you? Like I've said before you are a very arrogant young man. A theologically blind one too. More concerning is that you sound like someone on the verge of a nervous breakdown. That's no joke. I don't think you're well. I mean, you're arguments to Patrick were so bizarre (I hope to blog on it soon) that I really started to fear for your mental health.
My advice to you is get off the Internet for a couple of months and devote your time to studying the Scripture and prayer. Good advice for anyone really. In your case I would recommend mediating specifically on those passages of Scripture that affirm the equality of the Son to the Father. Maybe then with doubting Thomas you may one day call upon Jesus Christ as your Lord and God too.
And, you're right, we really don't want people with an allegiance to Clark on a Clark list. 8-P
Supposed threats and my mental health... well, at least these are new. But they are even less worthy of a response than your arguments, if that is possible.
I am serious Ryan. I don't think you're well.
I guess when all else fails, one is left with questioning his opponent's sanity to justify ignoring his arguments.