Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Scripturalism and Self-Knowledge Revisited


Having recently updated one of what I have argued to be necessary preconditions for knowledge (link), I have been meaning to update another, the necessity of self-knowledge (link), and Sean Gerety’s reference to and rejection of my view here will make for a useful foil. While I agree with Sean that knowledge, opinion, and ignorance are different, how I would categorize some beliefs about oneself would differ from how Sean would. That is, with reference to the class of mortal men, I think some beliefs about oneself can and indeed must be [unmistakably] known. Sean would argue any such beliefs must be opined or possibly erroneous.

Now, despite the title of Sean’s post – Biblical Epistemology 101 – Gordon Clark held that self-knowledge was one of the most complicated philosophical subjects:
The one piece of ignorance that Reymond seems most anxious to press against my view is knowledge of oneself. Self-knowledge has indeed been a philosophical ideal ever since Socrates said, Gnōthi seauton. But it is very difficult. Plotinus’ Enneads, the extreme difficulty of which philosophers all acknowledge, can be understood as a gigantic attempt to achieve self-knowledge. Even those who think the ideal is possible of attainment must wonder whether anyone has succeeded. (Modern Philosophy, pg. 273)
Further, Sean himself has cited John Robbins as saying that while he did not believe self-knowledge is currently attainable, he was open to correction (link). In any case, a dogmatic rejection of self-knowledge is clearly not necessary to be a Scripturalist, let alone to understand the “basics of [Gordon Clark’s] epistemology.” So perhaps Sean rather meant that “not all truth is knowledge” is what is epistemologically basic. But in that case, disagreement as to whether self-knowledge is possible or justifiable does not imply either party has a low understanding of [Clark’s] epistemology, a reckless accusation Sean has made elsewhere (link). This dubiously contrasts with Sean’s own repeated allusions to my placement in two TrinityFoundation essay contests. Then again, Sean has not dealt charitably with me in recent discussions of the Trinity, so when he says the following, I unfortunately can’t even feign surprise:
I would think all this is an obvious and if it’s admitted that we cannot know who God’s elect are, the same applies to us even when we look in the mirror.  Yet, when George Macleod Coghill made this point on a “Clark” Facebook discussion group, even adding that “all knowledge has to be truth, but it is not the case that all truth has to be knowledge,” a number of self-styled “Scripturalists” went bonkers.  Even people like former Trinity Foundation Worldview Contest winner Ryan Hedrich, a young man who claims to be in “broad agreement” with Clark’s epistemological views, if not much else, took issue with Clark’s theory at this point (so much for any “broad agreement). Hedrich said: “I do have true knowledge about myself. ‘I am regenerate’ is a proposition I can and do know.”  Now, admittedly, this is assertion from a young man who has recently come out of the closet rejecting the Trinity and the doctrine of God.  Needless to say I tend to be considerably more skeptical concerning Hedrich’s claim even if I wish I could be more charitable.  Frankly, I find it hard to think of any Christian church that would find Hedrich’s profession of faith credible for membership. The point is, and despite his bravado, unless a person like Hedrich can provide an account for how he arrived at the knowledge of his own regeneration, it appears to me to remain an opinion, and, in this case, one I have little confidence in as should he.  Besides, how can anyone be so arrogant to ignore Paul’s warning to the Corinthians; “let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.”  I would think that would be enough to humble even a Trinity Foundation Worldview Contest winner.
Firstly, Sean is lying about what statements George made with which I disagreed. I never argued “all truth has to be knowledge.” I argued that Scripturalism can and must be able to account for self-knowledge. Clearly, saying that some truth has to be known does not imply all truth has to be known. For someone who pontificates about basic epistemology, Sean either has a poor grasp of it himself or, what is more likely, is resorting to misrepresentation here as he did in our discussions of the Trinity.

This inference is also justified by Sean’s challenge for me to “provide an account for how he arrived at the knowledge of [my] own regeneration.” Now, I wonder whether Sean is capable of outlining what it means to “provide an account” for truth. What does it mean for true belief to be “justified”? If it simply means to show that one’s knowledge-claim is not capable of being mistaken, I justified [the need for] self-knowledge numerous times in our discussion on facebook. Each time, Sean evaded engaging the argument, though he did take the trouble to “Yawn” once in response. It’s always impressive when a man twice my age acts like a child to those who attempt to have a serious discussion about epistemology and then moralizes on his blog about the need for humility instead of arrogance. Yes, I’m sure anyone would agree that Sean’s references to “mother’s basements,” “witlessness,” and the pejorative nicknames he has delighted in bestowing on me are indicative of the sort man from whom I should take ethical advice seriously. Just the same, as Sean is a self-admitted potential reprobate, I think I will decline. 

The reader will excuse my attempts to turn the subject matter to more serious lines of inquiry, such as what my argument for self-knowledge was. It is actually the same argument I made in one of my comments on my last post on self-knowledge:

P1. Knowledge precludes the possibility of error.
P2. If you may not be a sheep, you cannot know you’ve heard the voice of the Shepherd. 
P3. If you cannot know you’ve heard the voice of the Shepherd, you cannot know which propositions are God-breathed.
P4. If you cannot know which propositions are God-breathed, you cannot know anything.
P5. You may not be a sheep.
C. You don’t know anything.

P1. is by definition (cf. link). 
P2. and P3. follow from John 8:43-47, 10:1-5, 26, 1 John 4:1-6, etc. Essentially, the point is that only regenerates can know the canon of Scripture (link) because only regenerates can know that they aren’t suppressing God’s self-authenticating and revealed truth in unrighteousness.
P4. is Scripturalism. 

Since the argument is valid yet the conclusion is self-defeating (link), that leaves P5. as the premise I argue is reduced to absurdity. Excluding P5., I have argued for each of these premises in separate posts. One would think, then, this would warrant some attention from fellow Scripturalists who have every reason to wish to know themselves. Or maybe not. 

Instead, Sean continues to cite Jeremiah 17:9 as if he knows it’s God’s word. Well, he can cite it until the cows come home, but I will give the same reply here as I did when he mentioned it the first half dozen times, at least until he answers my questions: how does he know it is God’s word? Only God’s sheep hear, listen to, and follow His voice. Is Sean a sheep? How do he know? These are questions which require self-knowledge, and answers to them are necessary in order for Sean to know Jeremiah 17:9 is Scripture. Ironically, Sean can’t even begin to use Jeremiah 17:9 to support his argument unless he admits his argument against self-knowledge is false. That is, denial of self-knowledge on the basis of Jeremiah 17:9 presupposes self-knowledge, for otherwise he wouldn’t be able to identify Jeremiah 17:9 as God’s word in the first place. I’m not interested in what Sean’s opinion to the contrary. I would be interested in his knowledge to the contrary.

Moving on, another tactic Sean uses is the argument that since the name “Sean Gerety” can’t be found in Scripture, self-knowledge is impossible. This is obviously question-begging: Sean assumes his name is “Sean.” I never said one’s own individual name can be found in Scripture. But that doesn’t preclude self-knowledge. Knowing “I am regenerate” does not imply I know “Ryan Hedrich is a regenerate.” Remember Sean’s reference to the difference between knowledge and opinion? Why can’t that distinction be applied here? I know I am regenerate. I opine I am Ryan Hedrich. Therefore, I opine Ryan Hedrich is a regenerate. What’s the problem?

I have already been down the road Sean is traveling. I have already tried to construct Scripturalism as an epistemic system from an objective, third-person perspective. It doesn’t work. One must himself be a regenerate to know what God’s word is. One can’t hypothesize what regenerates believe is God’s word, for one cannot know anyone other than himself is regenerate (that we are excluding those explicitly named in Scripture is obvious). Although the above argumentation is sufficient to demonstrate the epistemic need for self-knowledge of one’s own salvific status, there is no harm in explicit Scriptural support:

1 Corinthians 2:11 For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.

Romans 8:16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.

In addition to contravention of Scripture and a self-defeating epistemology, there are other interesting implications which follow from a denial of self-knowledge. To highlight the most amusing ones, Sean may actually agree with my view of the Trinity, or Sean may not even know the difference between knowledge, opinion, and ignorance. He may protest against both of these possibilities, but the problem is that his denial of self-knowledge has in effect prohibited him from stating as fact any proposition which begins with the phrase, “I know...” So Sean can’t say “I know I don’t hold to this or that view of the Trinity.” He can’t say “I know the difference between knowledge, opinion, and ignorance.” Whereas Van Til has no access to God’s thoughts, Sean has no access to his own thoughts. But both are epistemologically critical.

Less humorous is the fact Sean has no possible assurance of his own salvation. He can’t say “I know I’m saved.” No matter what our differences are, that’s sad. He has basically negated the whole purpose of 1 John. John, Paul, Peter, and other authors of the New Testament wrote letters to elect believers in which a chief concern was to impress upon them the knowledge that while they may suffer in this present life, they yet had the knowledge of an imperishable inheritance. They directly addressed these letters to specific churches and even mention specific individuals. The epistles were not written “to whom it may concern.” What point would there have been in these letters if no one could know to whom they applied? If persons can’t even know what they opine, what reason could anyone have to consider himself a Christian? And could that reason be known? Is it not evident such questions demonstrate an infinite regress of groundless opinions?

Little more needs to be said. In the historical order of events, I read and heard Scripture, was regenerated by the Spirit, believed the gospel, and was therefore able to recognize the canon of God’s word according to which, in the epistemic order of justification, I am thereby able to justify philosophic knowledge, including the necessity of these historical events. Whether Sean is deceiving himself with regards to his salvation, I don’t and can’t know. But he is deceiving himself with respect to the possibility of self-knowledge.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Thoughts on Clark's Two-Person Theory of the Incarnation

During the fourth and fifth centuries the church was disturbed by many controversies, but the most prominent seems to have been the debate about Christ. Who, precisely, was Jesus Christ? Was Christ both God and man? Was he the first of all creatures? Was he God in a body? Was he one of the modes of God the Father? Was he merely a man? Was he two persons, Jesus of Nazareth and the Second Person of the Trinity? The debate was lively and acrimonious… 
 The relationship that obtains between the Logos, the Second Person of the Trinity, and Jesus is unique, unlike that between the Logos and every other man who comes into the world (see John 1:9). The Logos did not merely light the mind of Christ; the Logos Himself is fully in Christ. Christ could therefore say, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” No mere prophet could make such an astounding claim. Prophets, inspired by God, possess some of the divine propositions. Christ, however, possesses them all, as the author of Hebrews argues in his first chapter. All the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are in Christ, for in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily. 
 If, as seems to be the case, we now have a solution to the puzzles of the Incarnation, a solution that avoids the contradictions and meaningless words of the traditional formulations, a solution that is supported by Scripture itself, we are obliged to accept it. Jesus Christ was and is both God and man, a divine person and a human person. To deny either is to fall into error. Once the key terms are defined and clearly understood, the Incarnation is an even more stupendous and awe-inspiring miracle than the Church has hitherto surmised. (The Incarnation, pgs. 77-78)
So begins and ends Clark’s book on the Incarnation, summaries written by John Robbins but which faithfully represents what Clark himself argues throughout the book: Jesus Christ, was and is both God and man, a divine person and a human person; he, Christ, was two persons, Jesus of Nazareth and the Second Person of the Trinity.

To some extent, Clark et. al. may be justified in complaining that theologians throughout church history haven’t provided precise definitions of “person” or “nature.” As historical theology is not my primary area of interest, I can’t say. More troubling is the point that it seems Clark exchanged one problem for another. 

Consider: if it is a problem to say Jesus is one person with two natures or minds or whatnot, why is it not a problem to say Jesus is one subject? Notice in the above summaries that Jesus Christ is still a single subject, evidenced by the use of singular personal pronouns. He was two persons. Jesus Christ” was and is both a divine person an a human person. 

By rejecting the one-person view of the Incarnation, what means does Clark have by which to unify or identify the human person with the divine person”? To say “Christ is a human person and divine person” is still to imply a single subject, Christ, which somehow unifies or identifies the two persons with each other. Well, how? Further, if Clark or any other advocate of a two-person theory of the Incarnation were to [have] explain[ed] why there can be a single subject, why can’t one simply define “person” according to that explanation?

I recently defined a person as “an ego, a mind or minds capable of reflexive indexation.” (link). I explicitly stated an ego can be “minds...” (plural) with the case of the Incarnation in mind. That is, both minds have the same referent in mind when each affirms statements using the first person pronoun “I.” Of course, the reasons those statements may be true may differ in respect to the natures (or attributes) which the Incarnate Son possesses, but the central point is that “I” is a reference to the ego, not the mind. In other words, I reject Clark’s equation of mind with ego. A mind necessarily implies an ego, but it does not necessarily preclude another mind.

Now, just as in my departure from Clark’s view of the Trinity, I am sure my departure from his view of the Incarnation will leave more cynical Scripturalists wondering why I still identify with Clark at all. For one thing, I think Clark is most well-known for his epistemological views, views with which I am in broad agreement. For another, Clark himself encouraged critical evaluation and modification of his own Trinitarian and Incarnational proposals. Though many of his followers seem to think so, Clark clearly did not consider what he wrote to be beyond revision:
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)  
...I have offered a definition of the term person. Most people will find it queer, Most theologians will find it unacceptable. Well and good, let them formulate and propose a different definition. That is the honest and logical thing to do. Then there will be an intelligible subject of discussion. One can reasonably suppose that it could be a better definition than mine. But even if not, it could not be branded as meaningless nonsense (The Incarnation, pgs. 75-76)
Hopefully, those who disagree with me will follow Clark’s prescription and concentrate on the arguments rather than the arguers. My views are not above revision either, and especially in respect to areas in which I have not put years of study, I am willing to change my beliefs. But for now, what I argue is obviously what makes the most sense to me.


Tuesday, January 22, 2013

When Is or Was Atonement Made?

In his exposition of Hebrews, John Owen said:
The high priest of old made atonement, and typically purged the sins of the people, by sacrificing of beasts according to the appointment of the law, Lev. xvi. This our high priest did by the sacrifice of himself, Isa. liii. 10. Heb. ix. 12. Of the nature of propitiatory or expiatory sacrifices, we must treat at large afterwards. We keep ourselves now to the apostle’s general proposition, expressing briefly the sacerdotal office of Christ, and the excellency of it, in that he really purged our sins, and that by the sacrifice of himself. And this was in and by his death on the cross, with his antecedent preparatory sufferings. Some distinguish between his death and the oblation of himself. This they say he performed in heaven, when as the High Priest of his church, he entered into the holiest not made with hands, whereunto his death was but a preparation. For the slaying of the beast, they say, was not the sacrifice, but the offering of its blood on the altar, and the carrying of it into the holy place. But this utterly overthrows the whole sacrifice of Christ, which indeed is the thing by them aimed at. It is true the slaying of the beast was not the whole sacrifice, but only an essential part of it, as was also the offering of its blood, and the sprinkling of it in the holy place, in the anniversary sacrifice of atonement, but not in any other. And the reason why the whole sacrifice could not consist in any one action, arose merely from the imperfection of the things and persons employed in that work. The priest was one thing, the beast to be sacrificed another, the altar another, the fire and the altar another, the incense added another, each of them limited and designed to its peculiar end, so that the atonement could not be made by any one of them, nor the sacrifice consist in them. But now in this sacrifice of Christ all these meet in one, because of his perfection. He himself was both priest, sacrifice, altar and incense, as we see in our progress, and he perfected his whole sacrifice at once, in and by his death and blood-shedding, as the apostle evidently declares, chap. ix. 12. 14.
 Thus by himself did Christ purge our sins, making an atonement for them by the sacrifice of himself in his death, that they should never be imputed to them that believe.

Recently, I watched a debate between James White and Robert Sungenis on whether the Mass is a propitiatory sacrifice (link). It reminded me of discussions I’ve had with Roman Catholic on this subject. I’ve spoken with Roman Catholics who have pointed out that Leviticus 16:17 says that the sacrificial ritual which [typically] made atonement for the people of Israel was incomplete until the high priest sprinkled the blood of the sacrifice in the holy of holies; Owen agrees. But they would then use this to argue that Christ’s antitypical death on the cross was a necessary but insufficient condition for our atonement, for it is clear in Hebrews 9 that Christ’s entrance into the holy of holies followed His death. You might ask why it would matter so much to Roman Catholics when atonement was or is made. Philip Hughes touches on the seeming answer here:
Another view, which is similar only in incidental respects and which is advocated in the main by Anglo-Catholic and Roman Catholic scholars, is that in the heavenly sanctuary a perpetual sacrificial offering by Christ of Himself takes place. This interpretation is commonly linked with a particular doctrine of eucharistic sacrifice taking place simultaneously here on earth. It is argued, further, on the basis of Hebrews 8:3, according to which “every high priest is appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices,” so that “it is necessary for this priest (the ascended Lord ministering in the true tabernacle, 8:1-2) also to have something to offer,” that if Christ is not offering sacrifice He cannot fulfill the priestly function, and that therefore His role in heaven must be that of a constantly sacrificing priest. Because of the emphatic teaching of the New Testament, and not least the Epistle to the Hebrews, regarding the final once-for-all character of Christ’s atoning sacrifice on the cross, it is hardly open to anyone to suggest that in heaven He offers an atoning sacrifice other than that which He offered on the cross; consequently the explanation is proposed that it is a perpetual offering of this same sacrifice that takes place in the heavenly sanctuary.
Before recently studying the subject, this used to trouble me quite a bit. The doctrinal system Roman Catholics have erected is quite intricate, and to an inexperienced Christian, a knowledgeable Roman Catholic can put a daunting amount of words to paper on pet subjects like the Eucharist.

Now, though, I find it rather ironic that some of the same Roman Catholics who argue for a strict correspondence between type and antitype also argue that the throne on which Christ is seated is an altar. Though this would need to be true for a Eucharistic sacrifice, there is never said to be an altar in the typical holy of holies. Speaking of altars, though, Hebrews does clearly use the Day of Atonement ritual as a lens through which believers can understand the import of Christ’s work:

Hebrews 13:9 Do not be carried away by all sorts of strange teachings. For it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not ritual meals, which have never benefited those who participated in them.
10 We have an altar that those who serve in the tabernacle have no right to eat from. 
11 For the bodies of those animals whose blood the high priest brings into the sanctuary as an offering for sin are burned outside the camp. 
12 Therefore, to sanctify the people by his own blood, Jesus also suffered outside the camp.

While priests were usually apportioned meat to eat from a sin or purification offering, they were precluded from this rite when blood was required to be brought into the tent of meeting to make atonement (Leviticus 6:24-30). Such offerings occurred after the anointed [high (cf. Numbers 35:25)] priest or the congregation had inadvertently sinned (4:7, 18) as well as on the annual Day of Atonement (16:3, 5). Rather than being permitted to eat of these sacrifices, following the priestly ritual, the bodies of the priest’s bull and the congregations’ bull or goat were carried to and burned outside of the camp (4:12, 21, 16:27). 
  
Clearly, Christ’s suffering and abuse which the author of Hebrews intended to parallel to the sin offering is in reference to His sacrificial, bodily, bloody crucifixion, the result of which sanctifies the people. The cross corresponds to the altar of burnt offering on which sacrifices were made under the OT sacrificial system. The cross was outside Jerusalem (John 19:20), the camp.

So Christ’s sacrifice on the cross is the Christian altar from which grace can be conferred to believer-priests who eat from it. Such participation in His sacrifice is through assent to right doctrine. Thus, no spiritual benefit can come from accepting and acting upon strange teachings such as an inordinate or passé emphasis on ritual meals. Those who still serve in earthly tabernacles have forsaken the realized reality for the external shadow which merely typified it. 

This is all very interesting, but we have to be careful not to push parallels too far. There are the obvious examples: Christ needs no sacrifice for Himself, His sacrifice for those whom He functions as a priestly representative is Himself rather than some other living entity, etc. These manifest His superiority, the central theme of Hebrews. After reviewing the rites performed by the high priest under old system in the first section of chapter 9, the author of Hebrews mentions another dissimilarity:

Hebrews 9:11 But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation;
12 and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. 
13 For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh,
14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?
15 For this reason He is the mediator of a new covenant, so that, since a death has taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were committed under the first covenant, those who have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance. 

The dissimilarity with which this post is concerned is that Jesus obtained eternal redemption for those who have been called prior to His entry into the holy of holies. He offered Himself to God, a bloody sacrifice by which our consciences are cleansed so that we may on that account serve God. He made purification for sin by having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, and He did this before He sat down at God’s right hand (1:3, 10:12). All these passages used aorist participles, on which basis Hughes notes they each convey “the same emphasis on the finality and the pastness of the unique sacrifice of Calvary. Nowhere is there any mention of a sacrifice that is prolonged in some manner or continuous in the heavenly sanctuary.” Even Hebrews 8:3, which Hughes noted Roman Catholics sometimes cite as proof that Christ must sacrifice in heaven or else He would lose His status as High Priest, uses an aorist participle; that is, the meaning is rather against the idea a perpetual [Eucharistic] offering is needed.

Thus, the throne is not an altar or mercy-seat on which Jesus must sprinkle His blood or sit in order to make atonement; Jesus Himself is the propitiatory (compare Romans 3:25 to Hebrews 9:5). That He sits down in the holy of holies – unlike the high priests of old  is conclusive evidence that far from being perpetual or ongoing, His sacrifice was completed, finished, and accepted by the Father upon His death. He now only needs to wait for what He has secured by His work to be fulfilled in due time. For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified:
Aaron certainly carried the sacrificial blood into the holy of holies, but our author deliberately, avoids saying that Christ carried His own blood into the heavenly sanctuary. Even as a symbolic expression this is open to objection. There have been expositors who, pressing the analogy of the Day of Atonement beyond the limits observed by our author, have agreed that the expiatory work of Christ was not completed on the cross — not completed, indeed, until He ascended from earth and “made atonement ‘for us’ in the heavenly holy of holies by the presentation of His efficacious blood.” But while it was necessary under the old covenant for the sacrificial blood first to be shed in the court and then to be brought into the holy of holies, no such division of our Lord’s sacrifice into two phases is envisaged under the new covenant.  When upon the cross He offered up His life to God as a sacrifice for His people's sin, He accomplished in reality what Aaron and his successors performed in type by the twofold act of slaying the victim and presenting its blood in the holy of holies. The title of the Anglican Article XXXI speaks rightly “of the one oblation of Christ finished upon the cross.” (F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, pg. 213)


Friday, January 18, 2013

Counterfactuals and Imaginable Worlds


So far as I’m aware, how imaginative one is can only be gauged relatively and is an inexact science. I can’t think of a standard by which to measure one’s imagination. For example, while half our thoughts may be good and half may be bad, what would it mean for half our thoughts to be [un]imaginative? But if there were a standard, then given that God has ultimately determined everyone’s imagination, clearly He, the Creator of all things, would be it. He is the most imaginative person there is: He knows what is possible for us to think and imagine because He has determined our thoughts and imaginations.

Sometimes, requiring the exercise of our imagination can get across a truth more poignantly than does the usual literal statement of it. Consider parables. Are these stories “based on a series true events”? Have they literally occurred in the actual world? Well, these sorts of questions really miss the point of a parable. The point is not for those who hear it to woodenly understand random literal events. Rather, by imagining the narrated scenario, each parable is able to communicate a spiritual truth or truths for which the story primarily functions as a metaphor. Even if the parables are fictitious, they can still tell us something we can and should use as motivation for obeying God’s word. That’s what important.

Is it far-fetched to suppose that God could relate to us truths by counter-factual conditionals which, in fact, could not have occurred? I don’t think so. Further, if I want to lead a person or persons to make certain choices, hyperbole can be an effective stimulant to action. It engages the imagination and occasions proper motivation. The upshot of this is would be that as a necessitarian, I would not necessarily have to account for multiple possible worlds. So perhaps I’m biased. In any case, a critical reader will point out that it is possible parables could [have] occur[red].

But it is fairly routinely argued that passages which warn churches of apostasy are purely hypothetical: final apostasy can’t actually occur in sincere believers. Of course, the unfortunate fact is that churches are often not composed of believers alone; nevertheless, warnings can have a significant impact on actual believers too, reminding them to make their calling and election sure. We can imagine what would be the case if we were to fall away even though we can’t fall away. How? Because we know there are two categories of sinners – believers and unbelievers – and we know what actually will accordingly happen to both. 

By abstraction, we can imagine a character in a novel plucked from one story and implanted in another as well as what would occur on that basis. And as novelists, we can even invest our own created characters with such imaginations, with acute “self-awareness” of themselves in the context of their status as a character. But in a significant sense, we too are characters – in a divine drama.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Gordon Clark, Metaphysics, and Personhood

Gordon Clark was a brilliant epistemologist. But it seems to this lowly layman that his aversion to empiricism at times prompted him to accept metaphysical positions which are equally unpleasant.

Now, I do not wish to give the impression I reject all of his metaphysical considerations. For example, while I am not sure when it was written, in some comments on Hebrews 11:3, Clark wrote (link):
A blueprint is the physical pattern of something to be constructed in three dimensions. A Tinkertoy, itself in three dimensions, can be a pattern of a larger physical body. But can a spiritual, intellectual, invisible, incorporeal Philonic Idea be a pattern of a three dimensional tabernacle? Can the things that are seen (phenomena) have been made of things which do not appear (noumenal)? Read 11:3. 
Yes, Hebrews 11:3 is an interesting verse. First, it must be translated. The King James, the New American Standard, Rienecker in his Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament, and a similar work by Hughes, all agree on essentially the same translation: “so that what is seen has not come into being from things which appear.” The Roman Catholic New American Bible has the more positive rendering, “what is visible came into being through the invisible.” The Jerusalem Bible has a looser insipid translation: “so that no apparent cause can account for the things we can see.” Owen in his immense commentary remarks that “these words...have much of obscurity and difficulty in them.” The King James and the New American Standard are grammatically correct. I might put it a little more crudely, ‘What is seen is that which has not come from phenomena.” The New American Bible is not an accurate translation, but it seems to be an excellent interpretation. And the interpretation is not so difficult as Owen leads us to believe. Especially when compared with verses in the Pentateuch the words strongly suggest that the visible world came from a suprasensible, ideal world. The term noumena is not in the text; but what else could to me ek phainomenon mean? Phenomena come from noumena. Certainly the verse in Hebrews does not forbid this interpretation.
In the next paragraph he states “The Tinkertoy is real…” And earlier, he affirmed that “this visible olam hazeh” is “really ephemeral.” I find this analysis to be excellent. The contrast between physical phenomena and spiritual noumena, the assertion that the former is patterned after the latter, and his assertion both are real all seem to coincide with my own views.

But in Clark and His Critics (pg. 146-149), he rejects the “existence of an unknowable Ding-an-sich” or thing-in-itself, replying to Nash that he does “not remember saying that the created world is an imperfectly real, unknowable object.” He further states that there is no knowledge that is non-proposition.

While I agree that there is no knowledge that is non-propositional (in the philosophic sense anyway), the implication that the created world is a knowable object rather than a Ding-an-sich calls into question just how visible phenomena contrasts with invisible noumena. Is the contrast merely that phenomena is ephemeral whereas noumena is not? Are both propositions? If phenomena is not propositional, is the assertion of such not an assertion of the existence of an unknowable Ding-an-sich? Then again, it is difficult to imagine what it means to say propositions are visible. It is even more difficult to imagine – especially considering Clark’s position as a whole – what it means to say propositions are created. Is God’s knowledge created? If so, then given Clark’s definition of individual human and divine persons, this would mean God is metaphysically dependent on creation: 
…a man is a congeries, a system, sometimes an agglomeration of miscellany, but at any rate a collection of thoughts. A man is what he thinks: and no two men are precisely the same combination. 
This is true of the Trinity also, for although each of the three Persons is omniscient, one thinks “I or my collection of thoughts is the Father,” and the second thinks, “I or my thoughts will assume or have assumed a human nature.” The Father does not think this second thought, nor does the Son think the first. (The Trinity, Individuation)
For the Father to think “I am Creator” presupposes a creation, the truthmaker for that proposition. But if God metaphysically just is what He thinks and one of His thoughts is dependent upon the fact of creation, God is metaphysically dependent on creation. I don’t have a problem with the idea that thoughts individuate. But I see no reason to leap from that conclusion to the idea that persons are equivalent to their thoughts, which is what Clark seems to have done.

Instead, I think a better definition would be that a person is an ego, the possessor of a mind or minds capable of reflexive indexation. These words could each be defined and each definition could be true without its being the case that some “real” Ding-an-sich can’t correspond to them. I think the so-called empirical representational theory of truth in which truth images the physical reality to which it merely corresponds scared Clark away from any type of correspondence – hence the seeming propositional monism. As can be seen in his book The Incarnation, it seems to have had significant consequences. But if we maintain the general priority of the noumena over the phenomena – or more broadly, propositional Ideas to things-in-themselves – I think these hazards can be avoided. At the very least, this alternative is certainly worth exploring.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Trogo and Transubstantiation


I think it is safe to say that a common Protestant position with respect to John 6:48ff. is that eating Christ’s flesh and drinking His blood is a metaphor for coming to and believing in Him. To eat Jesus’ flesh and to drink His blood is said to produce the same contextual effect as looking on or believing in the Son (6:40; 54); in both cases the individual has eternal life and will be raised the last day. Further, the eating of His flesh and drinking of His blood and coming to or believing in Christ are each compared with the bread which the ancestors of Jesus’ audience ate (6:28-35; 58). At any rate, such observations are not new.

Years ago – before updates made discussion on facebook groups almost completely undesirable – I debated Roman Catholics on a whole host of issues, one of which was transubstantiation. Now, anyone who has discussed this subject with Roman Catholics is probably aware of what they think about John 6: it’s safe to say the vast majority think Jesus is referencing the Eucharist. To buttress their doctrine of transubstantiation, they then argue that Jesus intended to convey to His audience that they ought to literally eat His flesh and drink His blood. I came to find that one of the usual arguments in favor of this is that one of the Greek words Jesus uses to refer to the act of eating His flesh, trōgō (John 6:54, 56-58), is never used figuratively.

However, this word is only found in only two other verses in the New Testament (John 13:18 and Matthew 24:38). A purely inductive argument would not seem to make for a very strong case that trōgō can’t function metaphorically. And as D. A. Carson notes on pg. 296 in his commentary on John (which is what brought this subject to my mind):
In v. 54 and again in vv. 56, 57, 58, the verb for 'to eat' becomes trōgō (as opposed to esthiō, or more precisely its aorist stem phag-, the customary verb found elsewhere in this passage). In earlier Greek, trōgō was used for the munching of (especially herbivorous) animals; from the classical period on, the verb was also used of human beings. Some have taken its presence here as a sign of the literalness of ‘eating’ that occurs in the eucharist. It is far more likely that John injects no new meaning by selecting this verb, but prefers this verb when he opts for the Greek present tense (similarly in 13:18).

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Precondition of an Omniscient Communicator Revisited

Every so often, I like to revisit my favorite apologetic argument, that [revelation from] an omniscient person or persons is a precondition for knowledge. By working on making it more accessible – without sacrificing key components of the argument, of course – it’s kept fresh in my mind. The following is my latest attempt.

Take any knowledge-claim and any claim about which one is ambivalent or ignorant. For example:

A: [I know that] Christianity is a religion.
B: [I do not know whether or not] Paul wrote Hebrews [is true].

Why is it the case that I can know A, the knowledge claim, without knowing B, the ambivalence claim? Answers may vary, but it is likely that any variation will be roughly equivalent to “because I don’t need to know B in order to know A.” Now, as a Christian, I agree with this. But the point is to provide an account of why this is the case.

Consider the fact that “I don’t need to know B in order to know A” is itself a knowledge-claim. In that case, it is evident that it can be substituted for A as follows:

C: [I know that] I don’t need to know B in order to know A.
B: [I do not know whether or not] Paul wrote Hebrews [is true].

But then it is equally evident that I can repeat the question I asked above: why is it the case that I can know C, the knowledge claim, without knowing B, the ambivalence claim?

It may go against common sense to entertain such questions, but given that philosophy is supposed to question superficial intuitions, this actually presents a pretty little problem. Simplistic answers like the above fall suspect to an infinite regress: “I don’t need to know B in order to know C” is itself a knowledge claim (D) which, upon substitution for C, is in turn subject to the same line of questioning.

Now, suppose one actually does need to know everything in order to know even one thing. Then it’s clear that omniscience is a precondition for knowledge. But is it possible that we don’t need to know everything in order to know something, and, if so, how can we determine what propositions do not, in fact, need to be known? 

If possession of omniscience is not a precondition for knowledge, then it is clear that truths are not related in such a way that a single knowledge-claim entails a[n implicit] claim to knowledge of all others. But therein lies the rub: on what non-arbitrary grounds can we rule out the possibility that possession of omniscience is an epistemic necessity? This is a problem everyone who is not omniscient must face, and of everyone in this group, there emerge two types of relevant worldviews:

1) ones which state either a) that there is no one who is omniscient or b) that while there may be an omniscient person or persons, we cannot know that he or they has or have communicated to us;
2) ones which state that we can know there is an omniscient person or persons who has or have communicated to us.

If the first – i.e. deism, agnosticism, atheism, etc. – then any knowledge-claim will indeed beg the question regarding its relation to ambivalence-claims. For in that case, any knowledge claim could be substituted in place of A, C, or D. This includes knowledge-claims that certain propositions are self-evident (cf. here). The proper reply to these persons who stubbornly insist on their whims is to say that “it is self-evident the Bible is true.” There’s not much else one can do.

If the second – if there is a person or persons who is or are omniscient – then it is possible that he or they know the relationship among truths is such that they can be communicated without requiring that the person[s] to whom such is communicated know all things. This is the true means by which skepticism can be avoided.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Communication and Apologetics


I saw a video (link) recently posted on facebook wherein Eric Hovind – the son of Kent Hovind – attempts to answer a question by an 11 year old who seems to be the debate opponent’s son. It brought to mind my argument that revelation from one who is omniscient is a precondition for knowledge. That isn’t to say I agree with Hovind’s conclusion, much less the means by which he attempts to prove it. But it at least seemed similar enough to warrant discussion of Hovind’s method of communication in his response.

Now, it doesn’t take a paranoid to suspect Hovind was set-up. And even if this 6th grader wasn’t prepped by his father, a three minute gotcha clip isn’t really a fair representation of the merits of a debater in general. But that’s a price one knowingly pays for marketing and presenting oneself as a public speaker and debater.

The impression I get from this video and another video I recall watching in which he debated some atheist from Youtube is that Hovind is not a particularly good communicator. He exudes the recognizable air of Southen Baptist fundamentalism, and that doesn’t connect with most people. When it comes to verbal communication about controversial subjects, that’s a general difficulty: Christians need to keep in mind that people in general and strangers in particular are prone to judge based on reasons other than the arguments one presents. Appearance, tone, presentation, delivery, etc. will often prejudice a listener even before he has heard the full argument. Not to mention that most people already have some sort of opinion, and others just don’t care.

So it’s hard not to feel a little sympathy for Hovind. Either he treats the kid with kid gloves and then is surprised by a poignant question (as in the video), or he answers on the assumption the kid is capable of fully grasping an intricate argument, in which case it could appear that he would be purposefully talking nonsense, unable to break his argument down to the level a child can understand. Well, that was the ostensive design in having a kid ask the question. It takes a practiced communicator with a full understanding of his argument – neither of which I am sure Hovind possesses – to relate complex truths to adults, let alone to know-it-all adolescents. And even in the case Hovind were able to do so, the best case scenario is that no clip would have been posted. He would merely break even.

I myself am not a great verbal communicator; I am a much better writer than I am a speaker. And in general, I try to stick to what I consider my strengths. But that’s not always possible. People who know me well enough know I am interested in philosophy and theology. Of these people, a few are bound to engage me in conversation about certain subjects. How I answer depends on the context of the situation and the identity of the questioner. I answer atheist acquaintances differently than I do my friends. And that’s how I prefer it, because by having the conversation initiated by another, I can dictate how I want to frame my response without appearing as if I just want to show-off. If they ask a question about a complicated subject, I can tell them they should expect a complicated answer. The more close-minded who are not interested in, unreasonably disagree with, or are irritated by my answers should obviously either ask different questions or ask different people those questions.

While there are differences between the personal situations I describe and the more public setting of a debate – most obviously, a debater implicitly asserts he is some sort of authority on a topic whereas a layman can legitimately plead ignorance – in both circumstances, what can’t happen is actually what happens in the video of Hovind: dumbing down truth to the point that it’s no longer truth. If one must know all things to know any one thing, then the kid would be right. We wouldn’t be able to know God because we are not omniscient. Subsequent backtracking then sounds ad hoc. Hovind says his argument is simple. But it is evident he either simplified it to the point it couldn’t be defended, or it was too simple in the first place.

Corollary to this point, we shouldn’t allow ourselves to be shown up by assuming the people with whom we interact are in need of what we can teach. That may very well be the case, but that is something that is demonstrated over time. This may sound as though it contradicts what I said above: a public debater by definition implicitly asserts he is some sort of authority on a topic. But what I mean is that Hovind’s reputation is not that of William Lane Craig’s. Only so many apologists – whether professional or lay – can pull off a lecturer-student relationship with his audience without challenge. So if a kid thinks he is intellectually able to deal with my argument on my terms, so be it. Hovind sounded like he was trying to communicate to a Sunday schooler or willing pupil rather than someone hostile to God’s word and in good need of a harsh reality check. He didn’t correctly read the context clues. If that really was the case, I hope next time he doesn’t restrain himself. Otherwise, I would recommend a different line of work.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Philosophic Knowledge and Infallibilism

I define philosophic knowledge as propositional belief in which the possibility of error is precluded or, more simply, as belief that cannot be mistaken. This is not to say that a knower cannot change his beliefs. But at the time of his affirmation of a known belief, it can be said that there were no possible grounds on which he did or anyone else could have legitimately doubted its truth. He would have been infallibly certain, incapable of being corrected.

These are strong terms, but that’s deliberate. My interest in this sort of knowledge stems from its necessity. Suppose one denies he [or anyone else] has any philosophic knowledge. Well, then it is possible that he is mistaken in the denial itself. In other words, he could actually accept that he necessarily has such knowledge. But then it is evident that anything he says could, in fact, mean the contrary. He would not even be able to state his absolute, unmistakable acceptance of this as a logical consequence. He would not even be able to know what a mistake is. In denying the possibility of the sort of knowledge I describe, it is evident one either assumes such knowledge by claiming he is not mistaken that knowledge isn’t necessary, or he implicitly admits to losing meaning and intelligibility. Both are self-defeating. Even Neurath’s boat presupposes one plank on the Good Ship Worldview that can’t be replaced: the need for a boat.

Note that the above does not suggest everyone actually possesses philosophic knowledge. It suggests everyone implicitly claims to possess philosophic knowledge. They may or may not be able to justify this and other knowledge claims.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Trinitarian Bruisings


I had thought that after Sean closed the door on our last conversation (link), he was content to lick his wounds and move on. Apparently not. While I see no point in beating dead quadrupeds of any kind, if Sean is going to continue his mulish “musings” at my expense, I will oblige him, though I had hoped by this point we would have gotten beyond potshot misrepresentations. Unfortunately, in his continued effort to kick against the pricks, Sean Gerety has written yet another article in which he states that my view of generic unity is false (link): 
Many readers of this blog are probably already familiar with Joel Parkinson’s excellent piece, The Intellectual Triunity of God, which he wrote as basically an appendix to Clark’s monograph on the Trinity.  In that piece, Parkinson offers an a arguably much needed additional defense of Clark’s realistic and generic view of the Trinity (as opposed to the faux theory of “generic” unity currently being offered up to the confusion of some by subordinationists Ryan Hedrich and Drake Shelton). 
I honestly don’t know what prompts Sean to write these things. One would think that multiple corrections on this point – both on his blog and mine – would make some impression. For a guy who doesn’t like digging in the mud, it sure seems as though he is willing to throw just about anything against a wall to see what sticks. If Sean really wants to get his hands dirty, I suggest he respond to this post in which I wrote a comprehensive review of Clark’s thoughts on generic and numeric unity, concluding that his and my usage of these terms are in agreement. Otherwise, his sniping is likely to accidentally hit Clark... and himself, for that matter, for Sean has elsewhere defined generic unity as follows: “A generic unity is that all three divine persons share in the definition of God. God is the genus, and, per Clark, “a genus is not one of its included individuals”” (link). Would it not be rather embarrassing if it turns out my understanding of generic unity is the same as Sean’s? 

Sure, Sean rejects that generic unity “requires three individual beings or essences, not one,” but this is merely a semantic quibble. I could eliminate the language of “being” from the discussion altogether and my criticisms of his position would be the same. But to indulge Sean for a moment, if a genus does not unite beings, what does it unite? Persons? But persons are just a specific type of being. We speak of human beings all the time; why can we not divine beings? Further, I’ve already pointed out to Sean that Clark equated “being” with “definition” – “Ousia means being (a participle noun), reality, or definition” (The Trinity, The Athanasian Creed). Different definitions of the Father and the Son would imply different beings. Does Sean think the definition of the Father is the same as the definition of the Son? I doubt Sean is a Sabellian. Or does he disagree with Clark’s definition of “being”? Remember what I said about accidental sniping? Surely anyone reading both sides of this exchange can see that Sean is just putting up a smokescreen.

I mentioned that my criticism of Sean’s position is the same regardless of the meaning of “being.” To reiterate it, there is a problem with a view of the Trinity in which generic unity is not supplemented: it leads to tritheism. Just as one definition of person does not imply there are not multiple people, just as one definition of human does not imply there are not multiple humans, so too one definition of God does not itself imply there are not multiple Gods. These would only be true if there were only one individual of whom this definition could be predicated. But there are quite obviously many individuals who can be called person and human. So too there are three individuals who may be said to be God, at least insofar as God means “divine”: there are three individuals who are divine (i.e. God) just as there are numerous individuals who are human or persons. Again, if not qualified, this leads to tritheism. After making this criticism several times, it seems Sean is finally realizing its seriousness. To this end, Sean predictably punts from answering it by citing an article by Joel Parkinson. Here is the first section:
The doctrine of the Trinity is essential to the orthodox Christian faith. Trinitarian thought pervades the New Testament and is presupposed in the central doctrines of the Incarnation (Luke 1.35), Atonement (Hebrews 9:14), Resurrection (Romans 8:11), and Salvation (1 Peter 1:2) as well as in the practices of water baptism (Matthew 28:19) and prayer (Ephesians 2:18). Consequently, there can be no doubt that failure to accept the Trinity will lead to fatal errors in the rest of one’s theology. However, the Trinity is often viewed as a difficult if not self-contradictory concept. Is the Trinity really incoherent? The present article seeks to respond to this question with an emphatic “No.” 
In essence, the doctrine of the Trinity may be outlined by the following three propositions: 
1. There is only one God who is immutably and eternally indivisible and simple (Deuteronomy 6:4; John 17:3; 1 Corinthians 8:6). 
2. The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are each fully and co-equally God (John 20:17; John 1:1; Acts 5:3-5). 
3. The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are distinct and not one and the same (Mark 1:10-11; John 15:26; Hebrews 9:14). 
Now each of these affirmations is essential to the doctrine of God. To deny (1) is to fall into the error of tritheism. To repudiate (2) is to embrace subordinationism. To reject (3) is to settle for modalism. The reader may note that the personality of the Three is not explicitly stated. This is because the word “person” is not a Biblical term but one of convenience in theology. Nonetheless the intent behind the word “person” is wrapped up in these three truths. Call them what you will – persons, consciousness, or selves – whatever the Father is, the Son and the Holy Spirit are as well.
There is not much here with which I would necessarily disagree. In other parts of his article – like where Parkinson predicates persons of the divine nature – I would have some disagreements, but in this section, the only points I would wish to be clarified pertain to what Parkinson means by certain words. For instance, in what sense is God “simple”? In the Augustinian or Neo-Platonic sense or some less strict sense? In any case, I believe Sean should have more difficulty accepting Parkinson’s three tenets than I do. Consider the fact that in Parkinson’s first affirmation, Parkinson uses the singular personal pronoun “who” to refer to the “only one God” and then cites two New Testament passages (Deuteronomy 6:4 is arguable as well) which are blatant references to the single person of the Father. Does Sean think the one God is a single person, i.e. the Father? No. Well, how then does Sean accept the first proposition? Does Sean think Parkinson is a Van Tilian in disguise?

Sean suggests I reject the second proposition. But if “God” is here defined as “divine,” I have no problem stating the persons of the Trinity are fully and equally God, for this definition is univocally predicated of each person. I’ve said this from day one. The suggestion I am a subordinationist is a canard I have refuted several times. I have even begun to refer to the subordination of the Son as immanent rather than ontological – both of which would be in contrast to a merely economic subordination – to avoid this confusion. But I have weathered Sean’s lies for some time now. At this point, I almost have to laugh when Sean says my alleged rejection of this second proposition by Parkinson puts me “outside of biblical trinitarianism no matter how conceived  and no matter how many pre-Nicene fathers may appear to support his view” – as if I have only cited pre-Nicene fathers or as if they only “appear” to support my view. But I suppose unequivocal agreement with the lead opponent of Arius (link) is not enough to disqualify me from the ranks of Unitarians, Arians, and semi-Arians... uh huh. Despite this, I imagine I will keep hearing these stale, pre-recorded accusations in the future.

Moving on, Sean cites Parkinson as saying:
…separability among the three is absolutely impossible. If there were to be a rift within the Godhead, then each of the Persons could no longer immediately know the thoughts of the others. But this could only occur if these thoughts were never known (denying that they were ever omniscient) or if they were to forget something (denying their immutable omniscience). So we see that the unique case of divine omniscience is only possible for the three Persons if they are utterly inseparable. Or, to put it another way, the fact of divine omniscience makes divisibility among the three thinking Persons metaphysically impossible.
After quoting an article in which Clark too recognized that his position could lead to tritheism – though it is curious that Clark did not go on to provide an explanation of how the Trinity are “one” in any “stricter” sense than generically – Sean again cites Parkinson as saying:
For instance, one could say that God is three Persons with one divine nature. But though this is true, if it is left unqualified it implies tritheism. Three men clearly share a common human nature but are not indivisible. One man could be killed without necessarily endangering the existence and identities of the other two. So there must be something unique to the divine nature precluding such divisibility.
Now, what does the indivisibility and inseparability of the persons prove? What is Sean’s point? My best guess is that these quotes are somehow intended to show that Sean’s position doesn’t lead to tritheism after all. But how does that follow from these paragraphs?

There are necessarily three eternally divine persons. True enough. Does that somehow imply there are not three eternally divine and distinct individuals? No. In fact, by Parkinson’s account, the indivisibility and inseparability of the persons of the Trinity also necessarily implies their individual distinctness. So when we say the Father is God (divine), the Son is God (divine), and the Spirit is God (divine), does the fact that the existences of the Father, Son, and Spirit are mutually entailing – each one implying the other two – somehow imply that that there are not three distinct or individual Gods (divinities)? No. “God” is still the genus, and there are still three persons who are distinct or individual members of this genus. The genus may necessarily require the eternality of all of its members, but it nevertheless remains the genus, and the members remain the members.

That is, to put it simply, Parkinson has, at most, demonstrated that the Father, Son, and Spirit must each be eternal and everlasting – there is never a time at which they don’t exist. So how is indivisibility and inseparability relevant to the problem of tritheism?

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Gordon Clark on Synergism in Sanctification... Yes, Again


I know I wrote a post on this last month (link), but since it was not so long ago that the assertion progressive sanctification is synergistic was violently contested by reasonable Scripturalists, I can't help noting this statement Clark made on pg. 133 in The Pastoral Epistles:
Not only do destructive critics make such mistakes; many sincere and devout worshippers are also confused. They often say that we are saved by faith alone. This of course is false. We are justified by faith alone; but we are regenerated without any previous faith or works; we are sanctified by faith and works; and we shall be glorified by neither. A closer study of Scripture would help us avoid confusion relative to the several distinct phases of an all-inclusive salvation.
I shouldn't have to cite Clark to persuade anyone sanctification is synergistic, but at least in this case it doesn't hurt.

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.