Archive for the ‘Theology’ Category

Vanhoozer on the Divine Energies?

March 16, 2010

I recently read an interesting interview of Kevin Vanhoozer on “Exiled Preacher” about Vanhoozer’s new book Remythologizing Theology. He says some interesting things regarding “God’s self-communicative activity.”

“What we can, and must, say of God is that he is the one who creates, commands, consoles, etc. by speaking. God makes himself known and shares his life largely through speech acts like promising, instructing, forgiving, and exhorting, as well as through his corporeal discourse – the Word made flesh – Jesus Christ. If we let Scripture guide our thinking, then we must say that God’s triune being is in his communicative activity. We derive our understanding of the divine attributes not by analyzing the idea of infinite perfection but by describing and detailing the predicates and perfections of God’s communicative activity.”

“I use the term “communicate” in a very broad sense, not merely in the sense “to transmit information,” but “to make common” or “share.” The most important thing that God communicates is himself: his light (truth), life (energy), and love (relationship). Whereas the end of causation is coercion, the end of communication is communion. The category of communicative action opens up new possibilities for theism and adheres more closely to the categories of Scripture itself.”

“God calls us into being and communicates his light, life, and love so that we can communicate them to others.”

It will be interesting to see how he tries to develop his understanding of God’s self-communicative activity in light of his commitment to “classical theism” and the “reformed tradition.”

ADS Thesis V: ADS, Eternal Rewards, and the Mercenary Objection (Conclusion)

December 31, 2009

So I’m gonna preface this last part of the paper by that it is extremely tentative, not reviewed or challenged by many peers, nor is it necessarily all coherent. In my defense I wrote most of it during an all-nighter the night before the paper colloquiem. However, instead of trying to read and/or fix it ahead of time, I’m gonna boldly put it out there for the three or four people who will read it. Feel free to tear it to shreds. 🙂

Now I will leave Dr. Hughes and explore a very tentative and modest argument of my own. This argument will deal with the objection raised by nonbelievers that the Christian faith is “mercenary” due to the emphasis placed on loving God for the reward of eternal life. That Christ and the apostles do motivate love for God and neighbor by appealing to the reward of eternal life is something I regard as fairly uncontroversial. So how is the Christian to respond? I will outline a brief reply that I take to be satisfying and claim that the reply is not open to the proponent of ADS. This does not constitute a “knock-down, drag-out” argument, but I will suggest that the line of reply I provide is workable, and it is not clear that an equally workable option is open to the proponent of ADS. (more…)

Thesis Part III: ADS and Trinitarian Orthodoxy

December 18, 2009

From here I will transition to some of Hughes’s argumentation about the incompatibility of the Christian doctrine of the Trinity and ADS. I won’t be able to go into the full depth of Hughes’s argument here because he spends much of the 53 pages doing very in depth exegesis of Aquinas. I will try to streamline and simplify his argument as much as possible to fit it in this already crowded paper. The heart of Hughes’s argument is essentially this:

“Surely if (a) the essence of x = the essence of y, and (b) the essence of x = x, and the essence of
y = y, it follows as the night does the day that x = y. And Aquinas maintains both that the divine persons are not distinct from their essences, and that they all have the same essence (cf. DP 8.4; ST Ia.39.2; and ST Ia.40.1).”

In fact, the problem for the proponent of ADS could be stated even more simply: If all there is to God is His essence, and His essence is free from any type of real distinction (As Stump and Kretzmann admit), then there cannot be three really distinct persons in the Trinity that we refer to as The Father, The Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Church Authority, Argument 5: Private Judgment and Authority

September 24, 2009

In two recent posts on separate blogs, Catz and David Nilsen both responded to my arguments concerning private judgment and church authority.  They articulated similar positions, trying to present an alternative to either (a) the idea that believers are entitled to an unqualified private judgment, or (b) the idea that the Church has inherent authority.  In this post, I will argue that their responses are unsatisfactory because they (1) ultimately affirm that private judgment is the final word in doctrine, (2) fail to correctly distinguish “inherent” from “underived”, and (3) falsely charge Catholic Christians with the use of private judgment.

(A note of encouragement to the reader: this post is fairly short–by my standards, at least–but has long footnotes.  Do not be alarmed by the size of the scroll bar, because roughly half the space in this post is occupied by footnotes.) (more…)

St. Cyril of Alexandria on Justification as Deliverance

May 7, 2008

I remember me and Mark had a conversation at lunch back when he was still a Calvinist, but had rejected penal substitution. I asked him “hey, what do you think justification is, if not imputed righteousness?” and he responded with a puzzled look. He went on to say something like “I donno, but it had better be connected to Christus Victor atonement somehow.” At the time this seemed absurd. After all, justification is obviously a legal term, so how could it have anything to do with being freed from the devil’s power? Right? (more…)

Narrative and Normativity (1): Outlining a Particularist Approach

April 11, 2008

Much of Scripture is narrative. It is an account of events that happened in history to real people. But it is not just an historical report. It is supposed to carry meaning. In fact, some of it is meant to produce a kind of normativeness. There are some things we ought to do because stories tell us to. Some stories of the New Testament, for instance, are meant to tell us “do this” or “live this way” by providing an example that we should follow. So, for instance, when Jesus forgives and fellowships with sinners, this has a meaning behind it: “Do this. Fellowship with sinners and those that society considers unclean, because God accepts and loves all”.

But how are we to decide when something is supposed to be normative in a narrative, and when it is just any ole’ event? Admittedly, this isn’t going to be immediately obvious. But perhaps we can start with some *PARTICULAR* examples of places in a story where an event generates some kind of “oughtness”. In this post I will begin to outline a particularist approach to narrative and normativity. (more…)

The Fathers and Theistic Arguments (II); Athanasius

December 13, 2007

My first example is Athanasius, from On the Incarnation:

(2) In regard to the making of the universe and the creation of all things there have been various opinions, and each person has propounded the theory that suited his own taste. For instance, some say that all things are self- originated and, so to speak, haphazard. The Epicureans are among these; they deny that there is any Mind behind the universe at all. This view is contrary to all the facts of experience, their own existence included. For if all things had come into being in this automatic fashion, instead of being the outcome of Mind, though they existed, they would all be uniform and without distinction. In the universe everything would be sun or moon or whatever it was, and in the human body the whole would be hand or eye or foot. But in point of fact the sun and the moon and the earth are all different things, and even within the human body there are different members, such as foot and hand and head. This distinctness of things argues not a spontaneous generation but a prevenient Cause; and from that Cause we can apprehend God, the Designer and Maker of all.
Others take the view expressed by Plato, that giant among the Greeks. He said that God had made all things out of pre-existent and uncreated matter, just as the carpenter makes things only out of wood that already exists. But those who hold this view do not realize that to deny that God is Himself the Cause of matter is to impute limitation to Him, just as it is undoubtedly a limitation on the part of the carpenter that he can make nothing unless he has the wood. How could God be called Maker and Artificer if His ability to make depended on some other cause, namely on matter itself? If He only worked up existing matter and did not Himself bring matter into being, He would be not the Creator but only a craftsman.
Then, again, there is the theory of the Gnostics, who have invented for themselves an Artificer of all things other than the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. These simply shut their eyes to the obvious meaning of Scripture. For instance, the Lord, having reminded the Jews of the statement in Genesis, “He Who created them in the beginning made them male and female. . . ,” and having shown that for that reason a man should leave his parents and cleave to his wife, goes on to say with reference to the Creator, “What therefore God has joined together, let no man put asunder.” How can they get a creation independent of the Father out of that? And, again, St. John, speaking all inclusively, says, “All things became by Him and without Him came nothing into being. How then could the Artificer be someone different, other than the Father of Christ?

(3)Such are the notions which men put forward. But the impiety of their foolish talk is plainly declared by the divine teaching of the Christian faith. From it we know that, because there is Mind behind the universe, it did not originate itself; because God is infinite, not finite, it was not made from pre-existent matter, but out of nothing and out of non-existence absolute and utter God brought it into being through the Word. He says as much in Genesis: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth;[4] and again through that most helpful book The Shepherd, “Believe thou first and foremost that there is One God Who created and arranged all things and brought them out of non-existence into being.” Paul also indicates the same thing when he says, “By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the Word of God, so that the things which we see now did not come into being out of things which had previously appeared.” For God is good—or rather, of all goodness He is Fountainhead, and it is impossible for one who is good to be mean or grudging about anything. Grudging existence to none therefore, He made all things out of nothing through His own Word, our Lord Jesus Christ and of all these His earthly creatures He reserved especial mercy for the race of men.

Notice the following about Saint Athanasius:

(1) Theistic arguments do not provide the foundation of theological belief-structures in Athanasius. He speaks as though Christian theology has authority separately from the considerations of his arguments. Notice how he takes divine Revelation as giving an adequate answer to opponents: “Such are the notions which men put forward. But the impiety of their foolish talk is plainly declared by the divine teaching of the Christian faith. From it we know that, because there is Mind behind the universe, it did not originate itself; because God is infinite, not finite, it was not made from pre-existent matter, but out of nothing and out of non-existence absolute and utter God brought it into being through the Word.” He knows that God is infinite, not finite because of divine revelation–a claim that would make little sense if he thought his trust in the contents of Christian revelation required theistic arguments first.

(2) Theistic arguments are primarily rhetorical/persuastive/polemical for Athanasius.
He appeals to the common standard of human *experience* (not some kind of supreme, neutral “reason”) to argue that the Epicurean view is unbelievable. He appeals to intuitions about divine perfection to argue against Platonism’s view that matter coexisted with God. This use of a shared standard of authority to show inconsistencies within opponents’ view and bring them in the direction of Christian faith is rhetorically powerful. In the first case, Athanasius argues that experience supports one specific view; in the second case, he argues that the view in question is inconsistent.

(3) The conclusions Athanasius draws are modest. Athanasius argues from experience and intuition to some of what the fathers would call “names of God”. He shows that God has names such as Creator, Orderer, etc. But this is very different from reasoning to truths about the divine essence. For creating and ordering are divine activities. God’s names of Creator and Orderer are designations of His personal acts. Athansius leads his opponents to approach the persons who are God via their personal activities.

The Fathers and Theistic Arguments (I): Preliminary Considerations

December 10, 2007

Many Orthodox theologians dissociate themselves from using or endorsing arguments for God’s existence. It is sometimes claimed that the early Church Fathers–the early Christian theologians of the first few centuries–rejected human reason and logic and were mystics who did not care about philosophical questions. While it is true that reasoning from the reality of creation to a Creator does not factor into the theology of the Early Church Fathers in the way it does perhaps in subsequent Western theology, it has always seemed to me to be an exaggeration to deny that “natural theology” has any part to play in their thought.

The purpose of this series will be to examine the place of arguments for God’s existence and what I will call “common theistic claims” (beliefs theists generally hold about the soul, nature, etc.) in the thought of the Eastern Fathers. When I say “natural theology” I don’t mean the idea that natural reason can approach the divine essence; I just mean that human reason and experience can lead us to some knowledge of the existence of God (his activities as Creator, Designer, Lawgiver, etc.). Because of the extremely negative connotation “natural theology” has in contemporary theology, I will instead use the phrase “theistic arguments” or “arguments for God’s existence”. And notice that I do not say *unaided* human reason; because grace never abandoned nature, all intellectual movement toward God is God-given. My preliminary thesis is that the use of arguments for God’s existence and common theistic claims in the Eastern Fathers can be characterized in the following ways:

(1) Theistic arguments do not provide the foundation of theological belief-structures in the Fathers. By “foundation” I mean “beliefs that constitute the basic claims of Christianity which serve as the starting point for theology”. A foundational belief for Christian theology is “Jesus Christ is God”; this claim is part of the initial deliverances of Christian revelation. My claim is that “natural theology” does not serve as a starting point for what gives Christian faith its authority. It comes to conclusions that fit with the “foundation”; but the process is not itself the foundation. The ultimate authority of Christian claims comes from God’s revelation in Jesus Christ and the authority is known (or reasonably believed) ultimately through experience of God.

(2) Theistic arguments are primarily rhetorical/persuastive/polemical. By rhetorical/persuasive/polemical I mean that they serve a purpose of moving those outside of the Christian faith toward the faith by showing the intellectual inadequacy of naturalism, dualism, Platonism, pantheism, etc. By rhetorical I do not, however, mean “lacking in intellectual integrity”, “merely intellectual and linguistic games”, or “lacking in substance”. Theistic arguments tell us real things about the world and can be used to persuade non-Christians or help the faith of catechumens and students.

(3) The conclusions are modest. The Fathers do not attempt to idolize philosophical rationality by claiming that arguments for God’s existence give deep insights into the nature of God. They don’t bring us all the way to the Christian God. They do not infer a whole lot about God but give us some basic propositions that fit with some of the fundamental beliefs of Christianity.

Inclusivism (2): Responsibility and Knowledge in the New Testament

December 9, 2007

A standard ethical principle is that we are can only be held fully responsible for the actions we do if we are sufficiently aware of their wrongness. This directly relates to the inclusivism/exclusivism debate. If knowledge of a certain kind is necessary to be fully responsible for your relation to God, then if this principle holds, people who lack this knowledge should (plausibly) be treated differently. The following is an exegetical argument for the conclusion that degrees of moral knowledge correlate to degrees of responsibility in the New Testament.

Acts 17:30 While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent.

The action of “overlooking” seems to indicate a lesser degree of judgment. The overlooking is in response to human ignorance–specifically ingnorance about salvation through the specific God of Israel and his Messiah. This past fact is now to some degree and in some sense being reversed; God expects an appropriate response because of Jesus’ appearing. The scope of this reversal is not, however, evident.

Luke 23:34 Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”

Jesus here intercedes on behalf of the ignorant. He seems to imply, in his prayer, that because of the ignorance of those who are harming him, they are not to be held fully responsible for their actions.

Luke 9:62 Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

Though it is not directly stated here that there is a decreased degree of responsibility for those who are previously ignorant, it is interesting to note the range of people to whom Jesus’ statement applies. Not being fit for the kingdom is an issue for those who *look back*. The punishment of the unworthy only applies (here at least) to those that reject what they have already been given.

Luke 12:47-8 That slave who knew what his master wanted, but did not prepare himself or do what was wanted, will receive a greater beating. But the one who did not know and did what deserved a beating will receive a light beating. For everyone to whom much has been given, mcuh will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.

Here Jesus teaches the lesser punishment of those who are ignorant of the wrongness of their actions.

Matthew 11:20-24 Then he began to reproach the cities in which most of his deeds of power had been done, because they did not repent. “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the deeds of power done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, on the day of judgment it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you, Capernum, will you be exalted to heaven? No, you will be brought down to Hades. For if the deeds fo power done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I tell you that on the day of judgment it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom than for you.”

The fact that judgment will be more tolerable for those who did not witness the “deeds of power” implies the principle that a lesser degree of knowledge they had decreased their culpability.

James 1:22-5 But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they look like. But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act–they will be blessed in their doing.

Though this passage does not touch on those who are not “hearers”, there is a distinctive emphasis on awareness of the law as what divides people into two categories–hearers who do and hearers who do not obey. If other categories exist they are not explicitly mentioned.

James 4:17 Anyone, then, who knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, commits sin.

Similarly to above, there is an emphasis on defining moral wrongdoing with relation to knowledge.

Romans 2:12 All who have sinned apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law.

Though Saint Paul does not say that existing apart from the Mosaic law makes one *not* a sinner in any sense, there does seem to be something special about sinning “under” the law (presumably meaning “with awareness of it due to membership in Israel”). Paul talks later about how the Gentiles who exist apart from the law still have awareness of the law in their hearts. This could be taken to imply that everyone has equal consciousness of the law and are thus equally guilty; but it seems that if we go this route, verse 12 doesn’t make as much sense.

Romans 3:30 For “no human being will be justified in his sight” by deeds prescribed by the law, for through the law comes the knowledge of sin.

Again, this doesn’t say that there’s no knowledge of sin at all apart from the law. Yet this does seem to be making a distinction of some kind between those who have the law and those who don’t.

Romans 7:7 What then should we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet, if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.”

Similarly to Romans 3:30 there is not a denial that one can know sin *in any sense* apart from the law (and Romans 2:14 seems to suggest this, as well as Romans 7:22 if you read it as Witherington suggests–see here for a summary of Witherington’s exegesis). But there does seem to be a lesser degree of awareness, perhaps, or something like that as a result of not having the law. One could also interpret “know” in a sort of “acquaintance” sense, such that one could not be acquainted with sin apart from the law; but I am not sure if this is as plausible of a reading as understanding “know” in a sense of “being aware that I am doing”. And even if we grant that it means “know” in an acquaintance sense, doesn’t this still imply that lacking knowledge of sin would mean that we are obstructed from sinning?

A plausible conclusion to draw from the above verses is that there is some kind of direct relationship between the amount of knowledge we have about right and wrong and the guilt that comes from sinning.

Inclusivism (1): The Issues

December 9, 2007

There is a debate about salvation in Christian theology with respect to the “unevangelized”. An unevangelized person is someone who has never heard the message of Christianity. The problem that these people pose for Christianity is easy to see. If God is all-loving, and wills the salvation of all, and faith is necessary for salvation, and there are people who never even have an opportunity to exercise faith, then this seems to create a problem: God does not give an opportunity for salvation to all people. This series of posts will be aimed at articulating the approach to this issue called “inclusivism”, according to which salvation does not require explicit knowledge of the historical facts of Christianity.

The Questions

In order to explain the range of opinions on this subject, consider the following two questions:

-Is every human person saved?
-What are the conditions for salvation with respect to the kind of *knowledge* a person must have?

The first question can be given two different answers: yes and no.

-A person who answers “yes” to the first question is called a “universalist”.
-A person who answers “no” to the first question is called a “particularist”.

I will take it for granted that particularism is true, and move on to assess questions about how salvation becomes available.

With respect to the second question about conditions of knowledge for salvation, several sub-questions arise:

Is explicit knowledge of the Gospel–the fact that Jesus Christ is Lord and the Kingdom of God has come by the power of his death and resurrection for all who repent and believe–necessary for salvation?

-A person who answers “yes” is called an “exclusivist”.
-A person who answers “no” is called an “inclusivist”.

Regardless of whether or not this knowledge is necessary, how can people gain access to this knowledge?

-One answer (sometimes erroneously considered the traditional view) is called “restrictivism”, according to which only missionary work by human Christian missionaries can make the knowledge necessary for salvation available.
-A second view is called “post-mortem evangelism”, according to which after death, unevangelized people are given a chance to convert to Christianity.
-A third answer is called “accessiblism”, according to which God provides access to the Gospel to every appropriate person, whether through human missionaries, or direct revelation (dreams, angels, etc.). Many accessiblists think that God is not obligated to reveal himself to people who He knows wouldn’t respond to Him if given the opportunity.

If it is not necessary that one have explicit knowledge of the Gospel, then what are the conditions of salvation?

-Inclusivists vary widely on this issue, giving answers that include monotheism, belief in a future life, belief in future judgment, belief in one’s own sinfulness, belief that God remedies one’s sinfulness through salvation, and various other potential points.

I will be attempting in this series to weigh arguments in favor of exclusivism and inclusivism, and eventually move to questions about the different varieties of exclusivism.

Sources of Information:

Biblical data bears on these questions in the following ways:

-Principles could be located in Scripture that either entail or refute these positions.
-Principles could be located in Scripture that make up the assumptions and frameworks of these various views or count against their assumptions and frameworks.
-Concrete examples could be given of people who fit the criteria unique to one of the specific views.

Reason can bear on these questions in the following ways:

-What we know about God from nature could count for or against any of the views
-There could be concrete examples from our experience that support one of these views
-There could be an implication that we could draw from logical or philosophical principles in conjunction with our knowledge of God from nature, a concrete example from our experience, or the content of Scripture, that would support one of the views.

Tradition can bear on these questions in the following ways:

-The majority view of the early fathers may be that one approach is true
-Principles in the early fathers may favor one approach

It is important to realize that some of these views can overlap, such as post-mortem evangelism and inclusivism.

These distinctions help set the groundwork for assessing the strength of these various views.