Thursday, July 07, 2016

A brief response concerning Mark Jones' piece on Bruce Ware's interview

Mark Jones has decided to respond to the recent Bruce Ware interview, through Carl Trueman's site on the Mortification of Spin, here. I don't know if that is a good sign, since Mark Jones has so far produced the worst argumentation among all the others so far. [On a side note, Jones' terrible argumentation has cast doubt in my mind on whether his prior crusade against Tullian Tchividjian (before he was disgraced) was because he was right, or because he misrepresented Tullian in that controversy too.]

But let us look at the substance of Jones' response. As we look at Jones' response, we ought to remember that charity means, when unclear, we should not presume the worst interpretation of what another is writing.

The first point to note, an important point I add, is that Jones claims up front that Ware's idea of EFS/ ERAS is ontological, in points 1 and 4. He then shows confusion over Ware's citation of Anatolios (in Jones' point 1) and greater confusion especially in his point 6. As Jones wrote,

I also do not quite follow what he means when he speaks of “functional and hypostatic.” He makes ontology more ultimate than hypostases. Suggesting the three persons are “eternal” but not “ontological” is quite a curious thing to do. One should never say that “hypostatic” is not an ontological category. Common and personal properties are ontological.

In response, first, it seems that one should accept Ware's claim here that he intends EFS/ ERAS to be understood in an economic sense. That might mean some revision or tightening up of language expressed prior to this interview, which Jones mentioned in his conclusion. But isn't it more natural to take what Ware is saying at face value and try to see where he is coming from first?

Jones' sixth point is an interesting example of how the critics of EFS seem to have got it all wrong, and thus I would like to explain where Jones shows confusion. If I understand Ware correctly, he is using the word "hypostasis" as equivalent to "person." And then when he is using personal categories, he has in mind the Trinity as God is working in His three persons. God in being (ad intra) does not work. God works externally (ad extra). Yes, I agree also that using the ad intra and ad extra categories would be (perhaps) so much more helpful, but we must try to interpret Ware according to what he says he believes, and I don't particularly think Ware is hard to understand.

We note that Jones states that "common and personal properties are ontological." That shows that Jones has missed the mark since he seems to be so fixated on ontology that it seems anytime he sees any language about "persons" and he thinks EFS proponents and Ware MUST be writing about ontology. I guess I can see why the critics have become so confused and think EFS is all about ontological subordination. But the whole point of bringing the language of "persons" is to discuss the works of the persons, since persons work but essences don't. Is that how classical theism expresses itself? Probably not, but the issue is not expression, which can be discussed but it is another issue altogether, but about content. If we take Ware as he is, using his own definitions, then it seems Jones' confusion is a thing entirely of his own doing.

This confusion extends through Jones' response. In Jones' second and fourth points concerning the modes of subsistence and ERAS, Jones has failed to understand Ware's point. If Ware is indeed speaking of ERAS as being economical, then what he says makes sense. The ontological mode of subsistence "work like hand and glove" with the economic ERAS. Now, I do not know how closely Ware thinks those two categories work together, and we probably can discuss that, but claiming some sort of link between the immanent and the economic Trinity should not be a controversial statement in se.

Before we move on, maybe this would be helpful for the critics. The language used by many EFS/ ERAS proponents seem to be personalist language that comes from everyday experience. We interact with persons, so "persons" are defined dynamically as individuals we relate to. Such is a natural way of thinking. After all, if we talk to the Father, we are talking to the Father, not to the Son and not to the Spirit. Of course, such is not how theological discourse about the doctrine of God has been conducted traditionally, and I think we can all acknowledge that. But must the two be mutually exclusive, as if any talk about "person" is merely scholastic and not be at the same time understandable in some sense to the normal person?

Back to Jones' article, Jones in his third point claims that Ware's third point leads to monothelitism. I must say I did not expect such a response. Discussion of libertarian versus compatibilist free will does not require one to parse out the dual nature of Christ's two wills. For the presence of apologetics, we treat the two wills of Christ as an unified bundle (one bundle of two wills). After all, the two wills of Christ do not contradict each other, so for most purposes not involving Christology, we can treat the two wills as one unified bundle of (the two) wills. As such, Jones' point falls short here as well.

Jones in his conclusion essentially found Ware "incoherent." I beg to differ. It seems to me that he as with many other critics continue to misrepresent their opponents. It doesn't have to be that way if only we start listening to the other and get to know their positions better. Thus it is my hope that more light can be shed on the issues and less heat.

No comments: