Monday, February 17, 2020

The continual simplification and misrepresentation of those who do not subscribe to Classical Theism

Over at Ligonier, Keith A. Matthison has written an article for Table Talk on the importance of Classical Theism. Matthison asserts the importance of Classical Theism and strongly asserts that "classical theism is simply a shorthand way of describing God as He has revealed Himself in His Word." The problem however is that Matthison's assertion is simply that: a mere assertion, without proof.

It may not seem obvious, but the problem with Matthison's article is surprisingly simple: Matthison asserts that it is important that we hold on to the biblical doctrines of God's simplicity, immutability, and impassibility, and that without those we would have a different God than the God of Scripture. But Matthison nowhere argues that Classical Theism is necessary or we would have a different God than the God of Scripture. The whole article assumes that Classical Theism, and only Classical Theism, will preserve the biblical doctrines of God's simplicity, immutability, and impassibility. However, for orthodox Christians who object to Classical Theism, that is precisely the point of contention. We do not agree that Classical Theism is the only way to preserve the biblical doctrines of God's simplicity, immutability, and impassibility. From my own perspective, while I do not think that Classical Theism is totally wrong, I do think that there is a bit too much paganism in Classical Theism which corrupts our understanding of God, if taken to its logical conclusions.

Take for example, the idea that the will is a property of nature. From that assumption, it is denied that the Triune God can have three wills, because if He has three wills, then He has three natures and thus there are three Gods. But why should we assume that will is necessarily a property of nature? On the contrary, if we insist that will is a property of nature, then it would seem that communion with any Person of the Godhead is impossible. One communes with the whole God, but it is not possible to commune with Jesus, or with the Father, for they are all one will. After all, anything that smacks of "Social Trinitarianism" must be rejected right? Even Jesus' High Priestly Prayer was interpreted to mean Jesus in his human will submitting to His divine will, so I guess any communion with Jesus is only with his human nature, and any communion with the divine nature is with the whole Trinity?

The fact of the matter is that there is just too much Aristotle and not enough Scripture in Classical Theism. That is why I reject Classical Theism. There is just too much philosophical baggage from Aristotelian categories that are not philosophically or theologically tenable. One example is the idea that "infinity" is a divine attribute, an assertion which is not tenable in light of Cantor's mathematical insights. Thus, we should reject the notion, prevalent in Classical Theism, that infinity is necessarily a divine attribute. Rather, we must say that created infinities point us to the ultimate infinity that is God, and thus infinity becomes a communicable attribute not an incommunicable one. This is just one of many potential modifications that have to happen in our thinking about God, for a blind adherence to Aristotle may give us a coherent system, but a system that is philosophically untenable and intellectually bankrupt.

It is of course hoped that Reformed adherents to Classical Theism may be a bit more critical in their theology, and more receptive to criticism instead of circling the wagons of "orthodoxy." The conduct of many Reformed leaders during the 2016 ESS fiasco however does not give me confidence that that will happen anytime soon. Thus, there will continue to be articles like this that essentially ignore the critics and ignore the many problems with Classical Theism, and, like the ostrich with its head in the ground, continue to sound off in the Big Reformed echo-chamber that only a limited audience will hear.

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