Sunday, January 09, 2022

The dehumanization angle concerning the COVID vaccine mandate

In response to the COVID19 pandemic, many countries are now lining up to promote their version of a vaccine mandate, whereby those who are deemed "unvaccinated," an ever evolving category, are to be disciminated against. Such policies are spun positively as "protecting the unvaccinated," but all that is facade for more nefarious goals. Perhaps one place we can see the mask slip is the interview with French president Emmanuel Macron who, in an interview, dehumanizes, mocks and ridicules the unvacccinated as "non-citizens" whom he wants to "piss off." Note that for France, the "unvaccinated" includes all those who are vaccinated but did not receive the booster. In other words, those who are adequately protected against the COVID19 virus, but do not get the enhanced protection of a booster shot, are to be mocked and ridiculed as being "unvaccinated."

There are many angles that one can address this farce of the vaccine mandate, but the main point I want to focus on here is how dehumanizing ALL vaccine mandates are. I say that as someone who has received two doses of the Pfizer vaccine, and am not necessarily against taking a booster. But Macron's interview clearly show that for many people, the vaccine mandate is all about implementing vaccine apartheid and giving certain people the "moral high ground" to openly mock, ridicule, and trash those who do not agree with them concerning the COVID vaccine, all whiile feeling righteous and thinking that they are on the "right side of history." The correct way of dealing with human beings is one, to treat them as humans. It does not matter what the issue is: If you think that one is justified in dehumanizing the opposition, then your supposedly "moral" side is in the wrong. Vaccine mandates of any kind are licenses to discriminate, mock, and ridicule anyone who does not get the vaccine or the booster. It DOES not matter whether you think someone should or shouldn't get the vaccine. Once you think that you are free to dehumanize the "unvaccinated," to treat them as sub-human scum, you are positively evil.

Part of the dehumanizing aspect of vaccine passports is the idea that living as a human being is not a human right, therefore a government or governments can take away those "rights" in order to "protect the unvaccinated." So governments think that restricting speech on the vaccine, restructing freedom of assembly, blocking the unvaccinated from going to work, is somehow morally justified because of the pandemic. In the name of "protecting the unvaccinated," or other such inane platitudes, the "unvaccinated" (which evidently now include the non-boosted vaccinated, and next time it might include anyone not taking the 5th or 6th or 20th booster shot), the "unvaccinated" are persecuted, blocked from working leading to loss of income, blocked from participating in society, and so on.

Marcon's coarse and dehumanizing speech reflects perfectly well the misanthropy behind all vaccine mandates. Whilee the COVID19 pandemic is a serious health issue, there is another pandemic at play here, and it is worse because it is not treated as a pandemic: the pandemic of dehumanizing totalitarianism (but I am repeating mysef). From Macron's insult of his fellow citizens to Australia's fascist policies, the virus of totalitarianism is on the rise, and there remains no effective vaccine for this pandemic, for now.

Monday, January 03, 2022

Book Review of Craig Carter's book Contemplating God with the Great Tradition

Baptist theologian Jordan Steffaniak has written a book review of Craig Carter's book Contemplating God with the Great Tradition, which you can read here. I had read Steffaniak's review prior but thought it best to post it here only after I have read the book myself, with myself pointing out certain major issues that I have with how Carter deals with history as I was reading the book. Steffaniak wrote about how Carter misrepresents his opponents. For me, since Carter posts broad denunciations at the start, it does not seem to me that Carter actually engages anyone. Up to the last page of his book, I was still waiting for Carter to actually begin showing us why those who reject what he calls "Trinitarian Classical Theism "(TCT) are wrong, and yet nothing was offered to justify Carter's stance.

I am obviously not in the "Classical Theist" camp. Reading this book, as well as Matthew Barrett's book, has emotionally validated my rejection of Classical Theism. After all, if Classical Theism is so true, why are its proponents totally unable to actually engage the issues properly, and why are they only interested in the burning of strawmen and committing logical fallacies?

Once more on General Revelation and Natural Theology

Thesis 5: God's existence is evident to reason, even though fallen human beings, because of sin, either deny God's eixstence or refuse to be grateful to him and worshp him (Rom. 1:20)

Thesis 21: The created order bears the imprint of the divine Logos, and humans are created in the image of God, which mans that the human mind can apprehend the order and structure in the creation, which is the basis of natural theology, natural moral law, and scientific laws.

(Craig Carter, Contemplating God with the Great Tradition: Recovering Trinitarian Classical Theism, 307-8)

For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. (Rom. 1:20)

The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. (Ps. 19:1-2)

General Revelation is the revelation God has given to all creatures, showing them that there is a God, and that they have violated His Law (c.f. Rom. 2:15). Since it is given to all, it cannot be given to only the elites. It must be perspicuous to all, not to the intellectuals only. Therefore, as we see in Psalms 19, it is given without words, without reason. It is *just* there, intuitively grasped by all humans. That is the only way General Revelation can be truly general, not to a specified group of philosophers only.

In contrast to this, the ressourcement interpretation of Romans 1:20 reads Natural Theology into the text. For these new Thomists, General Revelation is Natural Theology, or at the very least Natural Theology is a major part of General Revelation. But where is this found in the biblical text? Where do we see in Scripture that one can derive from pagan thought true things about God? What then does it tell us when our new Thomists in their intellectual loftiness ignore the simple primitive tribes? Are we going to say that these jungle tribesmen do not have the true General Revelation at all, since none of them have even heard of the ontological argument or things to that effect?

General Revelation is General Revelation. Natural theology is natural theology, and the two are not each other. Most certainly, there can be overlap between the two (depending on one's definition of "natural theology"), but they are not the same thing. It is a travesty that in their zeal to "recover orthodoxy," our new Thomists are destroying the basis for reaching out to non-intellectuals and primitive societies.

Sunday, January 02, 2022

On the sweeping denigration of "modernism"

Throughout this book, I have argued that modern theology has lost its grip on Nicene orthodoxy becaus it has failed to challenge modern metaphysics at a fundamental level. Instead, many modern theologians have been preoccupied with trying to squeeze orthodox doctrines onto the Procrustean bed of modernist metaphysics. For them, the key question is "How much of the Bible can we fit into a philosophical naturalist framework?" (Craig A. Carter, Contemplating God with the Great Tradition: Recovering Trinitarian Classical Theism, 237)

Part of the ressourcement movement has been a wholesale rejection of modernity. In some sense, a critical examination of modernity and post-modernity (modernity version 2.0) is understandable, even laudable. That said, modernity is not one monolithic movement, just as the Enlightenment is not monolithic. The same Enlightenment that gave us Schleiermacher, Bauer, Rauschenbusch, and Bultmann also gave us Old Princeton and the Doleantie. (I intentionally omit Evangelicalism since "Evangelicalism" has become a derogatory term in much of American Refomed Christianity). History is complex, and demonizing entire epochs of history is just as errant whether it be the Enlightenment or the Medieval period.

We see in Carter's attack on "modern metaphysics" something more reminiscent of the Vatican I Roman Catholic attack upon modernity. According to Carter, modern metaphysics is essentially a "philosophical naturalist framework," and this naturalism is a "temporary phase between the fall of Christendom and the rise of neopaganism" (Carter, 237). No argument or evidence is given to support such strong assertions. Most certainly, we can trace the progression of worldviews in the Western world from one based upon some version of Christendom to a "philosophical naturalist" view and now towards a neopagan worldview. But, and this is a big but, that does not implicate all things that is found in the modern era or even the post-modern era. Charles Hodge of Old Princeton wrote with a presupposition of Common Sense Realism, not philosophical naturalism. Even outside of Evangelicalism, Karl Barth (from a Idealist position) rejected philosophical naturalism with a "Nein" against German liberalism. To assert that there is something called THE "modern metaphysic" which is tied to the zeitgeist is not an argument that has shown that it has actually wrestled with the complexity of real history.

Should there be concerns over "philosophical naturalism"? Sure. Is it possible that "modern theologians" (whoever they are) have beeen "preoccupied with trying to squeeze orthodox doctrine onto the Procrustean bed of" philosophical naturalism? Maybe. But such overly broad denunciation is extremely unhelpful and serves more to poison the well than actually deal with the issues raised by "modern theologians," whoever they are.

Instead of broad sweeping denunciations of "modernism," engagement with "modern theologians" is preferable. This kind of polemic is extremely unhelpful. After all, it wasn't a long time ago that theologians were denigrating the Medieval period. So if Carter does not like the denigration of the Church Father or the Medieval period, perhaps he shouldn't be doing the same to "modern theologians."

The Hellenization thesis and the over-reaction to it

So let us hear no more nonsense about the supposed imposition of Greek metaphysics on the Bible by the fourth-century fathers! (Craig A. Carter, Contemplating God with the Great Tradition: Recovering Trinitarian Classical Theism, 216)

The Hellenization thesis is the theory that periods of church history, be it the Church Fathers or even up to the Reformation era, have been so influenced by Greek philosophy that we need to recover the "true biblical truths" that have been distorted by those "Hellenizers" in church history. Be it those who reject the Church Fathers and attempt to read the Bible by oneself, or those who pit John Calvin against the Calvinists and those "dead" Reformed Scholastics, the Hellenization thesis has wrecked havoc on the Church's ability to be the one catholic and apostolic church, the Church of all ages. The demolishing of the Helleization thesis has been a welcome development in academia and in the Church broadly speaking. Unfortunately, the pendulum seems to be swinging to the opposite extreme, as can be seen in the recent "retreival" of classical theism, spearheaded by those who are trying to retreive the "Great Tradition," something that any Reformed Christian who holds to Sola Scriptura ought to be skeptical of.

The Hellenization thesis asserts that certain periods of Church History have seen great distortion of biblical truths by Greek philosophy. In opposition to this, the modern ressourcement movement asserts the total opposite: that the church has always been fully biblical and that there was never any compromise of biblical truth due to the use of Greek philosophy. In the eyes of the leaders in this ressourcement, the Church Fathers took Greek philosophical concepts, hammered them "on the anvil of Scripture" (Carter, p. 216), and "reforg[ed] them in the flame of truth until they were bent into a usable shape for proclaiming the gospel" (pp. 216-7). There was never any "Greek captivity," but rather everything that comes out of the Church Fathers is biblical and not tainted by Greek philosophy at all, not even an iota!

As it can be seen, the two are mirror images and exact opposites of each other. The Hellenization thesis asserts the full captivity of the Church to Greek philosophy, while the modern ressourcement asserts the full "captivity" of Greek philosophy to true theology in the Church. The reality is that both are wrong. The Church Fathers indeed are trying to be biblical, and their use of Greek philosophy is not unreflective and Greek philosophical thought has been altered and pressed into service of the Church's theology. At the same time, Greek philosophy has influenced the Church Fathers in ways thot are not always in line with biblical truth. The clearest example of such an unbiblical influence is in the Medieval Church's embrace of realism unto the denial of forensic justification, seeing justification as something that must be actually true for a believer before God can proclaim the believer just, a teaching that continues on as the Roman Catholic teaching on justification. If Greek philosophical thought as mediated through the Medival Church is wrong, why must we think that the supposed "Great Tradition" is neigh infallible in its use and modification of Greek philosophy?

The Hellenization thesis is wrong. But so is the glorification and unreflective adoption of the "Great Tradition." The current ressourcement project is moving in a dangerous direction. If not careful, it would lead to the wholesale rejection of the Reformation. After all, why stop at one's doctrine of God? Why not adopt Aquinas' doctrine of justification, merit, and the saints, as part of the teaching of the "Great Tradition"?

Monday, December 20, 2021

Why "Act follows being" is unbiblical

In the supposed recovery of "Classical Theism," Aristotelian philosophy has been smuggled in and, in its Thomistic form, has been uncritically accepted as biblical. Critical thinking is in short supply as many once solid Reformed Evangelicals has succumbed to the dizzying intellect of Thomas Aquinas, believing they have retrieved THE biblical orthodoxy they have been missing their entire lives. This conversion to Thomism is disturbing because it is an implicit rejection of Sola Scriptura, where the philosophy of Aristotle and Thomas determines one's thinking processes instead of the Bible.

One area where critical thinking has disappeared is the embrace of the phrase "act follows being" (agere sequitur esse), a phrase associated with Aristotelianism. The idea is that every action must have a cause, and therefore elucidating the causes of a thing helps us to understand its actions or operations. As a general guide, the principle can hold true for some objects. However, the problem comes with objects with a free will or free agency. Since the notion of free will implies that the will is not determined by nature, although we can agree that the will is influeced and limited by nature, this poses a problem for this principle. If act necessarily follows being, then the will is not free and hard determinism is true.

Why is that so and what does that mean? If act necessarily follows being, then the being of a thing circumscribes and even dictates its actions. For an immutable subject, that implies that the acts of the subject are necessarily so. The subject cannot do otherwise. When applied to God, this means that every action taken by God is a necessary action that He must do in order to be God. This does not make God dependent on creation, for He is still the cause of creation. However, that makes creation necessary, the election of certain people necessary, and the reprobation of other people necessary. There cannot be any contingency in God's relation to the world.

What does this mean for how we think about God? Do we believe God has free will, the freedom to not create this world, and the freedom to not save anyone if He so chooses to? If you hold to the principle that act follows being, then you must necessarily hold to hard determinism even as it pertains to God. You must deny God has free will, for God must always act as the first cause to effect the cosmos. You must deny that God cannot not create the world, cannot not elect certain people and reprobate certain people.

Needless to say, this does not sound like the God of the Bible, who creates as He pleases, and whose election unto salvation is based purely on His good pleasure (Eph. 1:5, 11). God most certainly cannot violate His nature, but His will is not determined by His nature, unless you want to claim there is something in God that makes one sinner electable and the other reprobatable.

Thursday, December 16, 2021

A Response to Derrick Brite on the issue of EFS

Reformation 21 has posted an article by Derrick Brite, which is a response to Owen Strachan in his most recent defence of ERAS on his Substack and on his podcast. Initially, I was skeptical over his claim that he wants to "to open the door for Christian debate and dialogue," given my history of (non-) interaction with anti-EFS warriors. However, Brite responded to my skepticism with a tweet that seem to geniunely want dialogue, so I would like to respond and hope for the best.

First of all, while I am responding to Brite's article, I claim solidarity with EFS, not identity. I am not responding due to any full-throated embrace of everything related to EFS. My view, which has been mentioned over and over on my blog, has been that I embraced the view that the Son in eternity past submitted to the Father, as exemplified in the Pactum Salutis. This is the eternal submission that I have always held to, thus "Eternal Submission" "of the Son." Since the persons are immutable, I reject the view that the Spirit could ever be incarnate, or the Father could ever be sent by the Son on Pentecost. That is not an issue of a deficit in the persons, as if the Father does not have the power to be incarnate (He could IF He wanted to), but the persons immutably do what the persons would do. The Son submits to the Father because He voluntarily yet immutably does so, in all possible worlds. For the Son to not submit to the Father is for God to be not God; an impossibility.

With that out of the way, I will now engage Brite's article. Firstly, I am glad that he admits that Strachan is not an Arian. As I have been saying over and over, EFS is not Arianism or Semi-Arianism, and saying it is such is a violation of the ninth commandment. Stating that it logically leads to Arianism is a different argument, one that we can disagree over and debate on.

Brite's main argument is to look at Strachan's exegesis of 1 Corinthians 15:28, asserting that Strachan's exegesis of the verse is in error. He then asserts that Strachan's exegeis, which is to read it as teaching "ontological authority and submission," "does do violence to the Son," "takes away the mediatorial glory that is due to the Son for a particular economic role he has undertaken," and "takes away the ontological equality of glory that he has with the Father." Thus, EFS (or ERAS) "collapses the immanent with the economic." He then asks what EFS proponents' views of the divine processions and of reciprocity are, stating that a "more robust doctrine of these two subjects would safeguard against such grave error."

How should we respond to this? I will go back to the Bible verse later. But for me, the first thing that stood out immediately was the argument that EFS/ ERAS is all about ontological authority and submission. That of course is not true. All EFS proponents reject ontological authority and submission, seeing authority and sumission as functional, not ontological. But perhaps Brite has in mind phrases such as the authorty and submission being more than just ad extra or that it pertains to the inner life of God. In a sense, such confusion over what EFS actually teaches is understandable. But here is where we need to understand one simple thing: Most EFS proponents (especially on the Baptist side) are biblicists. Biblicists focus on what they think is the "plain meaning of the text," and thus one negative aspect of biblicism is its failure to be rigorously systematic and to define its terms properly and consistently. While not excusing biblicism, what we must do is to always respect authorial intent. In other words, we must allow the authors to define how they use their terms, regardless of whether the terms have been historically or confessionally used in that manner. We MUST evaluate not by reading our own meanings into their words, but to understand what they mean and then translate ("contextualize") what they say with the concepts that we use. In other words, I see biblicism as producing its own theological language, one in which translation is necessary. Just like it requires translation to understand Aristotele and Thomas, for their thoughts are otherwise alien to the modern mind.

EFS rejects ontological authority and submission. At the same time, they think of ad extra as being limited to God's works in the world, and thus they do not believe that authority and submission happens only in the realm of creation. That is what some of them mean when they are discontent with limiting it to God ad extra. As a Reformed Christian, I do not limit the term ad extra to only the works of God, but to anything that is outside the being of God. But wait, isn't there just God and Creation? Surely there is not something that is not God and not Creation, is there?

This is where I will part ways with most EFS proponents, and this is also where perhaps my views are not typical. But before going into my view, I will say that from my perspective, it is very likely that EFS proponents get a glimpse of something true, but fail to understand it fully. This might be a reason why they just use the phrase "functional" without explicitly saying how does that reconcile with the biblical doctrine of God. I do see the problem if one starts with a mere bifurcation between God ad intra and the works of God ad extra, seeking to pigeon-hole everything concerning God into these two boxes, and then, looking at EFS, thinks that it must be predicated of God ad intra, therefore leading to ontological authority and submission. My point is that one must think more broadly, and realize that limiting ourselves to these two boxes are part of the problem.

When we read Scripture, we read of God in His inner counsel, we seee God engaging and commmunicating with His creation. In prayer, God hears us and responds to us. All of these seem to indicate a God that is more than the god of the philosophers; a God that is more than just pure act. And yet also, God is most certainly pure act, and one gets all the classical attributes of God from Scripture, not just in philosophy. How should we resolve this tension? One way to do so is deism. Anther way to do so is to call all interactions anthropomorphisms or anthropopathisms. There are of course other ways, but one way that is most promising, which I currently hold to, is to appropriate the Eastern Orthodox category of the divine energies, and use it in our doctrine of God. This category can be used in many ways, but in this particular case, to show how EFS makes perfect sense.

In Eastern Orthodoxy, there are three things: the divine being, the divine energies, and the divine works. The divine being is of course God ad intra, the divine works is normally understood in the West as God ad extra. But what are the divine energies? Briefly speaking, the divine energies are the outward manifestations of the Godhead. Just like the Sun and its rays, the Sun exists as the divine being exists, but the Sun necessarily sends forth its rays, just as the divine energies eternally proceed from the divine being. The category of the divine energies is more fully developed by the Eastern Orthodox father Greogory Palamas, an opponent of the philosophy of Thomas Aquinas. In the Triads, Palamas states that God's foreknowledge, will, providence, contemplation of Himself among others are part of the energies of God (Triads, III.ii.6). God's foreknowledge is contingent, based upon the possible world that God chooses to actualize. God's will is whatever God wants it to be, and anything He wills is not necessary but contingent. God's contemplation of Himself is logically posterior to Himself, because He has to exist in order to contemplate Himself. As it can be seen, the energies are "dynamic" in a way that God's being is not. God as pure act cannot change, but God's will can change in the sense that there is nothing He decides to do that is absolutely necessary. Just as the sun with its rays, the energies of God proceed out of the being of God, seen in its multiplicity and contingency.

If we believe God is truly personal, then we should expect dynamism within the Godhead, not in their being, but in their relations to each other. Thus, the Father delights in the Son, and this delight is of the divine energies. There is a true "inner life" of the Godhead from eternity. The persons of the Godhead are not an abstract concept, but of true persons loving and delighting in each other, yet without three centers of consiousness.

EFS makes sense here because the submission in the Pactum Salutis is eternal, yet contingent. It is contingent in that God can choose not to do so, but yet necessary insofar as God has ordained the Son to be the Savior of the World. In other words, the eternal submission of the Son is contingent upon the divine will, yet necessary in light of the Covenant of God. EFS therefore is not ontological and not strictly economic, belonging to God in His energies.

Brite therefore errs in his understanding of EFS. On the biblicist side, he could at best say that they are inconsistent, but one should never say that EFS is all about ontological authority and submission. One can of course argue that a biblicist version of EFS is contradictory since it denies ontological authority and submission yet it logically implies such. However, if one holds to the divine energies, then there is no issue with the claim that EFS is purely "functional." And since I have introduced the concept of the divine energies, it should go without saying that I do agree with most of classical theism on the other matters as it pertains to God's being. I hold to inseparable operations as well, and do not see it as in any way contradictory of EFS.

Finally, we return to 1 Corinthians 15:28. Here, I have no problems with both exegetes. I agree with Strachan's simply exegesis, and with Brite's redemptive historical exegesis. The thing is they are not mutually exclusive. When we read Scripture, we cannot say that just because the text has one meaning does not mean that it does not have a fuller meaning when read either systematically, doctrinally, or redemptive-historically. That is why I left the biblical text at the end, because I do not believe one interpretation necessarily excludes the other.

In conclusion, I do not agree with Brite that EFS is in heterodox in any way. There may be unorthodox versions of EFS, but then they are unrothodox versions of just about anything, including classical theism (e.g. deism). EFS teaches something true about God, which is that the Son submits to the Father from all eternity, for our salvation.

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Divine simplicity and the divine attributes

Dr. James White has recently addressed the issue of divine simplicity, correctly pointing out that there is a difference between biblical simplicity and an "Aristotelian doctrine of simplicity." There is indeed a difference between what the Bible teaches about simplicity (God having no parts), and the entire metaphysical connotations that comes with one's embrace of Aristotelian presuppositions. Dr. White's argument however goes back to the issue of the divine attributes, and how historically, simplicity implies that the divine attributes are one in the being of God. On this, White agrees that "there is no disharmony in God, God is not the sum total of sub-concepts called attributes." However, he states that if one holds to simplicity in such a way that holds that there must be metaphysically one in God, then that makes the attributes indistinguishable to God. Here, White explicitly cites Francis Turretin as someone who errs in his discussion on the matter.

The interesting thing here is that I concur with Turretin yet agree with the first part of White's argument. How is that so? Well, Jacob Trotter decided to write a response to Dr White on the issue, and this helps to muddies the issue yet also provides a way to discuss it as well.

In his response, Trotter agrees that the divine attributes must be distinguishable, but asserts that in classical theism they are so while holding to the classical view of simplicity. Trotter's argument, seemingly propped up with multiple references, is that the attributes are one ad intra while multiple and distinguishable ad extra. In other words, Trotter seems to think that the traditional view is that the attributes of God are truly metaphysically one in the being of God (ad intra), while the reason why they can be distinguished is due to their effects out of God unto the world and its creatures (ad extra).

Is Trotter's argument correct? Certainly, he seems to have many sources supporting his view on the issue. However, I will suggest that this is not so. A major problem comes when we compare this assertion of the ad intra-ad extra categorization with what the Reformed tradition actually teaches. In his Institutes of Elenctic Theology, Turretin argues that the attributes of God are "really the same with his essence, but are to be distinguished from it virtually and eminently" (3.5. Emphases added). Does that sound the same as an ad intra- ad extra categorization? Trotter cites Turretin in his Institutes to prove his point, but it must be noted that he cites 3.5.13, that is to say the thirteenth section of the third topic, question 5, when the entire third topic question 5 is on divine simplicity. Turretin has already states that the attributes of God are really one with the essence yet virtually and eminently distinguishable in the fifth section, way before the thirteenth section. Is 3.5.13 correct in stating that they may be regarded as either on the part of God (ad intra) or towards creatures (ad extra)? Of course they can. But is that Turretin's main way of discussing the divine attributes? NO! And that is the main problem with Trotter's characterization of the Reformed tradition. Most certainly, they do say that the attributes of God can be discussed along the lines of an ad intra- ad extra characterization. However, that is NOT the main way they discuss the divine attributes. Turretin for example discusses it along the lines of really versus virtually and eminently. These terms "really," "virtually," "eminently," are all qualitative descriptors. They are words examining the relations of objects along the axis of "kind." They are not examining the relation of objects along the axis of "manner" or "in relation to," which is what the ad intra- ad extra categorization is about.

Trotter therefore does not correctly represent at least Turretin on the matter. The reason why Turretin can affirm distinguishable divine attributes and the classical view of simplicity is that he states that the reason why they are one is because in kind, all of them are one and the same in God, but in terms of what they are in eminance, which is to say in their extravagence and haecceity ("this-ness"), they are distinct. All of this has nothing to do with whether they are to be seen absolutely ad intra or relatively ad extra. Now, as 3.5.13 show, some of the attributes CAN be differentiated along the ad intra - ad extra axis, but that is not how we should primarily think of the relation between divine attributes and simplicity.

A major problem for Trotter's characterization can be seen when we apply the argument on the divine attribute of simplicity. Is this attribue (simplicity) only distinguishable as it relates to creatures? Here, we see that problems start to emerge when we reflexively curve the argument on itself. If divine attributes are only distinguishable as it relates to creatures, then ALL divine attributes are only distinguishable when it relates to creatures. However, attributes such as simplicity and aseity are divine attributes that relate to God ad intra, as Trotter should agree. Yet, they are divine attributes. Therefore, Trotter's simplistic use of the ad intra- ad extra categorization fails to do justice to the issue of simplicity and the divine attributes. That is not how the Reformed Orthodox such as Turretin has thought of the attributes. In fact, I would assert that this use of the ad intra - ad extra categorization is an extremely modern phenomenon of the early 21st century, where it seems everything with regards to God must be pigeon-holed into either ad intra or ad extra, and anyone who refuses to do the same is accused of being "theistic mutualist," "theistic personalist" or slurs to that effect.

Following Turretin, if we distinguish (pun not intended) between "really" and "virtually and eminantly," then we can say that the attibutes of God are one with the divine essence really, which is to say ontologically. Translated to something hopefully more understandable, the attributes of God as to their origins, their beginnings, are one with the divine essence, such that one cannot separate essence and atttribute. That is after all what biblical simplicity is all about (the non-divisibility of the one God). We can then say that the attributes are distinguishable "virtually and emininantly," due to haecceity. Translated to a less technical parlance, the atttributes of God when anyone (both God and us) see it for what they are, they are truly distinguishable. God's wrath is not his justice is not his simplicity.

This is the reason why I agree with the first part of Dr. White's argument yet reject the imputing of error to Turretin. Was Turretin an Aristotelian. Of course! But the key issue was never about whether someone was an Aristotelian. The key issue is whether someone is an Aristotelian because that philosophy is his tool, and therefore the content is biblical though the form is Aristotle's, or whether someone is an Aristotelian through a full-throated embrace of Aristotelianism as mediated by Thomas, warts and all. I would assert that Turretin is the former, while the modern "retrieval" of Classical Theism is the latter, confusing the ministerial use of Aristotle by the Reformed Scholastics with their magisterial appropriation of the same.

Friday, December 10, 2021

Why the Trinity does not have three centers of consciousness

As Platinga describes it, ST is any theory of the Trinity that satisfies these conditions: "the theory must have Father, Son, and Spirit as distinct centers of consciousness ... (and) Father, Son, and Spirit must be tightly enough related to each other so as to render plausible" claims to monotheism. (Thomas H. McCall, Which Trinity? Whose Monotheism?, 12)

In line with the growth in interest in Classical Theism, Social Trinitarianism (ST) has garnered a bad rap as being fundamentally heterodox. When it was first promulgated by Cornelius Platinga and others however, it was meant to be an orthodox way of explaining how God is not unitary and yet God is still one. While there are still Social Trinitarians around, and I do not believe any of them should be necessarily tarred with the label "heretic," I am not convinced that Social Trinitarianism works as an adequate explanation of the Triune God.

A main aspect of Social Trinitarianism is its view that the persons of the Trinity are to be viewed in some manner as a community of persons, or "three centers of consciousness." The Father, Son and Spirit relate to each other analogous to a society of three persons. Such a view imbues the term "person" with its full meaning booth ancient and modern. Depending on the proponent of ST, the persons of the Trinity can be more or less analgous to a human person in his interaction with the other persons. Regardless of which version of ST is promoted or held, the idea of the persons forming a commmunity is fundamental to any view being labeled "Social Trinitarianism."

Much ink has been spilled over whether ST is a viable model of the Trinity. But perhaps the simplest way of showing the defect of ST is to view it from another angle. If the persons of the Trinity are centers of consciousnesss, then one can have one center of consciousness without involving the other two centers of consciousness. It seems therefore that one can "split" off one person of the Trinity from the others. One could make the argument that the three centers necessarily involve the others, but that is to make an argument from effect not from cause. Just because something is does not mean that it could or could not be. In other words, just because the persons would necessarily involve the others in reality does not mean that they cannot not involve the others hypothetically. Put another way, a claim of necessary involvement because that is how the Trinity works does not preclude that the persons of the Trinity could be separate if they so choose to. ST's view of necessary involvment of the persons is a weak form of unity, making the unity of the persons in the one God one of choice rather than one of absolute being.

This is of course not to claim that the argument here is a definitive response to Social Trinitarianism. Rather, it is an argument that I am personally convinced of. Having a necesary unity by choice among three consciousnesses instead of a unity of being because there are no centers of consciouness seems to be an inadequate model of the Trinity. That is why I am personally convinced that Social Trinitarianism, and any view with an idea of three centers of consciousness, is a defective view of the Trinity.

James White on the rising Thomism within Reformed Baptist ranks

On the first part of his Dividing Line podcast, Dr. James White spoke about the growing Thomism within Refomrmd Baptist ranks.

More broadly in my opinion, Thomism has infected the Reformed mind, to the overall undermining of the authority of Scripture.

Wednesday, December 08, 2021

God: One in essence, yet ... ?

In the 2008 EFS debate between Bruce Ware and Wayne Grudem versus Tom McCall and Keith Yandell, two interesting lines of thoughts emerged primarily from Yandell's presentations and rebuttals. One line of thought spells trouble for classical theism as currently presented, and the other is a trouble for Yandell's view.

The philosopher Wilhelm Gottfried Leibnitz in his Law of the Identity of Indiscernables assert that for two named objects X and Y, if both of them have the exact same properties, then they are one object (X = Y). Conversely, two objects can only be distinct if and only if they have at least one property different from the other. Intuitively, that seems correct. Identical spheres have different spatial properties therefore they are identical but not the same; they do not occupy the same space at the same time.

Keith Yandell asserted that the persons of the Trinity are essentially the same, and seem to reject any distinguishing marks between the persons. Upon Leibniz's law however, if the three persons of the Godhead are essentially the same with no different properties, then they are basically one thing — one thing that connsists of Person A, Person A, and Person A. That one is called 'Father,' another 'Son,' and another 'Spirit' is mere nominal unless there is something really different: some property that the Father has which the Son does not, and somme property the Son has that the Spirit does not, and so on. At the minimum, claiming that the persons of the Trinity have the same haecceity ("thisness") means that "Father," "Son," and "Spirit" are purely interchangeable, such that the fact that the Son was the one incarnating is purely accidental (i.e. it just happens to be the case that the person called "Son" is incarnated). But even if such were the case, the fact that the person named "Son" became incarnated means that this "Son" has gained the property "being incarnated," and therefore has at least one different property from the other two persons of the Trinity. Needless to say, it is clear that the Father, Son, and Spirit must have different personal properties from each other, even if we have only the incarnation in mind.

The second line of thought poses a problem for classical theism, or at least the Thomistic classical theism that is anti-EFS. As one of the audience questioned during the Questions and Answers section: If it is argued that anything that is necessary from eternity is necessary in all possible worlds and therefore essential (pertaining to the essence of a thing), then it seems that any mark that distinguishes the persons in eternity past would logically lead to ontological differences. For example, if the Father is necessarily unoriginate while the Son is necessarily begotten, then this must be true in all possible worlds. Thus, the Father is essentially unoriginate and the Son is essentially begotten, and therefore the Father is different in essence from the Son. Therefore the Father and the Son have different essences, which is the denial of the homoousious. That is the problem for anti-EFS classical theism in its attempt in eradicating "subordinationism." If any distinguishing mark of a person from eternity is necessary, then the creedal position of the Trinity is subordinationist in nature. The historical rejection of Arianism would be seen as being an affirmaton that Jesus is God, not a rejection of subordinationism per se.

How should we solve this problem? Again, the Scriptures made it clear that there is one God, and there are three distinct persons. Therefore, any personal property of a person even if necessary are not part of the divine essence. In order to remain orthodox, the premise that for a thing, what is necessary is essential, must be rejected. Only then can we not have subordinationism in our doctrine of God.

The EFS debate between Wayne Grudem and Bruce Ware versus Tom McCall and Keith Yandell

In 2008 (before the 2016 fiasco), a debate was held at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School between EFS proponents Wayne Grudem and Bruce Ware versus opponents Tom McCall and Keith Yandell. I finally found the video for the debate. Unfortunately, the video is disabled for watching off-site, so please click here for the Youtube link.

Middle Knowledge and Theodicy

In the debate between James White and William Lane Craig, the question was asked by Craig if counterfactuals (the content of middle knowledge) should be logically prior or posterior to the decree of God, arguing that if counterfactuals are posterior to the decree of God, that makes God the Author of Sin. Unforunately, the objection was not really answered by Dr. White. I would like to take a shot at the question here.

How does Craig's argument work? If counterfactuals are posterior to God's decree, then they depend on God's decree. Therefore, if there are counterfactuals where evil is present, God must have made these counterfactuals where evil is present, therefore God has made the evil in the counterfactuals. If God made evil, then He is the Author of Evil. Therefore, since we know God is not the Author of Evil, therefore counterfactuals must be prior to God's decree so that evil in the counterfactuals are not determined by God. If counterfactuals are prior to God's decree, then they are not under God's purview.

Before I analyze the argument, we must first define our terms. "Counterfactuals" are hypotheticals that can be expressed in second conditional "if ... then" statements, using the subjunctives in the antecedent clause. Thus, the condition is hypothetical, denoting a possibility in a possible world which is not true in the present world, i.e. it is possible in a world where a real or unreal condition is fulfilled. "Author of evil" implies direct causation and thus responsibility for the emergence of evil, and therefore God cannot be the Author of Evil.

What now of Craig's argument? It definitely seems to be a valid argument. It is also certain that there are counterfactuals in the Bible. But let's follow Craig's argument. Yes, if counterfactuals are posterior to God's decree, then God made these counterfactuals where evil is present. It is therefore also true that God made the evil in the counterfactuals. However, the next step does not follow, for the simple reason that we have not asked what do we mean by the phrase "making the evil in the counterfactuals." We must remember that God is the Author of Sin only if He directly makes evil. If however, He decrees evil to be but He Himself does not do evil, then He is not the Author of Sin, and Craig's argument falls apart.

Is it possible to have God be decreeing evil yet not being the Author of Sin? Is my assertion about Author of Sin being only due to direct causation a false claim? First, it must be said that all positions will struggle with defining the phrase "Author of Sin." Even in Molinism, which holds to traditional theism, the phrase "Author of Sin" must exclude the idea that God instantiates a counterfactual that has evil in it. What Molinism does is that God is in a sense making the best out of the available counterfactuals at hand. So God cannot not instantiate a counterfactual without evil, because such a counterfactual does not exist. Therefore, in Molinism, God is not the "Author of Sin" despite the fact that he instantiates a world where evil is present, because He cannot remove evil altogether. The problem of evil is solved by God's helplessness to fully remove evil, and thus even directly "making evil" under the parameters of Molinism would not make God the Author of Sin.

As opposed to having no problems with God directly doing evil, Calvinism resolves it by asserting human free agency. The divine agency does not do evil, whereas human free agency does. God does not directly do evil, and thus the evil is done by free humans, despite the fact that it is God sovereigly making it happen. Human agency is a form of real second causes, and therefore theodicy is partly resolved by having divine and free human agencies working on two different planes of agencies.

As stated, Molinism solves theodicy by making God limited by the counterfactuals. Since the counterfactuals are prior to God's decree, then their mere presence undermines God's sovereignty, in that one class of concepts is beyond God Himself. That is the main problem with Molinism, and why while Molinism "solves" the problem of theodicy, it does so by undermining God's sovereignty. Molinism can claim to happily resolve the problem of theodicy, while it undermines God's sovereignty. Calvinism on the other hand can and does resolve the problem of theodicy, and it upholds the sovereignty of God while doing so.

Sunday, December 05, 2021

Unbelievable: James White vs William Lane Craig - "Calvinism vs Molinism on the Problem of Evil"

Justin Brierley of the Unbelievable? podcast hosted a discussion between Dr. James White and Dr. William Lane Craig on the topic of evil, contrasting Calvinism and Molinism on this particular issue.

My reflection on 2016, EFS and "The Rise and Fall of the Complementarian Doctrine of the Trinity"

Egalitarian Kevin Giles has published an interesting narrative book entitled "The Rise and Fall of the Complementarian Doctrine of the Trinity." The book is Giles' narration of the history of the EFS (Eternal Functional Subordination/ Submission) debate, leading up to 2016 and then the fallout from the controversy. The book is helpful for those who want to know the background behind the EFS controversy as well the response to it.

Speaking from my own personal experience, I have held to divine simplicity, immutability, and some version of inseparable operations back when I was in seminary from my doctrine of God class (around 2011-2). I have never once seen any dissonance betweeen these doctrines, and EFS. For me, it was always the fact that there is a difference between God in His being, and God in relation to us. As a Christian, I have experienced God in worship, Bible reading and prayer, although I do not normally talk about my experiences. Experience are after all subjective, therefore I have no wish to base any truths upon them. Yet, the FACT that part of the Christian life is a personal encounter with the living God, and that God is not some abstract metaphysical sovereign, is an objective fact and something I have always held to be true. Therefore, while not being Charismatic, I do believe that part of the Christian life is that Christians actually have real communion with Christ, and that includes feelings of encounter with the living God.

Fast forward to 2016. The eruption of the EFS controversy caught me by surprise. I was intially open to all sides on the topic, but was shocked and dismayed by the conduct of Liam Golligher and Carl Trueman, both men esteemed in the Reformed churches. As someone who was once involved in the whole online discernment ministries (ODM) thing through Christian Research Network under the late Pastor Ken Silva, I have seen how online polemics got out of hand. I agree with discernment and pointing out errors, but all conduct is to be biblical, including the pointing out of heresy and rebuking it. The nasty blowback to this by manifestly slanderous websites like CRN (dot info) is something we have to take yet we cannot dish out in kind, for the violation of Scripture by the other side does not give us the right to do so on ours. Of course, this is easier said than done. At that time (2007-2010), the impression I get is that the more established pastors assert that one should not be involved in such polemimcs, and that godliness is not about pointing out the errors of those whom you meet online. With years in the ministry and high credentials, they have the moral high ground on this issue, don't they?

Again, fast forward to 2016, and all these esteemed pastors and theologians were behaving exactly like those involved in the ODM or worse, the anti-ODM movements. So it seems that when they claim that one should not be waxxing polemical on the errors of those whom you meet online, what they actually mean is that the "unwashed masses" should not be waxing polemical about doctrinal errors, but only they the "superior," "credentialed," "experienced" pastors and theologians are allowed to wax polemical AGAINST other pastors and theologians. Only they are allowed to call others heretics and go on "heresy hunting." Only they are allowed to be harsh, rude, and full of insults against their opponents. Only they are allowed to think the worst of their opponents, and insist their opponents hold to certain positions even when their opponents did not say they believe in those certain positions. Needless to say, while I did not necessarily agree with the EFS side, specifically with regards to their biblicism, the conduct of those attacking EFS put me off.

The sad thing is that, as time went on, it became abundantly clear that the other side has already made up their minds. EFS is semi-Arian, and no amount of stating fidelity to the Nicene Creed by EFSers will convince them otherwise. I began to point out the problems with some of what they have said, showing how their version of Trinitarianism (which I know now is Thomistic Classical Theism) has lots of unanswered questions and questionable answers. But as I continue blogging about the issue, I let my feelings of outrage over the injustice of 9th commandment violations by the Thomists surface, culminating in an open accusation that Trueman et al have lied. A prominent West Coast Reformed Baptist pastor-theologian was not happy about that, and engaged me on the issue. By "engage," I mean he asked me to stop while I responded by challenging him to prove me wrong. Needless to say, the escalation that forced me to withdraw the accusation at that time was, I would think, a perverse abuse of pastoral authority. Without stating specifically what happened, I will say that church authority is valid, but it should not extend to under-handed pressure to withdraw a legitimate accusation based upon Scripture. It is a fact that many EFS critics misrepresent EFS, as I have shown in my book reviews of books on EFS. I have read EFS material after all, and I interpret their works not according to a hermeneutic foreign to EFS but one derived from the EFS books themselves. In other words, I hold to authorial intent and the necessity of letting the authors determine the meaning of their own words.

Reading Giles' book showed me a bit more of the background behind the issue as well as the responses by some to the controversy. Needless to say, keeping up with the tons of blog posts and stuff at the height of the controversy was next to impossible, although I tried. It was interesting for me to see how the accusation that EFS teaches subordination in the immanent Trinity came into being, as differing theological vocabularies result in a breakdown of communication prior to the 2016 fiasco. In line with the growing trend in Reformed circles towards theological retrieval and ressourcement, I can see why the controversy was inevitable now but not back in the 1980s. I of course have nothing against adopting a vocabulary more in line with the catholic (small 'c') tradition (assumming they are adequate to the task). What I am opposed to is demanding that everything must be understood in light of the vocabulary of that tradition and that alone. It is analogous to how one can be a supporter of the COVID19 vaccines while being opposed to vaccine mandates, while Thomists are more like those promoting vaccine mandates.

Giles showed how EFS proponents had tied EFS to their teaching of complementarianism, even though there is absolutely no need to neither it is logically warranted. This kind of rhetorical leveraging to short cut argumentation damages complementarianism, and the fallout from the 2016 EFS fiasco confirms that, something which Giles, as an egalitarian, is very happy about. Already, we see the 'Reformed' feminism of Rachel Green Miller and Aimee Byrd take shape, even though it is true that there is no proof that their feminism came about due to their rejection of EFS. It is also true that EFS proponents can learn to understand their opponents' concerns better, despite the fact that the other side is just as guilty of shutting their ears and monologing into their echo chambers. If one wants to be biblical, rigorous and even Reformed, one must not be content with simplistic formulae on the Trinity, but plunder the ancients as well as the moderns for a better understanding of the Trinity.