Thursday, November 25, 2010

Response to Paul M. on Van Til's doctrine of the Trinity (Part 1)

Paul M. has posted his thoughts defending Van Til's novel definition of the Trinity as one person on his blog Aporectic Christianity. I would thus like to respond more fully here and then to his reply to me in the meta of his post.

Paul mentioned that I have only given one sentence from Van Til. To rectify this, I have typed out the entire relevant section from Chapter 17 of Van Til's An Introduction to Systematic Theology and interacted with it here. It is not the case that the sentence is isolated out of context, as anyone can read for themselves.

Paul asked the question: "What’s the problem? Which heresy is Van Til guilty of?" The problem here is that no one in the history of the church has ever been so irrational, so how can we find a name for something that is so ridiculously wrong? What is the name of the heresy that believes that Jesus is always the uncreated Son of God form eternity and is also at the same time a created being, and that the word "created" have different senses for each proposition? Or is that an heresy at all? If Paul can answer this question, then I would answer his.

Of course Van Til condemned heretical notions of the Trinity. Of course he claimed to believe in the Chalcedon Definition. This is all documented in Chapter 17 in his Intro. But Van Til did not just say that God is one essence in three persons but that God is one person too! It is an addition that Van Til says is equally true. Van Til teaches not only that the orthodox formula is right and the Christological and Theological heresies of the 2nd-4th centuries are wrong, but we must also affirm that God is one person. One wonders if the error of Monarchianism in Van Til's opinion is not that they believe that God is one person, but that they refuse to at the same time acknowledge that God is three persons in one essence. I guess if only they embrace that God is three persons in one essence, they can continue to believe that God is one person too.

Paul continues by stating that "a mere announcement of contradiction isn't sufficient for condemning Van Til to the flames". I agree, which is why we prove it. It is a contradiction to say that God is one person and three persons in the same sense. If one was to say that the word "person" is used in different senses, then 1) that is a non-confessional use of the word "person", 2) the onus is on the person making the proposition (ie. Van Til and those Van Tillians who follow him here) to state what these different senses mean. To refuse to explicate those senses is to make a mockery out of language and is mere playing of word games. Waving a magic wand and calling something "analogy" or "paradox" does not ex opere operato make something an "analogy" or a "paradox". The words "analogy" and the word "paradox" mean something specific, not something vague. After all, using such an approach, what would anyone say if I were to say that (using my former analogy), "Jesus is both uncreated and created in different senses" and then I absolutely refuse to tell anyone what these senses are? Would anyone be impressed if I just say that this sentence is a paradox which we are to just believe in because it is an analogy of God's truth not ours?

It must be remembered that the onus is on the proponent of such theories to explain his theories in the first place. Paul's suggestion that "we need to see the derivation [of why Van Til's doctrine of one person of God is wrong] done and justified, step-by-step, according to rules of logic" is wrong. As an analogy, what would you think if I mention the sentence "Jesus is both uncreated and created in different senses" and demand that the onus is on you to show me step-by-step why I am wrong when I refuse to explicate what those different senses are? Using another analogy, what would you think if I just say "Moses X David Z" and then demand that the onus is on you to show me why my sentence is wrong and then refuse to explain my sentence?

Following from this, Paul wrote:

Ultimately, Van Til is writing in the tradition of Augustian Trinitarianism, where each divine person of the trinity is numerically identical with the one divine being. If A is numerically identical to G, then if A is a person, G is a person. The basic view here is that God is a self

To say that each person of the Godhead is fully God (orthodox) is NOT to say that each divine person of the trinity is numerically identical with the one divine being (unorthodox). Van Til did not use such inappropriate language, although he came close (cf CVT,p. 230). Coterminosity is not identity. This is the problem with those who make the Trinity into a quantitative doctrine, instead of a qualitative one. Of course, if one follows in this rationalistic path, it is not surprising that one ends up with God being one person.

From this Paul states that "None of this is good enough for those who like neither Van Til or John Frame". As a matter of fact, while I am critical of both, I do not think they have nothing to offer us. Such is poisoning the well and assumes that those who disagree with Van Til or Frame hate them, which is plainly ridiculous. Dr. R. Scott Clark disagrees with Van Til's idea of the one person of the Trinity. Will Paul say that he does not *like* Van Til? Furthermore, what does liking or not liking a person has anything to do with whether a person is right or wrong? This smack of postmodernism and subjectivity.

It seems that Paul thinks that using a singular predicate noun and verb for God implies that God is "uni-personal". Such an argument only makes sense if the previous argument for "numerical identity" holds true. However, it does not. God is predicated by singular nouns and verbs because he is one, period. The persons of the Godhead are not each numerical identical with the one divine being, but interpenetrate each other (perichoresis). That singular nouns and verbs for God are used at the most only imply that each person is fully God, which is not the same as being "numerically identical" with the divine being.

The language of the confession is next brought up, which says that God is "three persons, of one substance". Of course substance does not mean "working together"; I never claimed it meant that. I was trying to explain in simpler terms how this concept of one substance is worked out. Obviously, it failed.

The question is then asked why this is monotheism. The answer is simple enough: There is only one God which is triune, and it is impossible to separate the persons of the Trinity and subtract any of them. Either you have the Triune God, or you have no God. One or Zero.

As to the Perichoretic Monotheist Social Trinitarianism model, the issue that I have with it is that it moves (atemporally) from a ontological tritheism to a monotheism of being and will. The Scriptures however start from monotheism and remain monotheistic. God has always been three persons in perichoresis and cannot be separated. We (and God) do not start off wth three persons who then are combined in being and will.

Finally, we reach what may be the experiential core of Paul's objections. He states:

Fourthly, a logical implication of his view is that God is not a center of consciousness. So God is not a self. God is not a person. So, technically, phrases like “God loves us” or “God plans” or “God hates” or “God believes” are, strictly speaking, false. The ultimate unity of the world is non-conscious, hence non-rational, hence non-moral.

But such a "logical implication" is invalid. It must be remembered that this depends on a "numerical identity" model of how the persons of God relate to the "divine being." If however God is not a [1 (=God) +1 (=God) +1(=God) =3 persons] model, but a [1person (fully God) +1person (fully God)+ 1person (fully God)= 3 persons in 1essence] model, then the whole argument here collapses. Each person has His own center of consciousness, but because of perichoresis, God has a "center" of consciousness. Paul's arguments thus collapse. It is of no use to say that "Surely we don’t have any single unified consciousness since the persons have different properties (or predicates), and contradictory first-person indexical beliefs". That does not take into account the doctrine of perichoresis at all.

Lastly, there is a big difference between "mystery" and "paradox" and outright contradictions. The fact that the early church chose to use two different words to describe the "three-ness" and "one-ness" of God show that while they are fine with mysteries and paradoxes, they are not fine with outright contradictions.

[to be continued]

1 comment:

Paul Manata said...

responded:

http://aporeticchristianity.wordpress.com/2010/11/27/daniel-chew-on-van-til-and-the-trinity-part-2/