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 Aristotle 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 unorthodox 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.

Thursday, December 02, 2021

Denny Burk and the interaction with Kristen Kobes Du Mez

In a Twitter conversation with supposed historian Kriten Kobes Du Mez, Denny Burk probed and exposed Du Mez's view on homosexuality, and he has written an article on the issue here. The exchange is illuminating to see how a falling away from Christian orthodoxy is happening in progresive "woke" circles even within formerly Reformed circles.

Interestingly enough, if Du Mez uses abuse and other bad examples to discredit complementarianism, the same critical theory tool can be turned on the egalitarians. After all, Harvey Wenstein was no complementarian. Does Du Mez want to argue that there are no abuses and no sin in egalitarian utopia? Since when was abuse and misogyny an indictment against complementarianism when the latter disavow it?

Du Mez is not a serious historian. Her history is thoroghly Americo-centric as well. It is strange, but feminists from Rachel Green Miller to Aimee Byrd seem to not see patriarchy in any place outside modern Anglo-American Evangelical Christianity. If anyone were too "white," all of these feminists surely fit the bill.

Eikon: Neil Shenvi on Sociology as Theology

In the latest issue of Eikon, Neil Shenvi has written an article on the recent deconstruction work of "woke" historians and activists who will eventually destroy the Christian faith. An excerpt:

Second, these authors’ “deconstructive” approach to theology is necessarily a universal acid. Even if they weren’t explicitly committed to challenging evangelical doctrine broadly, their methodological approach makes such an outcome inevitable. This erosion is, perhaps, one of my greatest fears. I worry that pastors will embrace these books thinking that their application can be confined to, say, race alone. But once a white pastor endorses the view that he — as a white male — is blinded by his own white supremacy, unable to properly understand relevant biblical principles due to his social location, and in need of the “lived experience” of oppressed minorities to guide him, how long before someone in his congregation applies the same reasoning to his beliefs about gender? Or sexuality? At some point, he will have to reverse course and (correctly) insist that although he, like all of us, has blind spots and biases that will distort his understanding of Scripture, nonetheless it is to Scripture — properly interpreted — that we must appeal as our final authority on these issues. [Neil Shenvi, "Sociology as Theology: The Deconstruction of Power in (Post)Evangelical Scholarship," Eikon 3:2 (Falll 2021): 50]

You can read the entire issue of Eikon here.

Monday, November 29, 2021

Lossky on Will and choice

The nature wills and acts, the person chooses, accepting or rejecting that which the nature wills. (Vladimir Lossky, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, 125)

In the Christology controversies of the 6th-7th centuries, monothelitism asserts that Jesus Christ has only one will, while the 5th and 6th Councils (Constantinople II and III) assert that Christ has two wills. The dyothelite position asserts that because Christ has two natures: one human, one divine, therefore he has two wills, for the will is a property of nature. The argument proceeds on through the category of energies, for energies come from the nature. Two natures imply two energies which imply two wills.

Whatever the merits of such an argument, the interesting part is this relation of "will" to "nature." If the nature is the one that wills, then does that mean the person does not will anything? Here, we see Vladimir Lossky coming up with an interesting solution to the problem. Since it is the nature that wills, a distinction is made between "will" and "choice." It is undeniable that the human person is the one that chooses one thing or the other, so Lossky asserts that the choice is made by the human person, AFTER the nature wills and acts. That way, Lossky can seemingly do justice to both Constantinople II and III, and the common sense notion of how human beings actually decide one way or the other. Such a solution would seemingly solve the problem of Pelagianism and the Eastern view of Synergism. If a distinction is made between "will" and "choice," then the human person can have no "will" not totally affected by sin, and yet he is free to choose God or reject Him.

Such a view of the doctrine of man would certainly be strange, and contrary to the Augustinian and Calvinist view of Man. Yet it seems necessitated if one wants to hold to the philosophy behind dyothelisim and also hold that the person chooses. That leads us to a problem: If we hold to the philosophy of will behind Constantinople II and III, we must either reject the view that a persons wills, and reject the Calvinist and Augustinian view of Man. Alternatively, we could hold to the philosophy of will behind Constantinople II and II, reject dyothelitism, and we can continue to be Calvinist and Augustinian in our doctrine of Man. Or, we could be dyothelites, reject the philosophy behind Constantinople II and III, and continue to be Calvinist and Augstinian. I think the third option is a more viable project to explore, and one I intend to look into in the future.

From a modern perspective, it is weird to assert that the nature wills following which the person then chooses. What does it even mean in saying that the person rejects what the will wants, since what I want is what I will to want? Is "willing" to be equated to "desire"? Such a move would make the concept plausible in the context of discipline and self-denial, yet "will" as "desire" is not how "will" is normally understood. "Desire" is normally understood in the context of the emotions, not the will. It is therefore unclear just what exactly is meant by stating as Lossky does that "the nature wills and acts," with "the person chooses, accepting or rejecting that which the nature wills." It sounds positively incoherent, but who knows?

Thursday, November 25, 2021

Book Review of Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind (Parts 6-8)

The final installment of my book review of the book Sapiens: a Brief History of Humankind, consisting of Parts 6-8, is now on The Daily Genevan website here. In this 3-parter, I re-engaged the sciences from a presuppositional point of view, focused our attention on Yuval Noah Harari's fixation on humankind as opposed to real humans, and through that and his futurism exposes his idolatry, up to and including repeating the lie of the serpent "You shall be as God" (Gen. 3:5).

Harari's history of humanity is indeed a fascinating book, but it is also disturbing because of what it tells us about the anti-Christian vision of the futurist. Do read more about it in the review.

Why defining immutability according to Aristotelian categories is problematic

In Aristotelian (meta)physics, "motion" is a change of state. A moving ball has motion, just as a piece of burning wood which is in motion from being wood to becoming ash. Basically, anything is motion is changing in some form or another. This use of the word "motion" is alien and confusing to those of us trained in the sciences, which presumably should include most educated people in this modern 21st century world. Nevertheless, one must conceptually split the word "motion" into is older, Aristotelian meaning, and the modern (and what I would think correct) meaning. I will use motion(A) for the Aristotelian sense of "motion" and motion(M) for the modern sense of motion. A moving ball has motion(A) because moving implies change. A moving ball has motion(M) because its displacement is changing over time. However, a moving ball according to Aristotelian metaphysics is constantly changing because it is moving (A). Whereas, a moving ball in the modern sense is not changing because it is in constant motion (M).

This concept of "motion" is important because much of classical theism draws upon Aristotelian philosophy and Aristotelian categories, even centuries after the modern world has consigned them to the realm of archaic history. It is therefore hard for the modern man to understand classical theism, seeing as how they have to learn not just a different philosophy but also to experience cognitive dissonance in the different definitions and concepts of terms. Grasping the Aristotelian notion of "motion" is like a gestalt switch—seeing things differently from how most people normally think. And for those who continue to want to live in the modern world and especially treasuring the sciences, even teaching the sciences, one has to learn how to hold two almost incommensurable concepts simultaneously, switching from one to the other when the situation demands it.

In classical theism, immutability is the doctrine that God does not change, and change is defined in terms of motion in the Aristotelian sense of the term. Thus, immutability is not the same as immotility (no movement (M)), since immotibility is built upon motion (M). That said, by sticking to the Aristotelian sense of the term, motion cannot do justice to the Scriptures, as I will show now.

We note in the beginning that for a moving ball, the ball is moving in both the Aristotelian and modern sense. However, the moving ball is changing according to motion (A), while not changing according to motion (M). The reason why the ball is not changing according to motion (M) is because there is no resultant unbalanced external force acting on the ball (assuming a ball moving at constant velocity). In other words, the ball continues to move because it does not change. For the ball to stop moving, it experiences a change. Since modern physics is a much better approximation of how the world works, we know that motion (M) is the correct notion of motion, and motion (A) is intesting conceptually but it does not reflect anything in the real world.

In the doctrine of God, the doctrine of immutability focuses on the fact that God does not change. But is Aristotelian physics, inadequate for the real world, adequate for one's doctrine of God? Since it is not applicable to the real world, we should be skeptical that it would be applicable here. But let's look further into the matter. Let us look at how immutability works in the Bible concerning God. Now, we say that God is love. Immutability as it is applied to God teaches us that God is always love. He does not change to be less loving, or more loving. That applies to all the attributes of God. But note one thing: "love" is an action attribute. "Love" is always to be expressed from the lover to the beloved. In other words, "love" is like a moving ball. As we remember, in Aristotelian physics, a moving ball has motion because it is moving. For a ball to not have motion, it must be stationary. But if love is like a moving ball, in that both are actions, then surely to asseert that there is no motion (A) in God is for God's love to cease? But if God's love does not change to be more or less loving, then there is no change in God's love according to motion (M). So which idea of "motion" is suitable when we deal with immutability and the love of God, if not the modern notion of motion, not the Aristotelian notion of motion?

Thus, we see here that definiting immutability according to Aristotelian categories is indeed problematic. While I will not claim that the immutability of classical theism is immotility, I will assert that the Aristotelian notion of "motion" is incompatible with the immutability of God's active atttributes. Aristotelian metaphysics, when applied to God's love, must say that God is immutable only when he has not love ad intra. Since that is not true, Aristotelian metaphysics about motion must be false, at least when applied to God's love.

Should we therefore change to the modern notion of motion and change? That is an interesting proposition to explore, but I will not claim that this is the path we should necessarily take. Rather, define immutability as God not changing, let the Bible informs us what change would be like if applied to God, and hold one's philosophy about what constitues "change" or "motion" at arm's length.

[Note: I know many classical theists believe God is love. This article is asserting that it is inconsistent to hold to Aristotelian metaphysics of motion and still believe God is love. So one has to decide whether to follow Scripture, or follow Aristotle. Thankfully, classical theists follow Scripture where it counts, however inconsistent that is with their Aristotelianism.]

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Mika Edmonson: Facts are irrelevant to the narrative

Mika Edmonson, a black pastor who was formerly pastoring in the OPC, is the husband to race hustler Christina Edmonson. In this tweet that alludes to the Rittenhouse incident, he prays for "an end to racial vigilantism," parroting one accusation of the left. Nevermind that the three people shot by Kyle Rittenhouse were all white. A white man shooting other white men in self-defence is considered "racial vigilantism."

A major problem with those calling for "racial justice," the supposed moderates who claim to reject CRT (Critical Race Theory) in the Evangelical and Reformed camp, is its aversion to facts. I have shown that in my brief response to Justin Gibony's video over at TGC. The fact of the matter is that these supposed moderates lie about the facts. Just like the American mainstream media, they seem to be pathological liars. Mika Edmonson lies about the Rittenhouse incident, and unfortunately nothing will happen to him. He is supposed to be a minsiter of the Gospel, so that makes his sin all the more egregious. Sad to say, but unrepentant lying and misrepresentation is not the disqualifying sin it once was for the ministry in the United States of America.

Saturday, November 20, 2021

Christina Edmonson is a racist

Critical Race Theory (CRT) is a racist theory. Those who embrace CRT are at least theoretically racist. Those who promote CRT as a living are race hustlers. One such race hustler is Christina Edmonson, wife of a pastor who was at one time in the OPC. Here are two analyses of Edmonson's racism:

Some stuff on CRT in Singapore

Critical Race Theory (CRT) is a racist, divisive ideology that is metastasizing throughout the world. It is appearing in Singapore, creating needless division and dissension. Recently, the rapper Subbhas Nair has been charged with "attempting to promote ill will over religion, race", and he does so by dealing with social issues through the lens of CRT. While one can discuss CRT academically, the toxic fruit of CRT is clear in its promotion of racism and racial division through its "antiracist" praxis.

Regarding CRT in Singapore, here are two articles (from a Singapore perspective) analyzing CRT by Reckless.Sg:

What's the Big Deal with Critical Race Theory (Part 1)
What's the Big Deal with Critical Race Theory (Part 2)

It is hoped that CRT will be rejected as the racist garbage that it is, but the growing (il)liberalism in Singapore is cause for worry.

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Lossky on the term "person" with regards to the Trinity

Purged of its Aristotelian content, the theological notion of hypostasis in the thought of the eastern Fathers means not so much individual as person, in the modern sense of this word. Indeed, our ideas of human personality, of that personal quality which makes every human being unique, to be expressed only in terms of itself: this idea of person comes to us from Christian theology. The philosophy of antiquity knew only human individuals. The human person cannot be expressed in concepts. It eludes all rational definitions, indeed all description, for all the properties whereby it could be characterized can be met with in other individuals. Personality can only be grasped in this life by a direct intuition; it can only be expressed in a work of art. (Vladimir Lossky, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, 53)

On the doctrine of God, some of the new Thomistic Classical Theists have stated that the term "person" as used in the Trinity is different from the modern notion of "person." Whether that is so is an interesting question to be explored. What we can say however is that, according to Eastern Orthodox theologian Vladimir Lossky, the modern notion of "person" comes from Christian theology when "purged of its Aristotelian content." If what Lossky says is true, then the current attack against so-called "Social Trinitarianism" may be robbed of one of its argument concerning what a "person" is in the persons of the Trinity.

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

The shift towards medievalism?

In response to critics of EFS/ ERAS, Own Strachan had released a podcast episode decrying the shift towards "popeless and Trentless Catholicism." This shift has come about as much of Evangelical academia has shifted towards Thomism in its metaphysics. Strachan's charge of popeless and Trentless Catholicism is a charge that Evangelical academia has become like Roman Catholicism with the exception of having no pope and having the Gospel. In response to Strachan, at least one person claims that Protestantism is indeed a popeless and Trentless Catholicism. But is Protestantism merely Roman Catholicism with the Gospel and without the Pope?

The 16th century Reformation did not happen in a vacuum. It was preceded by the Renaissance, where new forms of learning and innovation came onto the scene. Most of the Reformers came from the (Renaissance) humanist tradition, as opposed to the establishes scholars steeped in medieval scholasticism. Calvin for example wrote against the scholastics of the Sorbonne, and much of the Protestant Reformation began with a rejection of Medieval Scholasticism.

Now, it is correct to say the none of the Reformers thought to thoroughly reject scholasticism, and that later Reformed scholasticism did not see the Protestant faith and the methods of Scholasticism as being incompatible. This is not a rehash of the discredited "Calvin versus the Calvinist" historiography. It is also not to claim that the first two generations of Reformers would disagree with Medieval Scholasticism on the doctrine of God; they did not. The key point here is to note that the initial point was not that of scholasticism. When Reformed Scholasticism began to take shape, the Reformed theologians of that era thought that the tools of scholasticism could be used in service of explicating the truths of the Christian Reformed faith. Generally, none of them thought that scholasticism in itself would become THE method the way medieval scholastics did. Does the method change the message? That can be discussed but none of the Reformed theologians thought it did, or they would not embrace scholastic methods as tools in theology.

The key point to observe here is to assert that Protestantism is not a "popeless and Trentless Catholicism," at least consistent Protestantism (we can exclude the via media Anglicans from the discussion). Protestantism did not just reject the pope or get the Gospel right. Without rejecting tradition, they nonetheless were willing to question it and dissent from it if they believed it to be false. They held to what Jaroslav Pelikan called "Tradition 1," treasuring tradition while keeping it at arm's length. They did not see any tradition as necessarily sacrosanct, unlike the way today's "Evangelical academia" seem to treat the philosophy of Thomas Aquinas, which is basically slipping into a form of Tradition 2.

Is there a movement in church history that corresponds to "popeless Trentless Catholicism"? Yes, there has been such movements. The 17th and 18th century Jansenists in France is one such movement. But even bigger than that is Eastern Orthodoxy, which has no pope neitther does it hold to Trent. The fact is that Protestantism is more than just "popeless" and "Trentless." A major issue of the Reformation was also on the nature of authority, and this unfortunately is the major issue of our time as well, as American Evangelical academia flirts with Tradition 2 in its embrace of Thomas Aquinas.

Friday, November 12, 2021

Owen Strachan and the Trinity on the Antithesis podcast

Dr. Owen Strachan has just released an episode on his podcast The Antithesis (available on Spotify and iTunes and RedCircle which you can access through the tweet above or through searching on those platforms) on the topic of the Trinity, specifically on the issue of EFS (Eternal Functional Submission), or, as he prefers, ERAS (Eternal Relations of Authority and Submission).

I find the podcast informative, even though I do not agree with Strachan on everything. First, I am a confessionalist so I do treat the Creeds and Confessions as a secondary authority. Second, I hold to the Pactum Salutis, not just a plan of salvation.

Thirdly, I do not think we have the same definition of "economic." "Economic" has to do with what God does, so for me it encompasses more than just the Incarnation, but all extra-Trinitarian works in eternity as well. Strachan says that it is more than just economic, but his view of "economic" seems to be related to God in relation and act to creation. Strachan obviously does not mean God in his being, because he denies ontological inequality, and therefore he does not believe in subordination in the imminant (ontological) Trinity. If we are dealing with something that cannot be well fitted as God's works but neither is it of God's being, may I suggest exploring the categories of "energies," and the Eastern view of the Monarchy of the Father?

That said, I have been much edified, and reminded, of the Reformation doctrine of Sola Scripture. It is very easy even for us who believe in the doctrine to not practice it when we deal with such high and lofty philosophical and theological concepts. There is a tendency for us, for me, to drift away from Sola Scriptura as we explore and think through different philosophies and different conceptual lenses to deal with objections on a topic where the use of philosophy is necessary. This is not to reject the use of those different philosophies and conceptual lenses, but rather, it is easy for us to not practice Sola Scriptura and become proud in our philosophical knowledge in service of theology and God—the bane of all theologians everywhere.

Thursday, November 11, 2021

God as pure act, and actions

In the tradition we are considering it was taken almost for granted that God’s knowing is His doing, or put the other way around, God does things through His knowing. (Katheryn Rogers, "The Traditional Doctrine of Divine Simplicity," Religious Studies 32:2 (June 1996): 174)

The question remains: How can God, Who is a person, possibly be an act? If actions are what people do, it seems obvious that a person cannot be an action. (Ibid.: 172)

In this journal article by Katheryn Rogers (which you can only access if you have ATLA or some other method to access the article), Rogers made some interesting points concerning the doctrine of divine simplicity as understood by her. What is rather interesting to me is how she takes the classical theist view that God is pure act and puts it with the idea that in God there is only one single act (assuming simplicity), which means God's actions are one and immutable. I do not believe that is how classical theists actually understand purus actus, but I could be wrong. In my view, there seems to be a categorical confusion on Rogers' part.

To my understanding, God as pure act (purus actus) has to be understood in the way it is formulated. It is based on Aristotelian ideas of actuality and potentiality. God being pure act means there is no potentiality in God. Any potentiality has the potential to become actual, thus the presence of a potential implies mutability and imperfection. God as pure act simply means that God is fully actual, with no potential.

There is no doubt that the words "actual" and "act" are cognate words. Nevertheless, that does not imply that one is always related to the other. The ideas of actuality and potentiality, while related to action, deals with the nature of a being. Actualization is the process by which what is potential become actual. But if action merely refers to doing, then it seems that action as a "doing verb" can have no relation to actualize as a "being verb." Again, there seems to be an assumption that act follows being, which seem to come from Aristotelian final causation, but what if we reject that? Then act does not necessarily follow being, and as such God's actions is independent of the issue of God being purus actus.

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Own Strachan on the factious charge of semi-Arianism

In light of the resurrection of the EFS controversy on social media, Owen Strachan has published a response denying semi-Arianism on his substack here. Pertinent portions are as follows:

Some of these people agreed with my view, and some did not, but many have recognized—long ago—that this “debate” is more an attempted purge than a genuine conversation.


First, equating Arianism with ERAS is fundamentally unsound. There is much conversation around authority and submission, and there are born-again Christians on all sides of this issue. But in both biblical and historical terms this charge will not hold; ERAS is a viable view, even a well-supported one, against the stereotypes.

Second, equating Arianism with ERAS is a zero-sum game. Either ERAS-affirming theologians like me are heretics, or else the other side is leveling a slanderous and divisive charge, the most damning there is. These are the only options available; the accusers apparently wanted to play a game of chicken, and they got it.

Third, equating Arianism with ERAS means that numerous theologians must be seen as heretics. Packer, Hodge, Hilary, and others never have been treated as heretics, but now—if the accusers are correct—they must be (see 1 John 2:22-23). I am no one’s huckleberry, but I am eager to see that case be made in public: I. Packer, Heretic. Charles Hodge, Heretic. Hilary of Poitiers, Heretic.

Fourth, equating Arianism with ERAS means the preceding theologians are in hell. Heretics do not live eternally with God. They suffer God’s just wrath for all eternity. This means that Packer, Hodge, Hilary, and others are in hell. It also means that Wayne Grudem and John Frame are headed for hell. I can scarcely type such blasphemous and evil words, but this is what these charges entail. Of course, these charges also entail that I am right now, at this moment, a child of wrath surely bound for destruction (Ephesians 2:3).

Fifth, equating Arianism with ERAS shows just how off the rails a handful of anti-ERAS voices are. Praise God, the super-majority of evangelical pastors and theologians have not made the case sketched in this piece. They understand that ERAS has many trusted advocates; whether they hold this view or not, they understand—biblically and historically—that it is a viable view, one worthy of study and careful consideration. Perhaps some of this number end up disagreeing with ERAS, and yet they follow two millennia of Christian tradition in honoring brothers who hold this view and not anathematizing them.

I will add this: The anti-ERAS/ EFS/ ESS crowd are not truly interested in dialogue. So far, all I have seen are pontifications and denunciations, with no desire to actually engage their opponents. I challenge any of the anti-EFS crowd to do one simple thing: Actuallly engage one of us! You can try it with me anytime.

Tuesday, November 09, 2021

Eastern Orthodox view of the persons of the Trinity with regards to the monarchy of the Father

The Latins think of personality as a mode of nature; the Greeks think of nature as the content of the person. (Vladimir Lossky, The Mystical Theology of the Easatern Church, 58)

The Father—πηγαία θεότης, source of all divinity within the Trinity—brings forth the Son and the Holy Spirit in conferring upon them His nature, which remains one and indivisible, identical in itself in the Three. (Ibid., 59)

What does Eastern Orthodox believe concerning the monarchy of the Father? One way to think about it from a Western perspective is to believe that the Son and the Spirit have derivative being from the Father, a form of subordinationism. However, given that the East rejects subordinationism, that is obviously not the way they think of the Trinity, so how do they conceive of the Trinity?

To this, Eastern theologian Vladimir Lossky, when speaking of the Trinity, asserts that the monarchy of the Father teaches that the "source of all divinity within the Trinity" is the Father. But since nature is the content of the person, this merely asserts primacy of the Father within the Trinity, a "functional subordination" if you will speak anachronistically. The "being" in Western thought is untouched by this doctrine. The person can be said to consist of the content of the person (the "what") and alongside the person as hypostasis (the "who"). The conferrence of the nature of the Father deals with the content of the Son which derives from the Father.

If that is truly what the Eastern view of the Trinity is, as Lossky asserts and I make inferences based upon what is said, then it seems that the Eastern view of the Monarchy of the Father is way superior to any Western view of the Trinity.

Monday, November 08, 2021

Gregory Palamas versus followers of Thomas Aquinas

Hence the formulation of the doctrine as an antinomy: the energies express by their procession an ineffable distinction—they are not God in His essence—and yet, at the same time, being inseparable from His essence, they bear witness to the unity and simplicity of the being of God. The opponents of St. Gregory Palamas—eastern theologians who had been strongly influenced by Aristotelianism (in particular the Calabrian monk Barlaam who had received his theological training in Italy, and Akindynus, who quotes the Greek translation of the Summa theologica)—saw in the real distinction between the essence and the energies a derogation of the simplicity of God, and accused Palamas of ditheism and polytheism. Having become alienated from the apophatic and antinomical spirit of eastern theology, they set up against it a conception of God which saw Him, primarily at any rate, as a simple essence, in which even the hypostases assumed the character of relations within the essence. The philosophy of God as pure act cannot admit anything to be God that is not the very essence of God. From this point of view, God is, as it were, limited by His essence; that which is not essence does not belong to the divine being, is not God. Thus, according to Barlaam and Akindynus, the energies are either the essence itsself; that which is not essence does not belong to the divine being, is not God. Thus, according to to Barlaam and Akindynus, the energies are either the essence itself, understood as pure act, or are produced by the outward acts of the essence, that is to say, the created effects which have the essence for their cause—creatures, in other words. The adversaries of S. Gregory Palamas recognized the divine essence, they recognizes also its created effects; but they did not recognize the divine operations or energies. [Vladamir Lossky, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church (Creswtood NY: St Vladamir's Seminary Press, 1957), 76-7]

In his time, Gregory Palamas was charged by followers of Thomas Aquinas to be a ditheist or polytheist due to his belief in the essence- energies distinction. In 2021, those who do not follow Thomas Aquinas are likewise charged by Matthew Barrett to deny the simplicity of God. Matthew Barrett is the modern day Barlaam and Akindynus, attacking Christians with charges and arguments based upon the faulty philosophy of Thomas Aquinas.

Book Review of Simply Trinity by Matthew Barrett

Chapter 8 of Matthew Barrett's book is where he goes after the teaching of EFS (Eternal Functional Submission). How is the book Simply Trinity in general? There are positive things to note for sure, but there are also problems, in fact many problems with the book. Here is my review of the book. An excerpt:

Christianity believes in a triune God, a God who is both three and one. Most of the earliest controversies in the church have been over the doctrine of God, as pastors and theologians wrestle with the notion that there is one God, yet there are three persons who are God – the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. How that is possible is a serious question since it deals with the object of our worship. If we get the doctrine of God wrong, we are not worshiping the true God but a false idol of our own imagination.


Contra Barrett on the Issue of EFS

Chapter 8 of Matthew Barrett's book Simply Trinity is where he viciously attacks and misrepresents the doctrine of EFS (Eternal Functional Submission). I have reworked all my responses into a coherent article, which can be read here. Here is an excerpt from the new introduction:

Matthew Barrett, an associate professor at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, has written a book that claims to be all about a recovery of Nicene Orthodoxy, and in particular the doctrine of simplicity of the Trinity. The blurb at the back calls it a “groundbreaking book,” although how groundbreaking it truly is is a matter up for debate. What it does however is to dig down hard on a strong version of Thomistic Classical Theism, and label all alternatives as doctrines that manipulate the Trinity, “recreating the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in our own image.” ...


Friday, November 05, 2021

Contra Barrett (Part 12): The Pactum Salutis

92. ...

(1) Even if (for the sake of argument) subordination were to be located in the covenant of redemption, we are still speaking of the economy ...

(2) It is illegitimate to read subordinatioon back into the covenant of redemption. EFSers like to read their definition of subordination into Reformed pactum language. .. In other words, the Son's agreement to the covenant does not stem from some intrinsic subordination between the Father and the Son, but the Son accepts the covenant for the specific purpose of accomplishing redemption. The covenant is economic and therefore optional. If the Father and the Son never entered into a covenant, nothing within the Trinity would change.

(Matthew Barrett, Simply Trinity, 344-5)

A key element of the Reformed variant of EFS is to see the eternal submission of the Son primarily in the Pactum Salutis. For obvious reasons, classical theists who hold to the Pactum think otherwise. Barrrett decided to address this in an endnote, so we will look at the endnote and the main reasons why Barrett rejects the claim that the Pactum shows the truth of EFS.

Barrett's first reason is to assert that the Pactum is economic not immanent. On that we agree, and I will add that EFS is economic not immanent. Barrett's second (and third) reason is a bit trickier. Since in the Pactum the Son voluntarily takes on the role of the servant of the covenant, therefore what is optional cannot be person-defining. But is that really as good an argument as Barrett makes it out to be?

Consider this question: Is it necessary for Christ to go to the Cross? If it is necessary, then that makes atonement necesssary, sin necessary, and creation necessary. If it not necessary, then the Pactum is not necessary, Jesus Christ is not the eternal Savior, and so on. The fact is that it is neither necessary for Christ to go to the Cross, nor is it unnecessary for Christ to go to the Cross. Rather, we must have a third category—that of hypothetical necessity. It is not necessary in the sense that Jesus' sacrifice was purely voluntary. It is necessary in that Jesus must be the Savior of the world. Therefore, it is a hypothetical necessity for Jesus to go to the Cross— necessary in all possible worlds, yet He did not have to do so if He chooses not to.

We can see this in the Pactum. Was the Pactum necessary? On the one hand, it is optional for Jesus because He did enter it voluntarily. On the other hand, no Pactum, no Cross, no salvation, not an eternal Savior. Therefore, it is a hypothetical necessity that Jesus would eternally submit to the Father. How does this bear on the issue of EFS? EFS is therefore a hypothetical necessity, and the person-defining properties of the persons of the Trinity are likewise necessary in that sense. We can never say that who goes to the Cross is a matter of rolling the dice and see which person becomes the Son; it was always the Son who would be the Son and go to the cross. There is no possible world in which the Father would incarnate and die on the Cross. In this sense, the personal property "being incarnated" is always and only the personal property of the Son.

The Pactum is indeed voluntary. Yet, it is also necessary. The failure to see that it is both lies at a main reason of Barrett's rejection of the Pactum as a form of EFS, and shows also that many classical theists have not thought much through the concept of necessity as it relates to God and salvation.

ADD: The term "hypothetical necessity" here is applied as seen from God's perspective. From God's perspective, whatever he chooses to do or not do is possible and hypothetical. From our perspective, it is no more hypothetical, as in God could do otherwise and get what He wants, but for us it is a consequent absolute necessity (i.e. God must send Jesus to die on the Cross once he has decided to save us).

Contra Barrett (Part 11): Subordinationism, Attributes and persons

Third, EFS has robbed the divine essence of power and authority and segregated power and authority to the persons, but the Father above all, violating the simplicity of the Trinity. Nicene orthodoxy was very careful in its affirmation of simplicity: essence and attributes are not different things; attributes are not parts of God's essence. Rather, God's essence is his attributes and his attributes his essence. As subsistences of the same divine esssence, no one person possess one attribute more or less than another—God's power and authority included. (Matthew Barrett, Simply Trinity, 237)

What do we mean by the term "attributes"? We talk about the attributes of God because that is the way we can describe and know God. God possess these attributes in the sense that God has these things in His being. In other words, God logically procedes His atttributes. There is a God, and we come to know God through the revelation of His attributes. We do not come to know attributes first, then come to know God. Now, what does this mean for us in our knowledge of God? The logical precedence of God to His attributes mean that atttributes are primarily descriptive rather than substantive. They are words used to describe, to express God. Therefore, the words in themselves are not tied to the attributes of God, since descriptions are not tied to the substance/ subsistences they describe.

How does that tie in with Matthew Barrett and EFS? Barrett, in his final accusation of subordinationism, supports his case with a variety of arguments. The first two shows Barrrett's confusion over the functional, since he wrongly thinks that functional is in the immanent Trinity. In this final attack, he claims that power and authority are attributes of the one divine essence, and thus any talk about power and authority in the persons is a violation of divine simplicity and espouses ontological subordinationism. But if we take attributes as primarily descriptive, then we can agree that the divine attribute of power and authority is indeed equal among all persons of the Trinity, such that there are not three almighties but one almighty, AND at the same time state that there is personal properties of power and authority that are distributed differently between the persons. The power and authority of the divine persons as personal properties are NOT the same power and authority that is equally shared among the persons of the Trinity in their subsistences! The former is the Trinity in action ad extra; the latter the Trinity in being ad intra.

In this final attack, Barrett continues with his ignorant attack upon EFS. EFS does not rob the divine essence of power and authority, neither does it segregate power and authority over the divie subsistences, nor violate the simplicity of the Trinity. Rather, EFS differentiates between power and authority as attributes, and power and authority as personal properties. By refusing to see the attributes as primarily descriptive, and only substantive when used to describe the one essence, Barrett continues to fail in his misguided quest to destroy EFS.

Contra Barrett (Part 10): Ontology and functionality

It may sound neat and tidy to say there is something ontological (essence) and something functional (hierarchal roles) in the immanent Trinity, and one need not affect the other. But that bifurcation divorces essence and person and misunderstands what a divine person is and how each person relates to the essence. The person don't have an ontological side to them and a functional side (let alone one of hierarchy). As subsistences of the essence, the persons are ontological through and through. EFS doesn't recognize this because it has added a novel category, a social category (roles of authority/ submission) that does not fit with Nicene language. We would be wise to listen to the Great Tradition, which does not miss the connection between essence and person: "For to God it is not ony thing to be and another to be a person, but it is altogether the same thing," says Augustine. "Just as for him to be is to be God, .... thus also for him to be is to be personal" (The Trinity 7.6). Or as Bavinck explains, in "each of the three persons ... the divine being is completely coextensive with being Father, Son, and Spirit" (Reformed Dogmatics 2:304, 305).

(Matthew Barrett, Simply Trinity, 234)

The funny thing about Matthew Barrett is how vehement he is in attacking straw men. Just to repeat one more time, function is not part of the immanent Trinity, but rather function is in the inner life of the Trinity, because the Triune God has an inner life that is not part of His being. Anytime we talk about the intra-Trinitarian love of God, there the inner life of the Trinity can be seen.

Therefore, there is nothing wrong with agreeing with Nicene language, and agreeeing with the quotes from Augustine and Bavinck. All of them pertain to the being of God, and the persons of the Godhead obviously subsist ontologically in that one essence. Again, functions pertain to God ad extra, which includes both the works of God as well as the workings of God. Unless this supposed "Great Tradition" excludes Eastern Orthodoxy, otherwise the "Great Tradition" does have a social category in the energies of God.

Thursday, November 04, 2021

Contra Barrett (Part 9): Sabellianism?

Traces of Sabellianism also appear like invisible ink held under fluorescent light when EFS says that the Father doesn't need the Son and Spirit to act in creation and salvation. He can act unilaterally; nevertheless, he is generous enough to include them. Not only is this a blatant violation of simpicity and a flagrant dissolution of God's one will, but this is something very close to Sabellianism. (Matthew Barrett, Simply Trinity, 231)

Tritheism and Sabellianism are almost at opposite ends on the spectrum of one's view of the numericity in the Godhead, where tritheism stands at one end, and Unitarianism at the other. In Sabellianism, there is only one person, and this one person changes either depending on manifestation or in a certain sequence. It is indeed surprising to see Barrett attempt to tar EFS with both tritheism AND Sabellianism, since how can something be accused of being A and not-A at the same time?

To tar EFS with Sabellianism, Barrett refers to the problematic expression of Bruce Ware (as I have mentioned in Part 4 of this series). But let us give the most uncharitable reading to Bruce Ware, and what we get are three distinct gods in a society. Just because one works and the other two doesn't, does this tritheistic society suddenly morph into a single person who manifests the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in differing manner, or to do so in a particular sequece? How does three distinct deities suddenly become one single three-faced deity just because two of them are not working?

To ask the questions is to see how ridiculous this charge is. While the charge of tritheism comes about by reading EFS according to Aristotelian philosophy, the charge of Sabellianism seems more like trying to find more charges of heresy to stick to EFS, flinging them and watching if they stick. Such conduct is unbecoming of a scholar, and serves to corrode the credibility of Barrett's book further.

Contra Barrett (Part 8): Actions, authority and submission, and tritheism?

Furthermore, the three persons cannot perform a single action if one or more persons are, by definition of their personhood, inferior in authority to another person. As soon as you insert gradations of authority within the immanent Trinity, gradations that are person-defining and therefore essential for the Trinity to be a Trinity, you forfeit one will in God. You forfeit the Trinity's one, simple essence. Our God is simply Trinity ... no more. (Matthe Barrett, Simply Trinity, 229)

What does actions have to do with being? In Aristotelian metaphysics, the final cause of an object is part of the determiner of the object, alongside the other three causes (material, formal, efficient). A being acts towards its final cause, therefore being determines actions. However, that is a philosophical position that is simply not true. In the modern scientific world, what a thing is is independent of its purpose, and its purpose is independent of what it does. For the second, the clearest example of this is the human person, whose purpose or final cause is to be the image of God representing Him in front of creation, yet humans routinely rebel against God. Actions therefore have absolutely no link to the purpose of a thing. For the former, as being a modern scientific person and in rejection of Aristotle, the purpose of a thing is not part of the being of a thing. The Statue of Liberty is used as an American national monument, but if taken away and placed in a remote jungle, it could be used as an idol to be worshipped. Purpose is ascribed by the one who utilizes the object. What a thing's purpose is is determined by its owner or user or creator, depending on the object and its environment.

What does this have to do with one's doctrine of God? We see in the paragraph above an extremely condensed argument by Matthew Barrett. Unfortunately, Barrett does not make his argument plain, so we have to explicate them. Why does Barrett believe his argument to be foolproof, and why does he condense it? Perhaps the exposure of Aristotle is not a good thing to have?

What then is Barrett's argument? The first sentence links the idea that an inferiority in authority means that the three persons cannot perform a single action. What is that the case is not stated, since one can think of any group of ranked individuals who can perform a single action. Likewise, the second sentence states that gradations that are "persons-defining" would forfeit the one will in God. Again, why that is the case is not shown. Without an idea of the philosophy behind such statements, such statements are just mere assertions that make no sense whatsoever. What needs to be added are the Aristotelian philsophical principles so that the arguments can start to make sense.

The first sentence can be explicated as follows:

P1: If one or more persons are inferior in authority to another person, then their lower rank would correlate with a different final cause than the other person.

P2: A different final cause would mean a different action.

C1: Therefore, the three persons cannot perform a single action.

We note here that this "different action" may not be an altogether different action. It just needs to be not the exact same action. Once it is written down this way, we see here the smuggling of Aristotelian philosophy in order to create this argument, and therefore we can reject this argument in the same light.

The second sentence can be explicated as follows:

P3: Gradations that are person-defining are essential for the Trinity to be a Trinity.

P4: Gradations of authority within the immanent Trinity are gradations that are person-defining.

IC1: Gradations of authority within the immanent Trinity are essential for the Trinity to be a Trinity.

P5: Inserting gradations that are essential for the Trinity to be a Trinity would result in multiple wills in God.

C2: Insering gradations of authority within the immanent Trinity would result in multiple wills in God.

There are major problems with this second argument. For premise 3, it is true that gradations that are person-defining are essential for the Trinity to be a Trinity. However, the premise is only true if the word "essential" here is synonymous with "necessary," and not with "pertaining to the essence of a thing." This is because in classical theism, the taxis or order of the Trinity are a type of gradation that is person-defining and yet does not deal with the essence of the Trinity. Now, this is important because in intermediate conclusion 1, the fallacy of amphiboly is committed here. Whereas premise 3 is true only if the word "essential" is taken as "necessary," the word "necessary" in intermediate conclusion 1 has shifted to pertaining to the nature of a thing. This is the definition of "essential" in premise 5, which when combined with intermediate conclusion 1, creates conclusion 2. The whole argument is invalid as it runs on equivocating on the word "essential."

The premises themselves are problematic. First, premise 4 assumes EFS teaches gradations of authority within the immanent Trinity, which is a false statement no mattter how many times it is repeated. Premise 5 is basically a form of argument 1, and therefore false. The number of wills in God is a separate question altogether from gradations in the Trinity or the lack thereof. Thus, Barrett's second statement shows an invalid and unsound argument, with premises smuggled in from Aristotelian philosophy and not Scripture.

Barrett uses these arguments to claim that there is a danger of tritheism within EFS. That is however false, since EFS does not even teach mutiple wills in God. The reason why Barrett accuses EFS as tending to tritheism is because EFS as interpreted within Aristotelian metaphysics would lead to tritheism, but EFS does not follow Aristotle at all. Barrett's assertions and accusations therefore should be rejected as mere assertions based upon a faulty metaphysics. EFS does not "forfeit" the one will in God, because EFS rejects Aristotelian metaphysics altogether. Since Aristotle's writings are not Scripture, and neither is Thomas' Summa Theologica part of the biblical canon, we can safely reject them while holding on to the biblical relevation concerning who God truly is.