Category Archives: Trinity

Timothy George On The Trinity: From A Theology For The Church

tftcI have been reading A Theology For The Church edited by Daniel Akin and came across something that I had to share. I always find it odd the way we talk (or neglect to talk)about the Trinity. It is often treated as the black sheep of the family of essential theological beliefs. We would rather not bring it up and hope nobody else does either. So you can imagine how refreshing it was for me to come across the passage below in Timothy George’s section on the nature of God..

“Though followed by many orthodox theologians, there is a subtle danger in the former pattern (de uno deo). The danger is that it can lead to a low-grade unitarianism that reduces the doctrine of the Trinity to an afterthought. If we begin by treating the essence and attributes of God in the abstract and then come along and say, “Oh yes, this God is also a triune reality,” the latter affirmation can easily become a secondary or even dispensable element in one’s theological system…

We should introduce one further distinction before turning to some key biblical texts. The economic Trinity refers to God’s works ad extra, that is, what God has done outside himself in creation and redemption while the immanent Trinity denotes God’s relations ad intra, that is, his eternal intratrinitarian communion as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The immanent Trinity is also called the “ontological” Trinity…

The doctrine of the Trinity is the necessary theological framework for understanding the biblical account of Jesus as the true story of God-and if what the Bible says about Jesus is anything other than that, we have no gospel.”

Here George discusses the tendency to discuss the one God as opposed to discussing the Trinity. On the surface this comes off like a simply error but the constant habit of doing this tends to cause one to think theologically in terms of God as a single modality instead of the Triune God that He is. For God to be a single solitary modality would mean the loss of Godlike qualities the biggest of which is his self-contained fullness, that fact that God requires nothing outside of himself for His own existence.

George also introduces the distinction between economic and immanent or ontological Trinity. The economic Trinity explains such things as how the Father creates, the Son saves, and the Holy Spirit sustains us. It’s what he means when he says that the doctrine of the Tinity is the necessary theological framework for understanding the Gospel. Foundational to everything is the ontological Trinity. The idea that from all eternity existed a personal God who loved, had volition, and created all things including us in His image.

I really appreciated the way George handles the doctrine Trinity in this section. As I read through A Theology For The Church I find many of the sections to be like this brief, to the point, and without the complexities common in other theology texts. I would recommend this volume for any level of Christian. All that the book requires is that you have an interest in the study of God.

From the publisher:

A Theology for the Church, an immense 992-page work edited by Daniel Akin, with contributions from leading Baptist thinkers Albert Mohler, Jr., Paige Patterson, Timothy George, and many others, addresses four major issues in regard to eight Christian doctrines.

What does the Bible say? Each Christian doctrine is rooted in the Bible’s own teaching in both the Old and New Testaments.

What has the Church believed? Christians have interpreted these doctrines in somewhat different ways through the centuries.

How do the doctrines fit together? Each Christian doctrine must cohere with the other doctrines.

How does each doctrine impact the church today? Each Christian doctrine must be meaningful for today’s church. It’s sure to become a widely-used resource in systematic theology study.

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Apologetics

A Review of Sutanto’s Covenental Apologetics And Common Sense Realism

I came across Sutanto’s paper in the Journal of Evangelical Theology (JETS 57/4 (2014) and have been thinking it through. Part of the reason this caught my interest is because I live in Southern California and I have noticed how predominant the Argument from Consciousness is in these parts seeing how I believe it lacked the Theological justification for a genuine apologetic. But I struggled to understand why it was that these well intending apologists were so adamant about using the Argument From Consciousness and did use it with every opportunity seemingly. I believe Sutanto does an outstanding job explaining the situation in this paper and if you get the time I would highly recommend reading his paper.

However, here I provide a very simplified and watered down explanation of Sutanto’s argument. Some readers may not be too familiar with the technical language but many will be familiar with the concept the terminology seeks to communicate. Thus common sense realism (CS) is expressed by Sutanto as “referring to those propositions or intuitions that are perspicuously true, upon, or even prior to immediate reflection. When any subject S entertain these propositions, it is supposed, S will come to see the obviousness of the veracity of the proposition, and thus be lured, or even compelled, to adopt a belief in them. (777)” For example the fact that I have hands is a belief I hold from common sense and it would be difficult for anyone to refute. This is what Sutanto is addressing in the CS thesis. The relationship of CS to the Argument From Consciousness (AFC) is that the common sense reality of my conscious awareness points to belief in God. CS provides the epistemic justification for the fact of consciousness. Allow me to explain.

Sutanto begins by looking at the AFC as it is articulated by J.P. Moreland in The Rationality of Theism. It is here that Moreland wants to argue that the existence of non-physical mental states (consciousness) is a defeater of any naturalistic argument that can be offered since a precommitment to naturalism is inconsistent with a notion of non-physicality (i.e. consciousness or mental states). Sutanto frames Morland’s argument this way:

  1. Genuinely non-physical mental states exist.
  2. There is an explanation for mental states.
  3. Personal explanation is different from naturalistic scientific explanation.
  4. The explanation for mental states is either personal or natural scientific explanation.
  5. The explanation is not a naturalistic scientific one.
  6. Therefore, the explanation is a personal one.
  7. If the explanation is personal then it is theistic.
  8. Therefore, the explanation is theistic.

Sutanto seems to be in agreement with Moreland’s AFC. Where Sutanto wishes to “recalibrate” is not the AFC itself but rather Sutanto wants to recalibrate AFC’s foundation.

The argument that Sutanto is going make centers on the matter of the principium cognoscendi (principle of knowing).  Morland begins premise one by denying third person scientific investigation. For Morland premise one is based on first person phenomenology  hence it is at this point that he invokes the CS thesis as his principium. Here Sutanto offers some objections to the understanding of CS as principium.

Sutanto pulls from different sources in the formulation of these objections. The first objection he calls the “Marsden Olifent objection” named after two scholars George Marsden and Scott Oliphint who address this issue of CS in other works. Without going to far into what was said I think I can summarize their position as a historical refutation of CS demonstrating that there is no ground or reference for what knowledge is in fact common. Without a base or start point the pursuit of knowledge that is common becomes vacuous at best. The next objection he refers to as the “Bishop and Trout objection” which comes from Michael Bishop and J.D. Trout’s book Epistemology and the Psychology of Human Judgment. The thrust of the argument is an appeal to a naturalistic epistemology. Because no genuine  agreement among epistemologists or people in general can be found in standard analytic epistemology the authors propose a third person naturalistic approach which is precisely what Morland is refuting.

The next set of objections that Sutanto offers is divine revelation and the noetic effects of sin. Here with the text of Scripture he makes the case that there are two implications of the noetic effects of sin (or the way sin impacts our thinking). The first is that which should be common- namely the knowledge of God- which is treated by the natural man as uncommon. Therefore any appeal to what is thought to be CS can potentially be an appeal to what is uncommon. Thus in this sense the natural man will take for granted that his epistemic equipment is functioning properly when in reality it is working from the noetic effects of sin which suppresses true knowledge.

If the noetic effects of sin are so comprehensive what then can be our  principium cognoscendi. This is where Sutanto turns to the Triune God. He writes “With these objections we have shown that an appeal to common sense to ground an argument is insufficient at best or simply wrongheaded at worst, especially when we live in the post-lapsarian order” (786).  Sutanto goes on to say, “In recalibrating the argument from consciousness, and placing it on divine revelation rather than on natural theology, we preserve its concluding premises from devolving into a proof for some finite god. Instead , we begin from the ontological Trinity, and we lay an argument that concludes, also, with the Trinity” (791).

 

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Quote Of The Day: Herman Bavinck

“The Christian mind remains unsatisfied until all of existence is referred back to the Triune God, and until the confession of God’s Trinity functions at the center of our thought and life.”-Herman Bavinck

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Trinity Part 5 Basic Implication

trin_symblIn part one I quoted from Carl Henry as he lamented the lack of teaching on the Trinity. I suppose there are many reasons one could give for why it is that such a significant and central teaching of the faith is rarely taught. However, my opinion is that the misappropriation of the mystery of the Trinity is partly to blame. That is not to say there is not a mysterious aspect to God’s Being, but where Scripture has spoken we are obligated to learn.

One of Henry’s laments was that the “practical values” of the Trinity have been neglected. That might seem like a paradoxical proposition for modern day evangelicals who typically appeal to all things practical. What this actually points to is a dilemma that exchanges Christian theology for something more like a christianized form of pragmatism. Contrary to conventional thought the Trinity is one of the most practical teachings that we could discuss in our day.  Having reached this point in the discussion of the Triniy I would like to focus attention to one of the most fundamental of practical values of the Trinity.

Personhood is one of those aspects of human existence typically taken for granted but vitally important for people to understand. Certain aspects of our being like love,feelings, emotions, thoughts, consciousness, compassion etc. can not be explained very well from a conventional approach like a naturalistic standpoint. One example of this – although there are many – I have quoted from prominent atheist philosopher Thomas Nagel who writes,

“It  seems to me that the powerful appearance of contingency  in the relation between the functioning  of the physical organism and the conscious mind — an appearance that depends directly  or indirectly  on the first-person perspective — must be an illusion.  But the denial of this contingency  should not take the form of a reductionist account of consciousness of the usual type, whereby  the logical gap between the mental  and the physical  is  closed by  conceptual  analysis  — in  effect, by  analyzing the mental in terms of the physical (however elaborately  this is done — and I  count functionalism as such a theory, along  with  the topic-neutral  causal  role  analyses of mental  concepts  from  which it descends).”

When Nagel uses terminology like “logical gap” he is speaking of a disconnect between the physical and mental that can’t be explained or “closed” by conceptual (naturalistic) analysis. In my conversations with naturalistic or materialistic philosophers who make an attempt to “close” the gap by conceptual means often find themselves in a dichotomy between the world they pretend to understand through analysis and the world they actually live in. I can recall a professor at a secular college that I attended who admitted to me that while he thought the love he had for his wife was nothing more than a chemical process in his brain, he would NEVER admit that to her. That is the dichotomy they are forced to live in.

How do we understand personhood from a Christian perspective?  We understand that God is personal evidenced by His exhibiting personhood between the persons of the Godhead. Scripture tells us that there was person to person relations like love among the Triune community from all eternity. We also know that when God created He did so using Himself as a representational model. So when we look at God we see persons in relation from all eternity, and being created in His image we too are also persons in relation albeit at a creaturely level explaining why we exhibit aspects of personhood.  This does not negate the fact that there is a biological aspect to our being also but it answers the question as to the personhood of man.

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Trinity Part 4 Proof Texting

trin_symblOver the years I have become more and more skeptical about proof texting (and proof texters). Proof texting is simply using Bible verse to support ones claim. The actual act itself is fine when each verse has been properly understood within the proper context and applied correctly. The problem comes in when those who are fast and loose with the Bible verses using passages of Scripture to prove points they were never intended to prove.  In a sense my protest is something like a “throwing the baby out with the bath water”. I realize it but I have enjoyed reading Biblical text apart from the numbering system that creates the verses. It is a pleasure to read Jesus in total apart from the distractions of individualized points of doctrine. Having been brought up with proof texting I still find my self reading verses and appointing a statement of doctrine to it. Sometimes bad habits are hard to lose.

The reason I bring all this up is I am going to shamefully proof text the Trinity in a minute. My apologies in advance. I would encourage you to take the verse and read it in its context to see “whether these things are so.”

God is one “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.Deut. 6:4; 1 Sam. 2:2; 2 Kgs. 19:15; Is. 37:16; 44:8; Mk.12:28–34; 1 Cor. 8:4–6; 1 Tim. 2:5; Jas. 2:19.

The Father is God (Rom. 1:7; 1 Cor. 1:3; 8:6; 15:24; 2 Cor. 1:3; Eph. 4:6;
Phil. 4:20).

3. The Son is God now we are getting into some controversy. This proposition is rejected by monotheists for various reasons depending on the monotheistic system in question. However, this is a very fundamental teaching in Christianity.
The Son is called God (Jn. 1:1; 20:28; Acts 20:28; Rom. 9:5; Tit. 2:13;
Heb. 1:8).
The Son is given divine names (Jn. 1:1, 18; Acts 5:31; 1 Cor. 2:8; Jas.
2:1; Rev. 1:8; 21:6; 22:13).
The Son has divine attributes.
Eternity (Jn. 1:2; 8:58; 17:5; Rev. 1:8, 17; 22:13).
Immutability (Heb. 1:11, 12; 13:8).
Omnipresence (Jn. 3:13; Mt. 18:20; 28:20).
Omniscience (Mt. 11:27; Jn. 2:23–25; 21:17; Rev. 2:23).
Omnipotence (Jn. 5:17; Heb. 1:3; Rev. 1:8; 11:17).
The Son does divine works.
Creation (Jn. 1:3, 10; Col. 1:16–17).
Salvation (Acts 4:12; 2 Tim. 1:10; Heb. 5:9).
Judgment (Jn. 5:22; 2 Cor. 5:10; Mt. 25:31–32).

The Son is worshiped as God (Jn. 5:22–23; 20:28; 1 Cor. 1:2; Phil.
2:9–10; Heb. 1:6).

The Spirit is God.
The Spirit is called God (Acts 5:3–4; 2 Cor. 3:17).
The Spirit is given divine names (Mt. 12:28).
The Spirit has divine attributes (1 Cor. 2:13–14; Gal. 5:22; 1 Tim. 4:1;
Heb. 3:7; 9:14; 1 Jn. 5:6–7).
The Spirit does divine works (Jn. 6:33; 14:17, 26; 16:13; Acts 1:8; 2:17–18;
16:6; Rom. 8:26; 15:19; 1 Cor. 12:7–11).
The Spirit is worshiped as God (Mt. 12:32).

The Father, Son, and Spirit are distinct persons in relationship with one another.
The Son prays to the Father (Jn. 11:41–42; 17; Mt. 26:39 ff.).
The Father speaks to the Son (Jn. 12:27–28).
The Father, Son, and Spirit—all three—appear together, but are clearly
distinct from one another (Mt. 3:16–17).
The Father sends the Son and the Spirit, and the Son sends the Spirit (Jn.
3:17; 4:34; 5:30; 6:39; 14:26; 15:26; 16:7).
The Father and Son love one another (Jn. 3:35; 5:20; 10:17; 14:31;
15:9–10; 17:24).

 

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Trinity Part 3

trin_symblBefore I hit some of the common texts that help formulate the idea that God is Triune I want to start by addressing some of criticisms briefly.

IS THE TRINITY A NECESSARY LOGICAL CONTRADICTION?

Sometimes I like to pose a question before answering this one. That is, when I hear non-Christians refer to anything that has to do with “logic” I want to know what it is exactly that they are referring to. I find that what many people have in mind has more to do with just general critical thinking. In the filed of philosophy logic becomes more technical and precise. But what I really want to know is from the non-believer’s perspective what is logic? what is its origin, nature, essence, etc? I usually don’t ask for a whole lot of detail since this question is still trying to be answered logicians today. My point is, apart from the Trinitarian understanding of reality, laws of logic become problematic. Non-Christian philosophical systems seem to have a great deal of difficulty explaining the nature of the laws of logic but they ironically insist on using them. I know this is confusing to grasp at this point in the discussion so I will briefly say that within Trinitarian understanding of reality we have a foundational understanding for the existence of universal, abstract, invariant, entities such as those described in logical laws as well as an account of how the particulars of experience are universalized. Hopefully I can get into more of this in a later post.

SO!, is the Trinity a necessary contradiction? The reason people say that it is might be because we haven’t done a very good job at explaining it. First, I will begin with what the Trinity is not. It is important to understand what I am about to say. Here it goes; God is NOT a mathematical singularity. This is the first mistake that is always made not only by non-believers but by believers alike. By necessity the Trinity must be an ontological necessity. This is why the author of the book of Acts refers to God as the “Being in whom we live, move, and have our being (Acts 17:28).”

Moving forward, what we often hear from non-believers is “how can God be ‘one’ (Deut. 6:4) if he is three?  From their perspective we are saying 1+1+1=1. Interestingly the word for “one” in Deuteronomy 6:4 is the same word for “one” in Genesis 2:24 (Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh). But from the particular perspective of the non-believer they are correct; that does present a logical contradiction. It’s like we are saying God is A but he is also -A. But in reality what we are saying is that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is A in person and B in unity and essence. However, after I neatly phrased the explanation it is important to understand that this does not give us the totality of understanding about God’s nature.

There is indeed much that is left to the mystery of God. However, some push that “mystery” terminology too far as if any time we talk about the relationship we find in Scripture between the three persons we are talking about the unknown. That is inherently wrong. The reason we are talking about it is because we found it in Scripture and therefore the “mystery” has been revealed not exhaustively but particularly. That is to say not totally but as much as a finite man or woman can understand.

It is within this finite understanding that we come to understand that the three persons of the holy Trinity are One. Our understanding of this truth is not exhaustive nor should we ever claim it to be since as Martin Heidegger once quipped any god that we can understand exhaustively is no god for me.

Tell me your thoughts. More to come.

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Trinity Part 2

trin_symblWay back in Part 1 I made the statement that without the Trinity there would be no Christianity. There are several criticisms that can be made against a statement like that. One could argue that the word “Trinity” is no where mentioned in the Bible. A second criticism could be that many genuine believers are saved without having understood the doctrine of the Trinity. Yet another might be there are many “Christian” denominations like Mormons and Jehovah Witnesses that reject the Trinity. Then there is the argument that the Trinity can not be known because it is a paradox or a mystery. In other words, in light of the opposing view points how can one possibly hold the view that without the doctrine of the Trinity there is no Christianity.

I would first begin by saying that each of these opposing arguments are problematic because they don’t take into account the full weight of the doctrine. As I said in Part 1 the doctrine of the Trinity is so foundational that predication would be impossible without it. Thus each of these opposing arguments would prove themselves to be internally incoherent against thorough understanding of the Trinity. Rather than work through each of these criticisms which I find to be superficial at best I would say that the organic relationship between the Trinity and Christianity is demonstrated naturally from the text of Scripture.

As Christians we come to the faith much like our ancestors dating back to the NT church confessing that only Jesus and He alone can save us from our sins (Acts 4:12). Simultaneously believers through out church history are always confronted with the notion that God is the only one that can save. Thus we conclude as Paul the Apostle that Jesus is Lord (1 Corinthians 12:3; Isaiah 45:20-23). This is similar to when Paul writes, “Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Hence in a very real sense when we come confessing our faith in the Holy Trinity (some times you will notice a Pastor who will Baptize in the Trinitarian formulation) this a more thorough and robust way of confessing our faith in Jesus as Savior. However -and more to our point here- if confessing our faith in the Holy Trinity is on par with confessing our faith in Jesus as Savior then when happens when the Trinity is denied or rejected? By necessary default the Jesus as Savior is rejected.

Tell me your thoughts or questions. More to come.

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