Tag Archives: Theology

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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Filed under Book Review, Christianity, God, Gospel, Ontology, Review, Salvation, Theism, Theology, Trinity

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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Knowledge Of God

Brunner & Barth: The Natural Knowledge of God

https://philosophicalphragments.files.wordpress.com/2011/02/brunner.jpg?w=500

It was the 1930s when Swiss theologian Emil Brunner published his little book entitled Natur und Gnade (Nature and Grace).  In this treatise, Brunner argues that in the theology of his “mentor” John Calvin (1) the imago Dei (image of God) in man formed the contact for the gospel and (2) God’s revelation in nature can be seen through the lens of Scripture.

Calvin considers this remnant of the Imago Dei to be of great importance.  One might almost say that it is one of the pillars supporting his theology, for he identifies it with nothing less than the entire human, rational nature, the immortal soul, the capacity for culture, the conscience, responsibility, the relation with God, which -though not redemptive-exists even in sin, language, the whole of cultural life.
Brunner’s book was met with a harsh and emphatic NEIN!  the title of Karl Barth’s treatise. In this work Barth set out to refute Brunner.  Part of the reason for the aggressive tone in Barth’s response was due to the pro-Nazi use of natural theology.  Barth argued (1) the fall of man had so debased the image of God that our natural knowledge of God is idolatry and superstition at best and (2) natural revelation serves only to render man guilty before God without excuse.  (3)  For Barth, there is no knowledge of God the creator outside of a knowledge of God the Savior.
“The possibility of a real knowledge by natural man of the true God, derived from creation, is, according to Calvin, a possibility in principle, but not in fact, not a possibility to be realized by us.  One might call it an objective possibility, created by God, but not a subjective possibility, open to man.  Between what is possible in principle and what is possible in fact there inexorably lies the fall.  Hence this possibility can only be discussed hypothetically”
What do you think?

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Knowledge Of God

John Calvin on the Knowledge Of God

The previous post-debate between Brunner and Barth-raised the question of John Calvin’s teaching on the knowledge of God. It is a fundamental question that we all raise but also seems to be confused on occasion. Calvin teaches that there are three fundamental aspects when it comes to the knowledge of God: the Sensus Divinitatis (SD) (“sense of the divine in man” or internal knowledge), external Knowledge of God, and knowledge of God the Redeemer.

For Calvin SD amounts to a universal belief in God the Creator. In regards to SD Calvin gives us the following reasons: (1) Observation shows us that all men demonstrate belief in God. (2) The various expressions of religious worship throughout the world seem to indicate a genuine appeal to a conception of deity or ultimate authority (3) Even those who object to God have a conception of Him that they are objecting to. Such a conception of God renders all men without excuse before God their Creator. Therefore, this natural conception of God that is held by all is related to theological and moral knowledge (Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book 1, Chapter 3)

Calvin also taught that an external knowledge of God can be seen in the physical world. This is similar to what Paul says when writes  “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world,in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse” (Rom. 1 ). Calvin does not offer a syllogistic argument for God’s existence in his discussion of the external knowledge of God. But he does teach that God’s attributes such as power and wisdom are revealed in creation (Institutes, Book 1, Chapter 5).

For Calvin, knowledge of God is distinguished from knowledge of God the Redeemer. The key distinguishing factor between these is the former is arrived at through natural revelation (external) while the latter through special revelation by the Holy Spirit (internal).

The key take away is the three part aspect to the knowledge of God SD, external, and knowledge of God the redeemer. Understanding how it is that we come to know God will help us understand how it is that we are to do as Christ explained in the Great Commission “make disciples”. Relying solely on external as some tend to do is insufficient. It is when we realize that the work of making disciples is completely God’s work then we can rely on God’s appointed means, the Gospel which is the power unto salvation, and the Holy Spirit the reveal-er of Gospel truth.

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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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CS Lewis on Theology

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BOOK REVIEW: A History of Western Philosophy And Theology

 

 

John Frame (Reformed Theological Seminary) has recently published yet another book A History of Western Philosophy And Theology. Pump the breaks! Why would any Christian write on the subject of Philosophy? Aren’t we exhorted not to entertain vain philosophies? Yes we are but that is not whats taking place here. As a student of philosophy (and by God’s grace a Christian) I have benefited tremendously from understanding the history of thought in both the east and the west. Based upon my reading of Frame that is precisely his goal. To help the Christian community understand these certain thought patterns that have developed over time in the west for the purpose of understanding non-Christian thought and speaking intelligently to it.

The book itself is a great read. Frame’s experience as a career educator comes through in his writing style and helping the reader understand and internalize sometimes complicated concepts as he covers such topics as:

Philosophy And The Bible

Greek Philosophy

Medieval Philosophy

Early Modern Thought

Theology In The Enlightenment

Kant And His Successors

Nineteenth Century Theology

Nietzsche, Pragmatism, Phenomenology, And Existentialism

Twentieth Century Liberal Theology

Recent Christian Philosophy

Some of these topics may look heavy but Frame hones in on major key points and movements that help in understanding the interchange between the disciplines of theology and philosophy.

“But wait there’s more!” The book is packed with great features. There is an appendices that provides readers with well developed reviews on topics covered in the book. Also, there is a very thorough glossary covering terms used through out the book. There is also bibliographies, indexes, but what I really enjoyed was that the chapters correlated with online lectures through iTunesU. An outstanding tool to help solidify what you just read.

In terms of reading level I would put it in the category of accessible. It is a book about the interchange of theology and philosophy in the west so there will be terms that aren’t commonly used but Frame goes over the top to make it understandable. This is a great book for an intro level college course (especially on a Christian campus) but it can also be used in a Sunday school class, or even home school (Freshman – Senior).

Rating: 5 Stars

james


This book is provided to me courtesy of NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

 

 

 

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