…I believe that it is only through an understanding of the kind of being that God is that we can come to learn what kind of beings we are and what kind of world we inhabit. pg.xi
…the doctrine of the Trinity is crucial to ontology – to any ontology that would hold together creation and redemption – although its implications in this field are rarely explored. pg.xi
“One of the most widely held doctrines of Christianity is that of meticulous divine providence. The doctrine of providence refers to God’s governance and preservation of the world-his ongoing activity in the creation-and it is “meticulous,” because it refers to the smallest details of all events”(13).
So begins John D. Laing’s book on Middle Knowledge (MK): Human Freedom In Divine Soveriegnty. He is correct in highlighting God’s providence over the affairs of His creation. As believers, you can imagine how important such a belief would be. Difficulties begin to arise when our belief in God’s providence leads to other questions that any thinking person would like to know. Questions such as “how exactly does God provide for His creation?” opens a myriad of responses addressing the relationship between God’s providence and human freedom. In MK Laing want’s to make the argument that it is through MK that we find the best explanation for God’s providence.
Laing does a very good job at covering many facets of MK. He begins the first chapter by providing some background information as well as an explanation of MK. From there he offers the reader some of the objections that have been given against MK. Following the objections, Laing explains certain implications of MK discussing divine foreknowledge/freewill, soteriology, theodicy, Scripture, science/theology, the Biblical case for MK, and the existential outlook of MK. For being an introduction to the topic of MK Laing has managed to cover a broad range of subjects.
In a nutshell (as if MK can be explained in a nutshell) MK comes from a place between two different types of divine knowledge. In the first place, there is a divine “natural knowledge” not to be confused with creaturely natural knowledge. According to Laing, “Natural knowledge refers to the truths God knows by his nature”(p.48). What this means is that God knows His creation by knowing Himself. He knows the possibilities in His creation by knowing what He can or cannot do. Some refer to this knowledge as the knowledge of “simple intelligence” or “necessary knowledge.” Secondly, Laing also speaks of divine free knowledge. Here he explains that “Free knowledge refers to the truths God knows by knowing his own will”(p.49). To put this simply, God knows what takes place in creation by knowing His plan for it.
Looking at these two types of divine knowledge we quickly notice there is no room for human autonomy. MK is something like the go-between of divine natural knowledge and divine free knowledge. MK is described as God’s pre-volitional (p.50) knowledge of counterfactual states of affairs within creation. Thus MK is divine knowledge of events under various conditions. Moreover, MK is not based on God’s nature or upon His free knowledge, but on the free decisions of created beings. Thus MK is based on God’s knowledge of autonomous decisions people will make. So if God possesses MK His providence is unaffected by creaturely freedom.
The book itself is well written and very informative. Laing succeeded in condensing a complex topic into a very readable, instructive, and concise volume. While I do find fault in the argument (mostly because it presupposes human autonomy) I find this particular volume to be very informative and worth the read whether you are a proponent of MK or not. Some would think this book should only be for the academy. I think it is written for anyone who wants a better understanding of God’s providence. Well worth the read.
My personal rating 5 out of 5 stars.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
I 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.
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:
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).
Brunner & Barth: The Natural Knowledge of God
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.
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.