Trinity and the Covenant?

One of the criticisms of some Kuyperians is that they read Covenantal relations into the Trinity, and if that’s true, then there is historical development in the Trinity. Obviously, that’s wrong.

But of course there are covenantal relations in the Trinity. What’s the Covenant of Redemption all about, anyway?  I don’t think that’s the problem.  The problem seems to be the claim that the Trinity is the pattern for Covenantal thinking.  Well, why wouldn’t it be?  The Trinity is the source of all good theology.  Think about it: if the Trinity isn’t the source of all good theology, then where did covenantal relations come from?  We are now on the edge of ontological dualism.

Outline of God, Revelation, Authority (vol 5)

By Carl F Henry.

carl henry

The first four volumes dealt with epistemology.  The final two deal with ontology and the doctrine of God.

“God who stands” = personal sovereign containing in himself the ground of his own existence.

“God who stays” = governs in providence and in eschatological consummation (Henry 10).

Substance language

Does have its uses.  Its basic meaning is “to stand under.”  It is not an essence distinguishable from the divine personality (11).  God stands under, not as an underlying substratum, but as the free originator (12).

“God stands” includes his revelational initiative.

“Secular religion lacks revelational criteria to distinguish the divine from the demonic in its promotion of social revolution” (39).

Chapter 2: The Being, Coming, and Becoming of God

Thesis:  The Bible has no problem with “being-language,” but such language is always conditioned by God’s self-disclosure (48-49).  And this self-disclosure is known to us (if not exhausted by) by valid propositional truths.

Chapter 3: The Living God of the Bible

The ambiguous status of cosmic powers in the Bible is not because of some evolutionary move towards mono- or henotheism.  Rather, it is because that world has an ambiguous ontology of rival spirits (74).

Chapter 4: Methods of Determining the Divine Attributes

Henry surveys the three ways (negation, eminence, causality) and finds them inadequate.  Even neo-orthodox scholars must presuppose some positive statements about God in order for them to posit a crisis-intuitive encounter.

Can we know God “in himself?”  Henry cautiously affirms that.  If our knowledge of God’s nature and attributes comes from cognitive, propositional statements from God’s self-disclosure, then there is no reason why we can’t have metaphysical knowledge about God’s nature (96).

God’s attributes are determined by a logically ordered exposition of scriptural revelation  (100).

Chapter 5: Relationship between Essence and Attributes

Realism: “nonmental ‘substance’ is the ontological core of all finite realities.”

Henry’s position: rejects that there is an underlying substratum in which attributes inhere.  This would make the forms and logic “other than” and superior to God.

Chapter 6: God’s Divine Simplicity and Attributes

Essence or nature of God: a living personal unity or properties and attributes (130).  “Essence and attributes are integral to each other.”  “A living unity of perfections.”

“God’s activities are divine qualities or attributes.”

Chapter 7: Personality in the Godhead

Person: the medievals applied it, not to God’s being, but to the distinctions within the Godhead (153). For us there is both personality of God and personality in God.


Chapter 8: Muddling the Trinitarian Dispute

Divine personality is not simply the human self infinitely expanded.

Chapter 9: The Doctrine of the Trinity

Gregory of Nyssa: the Trinity is a Platonic idea where the three persons are subsumed under the one idea of God just as three men are subsumed under the one idea of Man.

Shedd: There is a personality to the Godhead.  This is not the same as the person of the essence.


Chapter 11: God the Self-Revealed Infinite

Barth: Infinity is the plenitude of God’s perfections (Henry, 230).

Chapter 12: Divine Timelessness or Unlimited

Thesis:  God is timelessly eternal (239).  This is not the same thing as an “everlasting now.”

Chapter 13: The modern attack on the timeless God

Question: If God is timeless, how does he respond in time to humans? The answer lies in his sovereignty.

Chapter 14: Divine Timelessness and Omniscience

Omniscience: God’s perfect knowledge of all things, actual or possible, past, present or future” (268).   “The biblical view implies that God is not in time; that there is no succession of ideas in the divine mind” (276).

Chapter 15: Immutability not borrowed from the Greeks

The changelessness predicated of an eternal being is different from the changelessness of a being in time (288).

Chapter 16: The Sovereignty of the Omnipotent God

God’s power is not exhausted by his universe.

Chapter 17: God’s Intellectual Attributes (very important chapter!!)

Thesis: God is the source and ground of all rational distinction (334).  The laws of logic are the architecture of God’s mind.  “The divine Logos is creative and revelatory.”

Revelation is divine self-disclosure.

Chapter 19: The Knowability of God

Incomprehensibility does not imply unknowability.

Chapter 20: Man’s Mind and God’s Mind

Our minds “coincide” in certain propositions, but not pantheistically (383).

On not being a Barthian

I get asked this every now and then.  I’m not a Barthian.  The most notable problem is his view of Scripture (at least that’s what alarms evangelicals the most).  Thomas McCall gives a fine presentation and critique of Barth’s view of Scripture.

The Classical View: Scripture has divine properties (holiness, etc) in addition to those properties it has in virtue of having human authors (McCall 171).

Barth’s Actualist Doctrine

“As Hunsinger describes it, actualism ‘at the most general level…means that (Barth) thinks primarily in terms of events and relationships rather than monadic or self-contained substances’.10 Characteristic of Barth’s theology is his repeated (and forceful) insistence that ‘God’s being is in his act and his act in his being.’ (173).

For Barth Scripture has its being in becoming.    But McCall notes some problems with this:

“ Barth wants to say that scripture truly is the Word of God while still insisting on the primacy of divine action, but his actualism actually appears to hurt him here. Taken as a claim to the sober truth, it makes little sense to talk about scripture becoming what it already is, and it makes even less sense to speak of scripture not being or not becoming what it truly is. At best it is both mysterious and opaque” (175).

McCall says this resembles occasionalism, which he defines as one of the following two options (176):

(O1) For any state of affairs p and time t, if (i) there is any substance that causally contributes to p’s obtaining at t and (ii) no created substance is a free cause of p at t, then God is a strong active cause of p at t.

(O2) No material substance has any active or passive causal power at all.

(O2) seems to obtain for Barth, at least in points.  For him the Bible doesn’t have any active power, since God is the acting agent.  And it doesn’t have any passive power, and I am not sure what that would look like.  But there is another problem lurking: Barth’s view of Scripture has parallels to his Christology, and what does occasionalism do to his Christology?  McCall notes:

“The revealed Word is never without flesh, it is never separated from the humanity of the man Jesus. But, on Barth’s account, the written Word sometimes is separated from the humanity of the Bible, for sometimes the Bible does not ‘become’ what it ‘is’. If this is so, then Barth again loses his ability to appeal to the ‘threefold form of the Word’. Moreover, according to Barth’s own Christology, in Jesus Christ the revealed Word the human nature indeed is causally active, for the Word of God is seen in the ‘humanity of God’.28 If the humanity of the God-man is not causally active, then Barth loses his claim to ‘Chalcedonian’ Christology.29 On the other hand, if the humanity of the God-man is causally active while the humanity of scripture is not, then Barth loses traction in his argument for the threefold form of the Word” (177).

Barth wants to avoid saying that the Bible has divine properties. This means the Word of God would be in the “possession” of men and women.

However, Barth’s own Christology cuts him off at the pass:  if God has sovereignly limited himself in human flesh, then who are we to say that God can’t do so in the Bible?  

Which Trinity? Robert Jenson

Continuing McCall’s work.  Here is a retraction on my part.  A few years ago I praised Robert Jenson’s Systematic Theology.  Indeed, there are some fine essays in there.  I must retract, however, the section on the doctrine of God.

Robert Jenson’s famous claim concerns the identity of God:

(8) God is the one who raised Israel’s Jesus from the dead” (McCall 128).

Jenson’s main argument is that God is “identified by and with the particular plotted sequence of events that make the narrative of Israel and her Christ” (Jenson, ST1, p. 60, quoted in Mccall 131).

Said another way:  God is constituted by these historical acts.  Said yet another way,

God ←→ History

Theory of Worldbound Indivduals

(9) TWI: “For any object x and relational property P, if has P, then for any object y, if there is a world in which y lacks P, then y is distinct from P” (Plantinga, quoted in McCall 143).

(9a) The grim conclusion, if Jenson holds to both his Identity Thesis and TWI, then God could not exist apart from the temporal events in this world.

(9*) for TWI all divine properties are essential properties.

(9’) Is supralapsarianism a form of TWI?

David B. Hart on classical theism, an interlude: “within the plenitude of divine life no contrary motion can fabricate an interval of negation.”

If we apply TWI to Christology, particularly (9*), we get Arian conclusions:

(10) The Son has an essential property (being incarnate) that the Father does not have.

(10a) The Son’s economic property of being subordinate to the Father is now an essential property!

Is Jenson’s God temporal?  It looks like it.  Let’s take two theses which Jenson would hold: the Indiscernability of Indenticals and TWI.  God’s identity for Jenson is linked to key temporal actions in Israel’s life (Exodus, etc; “God can have no identity except as he meets the temporal end toward which creatures live,” Jenson, ST1, 65).  This leads to the following:

(11) God has different properties at t1 (e.g., call of Abraham) than he does at t2 (Exodus). Thus,

(11*) God is not identical to himself.

(11’) God changes through time.

Not even Arius claimed this!

Latin Trinitarianism, again

I am currently reading Thomas Mccall’s Which Trinity? Whose Monotheism? This is the best section of the book.  He deals with philosopher Brian Leftow, who openly says there are “personal parts” in God (Leftow, “A Latin Trinity,” 308, quoted in McCall 114).  Indeed, “they add up to the life of the one God” (“Modes without Modalism,” 375).  This is hard to square with any account of divine simplicity, but there are bigger problems.

If Leftow is representative of LT, then LT is guilty of positing a Quaternity.  So far we have

(1) there are personal parts that add up to the one God

(2) “There is either a fourth instance of divinity,

(2a) or there is not” (McCall 115).

If (2 is true, it is either a divine person or it is not a divine person.  Orthodoxy rules out its being a divine person.  Logically, that wouldn’t hold, either.  A person usually isn’t part of another person (except in the womb, I suppose).  As McCall notes, “When three persons add up to another [something], it usually isn’t a person.”

It’s not clear how LT can say “God is a person.” How can that even be monotheistic?   But if God = Trinity = collection of persons, then this is just simply Social Trinitarianism anew.  (Indeed, one can say at this point that the One-Many dialectic is feeding itself upon each pole of the dialectic).

(3) Per Leftow, maybe he means ‘The Trinity is a Person.’

McCall says (3) is what Leftow’s “Rockettes” analogy suggests (think of Jane entering different parts of time simultaneously; from our perspective Jane can only enter the past, then the present, then the future.  But from Jane’s (God’s?) perspective, all of these moments are simultaneous.  But this means the person “plays three different roles in three different streams of events” (Mccall 116). Thus,

(4) We have three persons, plus a Trinity who is also a person.  A Quaternity.

We come back to Leftow’s part-whole relation.  If there are “parts” in God, then we have to ask “Of what are they parts?”  This entails (5) and (6). The only possible way out is

(5) Leftow doesn’t represent Latin Trinitarianism

That’s a tall claim, though.

False Assumptions in Cessationism, part 1

I haven’t done a real blog post in a while, mainly book reviews.  And this post is from a book, but to include it in a formal review will make it unwieldy.  Note, in saying these are false assumptions in cessationist arguments I do not imply that cessationism is necessarily false.  I think it is, but that’s not the argument in question.

Deere’s most important chapter is “The Real Reason Christians Do not believe in the miraculous Gifts” and in it he undoes a number of cessationist non-arguments.

False Assumption 1: NT Healing was “Automatic,” meaning the NT Christian could heal anyone at anytime.  But the NT never claims this and makes statements that are quite odd if true: “And the power of the Lord was present for him to heal the sick” (Luke 5.17, quoted in Deere, 59). If Jesus could heal “any place, any time,” then why did Scripture mention the power of the Lord being present?

Why at some places does Jesus heal all yet at Bethesda he only heals one person?  In fact, at Nazareth Jesus did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith” (Matt. 13.58).

Finally, the answer is that the NT does not see spiritual power as “automatic.”  Jesus gave the apostles all authority over demons and sickness (Matt. 10.1; Luke 9.1), yet they could not heal a demonized boy (Matt 17.16).  What gives?  I thought healing power was automatic?  Obviously, the cessationist is wrong.

The Power of God (Review)

Barnes, Michel Rene.  The Power of God: Dunamis in Gregory of Nyssa’s Trinitarian Theology.

This book ties Radde-Galwitz’s work as the finest work on Gregory of Nyssa. Dunamis is a richly biblical term, even with its philosophical baggage.  In early Greek philosophy it meant the affectivy capacity of the physis, having causal connotations (Barnes 7).  But in Pre-Socratic philosophy this always referred to a material entity, which wouldn’t do for Christian thought.

The capacity-power was always linked “to the identity and existence of an existent” (10). Thesis (1): If the Father and Son manifest the same dunamis, then they share the same phusis (13).

Barnes has some informative chapters on how the pre-Socratics and Plato used “dunamis.”  He then moves to post-apostolic discussions before he lands on Eunomius’s heretical taxonomy.

Eunomius’s Doctrine of the Trinity

Simple thesis:  “agennetos” is the essence of God.  God’s simplicity makes his essence identical with ingeneracy (176).  God produces his Son not essentially, but by authority.  Any essential production implies material compositeness. His term for production is “energia” and the product is “ergon.”  he does not associate energia with dunamis.  Energia is a causality which ceased to be when not productive (194).



Product (Son)

Therefore, on Eunomius’s gloss, it is not simply that Jesus is a product of the Father.  Rather, the Son is a product of the Activity of the Father.  Arius’s Jesus was simply once removed from the Father.  Eunomius’s is several times removed.

Gregory responds.  Gregory uses “power” as a title of the divine nature, mainly in the phrase “transcendent power.”  Not only is God properly beyond-being, but also his power is beyond-being.  Gregory links power to God’s nature in the such that it is a capacity that produces (223).

It is the capacity to produce or create.  If the power to create is a power, then it is connatural to God (234).  If you separate the productive capacity from God’s nature–as Eunomius does–then you won’t have any signs of that nature (250).

Therefore, Key argument: “Differences in being are determined first, by the presence or absence of certain powers or properties, and second, by the way in which these powers or properties are united in the existent” (272).  Sequence:  Dunamis-energia-erga

Activity is always “activity produced by the power of an existent” (302).  Activity presupposes power. Therefore, a hypostatized nature’s dunamis produces the energia, which results in the ergon.



This book sings and deserves widest possible reading, especially after the goofy Evangelical Subordinationist Trinity fiasco last year.  My only criticism is that relatively little of the book was devoted to Gregory.