An Apologetics Primer

My church group began discussing ideas about an apologetics course this summer.  I’m wondering what kind of books to use.  Nothing too advanced.  And I don’t want this to become a “different styles of apologetics.”  Those discussions are usually as fruitful as sucking a gas pipe.  But I have found the following to be good in getting you to think about thinking.

My goal is not to “prove” anything or say x apologetic method is good.  I just want you to be good at thinking, and thinking about thinking.

Moreland, J. P. Love Your God with all Your Mind.  The place to start.  I’ve read it probably half a dozen times.  I used to buy it on the cheap and give it away.

Moreland, J.P.  Kingdom Triangle. Never quite gained the importance of his other book, but in many ways the argument is more focused.

McCall, Thomas.  An Invitation to Analytic Theology.  This will teach you how to break down an issue.

Plantinga, God, Freedom, and Evil and Knowledge and Christian Belief.  After Plantinga atheists realized they could no longer say that evil made the Christian worldview contradictory.

Clark, Kelly James.  Return to Reason. Plantinga’s lieutenant, so to speak.  Read this before you dive into Plantinga.

Clark, Kelly. ed. 101 Philosophical Terms You Need to Know.

Review: McCall, Invitation to Analytic Theology

This is an old review, but I thought I had already posted it.  I hadn’t.

Despite it’s relatively simple-sounding and generic title, this book is unique in offering both a model for analytic theology as well as a brief crash course in certain debates. There are a handful of books (Richard Muller’s Dictionary is one) that could replace a seminary class. This is one of them.

McCall begins by dispelling myths about analytic theology (hereafter AT). AT doesn’t *necessarily* entail univocal language, substance metaphysics or naivety about church history (though that probably is true about analytic philosophy–JBA).

McCall makes clear that AT doesn’t entail the following

  1. A univocal view of language (25). (NB: Does William Alston hold to univocity?  Cf. Divine Nature and Human Language, pp. 17-117).
  2. AT entails natural theology (26).
  3. AT is naive about the history of doctrine.
  4. AT is apologetics for conservative theology.  Depends on what we mean by “conservative.” Plantinga, for one, has advanced problems of divine simplicity; yet, it probably is true, pace the current leadership of the Society of Christian Philosophers, that analytic theologians are committed to Christian orthodoxy and ethics.
  5. AT relies on substance metaphysics (30ff).  The battle isn’t between pre-Kantian and Kantians, but between Kantians and post-Kantians.  It is possible to read Kant and remain unconvinced.
  6. Analytic Theology isn’t spiritually edifying.

The true gold-mine of the book is McCall’s “Case Studies” dealing with metaphysics, compatibilism, and evolution. Particularly, one gets a refreshing survey of what it means for something to have an essence (kind-essence, Individual essence, common properties, merely human, fully human) and how this pays significant dividends for Christology.


Analytic Theology and Scripture

How does the Bible control and authorize analytic statements?  McCall offers an interesting model that can be applied elsewhere in theology (55ff). Let P be a primary true proposition.

RA1: The Bible contains propositions that explicitly assert P.

RA2: The Bible contains propositions that entail P.

RA3: The Bible contains propositions that that are consistent with P and suggest P.

RA4: The Bible contains propositions that that do not entail ~P, and is consistent with P (it is neutral with respect to P)

RA5: The Bible contains propositions that entail neither P nor ~P, but suggests some Q that is inconsistent with P.

RA6: The Bible contains propositions that entail ~P.

RA7: The Bible contains propositions that which assert ~P.

RA8: The Bible contains propositions that assert P and assert ~P

RA6-8 are incompatible with orthodoxy, yet RA1-5 are compatible and are far more robust than stereotypes of inerrancy.

Christology

Abstractionism:

Individual essence (haeccity): set of properties one must have for this distinct individual.  The full set of properties possessed by that person in all possible worlds in which that person exists.

Kind-essence: the full set of properties individually necessary and sufficient for inclusion in that set.

Common human properties: a property possessed by many or most humans.  Most humans can have a property without its being essential.

Essential human properties: an object has a property essentially iff it has it and could not have not had it.  It belongs to kind-nature.

Merely human: to exemplify only that kind-essence of humanity.

Fully human: to exemplify the kind-essence of humanity.

How does the two-minds approach account for Jesus’s being omniscient per divine yet nonomniscient per human?  Thomas V. Morris suggests an asymmetrical accessing relation.

Concretist Accounts

The “natures” are reified, not properties.

Every primary substance (Fido the Dog) has a secondary substance-kind (caninity) that pertains to it without which it could not exist (104).

For every primary substance x, there is only one secondary substance-kind K that pertains to x through itself and is essential to it.

Unfortunately, this rules out the incarnation, since there can’t be more than one secondary substance-kind to a primary substance.

Medieval theology modified this Aristotelianism: it is possible for a primary substance x that is essentially of a substance-kind also to possess/be/come to be of a substance kind K’ (where K is not the same as K’) contingently and non-essentially (105).

Concretists affirm a part-whole (mereological) account of the Incarnation.  There

He gives a wonderful rebuttal to theistic evolutionism simply by showing how sloppy their language is. Thus, the whole point of analytic theology.

My only criticism of the book is the lack of survey on how to get started in AT (e.g., which texts to read first).

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.

https://www.amazon.com/Analytic-Theology-New-Essays-Philosophy/dp/0199600422/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1491166960&sr=8-1&keywords=analytic+theology+crisp

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.