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.

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.

Zizioulas, Person, and Gregory

This is taken from Lucian Turcescu’s “‘Person’ versus ‘Individual,’ and other Modern Misreadings of Gregory of Nyssa.” Modern Theology 18:4 October 2002.

John Zizioulas’s Being and Communion sought to provide a new approach to personhood by drawing upon insights from the Patristic tradition.  Modernity, he tells us, reduces person to individual, the latter being something like an aggregate of properties.  The Fathers, on Zizioulas’s reading, saw person in relational contexts.

Is this true?  Lucian Turcescu’s argues that it is not. The simple reason is Gregory of Nyssa had no qualms about defining a person as individual. Both Basil and Gregory, perhaps drawing upon Porphyry, saw ‘Peter’ and ‘Job’ “as unique collections of properties” (Turcescu 530). Gregory says that Job is “this man,” going so far as to write “a person (hypostasis) is also the concourse of the peculiar characteristics” (Difference between ousia and hypostasis; I understand this might have been written by Basil, but Turcescu seems to think Gregory wrote it).

Zizioulas writes well and there is much about Being and Communion that is quite refreshing.  But the fact remains that the Fathers did not flinch from seeing “person” in individualist terms.  True, they didn’t have to worry about Lockean atomism (or maybe they did; they were not strangers to Democritus).

And if we say God’s being is communion, how are we not prey to the criticisms one can level at Thomism, which defines a person as a relation of oppositions?

Erickson contra Grudem

This isn’t immediately related to Protestant Scholasticism, but Erickson’s work is an important contribution to the current Trinitarian chaos.

Erickson, Millard.  Who’s Tampering with the Trinity?

In responding to the subordinationist debate on the Trinity, Erickson gives us much more than a snapshot of the current battle. He gives us a model on how to do systematic (or missional, if you are in the PCA) theology. He examines biblical, historical, philosophical, theological, and pastoral implications for both views. He is generally stronger on 1,3,4, and 5. The historical section is a little weak.

Erikson says Hodge taught a gradational view of the Trinity, as did Augustus Strong. Hodge did no such thing. Hodge (and to a lesser degree Strong) emphasized the “order” in the Trinity, but an epistemological order–from the Father through the Son in the Spirit–does not imply a gradation or a submission. Or if it does we need to see an argument to the effect.

And this is partly why Ware’s position is so tricky. When Ware highlights a certain order or “taxis” in the Trinity, he is not wrong. But when he says, “This means submission” he is beyond the evidence.

The main problem with Ware is that he is almost right. His problem is that he doesn’t let the early reflections on the Trinity anchor him so he wouldn’t fall in error. It’s not enough, as Athanasius noted, to say the Son (or Spirit) is homoousios with the Father. We must also note that the Trinitarian relations are homoousion. This is what keeps the Greek Patristic reflection from slipping into error. They are able to say there is a certain taxis in the Trinity without lapsing into subordinationism: the homoousion safeguards them.

Similarly, Grudem isn’t entirely wrong. He asks, “If not for x (Grudem’s view) how can the Persons be distinguished? This problem stems from the assumption of extreme divine simplicity. Given the essence’s identification with the attributes, how can one really speak of this or that? Traditionally, the Western church distinguished the Persons by calling them “relations of oppositions.” Grudem (correctly) doesn’t take this route. But he thinks the Persons are distinguished by roles and functions, rather than by modes of origination (as the Fathers said).

The Biblical Evidence

The problem with “son-language:” the ancient fathers were hesitant, pace Bruce Ware, to read human concepts of fatherhood/sonship back into the eternal Trinity. It bordered close to idolatry. It’s one thing to say that the “Fatherhood of God” is the archetype from which all fathers are derived. That’s true. It’s quite another thing to define Fatherhood of God by the derivative.

Further, “Son” doesn’t always mean “lesser in authority.” Jesus is called “The Son of Man.” Does that mean Jesus is inferior to the idea of men? Jesus is called the Son of David. Does that mean he is inferior to David?

Erickson mentions it but doesn’t develop it. Let’s go back to the order of the Trinity: From the Father through the Son in the Holy Spirit. According to the gradationist model, with each term there is a diminution of authority. Logically, then, the Holy Spirit should be the bottom-rung. But if that is the case, then why is the Holy Spirit “casting Jesus” (εκβαλλω) into the wilderness (Mark 1:12)?

Philosophical Considerations

Ware says that the hierarchical structure of authority is part of the essence of the Trinity (Ware 2005, 21), that it “marks the very nature of God.” Erickson points out the problem with this line of reasoning: if authority over the Son is an essential attribute, the the subordination of the Son is essential. This means they are neither homoousion in essence or in relation (Erickson 172).

With regard to Grudem Erickson examines his argument:

G1: Differences of person require different roles
GC: Therefore, distinctions of persons require differences of authority

Erickson points out that Grudem is missing a key premise: “Differences of role require differences of authority” (185). And since they have not proved this (and if they had, they would be semi-Arians, given Ware’s earlier claim), then they must forfeit the debate.

Cons:

(1) Erikson seems to think that if you hold to the eternal generation, you have to hold to it literally in order for it to make sense, yet no Father ever said this.
(2) He is aware of Giles’s use of dyotheletism to criticize th EFS position, but he doesn’t like it.

Aside from these criticisms, the book is compelling, succinct, and occasionally fun to read.

Who’s Tampering with the Trinity?

In responding to the subordinationist debate on the Trinity, Erickson gives us much more than a snapshot of the current battle. He gives us a model on how to do systematic (or missional, if you are in the PCA) theology. He examines biblical, historical, philosophical, theological, and pastoral implications for both views. He is generally stronger on 1,3,4, and 5. The historical section is a little weak.

Erikson says Hodge taught a gradational view of the Trinity, as did Augustus Strong. Hodge did no such thing. Hodge (and to a lesser degree Strong) emphasized the “order” in the Trinity, but an epistemological order–from the Father through the Son in the Spirit–does not imply a gradation or a submission. Or if it does we need to see an argument to the effect.

And this is partly why Ware’s position is so tricky. When Ware highlights a certain order or “taxis” in the Trinity, he is not wrong. But when he says, “This means submission” he is beyond the evidence.

The main problem with Ware is that he is almost right. His problem is that he doesn’t let the early reflections on the Trinity anchor him so he wouldn’t fall in error. It’s not enough, as Athanasius noted, to say the Son (or Spirit) is homoousios with the Father. We must also note that the Trinitarian relations are homoousion. This is what keeps the Greek Patristic reflection from slipping into error. They are able to say there is a certain taxis in the Trinity without lapsing into subordinationism: the homoousion safeguards them.

Similarly, Grudem isn’t entirely wrong. He asks, “If not for x (Grudem’s view) how can the Persons be distinguished? This problem stems from the assumption of extreme divine simplicity. Given the essence’s identification with the attributes, how can one really speak of this or that? Traditionally, the Western church distinguished the Persons by calling them “relations of oppositions.” Grudem (correctly) doesn’t take this route. But he thinks the Persons are distinguished by roles and functions, rather than by modes of origination (as the Fathers said).

The Biblical Evidence

The problem with “son-language:” the ancient fathers were hesitant, pace Bruce Ware, to read human concepts of fatherhood/sonship back into the eternal Trinity. It bordered close to idolatry. It’s one thing to say that the “Fatherhood of God” is the archetype from which all fathers are derived. That’s true. It’s quite another thing to define Fatherhood of God by the derivative.

Further, “Son” doesn’t always mean “lesser in authority.” Jesus is called “The Son of Man.” Does that mean Jesus is inferior to the idea of men? Jesus is called the Son of David. Does that mean he is inferior to David?

Erickson mentions it but doesn’t develop it. Let’s go back to the order of the Trinity: From the Father through the Son in the Holy Spirit. According to the gradationist model, with each term there is a diminution of authority. Logically, then, the Holy Spirit should be the bottom-rung. But if that is the case, then why is the Holy Spirit “casting Jesus” (εκβαλλω) into the wilderness (Mark 1:12)?

Philosophical Considerations

Ware says that the hierarchical structure of authority is part of the essence of the Trinity (Ware 2005, 21), that it “marks the very nature of God.” Erickson points out the problem with this line of reasoning: if authority over the Son is an essential attribute, the the subordination of the Son is essential. This means they are neither homoousion in essence or in relation (Erickson 172).

With regard to Grudem Erickson examines his argument:

G1: Differences of person require different roles
GC: Therefore, distinctions of persons require differences of authority

Erickson points out that Grudem is missing a key premise: “Differences of role require differences of authority” (185). And since they have not proved this (and if they had, they would be semi-Arians, given Ware’s earlier claim), then they must forfeit the debate.

Cons:

(1) Erikson seems to think that if you hold to the eternal generation, you have to hold to it literally in order for it to make sense, yet no Father ever said this.
(2) He is aware of Giles’s use of dyotheletism to criticize th EFS position, but he doesn’t like it.

Aside from these criticisms, the book is compelling, succinct, and occasionally fun to read.

Getting caught with their pants down

Seven years ago when i was exploring other Christian traditions and reading heavily in the early fathers (and all the leading monographs), I came to the conclusion that if you don’t make Triadology (or its correlate Christology) central, you risk getting your whole theological method wrong.

A number of Conference Calvinists said, “Nuh-uh.”

Well, here we are today.  My thoughts on the current fighting on the Trinity regarding complementarianism:

  1. CMBW (or complementarian advocates on the Trinity) say you shouldn’t exalt the Fathers over the Bible.  Well, it’s not the simple.  As Torrance pointed out, once you terms like Ὁμοουσιον become enshrined in Christian discourse, you can’t go backwards. Ὁμοουσιον safeguards the ontological structure and identity of of the essence.  If you jettison this doctrine, you risk jettisoning everything that goes with it.
  2. As it stands, the complementarians/EFS guys are wrong.   But they aren’t 100% wrong.  It is wrong of them to read roles and functions into the eternal being of God.  You end up with Arianism.  Since God’s being is simple and identical among the Persons, it just doesn’t work.  If the Son’s being is eternally subordinate and the Father’s isn’t, then by definition they don’t have the same Being.
  3. But they have noticed something.  There is a difference of taxis in the Trinity.  That’s what the Fathers call “monarchia.”
  4. Neither side has really come to grips with that.
  5. I suspect one of the reasons is that the Evangelical world only has two categories for the Trinity: Ontological and Economical.  The Fathers had a third category:  The Person.
  6. But the real reason is we just don’t talk about the Trinity, and if we do we don’t let the full import of Athanasius’s ontology change how we do everything.   For one, it’s hard.  Athanasius’s most important work is Contra Arianos.  It isn’t On the Incarnation.  And the former work is quite demanding.  You won’t get invited to TGC conferences speaking on an Athanasian metaphysics.