Theology Proper


God ForeknowA couple of years ago a friendly soul purchased Steven C. Roy’s book, How Much Does God Foreknow from my Ministry Resource List.  Other research, however, prevented me from getting to this book until now.

As the title implies, the purpose of the book is to explore the question of God’s foreknowledge. It is meant to be a critical evaluation of open theism, which is the view that God cannot know the future, free choices made by moral agents because the future does not exist. One of the strengths of Roy’s work is that he interacts directly with Open Theists, quoting them at length.  This avoids the potential for constructing a straw man argument, and allows the reader to consider Open Theists arguments for themselves.

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I have made two attempts at offering a rational argument for monotheism.  The first one failed, and Scalia challenged my second one.  I did not respond to his challenge immediately because I knew it would require some additional thought.  After putting it off for a while I have given it some additional thought, and concluded that my second attempt failed as well.   

I’ve been working on some additional arguments, but haven’t thought them through entirely.  If you were following the previous post, you might be interested in checking out the comments section again for my response to Scalia’s objection, and my new proposals.  Hopefully you can weigh in on their strengths and weaknesses.  If they seem to be sound, perhaps I’ll make them the subject of another post, “Omnipotence and Monotheism III”!

Oneness Pentecostals believe God is one in both essence and person, and that Jesus is the incarnation of this single divine person.  On this view, the deity of Jesus is numerically and personally identical to the deity of the Father.  The Father and Son differ, not in their person, but in their mode of existence.

A common Trinitarian objection to Oneness theology is that it entails the idea that the Father suffered, and even died on the cross.  The ancients called this view “Patripassianism” (Latin for “the Father suffers”) and deemed it heretical.  But why?

It is to be expected that Trinitarians would object to the claim that the Father suffered in Christ since they believe God is three persons, of whom only the second (God the Son) became incarnate.  The Trinitarian objection to Patripassianism, however, was not limited to the identity of the one who experienced the suffering, but extended to the very metaphysical possibility of the Father experiencing suffering.  On their view, it was more than just a factual/historical error to think God the Father was the divine person who experienced suffering in Christ; it was metaphysically impossible for Him to do so.  Only God the Son was capable of such.

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Oneness Pentecostals (OPs) have always struggled to explain the duality of activity and consciousness we see portrayed in Scripture between the Father and Son.  The Father is doing one thing, while the Son is doing another; the Father knows all things, while the Son knows only what the Father reveals to Him; the Father is prayed to, while the Son prays.  How can this distinction of activity and consciousness be explained other than in terms of multiple persons?  Admittedly, that would be the most obvious and natural explanation.  And yet, because we are persuaded that the Biblical affirmation of monotheism extends both to God’s essence and God’s person, OPs have sought an alternative explanation that is Biblically and philosophically sound.

The standard way of explaining the distinction of activity/consciousness between the Father and Son is to appeal to a duality of natures.  The human nature of Jesus is said to do X, while the divine nature of Jesus (the Father) is said to do Y.  On this account, Jesus’ prayers can be explained as the human nature praying to the divine nature.  What I find interesting about this explanation is that it simply swaps the word “person” for “nature.”  What Trinitarians refer to as “two persons,” we refer to as “two natures.”  Functionally speaking, the two phrases are equivalent, for both admit the presence and distinction of two metaphysically distinct entities.  On the Trinitarian view, there are two metaphysically distinct persons in communion with one another, whereas on the OP view, there are two metaphysically distinct natures in communion with one another.  The only substantive difference is that on the Trinitarian view both entities are divine, whereas in the OP view one is divine and one is human.

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Back in March I authored a post titled “Omnipotence and Monotheism,” in which I argued that the divine property of omnipotence does not prove monotheism as I had once thought because power is not a substance, and thus need not be exhausted by a single being.  Power is simply the ability to do some X.  Omnipotence, then, is just the property of possessing the ability to do any and all things that are logically possible to do.  It seemed logically possible to me that there could be more than one being who possessed the ability to do anything that is logically possible.  The only logical grounds I could see for postulating monotheism was the principle of parsimony: no more than one God is needed to explain phenomena such as the origin of the universe, and thus there is no reason to postulate more than one divine being.  Parsimony, however, does not make monotheism logically necessary.

With further dialogue on this topic in another forum, I believe I now have the logical grounds on which to conclude that monotheism is logically necessary, and ironically, it involves the divine property of omnipotence!  Any being – if he possesses the property of omnipotence – must possess the ability to destroy other beings, and yet two omnipotent beings could not destroy each other.  If omnipotent being A (OBA) cannot destroy omnipotent being B (OBB), then OBA lacks the power to do some X, and thus is not omnipotent after all.  The same would be true of OBB, leaving us without a being that is truly omnipotent.  And yet, if God is a metaphysically necessary being and omnipotence is a divine property, then omnipotence is a metaphysically necessary property.  Since the property of omnipotence can only obtain in a world in which a single being possesses such a property, there can only be one divine being.  While omnipotence does not prove monotheism in the manner I originally envisioned, omnipotence does make monotheism logically necessary.

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I have encountered a number of Oneness Pentecostals who not only object to the Trinitarian concept of God as “three persons,” but object to calling God a “person” at all.  In what follows, I provide typical objections offered against calling God a person, followed by a response.

Objection: The Bible never uses the term “person” of God
Response: The question is not whether the Bible uses the term per se, but whether the nature of God as described in Scripture can rightly be described as personable, given the definition of person: a conscious, rational, thinking, subject of various experiences (a mind).

Furthermore, the Bible does not speak of humans as “persons” either, and yet no one disputes the legitimacy of applying such a term to human beings.  The mere fact that such terminology is not used of God no more means that God is not accurately described as being a person than the absence of such terminology for humans means we are not accurately described as persons.  If we do not hesitate to call ourselves persons, neither should we hesitate to call God a person.

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I think a good argument can be made for the existence of God based on the existence of the universe.  We know the universe began to exist.  Given that whatever begins to exist requires a cause external to itself to bring it into existence, there must be a cause external to the universe to explain why it came into being.  Whatever brought time, space, and matter into existence cannot itself be temporal, spatial, and material, and thus the cause of the universe must be eternal, non-spatial, and immaterial.  Furthermore, the cause must be personal in nature since there are only two known sources of causation—events and personal agents—and it is impossible to explain the first event in terms of a prior event.  Therefore, an agent must be the cause of the universe.  A personal, eternal, non-spatial, and immaterial being is what most theists mean by “God.”

While I think this argument demonstrates the existence of the divine, it cannot tell us anything about the number of divine beings responsible for creating the universe.  There could be one, or there could be billions.  An additional argument is needed if one is going to prove the existence of one and only one God.  In the past I argued for monotheism on the basis of divine omnipotence.  I reasoned that the property of omnipotence cannot belong to more than one being, for if two or more beings have to share power, then neither being can be said to have “all” power.  So God, then, must be one if He is omnipotent.

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We know the NT speaks of “God” and “Father” regularly, but have you ever wondered how many times God is called “God” versus “Father,” or which appellation different NT authors prefer?  What about the NT use of “Son,” “Lord,” “Jesus,” and “Christ?  I have, so I took the time to research it, and here is what I found:

Mt =    Father =           43 times (all by Jesus)
Mt =    God =              42 times (27 by Jesus)
Mt =    Lord =             49 times (16 refer to God, 33 to Jesus)
Mt =    Son =               56 times
Mt =    Jesus =             182 times
Mt =    Christ =           12 times

Mk =   Father =           5 times (all by Jesus)
Mk =   God =              33 times (31 by Jesus)
Mk =   Lord =             14 times (7 refer to God, 7 to Jesus)
Mk =   Son =               24 times
Mk =   Jesus =             103 times
Mk =   Christ =           7 times

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If you have ever wondered whether it was possible for Christ to sin, please see my completely updated article on this topic at the Institute for Biblical Studies.  For those of you just looking for a quick answer, the answer is no.  If you want to know why, read the article!

I’ve often heard Christians appeal to Paul’s Damascus road experience in support of the deity of Christ. We read: “As he was going along, approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” 5 So he said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ He replied, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting!” (Acts 9:3-5)

It’s said that as a monotheistic Jew, Paul’s acknowledgement of Jesus as “Lord” is an explicit attribution of deity. I find this interpretation unlikely. First, the Greek word kurios simply means “master,” and is used of both human persons as well as God. The term applies to anyone who is in a position of authority over someone else. For example, we read that Sarah called Abraham “lord.” If anyone knew Abraham was not a god, it was Sarah! We have no reason to believe Paul used the term because He thought He was speaking to the one true God. He recognized that any voice speaking to him from heaven must be coming from someone who had authority over him, and thus addressed the as-of-yet unknown person with a term that acknowledged his authority.

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Oneness Pentecostals (OPs) understand Matthew 28:19 to refer to the name of Jesus Christ. Jesus said we are to be baptized in the name (singular) of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He did not say names (plural), which we would expect grammatically if He literally wanted us to repeat “in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” over the baptizee. His use of the singular “name,” as well as the context indicates He had a singular name in mind: His own = Jesus. Looking at how the apostles obeyed His command confirms this interpretation, for they always and only baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.

I’m taking this as a given. What I want to focus on is how “Jesus” is the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. OPs often interpret this verse to mean the name of the Father is Jesus, the name of the Son is Jesus, and the name of the Holy Spirit is Jesus. I am not persuaded this is the correct interpretation. Such an interpretation is foreign to the rest of Scripture. While Scripture identifies the name of the Son as Jesus, nowhere does it identify “Jesus” as the name of the Father and the name of the Holy Spirit. In fact, Scripture consistently uses Jesus/Son in contradistinction to Father and Holy Spirit. Jesus is used to refer to God’s human mode of existence as the Son/Messiah. Father is used to refer to God’s supracarnate existence (i.e. God’s existence beyond the incarnation). Scripture does not call the Father “Jesus” anymore than it calls Jesus “Father.” While Scripture teaches us that Jesus’ deity is the deity of the Father, it consistently distinguishes between the appellations “Father” and “Jesus” because these appellations are representative of the distinction in the uni-personal God’s modes of existence. To confuse the appellations is to confuse God’s two modes of existence: as God, as man. If we interpret Matthew 28:19 to mean the name of the Father is Jesus, however, we are doing just that: confusing the existential distinction between God’s existence as God, and His existence as man. If Scripture uses the name Jesus to refer to the Son and only the Son, we should not use it to refer to the Father and Holy Spirit as if it equally applies. While we may understand God to be one person, and recognize that Jesus’ deity is that of the Father, it does not give us license to use Biblical terms in unbiblical ways.

 

If you accept my reason for questioning the traditional interpretation, how do you think we should understand Jesus’ words? I have my own take on it, but I want to hold off sharing it until after I hear from you.

 

If you object to my reason for objecting to the traditional OP interpretation, and maintain the traditional view, what do you find problematic about my objection? Do you have any reasons you can provide me for accepting the traditional OP interpretation?

All of my Pentecostal life I have heard how the issues of baptism and the Oneness of God are joined at the hip. It’s been taught over and over again that one will not “see” baptism in Jesus’ name until they “see” the Oneness of God. That idea never sat quite right with me. I saw the connection, but did not see any logical connection. While an understanding of the Oneness of God is sufficient to see that we are to be baptized in Jesus’ name, I do not think it is necessary to see that we are to be baptized in Jesus’ name.

One not need not believe in the Oneness of God to see the validity of Jesus’ name baptism (I have heard there are Trinitarian churches that baptize in Jesus’ name, although I cannot point to any specific church). Indeed, even if God were a Trinity, it would not change the fact that the intended baptismal formula is the Jesus’ name formula. Think of prayer. The Bible is clear that prayer is to be “in Jesus’ name.” No Trinitarian argues that since God is a Trinity, one should pray “in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” They accept the teaching of Scripture that prayer is to be said exclusively in Jesus’ name, and do not see that as detracting from the Trinity. Likewise, the Jesus’ name formula-if the intended formula-poses no challenge to Trinitarian theology.

The question of how many persons are in the Godhead and the question of the proper baptismal formula are two related, but separate issues. To determine the number of persons in the Godhead we examine those passages that teach us about God. To determine the proper baptismal formula we look to those passages that instruct us on that matter. When we do, it becomes apparent that the early church interpreted Jesus’ command in Matthew 28:19 to baptize in the singular name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as a command to baptize in Jesus’ own name, as evidenced by their exclusive use of the Jesus’ name formula in evangelism.

The Jesus’ name formula makes sense given the purpose of baptism: to identify us with Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection (see Romans 6:1-4). In Trinitarian theology, the Father and Spirit did not die, were not buried, and were not resurrected. It was only Jesus. Therefore, even on a Trinitarian view it would be entirely reasonable to be baptized only in the name of Jesus.

I think all can agree that baptism in Jesus’ name makes more sense on a Oneness view of God, but the fact remains that both Trinitarians and Oneness believers alike can see (1) that the Jesus’ name formula is taught in Scripture, (2) that it is the authoritative apostolic interpretation of Jesus’ words in Matthew 28:19, (3) and that it makes theological sense to be baptized using the Jesus’ name formula given the purpose of baptism. We should continue to reach out to Trinitarians to help them understand the nature of God more perfectly, but we should not think their ability to see the validity of Jesus’ name baptism depends on their ability to see the Oneness of God.

Many Eastern religions make this claim about God. So do Muslims. Unfortunately it is incoherent.

To say God is unknowable is either a statement about God, or a statement about ourselves. If it is a statement about God it is an affirmation that he has no properties capable of being known. And yet having at least one property is what differentiates existence from non-existence. If God has no properties, then he doesn’t exist. If it is a statement about ourselves—our ability to know a God with specific properties—then it is self-refuting because the statement itself is a claim to know something about God: he is unknowable. If God was unknowable, we would not even be able to know that He was unknowable. This can be pointed out by asking, “How do you know God is unknowable if nothing can be known of God? Isn’t that something you know about him?”

Either way you look at it, that statement is incoherent.

“Prior” to the creation of the material universe ex nihilo there was no space or time. Because there was no time we conclude that God existed atemporally (timelessly). What about the absence of space? Would this not mean God existed non-spatially without creation? Yes it would. How does that conclusion square with the Biblical teaching that God is omnipresent? How can a being that is spaceless in nature be omnipresent? Is the Bible contradicting itself in its description of God’s nature? What exactly is the nature of God’s omnipresence? Has He always been omnipresent? These questions ought to cause us to think more clearly about what it means to say God is “omnipresent.”

 

To be all-present requires that there be a “here” and a “there” to be present at. Without the existence of spatial location the notion of omnipresence is meaningless. Seeing that there was no space “prior” to creation it follows that God was not omnipresent prior to creation.<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[1]<!–[endif]–> Omnipresence, then, is not an essential attribute of God’s nature; spacelessness is essential to God’s nature. “God existing alone without creation is spaceless.”<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[2]<!–[endif]–> God became omnipresent concurrent with creation in virtue of the creation of space.<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[3]<!–[endif]–> Omnipresence emerged as a contingent relation between God and the spatial universe.

 

What is the Nature of God’s Omnipresence?

 

While we have determined that God is spaceless without creation and omnipresent subsequent to creation, this does not tell us anything about the nature of His omnipresence. What does it mean to say God is omnipresent? Does it mean He is spatially located within and extended throughout the universe such that He is present at every point, or does it mean He is cognizant of and causally active at every point in the universe though He is neither spatially located in, nor spatially extended throughout it?<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[4]<!–[endif]–> While we have typically conceived of omnipresence in the first sense I would argue that God’s omnipresence is more aptly described by the second.

 

At a minimum God’s omnipresence means He is not localized anywhere within space, and that He lacks both shape and size. But if omnipresence refers to God’s extension through space He would have both shape and size because the universe has both shape and size. God is not extended through space so that He fills it like air fills a container. God is not a physical substance that can fill anything. God’s omnipresence in the universe is more comparable to the way in which our minds are “filled” with thoughts. Our thoughts are not spatially extended throughout our minds, and neither is God spatially extended throughout the universe.

 

If God were spatially present at every point in the universe He could not distinguish “here” from “there.” For a being that is spatially present at every point in the universe everywhere is here; everything is ever-present before Him. There is no “there” for such a being. If God were spatially extended through space He must believe that two points, separated by millions of light years, are both “here.”<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[5]<!–[endif]–> That would mean God could not know the Statue of Liberty is separated from the Eiffel Tower by thousands of miles. That is patently absurd, and impugns God’s omniscience! There must be a better way of understanding God’s omnipresence.

 

Has God Changed?

 

Earlier I argued that spacelessness, rather than omnipresence, is essential to God’s nature. Those properties that are essential to a substance cannot be changed without causing the substance to cease to exist. Only accidental properties can be changed if the substance is to retain its essence. If spacelessness is essential to God’s nature, then, how could God become omnipresent at creation without giving up the property of spacelessness and ceasing to be who He was? If God’s omnipresence is understood as a spatial location extended through space this is unavoidable, for He would be required to relinquish the property of spacelessness in order to assume the property of spatiality, and thus He would cease to exist as the divine essence He once was. If, however, God’s omnipresence is understood as God’s immediate mental cognizance of, and causal activity at every point in the universe then God’s omnipresence would not encroach on His essential spaceless nature. Mental cognizance and causal activity do not require spatial presence.

 

Additionally, there is nothing intrinsic to the act of creation that would require God to be drawn into space (spatialized). Creation was not a spatial act, therefore, we have no compelling reason to believe God surrendered His divine spacelessness and began to exist spatially subsequent to the act of creation. It stands to reason that God remained spaceless even subsequent to creation. If God remained spaceless His omnipresence must mean He is simply “cognizant of and causally active at every point of space”<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[6]<!–[endif]–>.

 

Conclusion

 

God’s omnipresence is an example of analogous language in which those incomprehensible aspects of God’s nature are described in terms finite humans can comprehend. We run into problems, however, when we take this use of language and apply it to God in literal terms. God is not spatially extended throughout the finite universe, but is cognizant of and causally active in each and every part of it as a non-spatial being. Because God is mentally cognizant of, rather than personally located at every point in the universe He can be both here and there, and know the difference between the two.

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<!–[endif]–>

<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[1]<!–[endif]–>To speak of that which was prior to creation is a figure of speech, similar to the way scientists speak of temperatures “lower than” absolute zero. It is a mental construct only, having no ontological basis in reality. The beginning of time is a boundary beyond which only our imagination can travel. Trying to find time before the beginning is like trying to cross the boundary of space into spacelessness. There is no space on the other side of space in which to cross over into, and likewise there is no time on the other side of the beginning to go back to.

<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[2]<!–[endif]–>William Lane Craig and J.P. Moreland, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 510.

<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[3]<!–[endif]–>Space was created by God, but that does not mean it was manufactured as if it were some physical substance. To say God “created” space merely expresses the fact that (1) space had a temporal beginning, and that (2) God is its causal agent. Space is not a physical substance, but a relation that obtains in virtue of the presence of finite and material objects. Just as time keeps every event from happening at once, space keeps everything from being located at the same point. In the utter absence of finite and material objects space would not obtain. God no more created something called space than we create the relation “next to” when we place two books side-by-side. Apart from the creation of matter there would be no space (or time for that matter), for it is only the creation of material substance that necessitates there be space in which the matter can exist, and time in which the matter can move. Space and time “came along for the ride” in virtue of the creation of matter, but they were not the objects of creation itself. The relations of space and time emerged with the existence of matter. Space is a contingent relation emerging concomitantly with the presence of material substance.

<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[4]<!–[endif]–>William Lane Craig and J.P. Moreland, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 510.

<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[5]<!–[endif]–>William Lane Craig and J.P. Moreland, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 510.

<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[6]<!–[endif]–>William Lane Craig and J.P. Moreland, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 510.

“Look, you’re not going to come up with the Nicene Creed by just picking up the Bible. Does the Bible contribute to our understanding? Absolutely it does; the Nicene Creed is consistent with Scripture. But you needed a church that had a self-understanding in order to articulate that in any clear way.”—Frank Beckwith

 

http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2007/mayweb-only/119-33.0.html

“Prior” to the creation of the material universe ex nihilo there was no space or time. Because there was no time we conclude that God existed atemporally (timelessly). What about the absence of space? Would this not mean God existed non-spatially without creation? Yes it would. How does that conclusion square with the Biblical teaching that God is omnipresent? How can a being that is spaceless in nature be omnipresent? Is the Bible contradicting itself in its description of God’s nature? What exactly is the nature of God’s omnipresence? Has He always been omnipresent? These questions ought to cause us to think more clearly about what it means to say God is “omnipresent.”

To be all-present requires that there be a “here” and a “there” to be present at. Without the existence of spatial location the notion of omnipresence is meaningless. Seeing that there was no space “prior” to creation it follows that God was not omnipresent prior to creation.1 Omnipresence, then, is not an essential attribute of God’s nature; spacelessness is essential to God’s nature. “God existing alone without creation is spaceless.”2 God became omnipresent concurrent with creation in virtue of the creation of space.3 Omnipresence emerged as a contingent relation between God and the spatial universe. (more…)

Quote of the day:

 

“The concept of God is general and benign–no real threat. But if you talk about Jesus, sparks fly. Jesus is God with a face, not the fill-in-the-blank variety we conform to our own tastes. He can’t be twisted and distorted and stuffed in our back pocket. And that bothers people. If God is silent, it’s anyone’s game. We can speculate all we want and think what we like. But if God speaks, then our opinions don’t matter. He’s the authority on what He’s like and what He wants. We have to take Him as He is, shy brunette or fiery redhead, on His terms not ours.”–Greg Koukl

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