Theology Proper


Story of ChristianityMuch of the Bible is written in narrative form.  It tells a story – a true story, but a story nonetheless.  There is a lot of information in the Bible to digest, and it’s easy to get lost in the details and miss the big picture.  So how does one put it all together?  What is the essence of the Biblical story?  What is the basic story line from Genesis to Revelation?  Various attempts have been to condense the major themes and events in the Bible into a coherent, terse story line.  Here is my attempt to arrange the puzzle pieces into a clear picture, such as it is.  I hope it will tie together some loose ends that may exist in your mind and offer you a bird’s-eye view of the greatest story ever told: (more…)

OmnipotentSome people claim the existence of God cannot be falsified.  As I have argued elsewhere, this is not true. One way to falsify God’s existence is to show that the concept of God is logically incoherent. This can be done by demonstrating that two or more supposed divine attributes are logically incompatible. For example, it has been argued that omnipotence and omnibenevolence are logically incompatible.

The objection

The argument is set forth along these lines: Omnipotence entails the power to actualize any state of affairs that is logically possible to actualize. There is nothing logically incoherent about an omnipotent being committing evil, so omnipotence must include the power to actualize a world in which the omnipotent being commits evil. As an omnibenevolent being, however, God is incapable of committing evil.  Therefore, God cannot be omnipotent.  While a being can be either omnibenevolent or omnipotent, no being can be both omnibenevolent and omnipotent.  Since the theistic concept of God entails both, the God of theism cannot exist.

Areas of agreement

How might the theist respond to this objection?  Let us start with some points of agreement.  First, we agree that God must be both omnipotent and omnibenevolent.  Theistic philosophers have long held that the concept of God is that of the greatest conceivable being (GCB).  God is a being of which a greater cannot be conceived.  If we can conceive of some being Y who is greater than the being we call God, then being Y is the true God. Since it is greater to be all-powerful than partially powerful, the GCB must possess the property of being all-powerful.  Likewise, since it is greater to be all-good than partially good, the GCB must possess the property of being all-good.

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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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