Monday, January 24, 2011

Trinitarian Theology After Barth (Part 1)

Every so often, I browse the new books section at the GCTS library. I'm usually disappointed. But this past Saturday, I was pleasantly surprised; I stumbled across a recent collection of essays entitled Trinitarian Theology after Barth, eds. Myk Habets and Phillip Tolliday. Contributors include Paul Molnar, Bruce McCormack, Ben Myers, and John Webster. Since I'm a fan of Molnar's work and he writes the opening chapter, I decided to begin with his essay entitled "The Role of the Holy Spirit in Knowing the Triune God." After I checked out this book and made my way out of the library, I quickly read this opening paragraph:
If contemporary theologians were to make explicit the role of the Holy Spirit in enabling our knowledge of the triune God, then there could be wide agreement that natural theology of whatever stripe is not only unhelpful, but is directly excluded from any serious understanding of theological epistemology.
I immediately let out a huge sigh of relief. Finally, after almost years of questioning and confusion, I found someone who agrees with my hesitations about the classic formulation of natural theology. I have heard what seems like countless scholars, peers, and professors argue for the validity and justification of natural theology in conjunction with the indispensible role of the Holy Spirit. However, unless these same westerners want to deny the filioque clause, I have never understood how the work of the Holy Spirit does not automatically negate the possibility of natural theology. Does not the entire word natural assume that human beings have some innate capacity - by whatever degree - to comprehend the existence of God? It has always seemed to me that once talk of the Holy Spirit enters the equation, the word natural should necessarily vanish. For this reason, I have always believed that those who say they believe one can have knowledge of God apart from special revelation (the Holy Scriptures, knowledge of Christ, etc.) either 1) only pay lip service to the role of the Holy Spirit or 2) deny the filioque clause thus believing that individuals can come to know the Father apart from the Son.

Getting back to Molnar's essay, he goes on to point out that some scholars, such as John Courtney Murray, argue that "we can know that God is but we cannot know what he is" (5). There are no shortage of Christian philosophers who believe and passionately argue that one can believe God's exists without knowing who this God is. Such philosophers usually have an abundance of literature that label God with names like "the first Cause" or the "Ultimate Being" thus stripping Him of all the names God has given of Himself through His self-revelation. Molnar asserts that to separate the question of God's existence from His identity "is the first mistake that follows from failing to realize that our knowledge of who or what God is comes positively to meet us in Christ and thus through his Spirit as an act of God" (7). In effect, the question becomes what role the Son possesses in relation to the Father if the Son is ultimately unnecessary for knowledge of God. Furthermore, such an affirmation of knowledge of God apart from the encounter with Jesus Christ inevitably separates the work of the Spirit from the Son. To me, this paves the way for a type of inclusivity that I fear is unintended by most who advocate such a way forward.

Unfortunately, I started writing this entry much later than I planned. I'll have to continue this at a later date.

47 comments:

Marc Belcastro said...

Kaitlyn:

Judging by the table of contents, Trinitarian Theology after Barth seems like a volume worth having.

>> “However, unless these same westerners want to deny the filioque clause, I have never understood how the work of the Holy Spirit does not automatically negate the possibility of natural theology.”

I’m not sure why the work of the Spirit should be understood as automatically negating natural theology. It seems to me quite plausible that the Spirit would employ and make good use out of (at least some of) the deliverances of natural theology. Our experience seems overwhelmed by natural theological considerations, such as the majesty of the natural order and our (seeming) apprehension of moral values and duties.

But if one were to insist that, by virtue of the Spirit’s “enabling our knowledge of the triune God,” “natural theology…is not only unhelpful, but is directly excluded from any serious understanding of theological epistemology,” I worry that this might prove too much. According to this rationale, why not suppose that things like reading Scripture, attending church, evangelism, and other similar activities are directly excluded by the work of the Spirit with respect to our theological epistemology? The Spirit, after all, needn’t use any elements of our experience (broadly construed), for He could interact with and communicate to us directly, from within. Put differently, why can’t Molnar’s rationale be extended to positively exclude everything which is non-Spirit (as it were)?

>> “Does not the entire word natural assume that human beings have some innate capacity - by whatever degree - to comprehend the existence of God?”

I don’t believe that the word “natural” implies this, but what’s wrong with assuming that humans possess such a capacity, or something like a divine sense? If we do, then it appears to follow that God is responsible for our being in possession of it. If we don’t, then perhaps natural theology serves to facilitate our awareness of God’s existence, which, in conjunction with the Spirit’s (other) efforts, may further serve to incline us to accepting the deliverances of special revelation when presented to us.

Marc Belcastro said...

>> “For this reason, I have always believed that those who say they believe one can have knowledge of God apart from special revelation (the Holy Scriptures, knowledge of Christ, etc.) either 1) only pay lip service to the role of the Holy Spirit or 2) deny the filioque clause thus believing that individuals can come to know the Father apart from the Son.”

This appears to be a false disjunction, for, as suggested above, the Spirit may employ natural theology in helping us come to enjoy knowledge of God. Also, Scripture itself seems to endorse the idea that God’s existence can be discerned apart from special revelation. Further, (2) appears to ignore the distinction between inferential knowledge of God and relational knowledge of God (or knowledge by acquaintance). We might say that the former concerns knowledge of God-as-Creator, while the latter concerns knowledge of God-as-Redeemer, or something more intimate than God-as-Creator. Knowledge of God-as-Creator may give us various facts about God, but this is surely different than coming to have knowledge of Him by being in a relationship with Him. On the basis of inferential knowledge, it doesn’t seem unlikely that God might acquire names like “First Cause” or “Ultimate Being.” But on the basis of more relational knowledge of God, names such as “Father,” “Savior,” or “Comforter” become more appropriate.

It might be worth noting that the Spirit occupies a supremely prominent position in William Lane Craig’s epistemology, himself a proponent of natural theology. I describe the Spirit’s position as “supremely prominent” because, as I understand Craig’s view, he holds that the Spirit can function as an intrinsic defeater-defeater (a term borrowed from Plantinga). Craig explains that an “intrinsic defeater–defeater is a belief that is so powerfully warranted that it defeats the putative defeater brought against it without any need of additional beliefs to come to the rescue.” He continues: “In application to the witness of the Holy Spirit, my claim is that God can so powerfully warrant Christian beliefs that they become intrinsic defeaters of the defeaters lodged against them, so that, yes, they remain both properly basic and warranted.” Lastly, when expressing some reservations about an aspect of Plantinga’s Reformed Epistemology, Craig says, “I’m inclined to place more emphasis on the witness of the Holy Spirit rather than on some innate cognitive faculty.”

--- Marc

P.S. The new blog décor looks nice.

Andrew Esqueda said...

Kait, thanks for the post and your thoughts. I'm glad to know that this book is worth reading. In regards to your thoughts on natural theology - I think you are absolutely right. The reason why Plantinga and WLC affirm a form of natural theology is because of their prior philosophical commitments. It seems like you have some good thoughts regarding the role of the Spirit in human knowledge of God, but I think the real issue is that natural theology is abstract knowledge of God. Barth affirms that God is both subject and object of revelation. As subject, God is the acting subject of revelation, that is, God reveals God-self, and as object, God is the object of human knowledge.

Natural theology, however, cannot guarantee that God is the subject of revelation. Consequently one cannot be sure that both the subject and content of revelation is in fact Jesus Christ. Natural knowledge of God can lead only to an abstract metaphysical subject, to a supreme being, to and actus purus, but natural knowledge apart from a prior enlightening by Christ cannot itself lead to Christ. In Barth's "Nein" response to Emil Brunner, he goes as far as saying that there is no guarantee that the subject of natural revelation is not a demon. On a final note, God reveals God-self, we have no part in God's revelation, we receive we do not act. Humans cannot posses God, thus, we cannot posses revelation apart from God's self revelation. God is known by way of Jesus Christ, or not at all; metaphysics cannot lead us to the cross, it can only lead us to the "no" God, but not God's "yes" in Christ.

I recommend reading "Orthodox and Modern" by Bruce L. McCormack. There are some great essays in the book that would be beneficial to read. In particular, he has an essay on the limits of the knowledge of God. Also reading the first chapter of Barth's Romans commentary would valuable. Thanks again for the post

Marc Belcastro said...

Andrew:

Hello. I hope you don’t mind if I make a few comments on your comments. =)

>> “The reason why Plantinga and WLC affirm a form of natural theology is because of their prior philosophical commitments.”

I’m inclined to think that Craig and Plantinga would disagree, and they may even suggest that, on many occasions, it’s primarily the other way around. Although Craig might be more sympathetic to the project of natural theology (and that might not be the case anymore), they both believe that there are good reasons to affirm that God exists, and several of these reasons could be classified as natural theological arguments. At any rate, I’m not sure what prior philosophical commitments would motivate them to favorably regard natural theology. Would you mind elaborating?

>> “…but I think the real issue is that natural theology is abstract knowledge of God.”

Even if the natural theologian were to concede (and it’s unclear that she would without clarification about what you mean by “abstract”), abstract knowledge still constitutes genuine knowledge. And it appears that (at least some) natural theological arguments may furnish a moderately detailed portrait of God. For example, Craig argues that the kalam cosmological argument provides good grounds for believing in a being who is uncaused, timeless, changeless, immaterial, enormously powerful, personal, and the creator of the universe. (As an aside: because Craig holds that God entered into time at the moment of creation, he naturally wouldn’t say that God is still timeless, and he would further qualify God’s changelessness so as to be compatible with his view of God’s temporality.) Craig admits that this doesn’t demonstrate the existence of the Christian God, but I think he would also note that many natural theological arguments aren’t designed to do so.

>> “Natural theology, however, cannot guarantee that God is the subject of revelation.”

Assuming I understand what you mean by “guarantee,” I think it’d be difficult to secure such a guarantee even from special revelation. There aren’t many things which we know with absolute certainty, which means that some degree of skepticism is generally possible, even if it’s implausible or unwarranted.

Andrew Esqueda said...

Hi Marc,

In regards to your first comment. I'm referring to substance metaphysics. Your third comment corroborates my claim simply by way of speaking of a cosmological argument. Craig is working with a general ontology (See, Eberhard Jüngel, "God's Being is in Becoming," 76). Natural theology is concerned with a being who is uncaused, timeless, changeless, immaterial, enormously powerful,personal, and creator of the universe. Conversely, I am concerned with the God of the cross. There is no comological argument that can lead to the cross; such an argument can lead to nothing, but an abstract metaphysical being.

In regards to your second comment. By "abstract" knowledge of God I mean any and all knowledge claims without reference to Jesus Christ. Natural theology is an abstraction because it attempts to gain knowledge of God by way of metaphysics and not God Himself. And I don't think abstract knowledge constitutes genuine knowledge. Knowledge of what? That's what I'm getting at. What exactly does natural theology give us knowledge of? A being, maybe. But certainly not Jesus Christ. To know God is to know God's benefits, that is, the atoning work of the cross. Furthermore, if natural theology is not designed to demonstrate the existence of God or affirm that we can actually know God (contra Kant), then what is its purpose?

I think there is a misunderstanding in regards to your third comment. There is a disconnect because I am working with an entirely different understanding of what "revelation" means. I reject and conception of "general" or "special" revelation. There is only "one" revelation and that revelation is the person and work of Christ. Thus one can guarantee that Christ is the subject of revelation only when it is in fact Jesus Christ Himself. When I speak of revelation I am referring specifically to the historical existence of Christ and not an abstract notion of knowledge.

I hope this helps clarify

Marc Belcastro said...

Andrew:

Thanks for the helpful clarifications.

>> “In regards to your first comment. I'm referring to substance metaphysics.”

Are you suggesting that Craig and Plantinga’s prior commitment to substance-based metaphysics is the reason they support natural theology? If so, can you explain your rationale? In my judgment, there’s nothing about substance-based metaphysics which obviously entails or necessitates an endorsement of natural theology, and I imagine that many naturalists and atheists affirm substance-based metaphysics.

>> “Natural theology is concerned with a being who is uncaused, timeless, changeless, immaterial, enormously powerful, personal, and creator of the universe. Conversely, I am concerned with the God of the cross.”

Do you deny that the God of the cross has these attributes, or that the God of natural theology and the God of the cross aren’t the same?

>> “There is no comological argument that can lead to the cross; such an argument can lead to nothing, but an abstract metaphysical being.”

Setting aside any natural theological arguments based on considerations about Christ’s resurrection, it seems to me that your complaint doesn’t indicate a deficiency with natural theology itself. Natural theology isn’t expected or intended to be a replacement for Scripture, or to be a source of the answers for our most important theological questions.

>> “In regards to your second comment. By "abstract" knowledge of God I mean any and all knowledge claims without reference to Jesus Christ.”

This seems to be unnecessarily restrictive. For aren’t there numerous knowledge claims about God, arising from Scripture, which don’t make reference to Christ? For instance, there are robust, biblically faithful statements about the Father and the Spirit (respectively) without needing to make reference to Christ.

Marc Belcastro said...

Continued from above.

>> “And I don't think abstract knowledge constitutes genuine knowledge. Knowledge of what? That's what I'm getting at. What exactly does natural theology give us knowledge of?”

If abstract knowledge doesn’t constitute genuine knowledge, and abstract knowledge of God includes “all knowledge claims without reference to Jesus Christ,” then all claims about the Father and Spirit which don’t make reference to Christ don’t constitute genuine knowledge. But this contradicts important aspects of Scripture, and if would further require that we ignore important portions of Scripture. Moreover, if abstract knowledge doesn’t constitute genuine knowledge, then it seems inaccurate to call it abstract knowledge. To answer your question, I think that natural theology gives us knowledge of God’s existence and of some of His attributes.

>> “To know God is to know God's benefits, that is, the atoning work of the cross.”

Wouldn’t this imply that if you lived before Christ, you didn’t really know God?

>> “Furthermore, if natural theology is not designed to demonstrate the existence of God or affirm that we can actually know God (contra Kant), then what is its purpose?”

I noted that, with respect to the kalam argument and many other natural theological arguments, they’re not designed to demonstrate the existence of the Christian God. That is, I don’t mean to suggest that natural theology gives us reason to believe in the existence of some other religion’s God. Rather, many natural theological arguments are often non-committal regarding the various religious traditions. Many of these arguments are generally designed to substantiate something like bare theism.

>> “I reject and conception of ‘general’ or ‘special’ revelation. There is only ‘one’ revelation and that revelation is the person and work of Christ. Thus one can guarantee that Christ is the subject of revelation only when it is in fact Jesus Christ Himself.”

But how does one guarantee that “the subject of revelation…is in fact Jesus Christ Himself”? Isn’t it always possible that one is suffering from a massive, systematic delusion? I certainly don’t think this is plausible, but a guarantee (as I understand it) should render it an impossibility.

Andrew Esqueda said...

Hi Marc,

-"Are you suggesting that Craig and Plantinga’s prior commitment to substance-based metaphysics is the reason they support natural theology? If so, can you explain your rationale?"

Substance metaphysics is concerned with a supreme being or primary substance. Knowledge of this supreme being is gained by way of cosmological, ontological, and teleological arguments, etc. My point is that knowledge of God is reduced to metaphysical theory. Consequently the doctrine of God as well as revelation become grounded in metaphysics and not God Himself as revealed in concrete existence. Christian theology on the other hand, is not concerned with a supreme being or primary substance, but a particular being. This is exactly what I meant in reference to the God of natural theology being the result of a general ontology. Barth's theology is a prime example of a rejection of metaphysics as the controlling factor in Christian theology. God as a result is not known as a general being or supreme substance, but as Christ.

-"Do you deny that the God of the cross has these attributes, or that the God of natural theology and the God of the cross aren’t the same?"

No, I don't deny that the God of the cross has these attributes. But, I do deny that the God of natural theology is the same God of the cross. This is the basis of much of my rejection of natural theology - the God of natural theology is an ambiguous divine being, and not the God of the cross.

-"...it seems to me that your complaint doesn’t indicate a deficiency with natural theology itself. Natural theology isn’t expected or intended to be a replacement for Scripture, or to be a source of the answers for our most important theological questions."

Then what is the point? What does it accomplish? What does it do for the Church? This is exactly why natural theology has its basis in philosophy. It is not concerned with the God of the cross.

-"This seems to be unnecessarily restrictive. For aren’t there numerous knowledge claims about God, arising from Scripture, which don’t make reference to Christ? For instance, there are robust, biblically faithful statements about the Father and the Spirit (respectively) without needing to make reference to Christ."

I don't necessarily disagree with you. But reference to the Spirit and the Father only make sense in light of our knowledge of the triune God by way of Jesus Christ. I think there is still a disconnect between our understandings of revelation. There is a difference, as Barth noted in the Göttingen Dogmatics as well as Church Dogmatics I, that there is a difference between revelation occurred and God reveals God-self. Thus revelation, that is, the historical existence of Christ, happened at a specific time, and it is only by way of scripture and the preaching of the Word that the witness of revelation continues. I wholly affirm that God could speak through a dead dog if God so chose, but I don't find this to be the normative way in which gives knowledge of God-self.

Andrew Esqueda said...

continued...

="But this contradicts important aspects of Scripture, and if would further require that we ignore important portions of Scripture. Moreover, if abstract knowledge doesn’t constitute genuine knowledge, then it seems inaccurate to call it abstract knowledge. To answer your question, I think that natural theology gives us knowledge of God’s existence and of some of His attributes."

I don't think this requires that we reject any part of scripture; sorry I don't quite follow. I don't find the problem in calling natural knowledge abstract knowledge. I agree that natural theology leads to knowledge of God's existence and some of God's attributes, but that's not Christ. Natural theology gives us nothing other than that-than-which-no-greater-can-be-conceived, and I don't think we can call knowledge of that divine subject, God. What do you then mean by God? Certainly not Christ. This is knowledge of what Barth calls the "no" God; an abstract metaphysical subject whose content is not Jesus Christ. (These knowledge claims abstract God's being from God's actions). Furthermore, I don't want to reduce revelation to simply epistemic knowledge. To know God is to know God's benefits; to know God is to know the saving effects of God. Revelation has both epistemic as well as ontological significance.

-"Wouldn’t this imply that if you lived before Christ, you didn’t really know God?"

This is a good question, and I think it has much to do with how you understand God's covenant with Israel. God has a covenant with Israel, which will not be broken, and I affirm that Israel had knowledge of God. I don't affirm that that knowledge of God is in some way abstract from Christ being both subject and content of that knowledge. This has much to do with my understanding of the doctrine of God, and in particular, the preexistence of Christ. This could go off a tangent so I won't say much more than that.

-"That is, I don’t mean to suggest that natural theology gives us reason to believe in the existence of some other religion’s God. Rather, many natural theological arguments are often non-committal regarding the various religious traditions. Many of these arguments are generally designed to substantiate something like bare theism."

Then I don't understand what place natural theology has in Christian theology.

-"But how does one guarantee that “the subject of revelation…is in fact Jesus Christ Himself”? Isn’t it always possible that one is suffering from a massive, systematic delusion? I certainly don’t think this is plausible, but a guarantee (as I understand it) should render it an impossibility."

This, again, has to do with our different working definitions of revelation. I hope my previous comments help clear this up. And I do think it is possible to guarantee that Christ is the subject and object of revelation for the mere fact that revelation means, Christ Himself.

Thanks for the conversation.

Kait Dugan said...

I'm glad I didn't say anything sooner, it has been nice to read this exchange.

Marc - Without seeming as though I'm failing to respond to you, I think Andrew has done a great job of saying everything I would say and more.

Andrew - Thanks for your comment. I believe you are completely right in saying that the heart of the issue is metaphysical knowledge about God. I was simply commenting on the first few pages that I found refreshing to read, especially the first quote I cited. Even though Molnar uses seminal figures like Barth and Torrance as examples of those advocating his position in regards to theological epistemology, I wasn't particularly speaking about Barth in my post. I was commenting more generally on those who believe that such metaphysical knowledge of God is possible while at the same time arguing for the role of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps if I had more time, I could have offered the type of clarity you brought in your comment.

Also, I realize that some do not wish to make a dichotomy between natural and special revelation since those influenced by Barth and others would say there is One revelation. For the sake of clarity and the people that read my blog, I used the term "special." Somehow I need to get out of this habit if I am going to embrace the idea that natural theology is not the way in which God (usually) chooses to reveal Himself to humanity.

Andrew Esqueda said...

Kait,
Getting out of the habit of speaking about "special" revelation is something that I once struggled with as well. It's an axiom ingrained in much of our theological teaching. I'm glad I stumbled across your blog. I hope there is a part 2 coming soon.

Nathaniel Maddox said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nathaniel Maddox said...

Perhaps the exchange is over, but if I could push this argument further and muddy up the waters a bit more,

First Andrew:

>> “Natural theology is concerned with a being who is uncaused, timeless, changeless, immaterial, enormously powerful, personal, and creator of the universe. Conversely, I am concerned with the God of the cross.”

Then, Marc:

>> "Do you deny that the God of the cross has these attributes, or that the God of natural theology and the God of the cross aren’t the same?"

I would say that if one is to believe in the God of the cross, then all of these traditional "metaphysical" attributes have to be reconsidered and thrown into an entirely different light -- a light that necessarily renders them something entirely different and thereby renders the logical-speculative path taken to arrive at them null. Futhermore, some of them have to be outright rejected (particularly a number of them that weren't listed, i.e. impassibility and indeterminability).:

Take, for instance, God as uncaused. I can go with this in that God is autotheos, but if I am to find my way to this so to speak it cannot be through the via triplex or any other speculative path that arrives at God as creator independent of (1) God's personalism (2) made known by and to some extent ontically realized in Jesus Christ (3) thus giving knowledge of God's truinty. The via triplex or any other philosophical path doesn't get me Jesus or a Triune God, it only gets me a God where uncaused means something entirely different. The same goes for personalism, one that is especially difficult to get arrive at through so-called natural theology without some jumps from analogies that never prove logically reliable.

As far as all-powerful is concerned, this is an obvious problem when we come to the God of the cross and a Christology that verifies the suffering of God. Eberhard Juengel says somewhere that Nyssa did well talking about God as Greater than all Greatness, but Luther did better when he coupled that with talking about God as Weaker than all Weakness. This once again demonstrates that the God arrived at independently of God's objective self-revelation in Jesus Christ OR that supplements/prefigures that revelation misses the God of the Cross and this God's attributes altogether.

Finally, if we are to take this from an athropological stand-point, taking Calvin's maxim -- "Without knowledge of self, there is no knowledge of God" and vice versa -- we can see all the more that the Gods we are talking about are in every way qualitatively different. Like Marc says, many natural theologians do not commit to religious tradition but still affirm a brand of theism. This cannot be so for the Christian God because the encounter/coming to knowledge of this God is quintessentially personal and person forming.

Anyways, those are my two cents. = )
Look forward to seeing what you think about McCormacks piece, Kate!

Nathaniel Maddox said...

sorry, KAIT, my bad ...

Andrew Esqueda said...

Nathaniel,
So, I was entirely to fast in agreeing that the God of the cross has the attributes mentioned above. That being said, I certainly agree that the attributes of God must be reconsidered in light of the cross, in fact now that I really consider the conversation, apart from God being personal and creator, I entirely reject these attributes.

Uncaused: God is certainly caused; God is also not unmoved. But what has to be considered in light of these affirmations is that the cause of God and the movement of God are self moved and self caused. God is not static; God moves God-self. But there is no way in which we can come to a knowledge of Jesus Christ by way of metaphysical speculation on the cause or moving of God. It is only by way of Christ that we can come to the conclusion that God moves God-self.

Timeless: I reject the idea that God is timeless, but at the same time God is not bound by time. I am not learned enough, at this point, regarding issues of time and eternity to say much more.

Changeless: I think not. If we are going to affirm that Jesus Christ is the God-human then we have to affirm immutability. If Jesus Christ is the second person of the Trinity then God certainly suffers and any attempt to attribute the suffering of the cross to Christ's humanity alone is utterly nestorian.

All powerful: Nathaniel, I think you are entirely right on this point. What many people are trying to get at by way of affirming God as all powerful is a heightened sense of God's freedom. On this account, I affirm that God is the God of the cross - that is, the God who loves in freedom. God’s freedom is in the strongest sense God’s freedom in and for God-self. God’s freedom in and for God-self is God’s freedom to be the God who “is” and to determine God-self. God’s determination for revelation and limitation of His freedom in His union with humanity, in His covenant, is ultimately the utmost and fullest utilization of God’s freedom—God’s internally conditioned freedom is the freedom for external conditioning.

I hope this helps to clear up where I stand. Thanks for your thoughts.

Marc Belcastro said...

Kaitlyn:

No worries. Thanks for the note. =)

Marc Belcastro said...

Andrew:

Thanks for, and for continuing, the conversation. Sorry about the delay in responding.

>> “Substance metaphysics is concerned with a supreme being or primary substance.”

From what I understand, substance-based metaphysics doesn’t involve, or at least doesn’t require, any particular theistic commitments. Instead, it basically concerns the underlying ontological nature or composition of things, usually by applying the fundamental categories of “substance,” “property,” “essence,” and “accident.” As noted above, my understanding is that an atheist or a naturalist may consistently adopt a substance-based metaphysics, but their endorsement would be problematic if this metaphysical framework has theistic implications.

>> “My point is that knowledge of God is reduced to metaphysical theory. Consequently the doctrine of God as well as revelation become grounded in metaphysics and not God Himself as revealed in concrete existence.”

If God has disclosed Himself in a manner favorable to the natural theological enterprise, which Romans 1 appears to suggest, then the natural theologian is concerned to acquire knowledge of God which is indeed provided by, if not also grounded in, God Himself. Far from arising out of some metaphysical theory, one of the primary purposes of natural theology is discovering and considering the various ways God has intentionally revealed Himself.

>> “This is exactly what I meant in reference to the God of natural theology being the result of a general ontology. Barth's theology is a prime example of a rejection of metaphysics as the controlling factor in Christian theology.”

I don’t think that advocates of natural theology would agree that their project is “the result of a general ontology” (however that might be construed) or that metaphysics is “the controlling factor in Christian theology.” These criticisms don’t strike me as being applicable.

>> “But, I do deny that the God of natural theology is the same God of the cross. This is the basis of much of my rejection of natural theology - the God of natural theology is an ambiguous divine being, and not the God of the cross.”

Can you elaborate on what you mean by “ambiguous”?

If the natural theologian is a Christian theist, it seems to me that she’s warranted in (or can achieve warrant for) holding that natural theology and Christian theology both concern the same God. It would be highly unusual if she held that natural theology yields reason to believe in the existence of one entity and that Christian theology yields reason to believe in the existence of another entity. Also, the natural theologian needn’t (and shouldn’t) be committed to supposing that natural theology is suited to communicate everything (or everything important) about the God of Christianity. The project has certain parameters, but being incomplete doesn’t entail being inaccurate

Marc Belcastro said...

[Continued from above.]

>> “Then what is the point? What does it accomplish? What does it do for the Church?”

To begin with, I believe it shows non-theists that theism is capable of being intellectually sophisticated and rationally affirmed. Natural theology might also serve to enhance the Christian theist’s confidence in evangelizing; it might help fortify his belief in times of doubt; and it might function as an instrument of the Spirit in drawing unbelievers to Himself. (Regarding the apologetic value of natural theology, Craig suggests that such arguments and evidence might allow theism to be considered an intellectually viable option for non-theists.) Additionally, some of the content of natural theology (like aspects of the created order) may be important for God’s self-disclosure to the (so-called) unevangelized, for God may wish to make Himself accessible or knowable from anywhere, especially those locations to which special revelation hasn’t (yet) reached.

>> “But reference to the Spirit and the Father only make sense in light of our knowledge of the triune God by way of Jesus Christ.”

But doesn’t this have the unfortunate consequence that everyone—including all of the biblical figures—who lived prior to Christ couldn’t make sensible or meaningful reference to the Father and Spirit? If this is right, it would appear to render much of the Old Testament incoherent.

>> “I don't think this requires that we reject any part of scripture; sorry I don't quite follow.”

You made two claims about abstract knowledge, and they seem to create a problem when taken together. First, you said, “By ‘abstract’ knowledge of God I mean any and all knowledge claims without reference to Jesus Christ.” Second, you said, “I don’t think abstract knowledge constitutes genuine knowledge.” In response, I said, “[T]hen all claims about the Father and Spirit which don’t make reference to Christ don’t constitute genuine knowledge.” The problem, as I see it, is that considerable portions of Scripture appear to make claims about the Father and Spirit without also making reference to Christ. And if these portions don’t constitute genuine knowledge (about God or anything else), why should we take them seriously or regard them as part of God’s revelation?

Marc Belcastro said...

[Continued from above. I tried submitting this comment already, but it looks like blogger swallowed it whole. Sorry if this one happens to show up twice.]

>> “I agree that natural theology leads to knowledge of God's existence and some of God's attributes, but that's not Christ.”

I’m guessing that many proponents of natural theology wouldn’t be displeased with this result. In any event, it’s probably more than Barth would’ve been willing to concede.

>> “Natural theology gives us nothing other than that-than-which-no-greater-can-be-conceived, and I don't think we can call knowledge of that divine subject, God. What do you then mean by God? Certainly not Christ.”

If it’s true that natural theology gives us Anselm’s maximally perfect being, or makes Anselmian theism plausible, then it seems to me that natural theology has performed an extremely valuable service. But what would prevent us from calling such a being God, and what support do we have for the claim that this being certainly isn’t Christ? Although the natural theologian may agree that natural theology doesn’t entitle us to infer that its Anselmian being is indeed Christ, her acknowledgement doesn’t mean that such a being isn’t Christ.

>> “…I think it has much to do with how you understand God's covenant with Israel. God has a covenant with Israel, which will not be broken, and I affirm that Israel had knowledge of God.”

But isn’t what you’ve said here inconsistent with what you said earlier? Earlier, you said, “To know God is to know God’s benefits, that is, the atoning work of the cross.” Israel wasn’t acquainted with the atoning work of the cross, so they neither knew God nor His benefits. Further, if one must know about the atoning work of the cross in order to have knowledge of God, then it can’t be the case that (i) “natural theology leads to knowledge of God’s existence and some of His attributes” or that (ii) anyone who lived before Christ knew God.

[I just now noticed your most recent comments to Nathaniel, and they initially appear to have some bearing on a few of the things you mentioned in your response to me. I figured I should note that I didn’t take these more recent comments into account when crafting the above, and I hope you don’t mind if I make some comments on them in the forthcoming. Apologies for the lengthy remarks.]

>> “Uncaused: God is certainly caused; God is also not unmoved. But what has to be considered in light of these affirmations is that the cause of God and the movement of God are self moved and self caused. God is not static; God moves God-self.”

When people say that God is uncaused, I believe what they intend to express is the idea that nothing prior, beyond, or greater than God is responsible for His existence and His actions. So while they might also affirm that God is a self-moving, self-determining agent—i.e., nothing prior, beyond, or greater than God moves or determines His actions—I don’t think that they would additionally affirm that God is self-caused. Being self-caused appears to be a conceptually problematic notion, if not incoherent.

>> “Changeless: I think not.”

Perhaps we can sensibly hold that God is changeless or immutable with respect to His essential attributes – His essential nature. So if we’re inclined to believe that God Himself suffers by virtue of Christ’s suffering on the cross, we could hold that God’s suffering in no way compromises or entails a change in His essential nature. For example, He doesn’t cease to be omniscient.

Marc Belcastro said...

Nathaniel:

Hello. Thanks for pushing things further and muddying them up for us. =)

>> “I would say that if one is to believe in the God of the cross, then all of these traditional "metaphysical" attributes have to be reconsidered and thrown into an entirely different light -- a light that necessarily renders them something entirely different and thereby renders the logical-speculative path taken to arrive at them null.”

Why do you think that all (or many) of God’s superlative attributes would have to be reconsidered and/or substantially revised?

>> “Take, for instance, God as uncaused. I can go with this in that God is autotheos, but if I am to find my way to this so to speak it cannot be through the via triplex or any other speculative path that arrives at God as creator independent of (1) God's personalism (2) made known by and to some extent ontically realized in Jesus Christ (3) thus giving knowledge of God's truinty.”

Why must we first have knowledge of Christ and God’s triunity before being able to conclude, for example, that God has aseity?

>> “The same goes for personalism, one that is especially difficult to get arrive at through so-called natural theology without some jumps from analogies that never prove logically reliable.”

If, by “personalism,” you mean to say that God is personal, I think that Craig’s defense of the kalam argument involves what seems to me a persuasive reason for taking God to be a personal agent. There are additional considerations as well, such as the idea that if God is essentially perfectly loving, this would seem to imply that God is personal and, moreover, that there exists an object of God’s love (like a second divine person).

>> “As far as all-powerful is concerned, this is an obvious problem when we come to the God of the cross and a Christology that verifies the suffering of God.”

Would you mind expounding this further?

Andrew Esqueda said...

Hi, Marc

"From what I understand, substance-based metaphysics doesn’t involve, or at least doesn’t require, any particular theistic commitments."

I agree that substance metaphysics doesn't necessarily require any theistic commitments, but in most cases it does. In particular, both Plato and Aristotle were interested in the idea of a "supreme" substance. Maybe I am using substance metaphysics too broadly, and instead should speak of Greek metaphysics.

"If God has disclosed Himself in a manner favorable to the natural theological enterprise, which Romans 1 appears to suggest, then the natural theologian is concerned to acquire knowledge of God which is indeed provided by, if not also grounded in, God Himself. Far from arising out of some metaphysical theory, one of the primary purposes of natural theology is discovering and considering the various ways God has intentionally revealed Himself."

First, I think it is a misrepresentation of Romans 1 to affirm that it substantiates a form of a priori natural knowledge of God. First, such a reading isn't done in light of God's revelation in Christ; second, it doesn't take into account the subsequent verses. In response to your last sentence, there is one way God has intentionally revealed Himself to us - that is, in Christ.

"I don’t think that advocates of natural theology would agree that their project is “the result of a general ontology” (however that might be construed) or that metaphysics is “the controlling factor in Christian theology.” These criticisms don’t strike me as being applicable."

I don't understand how proponents of natural theology can disagree that their project is the result of a general ontology. Natural theology can only give us a general conception of a divine or supreme being and not the particularity of God's existence in Christ. Natural theology gives us a general being and not a particular one, and the God of the Christian faith is everything but general.

"Can you elaborate on what you mean by “ambiguous”?"

Ambiguous in that we really don't know the identity of the divine being. Natural theology gives reveals to us nothing but a "deus absconditus."

"The problem, as I see it, is that considerable portions of Scripture appear to make claims about the Father and Spirit without also making reference to Christ. And if these portions don’t constitute genuine knowledge (about God or anything else), why should we take them seriously or regard them as part of God’s revelation? "

This still has to do with our differing understandings of "revelation" actually means. Particularly because I don't regard scripture itself as revelation, but rather a witness to revelation. As I said before, Israel and the prophets of the Old Testament certainly had a genuine knowledge of God, but that doesn't mean that the subject and content of that knowledge wasn't Christ. This has everything to do with my understanding of not only the preexistence of Christ, but also the Trinity.

Andrew Esqueda said...

"To begin with, I believe it shows non-theists that theism is capable of being intellectually sophisticated and rationally affirmed. (Regarding the apologetic value of natural theology, Craig suggests that such arguments and evidence might allow theism to be considered an intellectually viable option for non-theists.)"

My problem with all of this is that it is not theology; this is philosophy. I am not a fan of apologetics for the simple reason that God does not need us to defend God.

Sorry, I accidently answered your next comment in the previous post.

So, instead I'll answer the comment I was supposed to in the last section.

"If the natural theologian is a Christian theist, it seems to me that she’s warranted in (or can achieve warrant for) holding that natural theology and Christian theology both concern the same God."

The issue at hand is that the Christian theist who is a natural theologian has already been enlightened by Christ. A true from of natural theology is gained after and only after one is enlightened by Christ (Barth makes this claim in his response to Emil Brunner). So, yes we are both referring to the same God, but the person who has no conception of Christ cannot come to Christ by way of natural theology.

"But what would prevent us from calling such a being God, and what support do we have for the claim that this being certainly isn’t Christ? Although the natural theologian may agree that natural theology doesn’t entitle us to infer that its Anselmian being is indeed Christ, her acknowledgement doesn’t mean that such a being isn’t Christ."

Let me first say that there is no way one can claim that the transcendent God is the same subject as Jesus Christ apart from an initial reference to Christ. We can go from Christ to the transcendent God, but not the other way around. Now, for Christians we can obviously talk about the God of the Bible and then say, oh yeah, that's Jesus Christ of the NT. But, that's because we have already been enlightened by Christ. Yes, maybe we can't say that Anselm's being isn't Christ, but we certainly cannot say that it is.

OK, I've got to go to sleep so I'll continue the rest of my response tomorrow.

Kait Dugan said...

I don't mean to interrupt the flow of this wonderful conversation, but I just wanted to add a few minor points.

Marc:

-- "If it’s true that natural theology gives us Anselm’s maximally perfect being, or makes Anselmian theism plausible, then it seems to me that natural theology has performed an extremely valuable service."

While this might not be important for your project, I am compelled to say that theologians such as Barth have argued against the classic interpretation of Anselm's ontological argument. I spent about two months of my life (maybe three) reading the first 78 pages of Barth's Anselm commentary multiple times over and have found the traditional interpretation left wanting. Anselm opens his Proslogion (preface) with a prayer in which he asks, "For I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, -- that unless I believed, I should not understand." Barth points out that Anselm's classic dictum Fides Quarens Intellectum is indeed preexistent faith seeking understanding, not understanding seeking faith. Therefore, any metaphysic that Anselm develops within the Proslogion is a consequence of what he calls the necessity of faith. The individual or the community of believers can only know the identity of God once they already believe God exists, not the other way around. So you might use Anselm's ontological argument to further your own end result, but some believe you do so on entirely different methodological grounds than Anselm.

Kait Dugan said...

Andrew:

-- "This still has to do with our differing understandings of "revelation" actually means. Particularly because I don't regard scripture itself as revelation, but rather a witness to revelation."

First, I'm not so sure that the root of the problem in this statement is Marc's understanding of the ontology of Scripture (more on that later). Second, if I am to (unintentionally) stir the pot even more, I understand why you are making this shift away from classic formulations about the doctrine of Scripture in saying that it is a "witness" to the Word of God rather than the word of God itself (i.e. revelation). However, I am not so sure such an account makes genuine sense of what Scripture actually says about itself. Moreover, how do we account for the idea that the Holy Spirit "has spoken through the prophets" and still deny any sense of revelation within the text itself? I'm well aware that some choose to make too much of the identity between God and the text of Scripture. Still, I wonder if there is a way to correct this almost idolatrous tendency while simultaneously offering a robust account for what it means when the words we read in Scripture were actually the words from God Himself (not to mention the Gospels).

I think the root of the problem in Marc's statement is that he is assuming that it is possible for the Father and Spirit to work in an almost independent fashion apart from the Son. It seems that there is a greater danger lurking in terms of trinitarian theology. Unless we want to set forth some type of tritheism, we need to make sense of God's unity in distinction, especially in terms of his modes of operation ad extra. I'm not suggesting that we should impose trinitarian themes upon texts of the Hebrew Bible, but it is necessary to offer an account of how the triune God has manifested Himself, even in a hidden fashion, in relation to Israel.

-- "I am not a fan of apologetics for the simple reason that God does not need us to defend God."

I am entirely sympathetic with this sentiment. However, I am not so sure that simply because God does not need our defense then apologetics is something to shun. Since you seem to be a fan of Barth (like me), have you read his rather lengthy discussions of his views of apologetics within the excursuses of II.1 (can't remember exactly where at the moment)? I was challenged by his endorsement of apologetics to some degree. But I think his concern was that in the apologetic task, individuals often assume that as Christians, they can understand what it means to not have faith. Barth adamantly argues that faith can never understand what it means to not have faith. Once this is on the table, genuine, respectful, and worthy discussion can take place.

Kait Dugan said...

Andrew and Nathan:

I prayed to the holy Triune God that the conversation would not end up in debating the attributes of God. This opens up an entire host of issues - impassibility, immutability, etc. - that I'd rather not discuss b/c it comes all too closely to the current debate in Barthian circles (election and Trinity). However, I will say one small thing and I hope no one will take my statements as definitives. I worry that all this talk of the death of metaphysics will gain results that I believe are unintentional and problematic. As John Webster warned in his Kantzer lectures, unless the individual has an account of the immanent Trinity thus not only speaking about God in relation to humanity, trinitarian theology is going to go down the tubes at some point. Is there a way to rescue speech about God within Godself without 1) always pointing to His relation to His creatures 2) ending up in a type of glorified metaphysic without speech about God's relation to creatures?

In trying to take seriously what Barth has said about the place of Anselm's commentary within his own theological development, I wonder if those who claim to agree with Barth can say that metaphysical speech about God is worthless or unwarranted. Anselm goes on to do metaphysics within his Prosologion only after admitting that such work is reserved for the Church. Wouldn't we at least have to say that such a project might be deemed worthy by Barth even indirectly if he endorsed Anselm's ontological argument with such veracity?

Nathaniel Maddox said...

Marc said: "If it’s true that natural theology gives us Anselm’s maximally perfect being, or makes Anselmian theism plausible, then it seems to me that natural theology has performed an extremely valuable service."

What kind of service do you mean here, Marc? What does your understanding of the Anselmian proof "do" or what kind of currency does it accumulate apart from the revelation of Jesus Christ/ "special revelation"? I think if we keep pushing this point we'll really get to the heart of the matter. The Anselm dictum without Christ gets you some sort of projection or anthropologically grounded construction of perfection or deity. The primary thinking and acting subject is the one concieving "that which none greater can be concieved." The result is whatever greatness or perfection might mean to them or to the larger body. This even applies for radical versons of apophaticism. Also, I agree with Kait on her analysis of Anselm.

Why do I think the attributes need to be revised? The better question right now is what am I trying to revise? What do you take God to be based on natural theology (given some of the attributes listed above). If you would mind telling me what attributes of God can be deduced from natural theology and the way that they are or must be understood, we will clear ourselves from any foundational misunderstanding in this discussion so as not to talk past one another. From there we can talk about my criterion for a proposed "revision" of attributes.

Nathaniel Maddox said...

I appreciate your question on aseity, particularly because it is something I have spent a good bit of time working with in conjunction with the love of God. But first, again, what do you mean by aseity? Would you mind explaining what you take this to mean? Whatever the case, I still think we will wind up talking about two different things. Take, for instance, John Webster's essay in *Engaging the Doctrine of God*. Webster says that God is wholly and perfectly in and of Godself, and from Godself God gives outwardly (creation and redemption/eschatological consummation) as an overflow of God's plentitudenous being. I don't agree with his definition entirely, but I'll sideline my disagreement with Webster for now. He and I would still agree on the point we are discussing. Webster grounds and develops his definition from a trinitarian framework of mutual self-giving and love in the immanent trinity which results in economic activity. See, already we are talking about a trinity, and what is meant by aseity in this case (in a case that is drawn wholly from an objectivist brand of revelation in Jesus Christ), fundamentally undermines aseity as energic self-generation or pure unmoved being or what whatever one might say from an argument of natural theology/other religions.

My question still stands for the Kalam cosmological argument too. What do you mean by 'personal' and how does this personalism line up with the human subject as a person?

I'll stay away from the last question on suffering and omnipotence given Kait's request and the divisiveness of the problem, but I must say that I think one cannot strattle the fence on the issue of attributes (I am more sympathetic with the trinity and election problem, though they are interrelated).

As an aside, I am convinced taht the traditional reformed perspective on impassibility is no "middle ground." It is the consequence of telling God what God can do before God does it, and if I have to reject passibility so as to defend immutability then I refuse to make that choice as it is put to me. It think finally the question of attributes has everything to do with the problem of revelation we are discussing. But I won't push that futher. Perhaps in the future we can have a blog symposium on the issue or something like in a friendly and constructive spirit. The trinity and election issue is divisive, but I pray it won't be entirely for the next generation of reformed theologians and educators. We don't need more fragmentation, but we certainly need to work through the issue, I think.

Kait Dugan said...

Nathan, I'm more than willing to talk about the issues I raised, I just hope that everyone will be respectful and charitable. It baffles me how quickly the discussion on this issues turns downright ungodly. So with that warning out there, if you have the time and desire, please share.

Andrew Esqueda said...

Ok, this is continued from last night.

Marc: "But isn’t what you’ve said here inconsistent with what you said earlier? Earlier, you said, “To know God is to know God’s benefits, that is, the atoning work of the cross.” Israel wasn’t acquainted with the atoning work of the cross, so they neither knew God nor His benefits. Further, if one must know about the atoning work of the cross in order to have knowledge of God, then it can’t be the case that (i) “natural theology leads to knowledge of God’s existence and some of His attributes” or that (ii) anyone who lived before Christ knew God. "

I don't think this is inconsistent at all. First, Israel knew God's benefits by way of the covenant. I am not willing to say that God's covenant with Israel was in some way insufficient. Second, if Israel's knowledge of God is sufficient and the God of the OT and the God of the cross are indeed the same subject, then Israel's knowledge of God is simultaneously knowledge of Christ for the mere fact that the subject and content of this knowledge is Christ.

"When people say that God is uncaused, I believe what they intend to express is the idea that nothing prior, beyond, or greater than God is responsible for His existence and His actions. So while they might also affirm that God is a self-moving, self-determining agent—i.e., nothing prior, beyond, or greater than God moves or determines His actions—I don’t think that they would additionally affirm that God is self-caused. Being self-caused appears to be a conceptually problematic notion, if not incoherent."

I find this contradicting. If God is a self-moving, self-determining agent, then, how is that being self-caused is incoherent? A God who is determined is a God who is caused. Maybe I'm using "caused" and "determination" too interchangeably, but even so, I don't follow. The only way to move toward a post-metaphysical understanding of God is to affirm that God determines God-self.

"So if we’re inclined to believe that God Himself suffers by virtue of Christ’s suffering on the cross, we could hold that God’s suffering in no way compromises or entails a change in His essential nature."

I can affirm this. If God is in God's actions then God is who God is on the cross.

Andrew Esqueda said...

Kait: First off, thanks for entertaining this very long, but beneficial conversation.

"First, I'm not so sure that the root of the problem in this statement is Marc's understanding of the ontology of Scripture (more on that later)... However, I am not so sure such an account makes genuine sense of what Scripture actually says about itself. Moreover, how do we account for the idea that the Holy Spirit "has spoken through the prophets" and still deny any sense of revelation within the text itself?

So, in regards to your first comment. I think this still has everything to do with the differing understandings of revelation at work here. References to the Spirit and the Father apart from Christ - which is what Marc was concerned with - are themselves not revelation, but witness to Christ. In regards to your second comment, let me say that what I mean by revelation is in fact Jesus Christ Himself. When I speak of revelation I mean the historical existence of the God-human from A.D. 1-30 - it is not ongoing. I do not mean knowledge of God. So, the Spirit speaking through the prophets is a very good thing and an anticipatory witness to Christ, but it is not revelation. This is Barth's three-fold Word of God: Revelation happened in the life of Jesus Christ, scripture is ongoing as a way to extend that revelation by bearing witness to Christ, and Christian preaching does the same. Consequently, I can't affirm that scripture is itself revelation, but rather a witness to revelation, which by way of miraculous work of the Holy Spirit unites believers to Christ.

"However, I am not so sure that simply because God does not need our defense then apologetics is something to shun. Since you seem to be a fan of Barth (like me), have you read his rather lengthy discussions of his views of apologetics within the excursuses of II.1 (can't remember exactly where at the moment)?"

I agree with you here. I was thinking primarily of Barth's Romans commentary when I made that comment. He doesn't dispense with apologetics altogether in I.1, but he isn't a fan of it either. For Barth, true apologetics occur only as a result of dogmatics, exegesis, and the example of the Christian life, and not from human reason.

"Is there a way to rescue speech about God within Godself without 1) always pointing to His relation to His creatures 2) ending up in a type of glorified metaphysic without speech about God's relation to creatures?"

I'm inclined to say no; such a stance is the point of rejecting metaphysics. I don't think most Barthian's, including myself, want to reject metaphysical language altogether. For instance, the usage of the words "ontology," "essence," and "actualism," are major parts of Barth's theology, as well as his contemporary interpreters. The argument is against grounding the Christian doctrine of God in metaphysics. Thus, metaphysics, can and should, only take a secondary role to theology; the doctrine of God must be grounded in God Himself and not an abstract metaphysical subject. That being said, metaphysics is not unimportant, but it should be subordinate to theology for a proper elucidation of the doctrine of God.

"It baffles me how quickly the discussion on this issues turns downright ungodly."

I agree with this entirely. The content of the discipline of Christian theology is the self-humiliation of Christ; thus it is hard for me to understand why this conversation takes place so often apart from any humility and charity.

Josh said...

Why would anyone be interested in engaging in the sort of inquiry natural theology engages in? I will take natural theology to be something like the activity of trying to show that God’s existence is more likely than not on the basis of reasons accessible to all normal, mature rational human agents. One reason that jumps to mind is simply in order to convince non-theists that theism is true. Another reason would be in order to discover for oneself whether theism is probably true or not.

But there are other reasons one might engage in this inquiry. Suppose Phil is already a Christian and his faith is in no way based on the methods of natural theology. Suppose furthermore, however, that Phil greatly desires to attain a view of the world that is as unified and coherent as possible. Phil finds himself believing all of the following:

(1) God exists.
(2) One ought not to believe things that one has good reason to think are all-things-considered probably false.
(3) Facts about pain and suffering are far better explained by the hypothesis of naturalism than the hypothesis of theism.
(4) Theism does not explain other facts about the world much better than naturalism.
(5) Naturalism and theism are both initially plausible views.

Phil notices that he believes (1) through (5) and also notices that (1) through (5) don’t hang together too nicely. (3) through (5), for instance, suggest that it is probably false that God exists (or at least Phil believes that these facts suggest this). That, together with (2), suggests that Phil ought not to believe that God exists. But we know from (1) that Phil does believe that God exists.

Suppose that Phil notices this tension in his belief-system. Desiring to sort out this tension in his thinking, Phil goes on to see whether (4) really is true. In order to adequately inquire into the truth of (4), Phil must consider whether there are any facts theism does explain better than naturalism. But that means Phil must look into natural theology.

This use of natural theology aims only at integrating the views of someone that is already a Christian. It’s hard for me to see that there’s anything objectionable about that.

--Josh

Marc Belcastro said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Marc Belcastro said...

#1

Andrew:

You respond so quickly! Sorry that my responses don’t appear as rapidly. =)

>> “First, I think it is a misrepresentation of Romans 1 to affirm that it substantiates a form of a priori natural knowledge of God.”

I don’t think I claimed that Romans 1 sanctions the thesis that we may come to possess a prior knowledge of God. If I did seem to suggest this, it was unintentional.

>> “First, such a reading isn't done in light of God's revelation in Christ; second, it doesn't take into account the subsequent verses.”

Regarding Rom. 1:19-20, it seems plausible to me to interpret Paul as saying that God has deliberately revealed Himself “in the things that have been made,” as saying that God’s “invisible attributes,” “eternal power,” and “divine nature…have been clearly perceived” as a result of God’s intentional self-disclosure. Paul appears to be endorsing the notion that, given God’s revelation of Himself in the created order, ignorance of (at least) His existence is generally inexcusable. Also, if people have suppressed the truth in unrighteousness, it seems to me that this suggests, if not presupposes, that the truth was discernible or accessible in some sense. For how could one suppress something which one knows nothing about? How might one suppress a truth which is completely inaccessible to one? In my judgment, if they were culpable for suppressing this truth, then they plausibly had the opportunity to embrace it.

>> “I don't understand how proponents of natural theology can disagree that their project is the result of a general ontology. Natural theology can only give us a general conception of a divine or supreme being and not the particularity of God's existence in Christ. Natural theology gives us a general being and not a particular one, and the God of the Christian faith is everything but general.”

I’m inclined to think that your criticism is misplaced and, more interestingly, that it explicitly recognizes natural theology as a successful project (at least to some significant extent). As I’ve emphasized, natural theological investigations needn’t be viewed as a failure or valueless if they’re incapable of producing an argument for “the particularity of God’s existence in Christ.” Many natural theologians are probably content if their enterprise provides a philosophically tenable and biblically faithful theism. And it may be worth noting, however, that Timothy and Lydia McGrew have an article defending the resurrection in Craig and Moreland’s The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology, so natural theology might have something substantive to offer concerning the particularity of Christ.

Marc Belcastro said...

#2

>> “As I said before, Israel and the prophets of the Old Testament certainly had a genuine knowledge of God, but that doesn't mean that the subject and content of that knowledge wasn't Christ. This has everything to do with my understanding of not only the preexistence of Christ, but also the Trinity.”

For the sake of context, I’ll return to your two claims about abstract knowledge, as I’m uncertain whether you’ve addressed my concern about them. The first: “By ‘abstract’ knowledge of God I mean any and all knowledge claims without reference to Jesus Christ.” The second: “I don’t think abstract knowledge constitutes genuine knowledge.” Here’s my concern about these claims: “[A]ll claims about the Father and Spirit which don’t make reference to Christ don’t constitute genuine knowledge. The problem, as I see it, is that considerable portions of Scripture appear to make claims about the Father and Spirit without also making reference to Christ.”

You also previously asserted: “But reference to the Spirit and the Father only make sense in light of our knowledge of the triune God by way of Jesus Christ.” In reply, I suggested that this assertion has the consequence of entailing that everyone who lived before Christ couldn’t make sensible or meaningful reference to the Father or Spirit, which would appear to render much of the OT incoherent.

In light of these considerations, I’m afraid I don’t quite understand how you can consistently affirm that “Israel and the prophets of the [OT] certainly had a genuine knowledge of God.” You insist that the preexistent Christ was both “the subject and content of [their knowledge],” but it’s unclear to me how the Person of Christ Himself was explicitly acknowledged as a fundamental or central element of their epistemology – of their knowledge of God. Many OT individuals might’ve anticipated some sort of messianic figure, but it seems to me that this doesn’t constitute a sufficiently robust knowledge of Jesus, the incarnate Second Person of the Trinity.

>> “My problem with all of this is that it is not theology; this is philosophy.”

The relevant terminology—natural theology (and not, say, natural philosophy)—appears highly suggestive of the project’s being legitimately categorizable as theology, like biblical, systematic, and philosophical theology.

But why should the value and purpose of natural theology by constrained by the criterion categorizable as theology? Praying, fasting, evangelizing, and singing worship songs aren’t theology, but these activities are surely valuable and have a purpose. In any case, you didn’t ask why natural theology can be properly classifiable as theology. You asked what the point is, what it accomplishes, and what it does for the church, and I attempted to gesture at some answers to these questions.

>> “I am not a fan of apologetics for the simple reason that God does not need us to defend God.”

Apologetics doesn’t arise from the presumption that God needs us to defend Him in some fashion. As Kaitlyn intimated, it may still be important for the Christian to develop a rationale, sustainable defense of the faith even given the realization that God doesn’t need anything (like this) from us.

Marc Belcastro said...

#3

>> “A true from of natural theology is gained after and only after one is enlightened by Christ (Barth makes this claim in his response to Emil Brunner).”

What do you mean by a “true form of natural theology”? And what reason do we have to think that unbelievers can’t successfully practice natural theology, or come to be convinced that there are good grounds for believing that God exists?

>> “Let me first say that there is no way one can claim that the transcendent God is the same subject as Jesus Christ apart from an initial reference to Christ.”

I think you’re approaching the matter from an epistemological perspective, whereas I was approaching it from an ontological perspective. Although natural theological arguments may not themselves entitle us to infer that God and Christ refer to the same being—the epistemological issue—this doesn’t mean that the God of natural theology and Christ aren’t in fact the same being—the ontological issue. Ontologically, the God of natural theology and Christ may very well refer to the same being. Epistemologically, though, natural theology may not justify our belief that God and Christ refer to the same being. What actually is the case (ontologically) and what we believe to be the case (epistemically) concern different issues.

>> “I don't think this is inconsistent at all. First, Israel knew God's benefits by way of the covenant.”

But isn’t this inconsistent with your original claim, namely: “To know God is to know God’s benefits, that is, the atoning work of the cross”?

>> “Second, if Israel's knowledge of God is sufficient and the God of the OT and the God of the cross are indeed the same subject, then Israel's knowledge of God is simultaneously knowledge of Christ for the mere fact that the subject and content of this knowledge is Christ.”

I believe that this conflates the ontological issue and the epistemic issue. Ontologically, Christ and the God of the OT may in fact refer to the same being. But, epistemically, the nation of Israel might not have been aware of this. Thus, even though Israel possessed knowledge of God, and it’s true that God and Christ are the same being, this doesn’t mean that Israel possessed knowledge of Christ. Such an inference would be unjustified without additional considerations. To illustrate why, suppose that you’re holding a stone in your hand, and you know that what you have in your hand is in fact a stone. Suppose further that I have additional information about the stone in your hand. That is, I know that the stone is a physical object whose fundamental constituents are quarks. Thus, even though you know that what you have in your hand is a stone, and it’s true that stones are fundamentally composed of quarks, this doesn’t mean that you know that the object in your hand is fundamentally composed of quarks. The assumption that you have this additional piece of knowledge mistakenly conflates the ontological issue and the epistemic issue.

Marc Belcastro said...

#3

>> “A true from of natural theology is gained after and only after one is enlightened by Christ (Barth makes this claim in his response to Emil Brunner).”

What do you mean by a “true form of natural theology”? And what reason do we have to think that unbelievers can’t successfully practice natural theology, or come to be convinced that there are good grounds for believing that God exists?

>> “Let me first say that there is no way one can claim that the transcendent God is the same subject as Jesus Christ apart from an initial reference to Christ.”

I think you’re approaching the matter from an epistemological perspective, whereas I was approaching it from an ontological perspective. Although natural theological arguments may not themselves entitle us to infer that God and Christ refer to the same being—the epistemological issue—this doesn’t mean that the God of natural theology and Christ aren’t in fact the same being—the ontological issue. Ontologically, the God of natural theology and Christ may very well refer to the same being. Epistemologically, though, natural theology may not justify our belief that God and Christ refer to the same being. What actually is the case (ontologically) and what we believe to be the case (epistemically) concern different issues.

>> “I don't think this is inconsistent at all. First, Israel knew God's benefits by way of the covenant.”

But isn’t this inconsistent with your original claim, namely: “To know God is to know God’s benefits, that is, the atoning work of the cross”?

>> “Second, if Israel's knowledge of God is sufficient and the God of the OT and the God of the cross are indeed the same subject, then Israel's knowledge of God is simultaneously knowledge of Christ for the mere fact that the subject and content of this knowledge is Christ.”

I believe that this conflates the ontological issue and the epistemic issue. Ontologically, Christ and the God of the OT may in fact refer to the same being. But, epistemically, the nation of Israel might not have been aware of this. Thus, even though Israel possessed knowledge of God, and it’s true that God and Christ are the same being, this doesn’t mean that Israel possessed knowledge of Christ. Such an inference would be unjustified without additional considerations. To illustrate why, suppose that you’re holding a stone in your hand, and you know that what you have in your hand is in fact a stone. Suppose further that I have additional information about the stone in your hand. That is, I know that the stone is a physical object whose fundamental constituents are quarks. Thus, even though you know that what you have in your hand is a stone, and it’s true that stones are fundamentally composed of quarks, this doesn’t mean that you know that the object in your hand is fundamentally composed of quarks. The assumption that you have this additional piece of knowledge mistakenly conflates the ontological issue and the epistemic issue.

Marc Belcastro said...

#4

>> “I find this contradicting. If God is a self-moving, self-determining agent, then, how is that being self-caused is incoherent? A God who is determined is a God who is caused. Maybe I'm using "caused" and "determination" too interchangeably, but even so, I don't follow.”

Perhaps we’re defining or understanding these terms differently. When I think of something which is self-caused, I think of something which caused itself to come into existence. To my mind, this is incoherent. But when I think of something, like an agent, which is self-determined, I think of an agent whose actions aren’t caused by anything other than the agent; that is, the agent is the causal source of the action, not something prior or external to the agent.

Marc Belcastro said...

#5

Kaitlyn:

>> “While this might not be important for your project, I am compelled to say that theologians such as Barth have argued against the classic interpretation of Anselm's ontological argument.”

To clarify, I was referring to the absolutely perfect God of Anselmian theism or of perfect being theology, not Anselm’s ontological argument. My suggestion was that if natural theology provides good reason to affirm perfect being theology or to believe in a maximally perfect being, then it would appear that natural theology has accomplished one of its primary purposes.

>> “I think the root of the problem in Marc's statement is that he is assuming that it is possible for the Father and Spirit to work in an almost independent fashion apart from the Son.”

If I may clarify further, I don’t intend to advance or endorse this assumption. I was addressing Andrew’s assertion that “reference to the Spirit and the Father only make sense in light of our knowledge of the triune God by way of Jesus Christ,” for his assertion seems to entail that people who lived before Christ couldn’t make sensible or meaningful reference to the Father and Spirit. But if this entailment holds, then we’ve seriously undermined important portions of the OT, and even some aspects of the NT.

Marc Belcastro said...

#6

Nathaniel:

>> “What kind of service do you mean here, Marc?”

I’ll reproduce my response to Andrew who asked questions similar to yours. “To begin with, I believe it shows non-theists that theism is capable of being intellectually sophisticated and rationally affirmed. Natural theology might also serve to enhance the Christian theist’s confidence in evangelizing; it might help fortify his belief in times of doubt; and it might function as an instrument of the Spirit in drawing unbelievers to Himself. (Regarding the apologetic value of natural theology, Craig suggests that such arguments and evidence might allow theism to be considered an intellectually viable option for non-theists.) Additionally, some of the content of natural theology (like aspects of the created order) may be important for God’s self-disclosure to the (so-called) unevangelized, for God may wish to make Himself accessible or knowable from anywhere, especially those locations to which special revelation hasn’t (yet) reached.”

Josh’s comments above also contain a good reason for engaging in natural theology.

>> “The Anselm dictum without Christ gets you some sort of projection or anthropologically grounded construction of perfection or deity. The primary thinking and acting subject is the one concieving "that which none greater can be concieved." The result is whatever greatness or perfection might mean to them or to the larger body.”

Perfect being theology doesn’t seem guilty of being dominated by the subjectivism which your comment suggests. Craig’s observation is helpful in understanding why: “This objection seems to confuse God’s being the greatest conceivable being with our discerning what properties a greatest conceivable being must possess.” So while there might be disagreement or some uncertainty concerning which attributes the God of Anselmian theism possesses, that doesn’t change perfect being theology’s central conviction that God is the greatest conceivable being (whatever collection of properties that may entail), and it doesn’t imply that perfect being theology is merely autobiography.

Marc Belcastro said...

#7

>> “What do you take God to be based on natural theology (given some of the attributes listed above). If you would mind telling me what attributes of God can be deduced from natural theology and the way that they are or must be understood, we will clear ourselves from any foundational misunderstanding in this discussion so as not to talk past one another.”

I’ll enumerate some of the more common natural theological arguments, and then I’ll briefly present what they endeavor to show about God, thereby building a conception of the God of natural theology by assembling some of His attributes. It would probably take too long to discuss how each of these attributes is generally defined or understood, so perhaps we can focus on two or three of them if there happen to be some you’d like to consider more carefully.

-- kalam cosmological argument: uncaused, changeless, timeless, immaterial, enormously powerful, personal, creator
-- Leibnizian contingency argument: necessarily existent, responsible for the existence of all contingent reality
-- ontological argument: omnipotent, omniscient, morally perfect, necessarily existent
-- fine-tuning argument: intelligent designer and orchestrator of the initial conditions and constants of the universe
-- moral argument: paradigm of moral goodness, origin of moral duties

>> “But first, again, what do you mean by aseity? Would you mind explaining what you take this to mean?”

If X has aseity, I take this to mean that X is self-existent, and that X depends upon nothing else but itself (or its nature) for its existence.

>> “See, already we are talking about a trinity, and what is meant by aseity in this case (in a case that is drawn wholly from an objectivist brand of revelation in Jesus Christ), fundamentally undermines aseity as energic self-generation or pure unmoved being or what whatever one might say from an argument of natural theology/other religions.”

To my mind, the definition of “aseity” doesn’t need to change to accommodate whatever particular object (or being) happens to be under consideration. Assuming that’s right, I think we can exclude “energic self-generation” and “pure unmoved being” from our characterization.

>> “My question still stands for the Kalam cosmological argument too. What do you mean by 'personal' and how does this personalism line up with the human subject as a person?”

In my judgment, the common, minimal characteristics of a “person” or “personal” include something like the following: has a mind, a center of self-consciousness, an intellect, and a will. I think we frequently attribute these characteristics to human persons, viewing them as perhaps necessary conditions for personhood. To be clear, I don’t intend to suggest that these are, indeed, necessary or sufficient conditions for personhood. I listed them because they strike me as commonly characteristic of what we mean by “person” or “personal."

Andrew Esqueda said...

Hi Marc, sorry for such a delay in my response.

"Regarding Rom. 1:19-20, it seems plausible to me to interpret Paul as saying that God has deliberately revealed Himself “in the things that have been made,” as saying that God’s “invisible attributes,” “eternal power,” and “divine nature…have been clearly perceived” as a result of God’s intentional self-disclosure."

I am not denying this; I actually affirm these assertions. My issue with such assertions is that what we are given by way of natural perception of eternal and divine attributes is nothing but an abstract being. This is not Jesus Christ, thus, there is no way in which we can affirm that the subject or object of this natural knowledge is the same subject and object of the cross.

"I’m inclined to think that your criticism is misplaced and, more interestingly, that it explicitly recognizes natural theology as a successful project (at least to some significant extent). As I’ve emphasized, natural theological investigations needn’t be viewed as a failure or valueless if they’re incapable of producing an argument for “the particularity of God’s existence in Christ"

My contention, here, is that natural theological investigation is itself misplaced. Following both Barth and Herman Bavinck, as well as some others before and after, I understand dogmatics to be "thinking God's thoughts after God" by way of reflection on the Word of God - that is reflection upon Christ. I find natural theology to be far removed from such a project and, consequently, not dogmatics. The starting point of natural theology is not God Himself, but the metaphysical conception of a supreme being or acutus purus; therefore, natural theology is rooted in a general ontology and not a particular one in the person of Jesus Christ.

"The problem, as I see it, is that considerable portions of Scripture appear to make claims about the Father and Spirit without also making reference to Christ."

In the Christian faith I fail to see what portions of scripture make sense at all without reference to Christ. The entirety of the cannon makes no sense without an initial reference to Christ. I understand all scriptural references to God, prior to the historical existence of Christ, to be witnesses to revelation and not revelation itself, but that, at the same time, does not mean that Israel did not have true knowledge of God. Knowledge of God and revelation are not mutually exclusive, but knowledge of God subsequent to the existence of Christ is not revelation - revelation is different from saying God reveals God-self. Like I said, we can go into my understanding of the pre-existent Christ and the Trinity, but I'd rather not because it diverts and opens up a big bag of worms.

"The relevant terminology—natural theology (and not, say, natural philosophy)—appears highly suggestive of the project’s being legitimately categorizable as theology, like biblical, systematic, and philosophical theology."

Let me say that I don't think natural theology should be a legitimate part of the discipline of theology. If dogmatics is reflection on the Word of God, how then is natural theology actually true dogmatics? Natural theology is, as it intimates, reflection on the "natural." Its legitimacy lies in the area of philosophy and not theology.

Andrew Esqueda said...

...Continued

"Praying, fasting, evangelizing, and singing worship songs aren’t theology, but these activities are surely valuable and have a purpose... You asked what the point is, what it accomplishes, and what it does for the church, and I attempted to gesture at some answers to these questions."

These spiritual disciplines are indeed aspects of theology by the mere factor that their subject and content have to do with Jesus Christ. In every way they refer to reflection upon the Word of God. In regards to your last comments, I am not sure that you have actually answered these questions. I still don't know how natural theology is beneficial for the Church or what its purpose is apart from suggesting to secular philosophy that Christians can be intellectuals too.

"Apologetics doesn’t arise from the presumption that God needs us to defend Him in some fashion. As Kaitlyn intimated, it may still be important for the Christian to develop a rationale, sustainable defense of the faith even given the realization that God doesn’t need anything (like this) from us."

This is exactly my problem, I find no place for rationality in determining the identity of God. Our faith needs no defense; Christ Himself is defense enough for our faith. I find such positions to be wholly modern. Our faith needs no help from human rationale, human psyche, or historical and scientific method. I am not saying that these methods are entirely useless, but I am saying that they are useless apart from an initial enlightening by Christ - they cannot be the basis for our understanding of God.

"What do you mean by a “true form of natural theology”? And what reason do we have to think that unbelievers can’t successfully practice natural theology, or come to be convinced that there are good grounds for believing that God exists?"

I mean that one can recognize the hand of God in creation only when firs illuminated by Christ. Thus, a "true natural theology" is only a posteriori. An unbeliever can certainly become convinced that God exists by way of reflection upon nature, but that God who has been discovered cannot be named the God of the Christian faith. Who actually is the God that an unbeliever has come to know by way of the natural world? It could be anything, and as Barth would say, maybe even a demon.

"I think you’re approaching the matter from an epistemological perspective, whereas I was approaching it from an ontological perspective. Although natural theological arguments may not themselves entitle us to infer that God and Christ refer to the same being—the epistemological issue—this doesn’t mean that the God of natural theology and Christ aren’t in fact the same being—the ontological issue."

The problem I see with your claims is that you have divorced epistemology from ontology. It seems that you have inferred that natural theology has to do with epistemic knowledge of God and not the actual identity and being of God. Natural theology assumes that one can know ones being prior to ones actual actions, I would argue the opposite. One cannot know ones being part from first knowing ones actions. God is who God is in God's actions. Accordingly, knowledge of God's acts in Christ lead us to knowledge of God's being. Knowing God means knowing God's being. One cannot divorce epistemology from ontology to the extent that one can have knowledge of God apart from knowledge of God's being. If such were the case, the knowledge obtained would be of an abstract metaphysical being and not the God of the Christian faith.

Andrew Esqueda said...

...continued

"But isn’t this inconsistent with your original claim, namely: “To know God is to know God’s benefits, that is, the atoning work of the cross”? "

I would argue that God revealing God-self to Israel - this is not "revelation" - is knowledge of the benefits of the cross.

"I believe that this conflates the ontological issue and the epistemic issue. Ontologically, Christ and the God of the OT may in fact refer to the same being. But, epistemically, the nation of Israel might not have been aware of this. Thus, even though Israel possessed knowledge of God, and it’s true that God and Christ are the same being, this doesn’t mean that Israel possessed knowledge of Christ."

Even if Israel was not epistemically aware that their knowledge of God was knowledge of Christ - it still is knowledge of Christ. If one affirms that the Father is the same subject as Christ and the Spirit, then, regardless of epistemic recognition, Israel's knowledge of the Father is still knowledge of Christ. On this point I think there are further eschatological issues at play that must be flushed out in order to really address the issue you have brought to the fore.

"Perhaps we’re defining or understanding these terms differently. When I think of something which is self-caused, I think of something which caused itself to come into existence. To my mind, this is incoherent. But when I think of something, like an agent, which is self-determined, I think of an agent whose actions aren’t caused by anything other than the agent; that is, the agent is the causal source of the action, not something prior or external to the agent."

This gets into issues of the Trinity, which Kait has touched on a bit. I'm just not going to go there at this point. But, if we are going to talk about a cause or uncaused being, first, I think this is an abstraction for the mere reason that "God is," and second, I am not sure that the terminology caused and uncaused can properly describe God in light of the incarnation. If I was going to use such terminology I would stand with my claim that God causes God-self, but I'd rather not use the terminology at all.

Marc Belcastro said...

(1)

Andrew:

>> “I am not denying this; I actually affirm these assertions. My issue with such assertions is that what we are given by way of natural perception of eternal and divine attributes is nothing but an abstract being. This is not Jesus Christ, thus, there is no way in which we can affirm that the subject or object of this natural knowledge is the same subject and object of the cross.”

Surely there’s something significant about the fact that, according to Paul, God’s existence and (some of) His attributes are discernible in or inferable from the natural order. Otherwise, Paul presumably wouldn’t have considered it important enough to mention. And if we believe that the knowledge of God’s existence and (some of) His attributes discernible in the natural order is insignificant, unimportant, or not worthy of our attention and reflection, then our view and Paul’s view seem to be at variance with one another.

>> “My contention, here, is that natural theological investigation is itself misplaced. Following both Barth and Herman Bavinck, as well as some others before and after, I understand dogmatics to be "thinking God's thoughts after God" by way of reflection on the Word of God - that is reflection upon Christ.”

If your contention is that dogmatics is strictly concerned with reflecting upon Christ, then it would appear that your contention effectively excludes important aspects of Christian theology. Much of the OT, for example, fails to satisfy your criterion for (being considered) dogmatics. And several important doctrines have to be eliminated, ignored, or substantially revised, such as the doctrines of hell, of original sin, of the inspiration of Scripture, and of the Trinity. Numerous exegetical matters are also excluded, and questions about God’s providence and sovereignty—e.g., is Calvinism true—remain untouched by the explorations of dogmatics.

>> “In the Christian faith I fail to see what portions of scripture make sense at all without reference to Christ.”

As suggested above, the doctrine of hell, the doctrine of original sin, and the doctrine of the inspiration of Scripture, for example, appear to make sense without reference to Christ. And couldn’t one list many OT books and events as making sense without reference to Christ?

>> “…but that, at the same time, does not mean that Israel did not have true knowledge of God.”

Assuming that your previous claim is true, “To know God is to know God’s benefits, that is, the atoning work of the cross,” I don’t understand how you can also claim that Israel had knowledge of God, unless you’re arguing that Israel had knowledge of Christ and His (future) atoning work on the cross.

Marc Belcastro said...

(2)

>> “Let me say that I don't think natural theology should be a legitimate part of the discipline of theology. If dogmatics is reflection on the Word of God, how then is natural theology actually true dogmatics?”

It seems to me that the natural theologian could reasonably refuse to accept your definition of dogmatics, given that it excludes important elements of Christian theology.

>> “Natural theology is, as it intimates, reflection on the ‘natural’.”

I think this is an inaccurate characterization of natural theology, for natural theological reflection considers more than just the natural order. Its reflections extend to God Himself and (some of) His attributes.

>> “These spiritual disciplines [praying, fasting, evangelizing, and singing worship songs] are indeed aspects of theology by the mere factor that their subject and content have to do with Jesus Christ. In every way they refer to reflection upon the Word of God.”

Regarding prayer, I don’t see any reason why one can’t (sometimes) pray to the Father or the Spirit. Regarding fasting, it’s not obvious that one must dedicate one’s “fasting” reflections to just one of the Trinitarian Persons. Regarding evangelism, one might discuss human sinfulness and rebellion toward God, or even arguments and evidence for God’s existence, before introducing our need for Christ’s offer of redemption. Regarding worship songs, like fasting, it’s not obvious that they must exclusively concern just one of the Trinitarian Persons, or that they can’t concern just one of the Persons (e.g., maybe a song was written specifically about the indwelling of the Spirit).

>> “In regards to your last comments, I am not sure that you have actually answered these questions. I still don't know how natural theology is beneficial for the Church or what its purpose is apart from suggesting to secular philosophy that Christians can be intellectuals too.”

One of my answers suggested more than that natural theology shows “secular philosophy that Christian can be intellectuals too.” Rather, I suggested that “it shows non-theists that theism is capable of being intellectually sophisticated and rationally affirmed.” We could briefly elaborate on “intellectually sophisticated” by saying that theism is a simpler and better explanatory hypothesis than competing hypotheses. And we could briefly elaborate on “rationally affirmed” by saying that there are good reasons available for accepting theism. Both of these involve more substance, I think, than a theist’s being an intellectual. Furthermore, you didn’t interact with any of my other answers, such as the following: (i) natural theology might serve to enhance the Christian theist’s confidence in evangelizing; (ii) it might help fortify his belief in times of doubt; (iii) it might function as an instrument of the Spirit in drawing unbelievers to Himself; and (iv) some of the content of natural theology (like aspects of the created order) may be important for God’s self-disclosure to the (so-called) unevangelized.

Marc Belcastro said...

(3)

>> “Our faith needs no defense; Christ Himself is defense enough for our faith.”

In my estimation, I’m not sure that apologetics is committed to claiming that the Christian faith needs to be defended. A more modest claim seems sufficient, like one which maintains that it’s very helpful to have a rational defense of the faith. Additionally, couldn’t the apologist appeal to 1 Peter 3:15 and conclude that we’re instructed to be apologetically prepared (in some sense)? How do you understand this verse? Or, more generally, how do you think an opponent of apologetics would interpret this verse? And what about more fundamental questions, such as, “What reason is there to believe that Christianity, and not any other religion, is true?” or, “Why suppose that the gospels are reliable?” or, “What reason is there to be a theist as opposed to an atheist?”?

>> “I find such positions to be wholly modern.”

Based on Luke’s account in Acts 17, it doesn’t seem unlikely that Paul employed an apologetic methodology when he conversed with Epicurean and Stoic philosophers (v. 18), when he reasoned with the Jews (v. 2), or when he persuaded many devout Greeks (v. 4). But even if apologetics were a modern invention, how does the time of its appearance in history constitute a criticism? Many interesting, astute, and philosophically impressive developments in philosophical theology—concerning, e.g., the doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation—are modern developments, but does this imply that they’re all mistaken or insignificant?

>> “I mean that one can recognize the hand of God in creation only when firs illuminated by Christ. Thus, a ‘true natural theology’ is only a posteriori.”

I don’t think this means that true natural theology is only an a posteriori enterprise, for it’s possible that one might be illuminated by Christ and then come to accept some a prior natural theological argument, like the ontological argument. And, in any case, I don’t think it’s obvious that “one can recognize the hand of God in creation only when first illuminated by Christ.” Or if we take your assertion to be correct, it’s not implausible that Christ endeavors to work in the heart and mind of a person when He allows the person to encounter natural theological considerations. You’ll recall that I suggested that the Spirit may use natural theology as an instrument to draw people to Himself.

>> “Who actually is the God that an unbeliever has come to know by way of the natural world? It could be anything, and as Barth would say, maybe even a demon.”

Barth’s declaration, it seems to me, is potentially self-corrosive. As long as we’re relying on the phrase “it could be anything,” where “could” indicates something like metaphysical possibility, one could insist that the revelation of Christ is entirely illusory, nothing more than the result of a massive delusion which feigns the appearance of veridicality. One could also assert that the universe was created five minutes ago, and our belief in the revelation of Christ is the byproduct of the rapid evolutionary processes we underwent. If Barth appeals to considerations like “it could be anything” or “maybe [its] a demon,” these very responses can be deployed against him in return.

Marc Belcastro said...

(4)

>> “It seems that you have inferred that natural theology has to do with epistemic knowledge of God and not the actual identity and being of God.”

I’m not sure I follow you here. Would you mind elaborating?

>> “Natural theology assumes that one can know ones being prior to ones actual actions…”

Why should we think that natural theology makes this assumption?

>> “One cannot know ones being part from first knowing ones actions.”

This would seemingly be true if there were no good a priori argument with respect to the “being” of some object. But, as it stands, this assertion appears to beg the question against such arguments.

>> “I would argue that God revealing God-self to Israel - this is not "revelation" - is knowledge of the benefits of the cross.”

How would you argue on behalf of this point?

>> “Even if Israel was not epistemically aware that their knowledge of God was knowledge of Christ - it still is knowledge of Christ. If one affirms that the Father is the same subject as Christ and the Spirit, then, regardless of epistemic recognition, Israel's knowledge of the Father is still knowledge of Christ.”

If this pattern of reasoning is sound—this conflation or collapse of the ontological and epistemological dimensions—then it seems to yield consequences which are highly counterintuitive. I think that my illustration of the stone supports this assertion. Just because it’s true that stones are fundamentally composed of quarks, and it’s true that you know that you have a stone in your hand, it doesn’t follow that you know that the thing in your hand is fundamentally composed of quarks. More specifically, though, I don’t understand how a person can be unaware that X is the case and still have knowledge that X is the case. That is, if Israel was unaware that the Father and Christ are the same being, I don’t understand how Israel’s knowledge of the Father was also knowledge of Christ. If Israel’s knowledge of the Father meant that they also had knowledge of Christ, did Israel have knowledge of the Spirit as well, and therefore a nascent doctrine of the Trinity? Did Israel also know, for example, that Christ’s earthly parents would be named Joseph and Mary? How do we restrict Israel’s knowledge of Christ so that we’re not committed to saying that they knew everything about Christ?

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