Saturday, August 15, 2009

Is there a moral obligation to worship a Calvinistic God? Or any other God for that matter?

A Catholic friend of mine once said "If Calvin's God exists, I would insist on being damned. But it would do me no good."

This of course presupposes that if God determines your fate before the foundation of the world, your actions then do not determine it, since if your actions had been different in 2009, it would have changed something that occurred before the foundation of the world, which would be changing the past and therefore impossible.

Let us set that aside for a moment, however. And let's not make this exclusively about Calvinism. Someone could say "If Wesley's God exists, I would insist on being damned" or even "If Talbott's God exist, I would insist on being damned" since you could argue that even in Talbott's universalist world, there is gratuitous evil that God should not have permitted. And let us assume further that refusing to worship an all-powerful being is the supreme sin against prudence.

The question I have, for any theology, has to do whether we have a moral obligation, as opposed to a merely prudential obligation, to worship an infinite being. If so, where does that moral obligation come from?


Jason Pratt said...

I think one's answer to this will be highly dependent on the question of moral grounding at all.

Personally I go with orthodox trinitarian theism (though at the point in my discussion linked to there, I haven't yet arrived at the existence of the 3rd Person. But this turns out to be important, too, in the question of ethical grounding; which one reason why I call that portion of my argument "Ethics and the Third Person".)

Put another way, I believe we ultimately have a moral obligation (not only a pragmatic prudence) to worship God, because God (I also find and so believe) is ortho-trin and not any other kind of theistic deity.

(Which also has massive relevance to my universalism. But that's another discussion. {g})


Jason Pratt said...

{{which one reason}}

which •is• one reason.

Peter Pike said...

As Jason Pratt said, this question can only be answered if you first determine what the foundation of morality is in the first place.

As a Divine Command Theorist, I would say that if God commands you worship Him, that alone is sufficient for you to be morally obligated to worship Him, because morality simply is that which God commands.

Others who are not DCTs will answer this differently, of course. But the only way to refute any of our positions will be to ask, "What is it that makes anything moral or immoral in the first place?"

So I think your question isn't foundational enough.

Victor Reppert said...

Of course the divine command theory has the problem of identifying God. The standard philosophical definition of God is a being who is worthy of worship in virtue of being omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good. But if "good" means "commanded by God" and "God" means a being who is, among other things, perfectly good, it looks like you've got vicious circularity here.

Gordon Knight said...

I think you have an obligation to worship God, if God has moral qualities worthy of worship. So I would not worship a calvinistic God, b/c such a God strikes me as evil.

I think what some people do is privledge sovereigty above all else. But a sovereign tyrant is still a tyrant.

Divine command theory is just subjectivism writ large. If we find it bizzare to identify moral value with our finite desires or commands, why would being infinite in power make it less arbitrary?

steve said...

Gordon Knight said...

"I think what some people do is privledge sovereigty above all else. But a sovereign tyrant is still a tyrant."

I think what some other people do is to defame what they've made no sincere effort to understand.

Gordon Knight said...

okay Steve, explain it.

steve said...

Why don't you start by stating what Reformed philosophers or theologians you've read. What's the basis of your caricature?

Anonymous said...

Why don't you reply to Gordon's points about DCT, Steve? I'm guessing it's because you can't, but I suppose we'll see about that.

steve said...

Gordon made some blanket statements about Calvinists and Calvinists. What makes the Calvinist tick. So it's only natural to ask him his source of information. Is this based on good firsthand info, or thirdhand stereotypes?

Gordon Knight said...

Steve has a fair point insofar as I may have mixed together DCT and Calvinism. I do think that DCT is in the spirit of Calvinism, but from what I gather there is no scholarly consensus on whether Calvin (or a consistent Calvinism) is or has to be devoted to DCT. Paul Helm, who is an actual calvinist author, seems to think maybe not. But My reason for rejecting Calvinism is not the same as my reason for rejecting DCT. Calvin did hold that God's "scecret counsel" determines everything including the damnation of a large number of people. I take that as reductio of the view. Steve and I can just agree to disagree on that. One person's modus tollens is another's modus ponens.

But on the DCT. According to DCT, moral truths depend on God's will. On the one hand this view has an advantage over cultural relativism or subjectivism in that it provides a standard for morality is not dependent on the desires or attitudes of finite creatures. But it would be a mistake to call DCT an objectivist moral theory.

Assuming what God wills is not itself necessary, God could will other than God did. According to DCT, if God were to will otherwize, the moral truths would be otherwize. There is nothing keeping God from willing any action and thereby making it the morally right thing to do. But this implies that, for example, though it is now wrong for me to torture my neighbor because I get a charge out of it, it is not necessarily true that this action is wrong. If God were to will differently, it would be the right thing to do.

This is just me, but I think that is a monstrous implication.

Contrast this situation with that of mathematical truth. Most theists agree that even God cannot make pi into a rational number. mathematical and logical truths are paradigm examples of objective truth. They don't depend on any contingent acts of will and they don't vary from one possible world to another. I take it that genuine objective morality, if there be such, is of this sort. (this does not mean that particular obligations cannot change b/c of different circustances, of course)

But there are other problems with DCT. if true, DCT makes teh belief that "God is good" not especially informative or interesting. Though maybe its not trivial. Could God will that God's nature is not good? why not, on DCT principles?
what one wants to say if of course God cannot be bad, it goes against God's nature! But this move seems to conflict with the contngency of the DCT view.

Perhaps this is just a psychological fact about me, but I cannot see any connection between any contingent act of will and obligation. What is the connection?

We might say that one ought to obey one's parents. but this is justified on all sorts of grounds, its not just a fiat (and of course sometimes one ought to disobey one's parents).

If God created me, I do think I have a prima face obligation to obey God just because of that fact.. independent of God's goodness etc. But even this depends on prior moral notions of gratitude, respect, etc.

Daniel Gracely said...

(part 1)
Hi Victor,

Unless I’m misinterpreting your remarks, I agree with what you say about Divine Command Theory being “viciously circular.” This is a particular concern of mine about much of today’s Evangelical theology (and so I hope you’ll excuse the long post). By this I mean the criteria sometimes used to define God’s “goodness.” I believe a recent example of this circularity can be seen in John Piper’s May 8, 2008 ( article, ‘Is God for Us or for Himself?’ Piper concludes at the end of his article:

"God is the one Being in the entire universe for whom self-centeredness, or the pursuit of his own glory, is the ultimately loving act. For him, self-exaltation is the highest virtue."

Although in his article Piper also mentions God glorifying Himself in the redemptive process, I believe his remarks miss (or largely miss) the fact of God’s selfLESSness seen in the Godhead’s individual Persons. For the Son would in fact do only that which the Father showed Him to do, and the Father was committed to support only that which the Son requested in return (even to the point of willing to rescue Christ in Gethsemane with legions of angels upon the Son’s request, though it would mean the breaking of Scripture). Thus for Piper to speak of God as “one Being” who seeks His own glory is false, unless a strong qualification is asserted to show that the term, ‘one Being’ is understood as the separate Persons of the Godhead willing to grant each of the other Two Persons of the Godhead the desire to glorify the Others at expense to Himself (sing.). For this is the actual position of Scripture. (And so the term “Being” would seem out of place, unless it were understood as a corporate term.) By human analogy, at heart this seems to mean allowing others to do something for us at their expense, while we do what is good for them at *our* expense, while none act with the motivation that his own expense will redound to himself. (As creatures, of course, we do this as under the First Commandment, not as Ishmael in Moby Dick, who thought he was obligated as a Christian to worship his cannibal friend’s idol because of the Neighborly Command, since he himself wished that Queequeg worship the Christian God.) But this defining characteristic about the self-sacrificial motivation of each of the Persons of the Godhead for the sake of glorifying the Others is barely hinted at in Piper’s article, if at all. For although at one point Piper does state

“Why did the Son of God come to earth and to his final decisive hour? John 17:1, "Father, the hour has come; glorify thy Son that the Son may glorify thee." A beautiful conspiracy to glorify the Godhead in all the work of redemption!”

he seems to later undo whatever emphasis he might be making about the sacrificial nature of the Persons of the Godhead in relation to one another. He does this by drawing contrasting analogies of God to scholars, businessmen, children, and men and women, all of whom (in the details he gives) seek merely to live off the praise of others—that is, to be what he calls (citing Ayn Ran) “second handers.” Says Piper:

Daniel Gracely said...

(part 2)
[Piper quote]
“They are what Ayn Rand calls “second-handers.” They don’t live from the joy that comes through achieving what they value for its own sake. Instead, they live second-hand from the praise and compliments of others. We don’t admire second-handers, we admire people who are composed and secure enough that they don’t feel the need to shore up their weaknesses and compensate for their deficiencies by trying to get as many compliments as possible.”

Note that Piper, by analogy, implies that the justification for God’s ‘self-centeredness’ is chiefly because (besides being the wise Creator, etc.) God is composed and secure within Himself. But I dare say many an earthly tyrant and even commoner has appeared not to care what *anyone* has thought, so long as he can effect his desire upon others, or even upon himself. Many a suicide, to cite a type of extreme example, has gone to his death with no anticipation of praise from others and with what he knows will surely be considered by them a selfish act. Furthermore, I have read that experts say that family and friends ought to be concerned when a loved one who has been severely and chronically depressed is suddenly at peace (composed) with himself. Often, they say, this means the person has ceased to struggle with whether or not to commit suicide. So, contrary to the conclusion which Piper’s view would seem to lead us, these particular suicides can hardly be thought to be shoring up weaknesses and compensating for deficiencies by trying to get as many compliments as possible. But still, does not suicide qualify as a selfish act, though it seems to miss Piper’s criteria?

So I think something critical is missing in Piper’s definition of what it means to be selfish. And nowhere in the above quote about “second-handers” or in Piper’s entire article does Piper maintain anything *consistently* about the sacrificial nature of the individual Persons of the Godhead in relation to the Others, nor that this quality of God is vital in defining God’s goodness. That is, scripturally speaking, the motive of each Person is to ultimately seek the glory of the Other Godhead Persons. This selfLESSness informs the definition of who God really is, and enables the Christian to escape the vicious circularity of why he ought to first love God his Savior and secondly his neighbor as himself. And so while one may (properly) speak of God’s self-centeredness—-as long as the description is of God self-orienting the world as the Creator and Sustainer of its forms and as the Judge of creaturely content—-one goes amiss with stating (or implying) that God is justified in being selfish, as the word “selfish” would normally be understood in the dictionary sense. And so I am not comfortable with what strikes me as Piper’s view of divine musketeerism—all for one, and one for all—-in which each Person’s motivation includes that glory redound to Himself.

Daniel Gracely said...

(part 3 of 3)
And so we must put the definition of "goodness" on firmer ground. For if we maintain the plurality of the Persons of the Godhead, we can see how God was able to be selfless before the creation of the world. For conversely, if in eternity past there was only one Person constituting God, then being selfless would be impossible for such a God, since selflessness demands at least one other person. Thus we ought to speak of God as one in Substance, but not in Person, when we say that God was good in eternity past. Doubtless Piper has been influenced (as I myself and perhaps the rest of us at one time or another) by Evangelicalism’s hazy, long-time definition of “One God in Three Persons,” touted often as a *mystery,* apparently not merely because of God’s eternal past (which indeed IS a mystery) but in the implicit statement that One is Three. This seems to me not just a Reformed view but essentially the orthodox view throughout much of Evangelicalism. And so I think this latter “mystery” incorrect and unhelpful, since one is not three, and three is not one, without the qualifier of how multiple particulars make up a corporate one. And the Persons’ corporate *one* is their Substance and their Intention, hence the more familiar term, “God.”

And so in this latter sense we may come to understand what Christ meant, when He said to Philip that he who had seen Him had seen the Father. For Christ represents all of the Godhead in substance and in *intention.* But here I deliberately use the word *intention,* not *desire,* for as Gethsemane shows, Christ’s *desire* as prayed in His statement “Not my desire, but Yours be done” (Gr., thelo, poorly translated in this particular passage by the NASB as *will*), shows that, while the Persons of the Godhead do not always, so to speak, enter conference with the same *desires,* they leave with the same *intention.* This explains why Christ said that He came not on His own, but because the Father sent Him. It was not His desire to come, but He did it anyway.

And so the cross was the Son’s expense. And the Son was the Father’s expense. And the Spirit bore witness of Christ (according to the Father’s plan) at the expense of speaking of Himself.

In short, God’s love is expense. And I think when someone receives Christ as his Savior, a Savior whose expense toward him far outweighs any expense he returns to Him or to others, it morally obligates him to exhibit His character of goodness to a lost world.

Jason Pratt said...

Good article, Dan; that's basically what I was (rather briefly) talking about in my first comment (and, far less briefly {g}, in the analysis I linked to).

The one thing I would substantially add (pardon the pun), is that this relationship between the Persons of the Father and the Son, actively constitutes the self-existence of God Himself: God is the only Living One, the only self-existent One, the only self-begetting and self-begotten entity. (The 3rd Person, while also God, eternally proceeds as the first possible action of God beyond self-begetting generation: the giving of that-which-is-God between the 1st and 2nd Persons of the deity.)

This directly connects the existence of all not-God reality (created, not begotten), to the active interpersonal coherency of the corporately singular Deity. (AeCHaD, in Biblical Hebrew parlace, not YaCHiD a sheer singularity.) When we act intentionally against the fair-togetherness of persons, whether between derivative persons (like ourselves) or between derivative persons and God, we're acting against the very ground of our existence. We're doing something that, if God (in any Person) ever acted similarly, God would cease to exist and so would everything else in reality.

By God's grace, we are not annihilated when we sin; but there would be nothing to save God (or anything else) against God's action toward ultimately fulfilling non-fair-togetherness (i.e. unrighteousness). Which is not to say that it's technically impossible for God to act that way, only that we can be sure He won't ever do so because none of us would be here to discuss the issue if He did. {g}

And so we have a moral ground, not only a pragmatically prudential one, for loving God (as well as for loving other persons): when we do, we do what God Himself most fundamentally does at the level of His own self-existence. We're doing what He created us to do, as derivative persons. When we don't, we are (in effect) selling our inheritance for a mess of porridge; but God is loyal to us even when we aren't being loyal to Him. (Loyal to us in punishing us, too.)

Sadly, I don't often see Christian theologians/apologists/metaphysicists being particularly trinitarian in their explanation attempts for ethical grounding. Supernaturalistically theistic, yes (usually); but mere monotheism is as poisonous to ethical grounding as any secular theory.


Anonymous said...


"Sadly, I don't often see Christian theologians/apologists/metaphysicists being particularly trinitarian in their explanation attempts for ethical grounding."

Have you read John Frame's Doctrine of the Christian Life?

Jason Pratt said...

Not yet, no. Thanks for the ref!


Jason Pratt said...

Well, let's see:

John Frame’s outline to the portion of his course that amounts to chapter 3 which can be found here, seems to have nothing to say (so far as I could find) about God’s trinitarian nature being the ultimate ground of ethics. At most, the persons of the Trinity are treated, for purposes of ethical grounding, as modes of God’s authoritative expression.

John Frame’s own description of his ethics course (from which The Doctrine of the Christian Life is expanded in book form), here in a presentation to the Trustees of Westminster Theological Seminary in California, reads as follows in total: “And my ethics course, Doctrine of the Christian Life, follows the same pattern. God’s controlling power corresponds to the goal of ethics, he controls the end to which all nature and history are moving. He tells us to seek his kingdom, the goal of history which he has sovereignly ordained. The standard of ethics corresponds to God’s sovereign authority, his law, and the motive of ethics corresponds to God’s providential and redemptive presence. We cannot do good without the motivation of Jesus’ redemption and the presence of God’s Spirit in our hearts.

"The triadic structure applied to ethics coincides with statements of the Reformed confessions to which Cornelius Van Til drew our attention. Ethics has a goal, the glory of God, a standard, the word of God, and a motive, Christian faith. Maintaining a balanced emphasis between goal, standard, and motive, and finding the source of these in God’s covenant Lordship, saves us from the futility of secular ethics. Secular teleological ethics, or utilitarianism, focuses on the goal of ethics, without an adequate standard or motive, and without appealing to God as the source of its goals. Non-Christian deontological ethics focuses on standards: norms, moral laws, but it either denies or ignores the importance of goals and motives, and its norms are without content, since these thinkers try to find ethical norms apart from God’s Word. And non-Christian existential ethics tries to base ethics on man’s inner subjectivity, apart from either norms or goals, and, again, apart from God, who alone can raise our subjectivity above the level of wishful thinking.”

Just coming up with some triadic topological structure isn’t especially “trinitarian”, though, including in ethical grounding. At best it’s only modalistic in extent.

Frame’s debate with Paul Kurtz in Free Inquiry "Do We Need God to be moral?" doesn’t even have reference to trinitarian theism.

Frame’s article on “The Bible On The Problem of Evil: Insights from Romans” makes no mention of the Trinity per se, even when talking about God being the standard of righteousness. (This might be explicable insofar as St. Paul in Romans doesn’t explicitly mention trinitarian grounding for ethics either; but neither does Frame discuss the linguistic construction of the word we typically translate as “righteousness”, which has strong connection to the doctrine of the Trinity.) True, he arranges the argument in terms of three answers which correspond roughly to Father, Son and Spirit, but not in terms of their interrelation with each other being the final ground for ethics (if orthodox trinitarian Christianty is true).

Certainly I would hope that the actual text of the relevant portions of The Doctrine of the Christian Life affirms the trinitarian nature of God’s own existence as being the ground of morality. Can anyone confirm this directly?


Jason Pratt said...

A Calvinist commentator who appreciates John Frame’s work, has just the problems with his crucial third chapter of The Doctrine of the Christian Life as I was hoping better from here.


steve said...

There's a sense in which we can ground ethics in the Trinity, just as we can ground everything in the Trinity. However, that doesn't mean that revealed ethics is a transcript of God's inner life. God is not a creature. God is not a sinner. Ethics in a fallen world will deal with many obligations and misdeeds which have no parallel in the godhead. So while it sounds pious to talk about Trinitarian ethics, and while there's some degree of analogy between God and man on the ethical plane, there are also major, inherent discontinuities to take into account.

steve said...

Thanks, Gordon. That's a much better reply.

In Biblical ethics, there's a correlation between God's law and God's creation. God created human beings with a distinctive nature. And his law for man is adapted to human nature. So his law is not an arbitrary fiat. Put another way, you can combine natural law theory with divine command theory. They go together, for the Lawgiver is also the Creator.

Peter Pike said...

Reppert said:
Of course the divine command theory has the problem of identifying God.

And of course stipulating that there is some kind of moral standard "out there" somewhere that God needs to submit to has the problem of identifying that moral standard.

That's the problem we run into when we get down to moral grounding. Either we say that God Himself simply IS the standard--the definition--of what is good, or we are left trying to define something else that is our standard of good and then make God conform to that notion.

But this runs into its own logical problem, for if this standard of rightness exists (and I include abstract existence in that, not just physical existence) apart from God, then it must have been created by God (i.e., DCT again) or else it must have coexisted with God, which would make it part of God's nature (i.e., DCT again).

Put it this way. Either God has not always been good because the external standard for what defined "good" didn't yet exist even though God did exist, or else God HAS always been good, in which case that external standard of goodness must seems to share the same attributes as God Himself, thus making it indistinguishable from God's nature.

Either way you're left dealing with the same complaints raised against DCT but, IMO, without the philosophical grounding to actually mount a defense.

Peter Pike said...

Gordon Knight said:
Assuming what God wills is not itself necessary, God could will other than God did.

Have you read my recent post on Triablogue where I examined Euthyphro? Basically, if commands are based on God's nature (as I argue), then God cannot command differently then His nature would require Him to command. Thus, His commands are in that sense necessary--they are consistent with who He is, and as such He would have to change His nature in order to change His commands. It would be like you trying to command yourself to like spinach when you don't like it (a rough analogy, of course).

You said:
There is nothing keeping God from willing any action and thereby making it the morally right thing to do.

No, there is GOD keeping Himself "from willing any action" etc. But you are correct that there is nothing other than Him keeping Himself from doing so. Why would you have a problem with that though? Do you not trust God? :-)

You said:
I take it that genuine objective morality, if there be such, is of this sort. [I.e. mathematical]

This doesn't take into consideration the difference between is and ought. You're trying to argue that "A ought to do B" should have equivalent force as "A is A".

But feel free to show me such a system, if you like :-)

Gordon Knight said...


Briefly, such a view is found in the british intuitionists, Moore, prichard, Ross.

I know its not popular nowadays, but I really think "good" is a property, a quality that some things have, some don't (same for "bad"). Thus though I agree with Hume that (usually) we feel disapprobation when we observe willful murder, the reason we do so is we recognize the viciousness, the viciousness is not constitued by any attidude, yours, mine, society's (whatever that means) or God's.

the classic statment of this sort of view is Moore's _Principia Ethica_ Or for a more deontological approache, Ross' _The Right and the Good_

An important question is, if good is an objective property like i say, why should we care. I tend to agree with Plato, Good is a magnet.. when we really know something is good, we feel motivated to pursue it (though thsi motivation is not always succuessful, i do think there an be other motivation

Oh, and I think if the goodness of God's nature precludes God from makking arbitrary judgements,then Good is not itself dependent on God's will. So its not a divine command theory as I understand it (since all moral truth is not grounded in commands). It may be a partial DCT, in that particular obligations are grounded in God's will, but since there is a moral reason to obey God's will (other than just that God said so) I don't see that as a full DCT. whatever one calls it, it is more plausible than the pure DCT I was thinking of.

So I don't think saying Good is part of God's nature is reducing Good to God's will, since God cannot change his goodness. It is separate from God's will, but not from God.

steve said...

Peter is also making some good points, which complement what I said. Mainstream Calvinism rejects divine voluntarism. So it's not as if God can do anything, and its contrary, morally speaking.

Jason Pratt said...

Steve: {{God is not a creature.}}

True; God is the self-begetting, self-begotten ground of all existence--and all existence depends upon the active interpersonal unity of the begetting and begotten persons. This cannot be true of any other entity.

{{God is not a sinner.}}

True; none of the Persons of the Godhead act ultimately against fulfilling fair-togetherness (the Greek term typically translated "righteousness") between persons. The Son does not betray the Father; the Father does not abandon or disown the Son; and God is not unfaithful to derivative persons, either. (Even when they are unfaithful to Him.)

Whether that happens to "sound pious" is not my concern; theological accuracy is. And the only ethical grounding of mere monotheism is might-makes-right: an ethic which has nothing intrinsically to do with acting toward fulfilling interpersonal union at all.


Peter Pike said...

Gordon Knight said:
Oh, and I think if the goodness of God's nature precludes God from makking arbitrary judgements,then Good is not itself dependent on God's will.

I don't see how anyone would think God's will would be divorced from His nature at all, such that His will could act independent of His nature. Of course, I'm fairly Edwardian when it comes to the nature/will aspects.

You said:
So its not a divine command theory as I understand it (since all moral truth is not grounded in commands).

Allow me to clarify my view a bit so I can show you how it cashes out (oh, and if it's not a sort of "pure DCT" then I'm not concerned with that--this is my view) :-) Oh, and this obviously is not a formal proof.

1. God exists with certain attributes that make up His nature.

2. God's nature determines how He acts, what He wills, etc.

3. God gives general commands to us, based on His nature.

4. God is immutable.

5. Logically, then, God's general commands will not change. They are what they are.

This is the "system" so to speak. We live under it whether we want to or not. Now the question is, "What is good?"

I argue that for us good is doing what God commands us to do, and evil is not doing so (including acts of comission or omission; that is, doing what you shouldn't do or NOT doing what you should do are both evil).

That means we only have to concern ourselves with the commands of God.

If you ask further, "Why did God command such and so?" then I respond: "Because God is who He is." "Aren't you afraid He'll change His mind?" "No, because He's immutable."

So you can't divorce what God commands from who God is.

Now the most common rejoinder is that under such a system it is meaningless to say God is good, for God is just God. But I maintain that this is true regardless of what you use for your standard of goodness. Whatever that standard is simply is what it is, and thus is good by definition. I maintain that standard is God, and that God is good by definition is not meaningless because we have an actual object (God) who is providing the definition.

Put another way, if "good" is a property, as you've mentioned, then is it meaningless to say that property of "good" is itself "good"? It simply is what it is, right? Yet you would agree that without it being there in some sense, there is no such thing as "good" at all, right?

Seems that you're in the same boat as I am in in that regard, although you have the added burden of proving that such a property exists, whereas since (I assume) we're both theists, in this discussion we agree on the existence of God.

Now I'm not sure how all DCTs will cash out their theory, but that's how mine is cashed out.

Daniel Gracely said...

Good morning, Jason,

Yes, I agree that God is the self-existent one. That is so important to sound theology, and I appreciate the point. However, I’m unsure if I’m interpreting certain of your comments, such as about God as self-begetting, the way you intend. Did you mean that God begat himself, with time being prior to His existence? If that is what you mean I do not think I would actually agree with that (notwithstanding the verse “I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end”), but, again, I don’t know if that is what you mean.

At any rate, I don’t think a detailed discussion of time is what I want to get into at this point, except to say I generally despair over how certain theologians (I have in mind an Arminian whose theology I recently read and whose theology in general I would even largely agree with) appeal to Science’s ‘understanding’ of eleven dimensions to help defend the ‘logic’ of non-determinative foreknowledge. Such theories seem to me attempts to explain what really cannot be explained. And so, difficult though it is, I must rest instead on accepting the meaning of “foreknowledge” as not implying anything determinative, based merely on the restrictive meaning of how the word was defined in the 1st century in the Mediterranean basin.

At any rate, I’ll confess to finding it ironic that those who make statements like “God is outside time” or “God is beyond time” cannot escape speaking of God by using predicates that refer to some aspect of the temporal. Indeed, they seem to forget that God Himself in the Scriptures does not speak of Himself as atemporal. And so I do not agree with those (I have others, not you in mind) who claim that God’s past eternality exempts us from being able to have any more an accurate lingual description of Him than what mere analogies may offer. I especially note that such analogies seem designed to be employed only when difficulties are at hand.

Jason Pratt said...

Daniel: {{Did you mean that God begat himself, with time being prior to His existence?}}

No, I'm only making an ontological distinction about active self-existence compared to static self-existence. The Father always begets the Son; the Son is always begotten by (and submitting to) the Father. (And the Holy Spirit is always proceeding.)

But those are actions of existence; they are not indicative of a static self-existence. God is ("I am"), but that is not the extent of God's self-proclamation of existence in scripture. YHWH (a title somehow connected to the proclamation "I AM THAT I AM") is the Living AeLoHYM, the Living AeCHaD (plural terms which, in how they are used in the scriptures, indicate corporate unity).

The interpersonal unity of God is something God actively does. It isn't an optional action. If the Persons were not operating in self-sacrificial and self-giving unity with one another, God would not exist--and neither would anything else.

(Relatedly, I hope it's clear that am not speaking of the Incarnation at this point when speaking of the Son, although the Incarnation is obviously connected to the eternal begetting of the 2nd Person of the Trinity.)

The doctrine of the Living Unity of the Trinity has fundamental implications for ethical grounding: it's the only proposal that actually counts as ultimately objective ethical grounding. God is love; God is righteousness ('fair-togetherness' in Greek). Love isn't something God might or might not do (like wrath); love is what God is in His own self-existence. Consequently, the other things done by God (including His wrath) must have the fulfillment of interpersonal relationships ultimately in view: the fulfillment of positive justice. He would be acting against His own essential reality otherwise.

Which has some obvious fundamental theological implications for soteriology, too. (Which is I routinely find non-universalists trying to get away from the idea that God's trinitarian nature has anything necessarily to do with ethics, sin, judgment and salvation.)


Daniel Gracely said...

Hello Jason,

Thanks for the helpful clarification about time not preceding God. Your post is interesting, and I will reread it and be mulling further over it. In the meantime I wanted to get your opinion about a hypothesis I haven’t yet tested thoroughly. When I stated the following idea to a Clarkian Calvinist earlier this year, he said I was just being silly. Still, I don’t remember him answering the question, and I’m still exploring the idea. Namely, why shouldn’t English translations have rendered “Elohim” as “Gods” instead of “God,” and just the singular “Elowaw” as “God”?

I ask this because it seems to me that the Old Testament Scriptures themselves take pains to use the plural, to point (I believe) primarily to the *separate* persons of the Godhead, often (though not always) leaving the corporate oneness of the Persons merely implied. My chief argument for rendering Elohim as “Gods” (in contexts where “Elohim” does not mean e.g., angels) is this: Since Hebrew demonstrates a visual distinction in the letters it uses to form the plural of God, and uses a different spelling to indicate the singular of God, why shouldn’t English translations follow suit? It strikes me that if English translators *had* done so, the argument for Christ as God would have been (and be) more readily understandable to the unbeliever and unlearned. Moreover (though incidentally), the kind of arguments we get from Mormonism and Jehovah’s Witnesses would appear weaker.

I suppose here are *some* arguments (but then my objections) why the English has not followed suit:

1) because the word “one” in Deut. 6:4 indicates sheer singularity. But in John 10:30, “I and my Father are one” (Gr, heis) may be taken to mean one in substance and intention but not in Person (and I think Gr. heis indicates sheer singularity, if I’m not mistaken).

Also, 2) God uses the plural for purposes of the majestic “we”. But imo this is simply reading one’s theology into the text. Presumably the majestic “we” argument took especial root among later Jews who would define their monotheism in the same terms of sheer singularity (of Person) as would Islam, or as did the Pharaoh Akhenaten;

Also, 3) People reading the English Bible already know the term “God” means three Persons. But again, that is not a reason for not allowing the English to show a visual distinction as evident in the Hebrew, a distinction capably shown in English. And not everyone assumes “God” refers to three persons.

Also, 4) It will promote the idea of polytheism. But not “polytheism” according to pagan myths, nor polytheistic in any sense that would overthrow the definition of the Godhead as one is Substance and Intention, as Scripturally defined.

So, a related question would be this: By translating Elohim as “God”, have not English translations left the impression with the unbeliever or unlearned, of a sheer singular Personhood of God? Because of my other posts, you probably realize I don’t endorse descriptive analogies of God except where obvious, so I don’t accept explanations along those lines. (Of course I realize what is and is not obvious among theologians is a contentious subject.) Thanks in advance for your reply, Jason.

Jason Pratt said...

That's a fine set of questions, Daniel; but I think I'd be going rather outside the purview of Victor's original topical intention to try to reply to them here!

So, I've ported your comment (minus a little bit of connection to the interChristian soteriological sparring going on here) over to the Cadre Journal here. Which is where I'll reply, when I have the time to write something up. (Meanwhile the other Cadrists like to chew over trinitarian apologetic topics, too.)


Andrew said...

'A Catholic friend of mine once said "If Calvin's God exists, I would insist on being damned. But it would do me no good."'

Not true. This comment is not biblical at all. Whether you believe in unconditional election or not, the fact of the matter remains that God does in fact know everything that is going to happen and has known for all eternity.

However, we as men do not. We also cannot know for sure who is saved and what is in each man's heart. Only God can possibly know this, as well as the individual person.