‘Cartesian Asceticism’

In Joseph Owens’ essay in The Cambridge Companion to Aquinas, the author emphasizes that Aquinas (with Aristotle) roots human knowledge in objects in the world impinging on our senses.  With a nice turn of phrase, Owens marks how this is rather different from the subjectivism that one finds in Descartes and, generally, in ‘postmodern’ sensibilities:

[T]he postmodern approach is bound by its own historical antecedents in a way that stretches as far back as Descartes. It cannot take seriously the approach from things in themselves.  It is incapable of understanding how things in themselves may be epistemologically prior to thoughts and words.  Still conditioned by the Cartesian asceticism of turning one’s back upon the immaturity of sense cognition and taking one’s ideas as the starting points for philosophical thinking, it finds incomprehensible the stand that the thing signified can be epistemologically prior to the sign (p. 56).

In Bavinck’s narrative of this (in RD vol. 1), one finds that our true sense perception of the world serving as the foundation of human knowledge is a staple in the history of catholic Christian theology and philosophical thinking.  Intriguingly, on this reading, infatuation with idealism or linguistic constructivism in recent Christian thinkers enamored of (so-called) postmodern thought represents a spurning of the catholic (small ‘c’) resources and trajectory.

Any thoughts on any of this?

Was Jonathan Edwards a Panentheist?

The ever-insightful Oliver Crisp has a chapter in the newish volume Jonathan Edwards as Contemporary arguing that Edwards was, in fact, a panentheist. The difficulty in reading Crisp, I have found, is the knowledge that before you finish the article or chapter you are reading he has already written two others. That aside, I want to address the broad contours of his argument.

Crisp starts with a working definition of panentheism: “The being of God includes and penetrates the whole universe, so that every part exists in Him, but His Being is more than, and not exhausted by, the universe.” Continuing in Crisp’s analytic mode, he offers several key constituents: Continue reading

Which Trinity? Whose Monotheism? (pt 2)

McCall begins the first chapter of the book by lamenting that ‘systematic theology of recent vintage’ has failed to shed light on the ‘threeness-oneness problem’ in theology proper and by finding encouragement in philosophers of religion contending for the coherence of ‘the distinctness and divinity of the persons’ and ‘the oneness or unity of God’ (p. 11).  A number of analytic proposals are recapitulated in this chapter.  Cornelius Plantinga and Richard Swinburne come under scrutiny as representatives of social trinitarianism.  After critics of social trinitarianism (Brian Leftow, Dale Tuggy, and others) have had their say, the ‘Trinity monotheism’ of J. P. Moreland and William Lane Craig is unfurled as a defense of social trinitarianism.  For Moreland and Craig, there are ‘two ways to be divine’.  The first belongs to the Trinity as a whole, which is ‘the sole instance of the divine nature’, while the second belongs to the persons, which are not ‘instances of the divine nature’ but rather ‘parts of God’ which are fully divine, as parts of a cat are fully feline (p. 31; this is Moreland’s and Craig’s analogy, not McCall’s or mine).  For Moreland and Craig, God is ‘one soul endowed with three complete sets of rational cognitive faculties’ and hence the persons are ‘three centers of self-consciousness, intentionality, and volition’ who are still the same divine being, as Cerberus, the three-headed dog thought to guard Hades, would be one being with three centers of consciousness that might be called Rover, Bowser, and Spike (pp. 32-3; this is Moreland’s and Craig’s analogy, unembellished by McCall or me).  After Moreland and Craig, Keith Yandell’s trinitarianism is presented as another variation on the social construal.  In Yandell’s account, the Trinity is complex but not composed of parts because the Trinity and the persons and the persons themselves cannot exist without one another.

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Which Trinity? Whose Monotheism? by Thomas McCall (pt 1)

In view of what he calls ‘a dearth of engagement with the work being done by analytic philosophical theologians’ (p. 4), Thomas McCall has written Which Trinity?  Whose Monotheism?  Philosophical and Systematic Theologians on the Metaphysics of Trinitarian Theology (Eerdmans, 2010) in hopes of promoting more interaction between systematicians and Christians doing analytic philosophy.  Both spheres have much to learn from one another, McCall urges, especially when it comes to the doctrine of the Trinity.

The book contains three major sections.  The first unpacks different proposals for understanding the Trinity that have been proffered by analytic philosophers, delineates theological desiderata that demand more attention than they have received in the analytic world, and then evaluates the various analytic trinitarian schemas in light of those desiderata.  The second deploys the ‘conceptual tools of the analytic approach’ in appraising the doctrine of the Trinity in Robert Jenson, Jürgen Moltmann, evangelical debates about the ‘eternal subordination of the Son’, and John Zizioulas.  The third concludes the book with ‘theses for scholastic disputation on the future of Trinitarian theology that is both faithful to its truly theological heritage and attentive to contemporary metaphysical issues’ (p. 7).

I’m interested to engage this book on two levels.  First, I’d like to explore how exigent and promising are the proposals being developed by analytic philosophers on the doctrine of the Trinity.  Second, I’d like to explore more generally (and perhaps only implicitly) what to make of philosophers who are Christians and passionate about theological issues (not simply theologians with a watchful eye on philosophical stirrings or a keenness to glean things from philosophical resources [say, speech-act theory or Aristotle on causation]) taking up the task of constructive work in Christian doctrine.  A related question: should there be such a thing as ‘Christian philosophy’ or simply Christians who do philosophy in its own right and perchance see some of their insights utilized ad hoc by Christian theologians to whom the work of dogmatics is properly allocated?

Any thoughts before we get into the content of the book?

Vanhoozer and Supervenience

I was reading back over some of Vanhoozer’s articles-turned-chapters in First Theology the other day and came across his use of supervenience. I recall that he has affinity to the term in Drama of Doctrine as well. It has been a long time since I’ve looked at Drama but I do recall not liking his use of supervenience there, thinking that he moved to philosophical constructs too quickly, and that, ultimately, supervenience works against theology rather than for it. For all the Vanhoozerites out there (and we know you’re out there!), I was wondering what you think of this. Do you find this term helpful? What do you think it allows him to do? In First Theology (chapter on efficacious call), he doesn’t employ it as much as use it, but even there I didn’t find it particularly helpful.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with supervenience, it is often employed in naturalistic arguments in Philosophy of Mind to explain emergent properties, in that case, mental properties (but not limited to that discussion). Therefore, naturalistic philosophers can talk about true mental activity that is beyond reductionistic explanation. If I recall correctly, which I may not be, Vanhoozer seeks to use it in Drama to explain how the divine and human word interrelate. In my mind, the term supervenience is solely used as a bottom up explanation and has no real use for any top down work – which I think theologians should be more concerned with. I might be mistaking his usage though. Any thoughts? Is this term helpful, useful or total rubbish?

Jüngel and the difference between ‘evangelical’ and ‘philosophical’ theology

[A] theology which is responsive to the crucified man Jesus as the true God, knows that it is fundamentally different from something like philosophical theology in this one thing: single-mindedly and unswervingly, based on its specific task, it attempts to think God from the encounter with God… (Eberhard Jüngel)

One division of theology that still has me asking questions about its approach to doctrine is the analytic philosophical kind.

I’m not saying I understand it as I should so the nature of this post is part exploratory and part an ice-breaker in the sense of initiating a discussion on the ways and means of doing theology this way. To this end, I introduce Eberhard Jüngel whose proposal for doing theology looks a little different.

While AP is a cluster concept and includes many methods and teachings, I suppose the one voice that I find speaks the loudest from the theological quarter is that of the conceptual and logical analysis that attends and undergirds the formalism of arguments. While certain doctrines are assumed as normative for Christian belief, they are still brought to the bar of a particular system of logic, albeit striped of their scriptural and doctrinal setting, for the sake of coherence and plausibility. Doctrines typically discussed in this mode include God’s existence, the presence of evil, the metaphysics of God’s omnipresence, Christ’s hypostatic union and the perichoretic relationship of the Trinity. Continue reading