Righteousness: Covenant Faithfulness or Metaphysical Attribute?

Paul Helm, following Piper’s critique of Wright, suggests that God’s righteousness cannot be defined as covenant faithfulness (see post here). I want to think out loud a bit about Helm’s argumentation, and would love to hear your thoughts after reading his post and after reading my impressions here. First, Helm states,

I think we need to pause for a moment or two on this claimed identity between righteousness and covenant faithfulness. It means, for one thing, that there is no other way that God could express his righteousness than by way of covenant faithfulness.”

Now, presumably, if Wright is equating God’s righteousness with covenant faithfulness then this statement presupposes its conclusion. Note Helm’s assumption that God must have “righteousness” behind his covenant faithfulness. This seems, in light of the argument, to be both unhelpful and presumptuous. Next, Helm claims,

Yet it is not merely a question of some definition of righteousness not being adequate, of how we are to understand that righteousness. It is also, and more fundamentally, the question of the coherence of any account of divine righteousness that does not begin with who God is. Being, the being of God, must come first; acting is a consequence of being.”

Likewise, with characterological boldness, Helm continues by adding, “But Piper has put his finger on an inherent weakness with such approaches. To be contributions to Christian theology they all need what a mere narrative, a mere sequence of events , does not and cannot deliver. They need a doctrine of God.” Therefore, in this segment of the argument (this is clearly not a robust summary, please read the post itself), Helm and Piper critique Wright for having a “narrative” as opposed to a truly “metaphysical” account of God. But this critique doesn’t stop with Wright, but is a critique on the tendency to see God’s righteousness and covenant faithfulness, and therefore deal with God’s economy apart from his nature (or so the argument goes).

My question here does not concern the validity of these critiques against Wright, but if these critiques are adequate for equating covenant faithfulness with righteousness. Interestingly, as noted on this blog prior, Jonathan Edwards (a person of interest for both Piper and Helm) held to the same view as Wright’s. Edwards states:

“So the word righteousness is very often used in Scripture for his covenant faithfulness; so ’tis in Nehemiah 9:8, “Thou hast performed thy words for thou art righteous.” And so we are very often to understand righteousness and covenant mercy [to] be the same thing, as Psalms 24:5, “He shall receive the blessing from the Lord and righteousness from the God of [his salvation],” Psalms 36:10, “O continue thy lovingkindness to them that know thee; and thy righteousness to the upright,” and Psalms 51:14, “Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, thou God of my salvation; and my tongue shall sing aloud of thy righteousness” and Daniel 9:16, “O Lord, according to thy righteousness, I beseech thee, let thine anger and thy fury be turned away” and so in innumerable other places.” (Y9:114-115)

Edwards continues on to add, “God’s righteousness or covenant mercy is the root of which his salvation is the fruit.” For Edwards, “righteousness” is a unrealized perfection of God, and therefore not a metaphysical “property” but a potentiality – for the very reason that it is relationally defined. God creates to give his unrealized attributes “exercise.” Both Wright and Edwards offer exegetical reasoning for arguing that God’s righteousness is in fact his covenant faithfulness, and Edwards, contra Piper and Helm, offers a solution with his metaphysically rich doctrine of God (regardless of what you think of it). In this sense, like mercy, God has the attribute but doesn’t have reason for it to be exercised. Righteousness, or God’s faithfulness, isn’t exercised until he creates. This does not mean that there isn’t an account of righteousness in his doctrine of God, only that he understands righteousness to exist only in relation.

But I’m not convinced this is where you would need to go (the route of unrealized attributes). Does God, for instance, need to have a matching attribute (metaphysically speaking) for everything that is true of him. Does he have the attribute of “able to be incarnate” for instance? This is certainly a relational attribute. Cannot God have underlying attributes that find exercise in a variety of ways without necessitating their own attribute? Therefore love, truthfulness and justice would seem to be enough metaphysical grounding for righteousness to be covenant faithfulness. It seems to me that Piper and Helm assume from the outset that God has to have righteousness as a property of his being in order to be considered righteous, and I just don’t know if that is necessary.

Am I off here? What do you think? I do find it interesting that the likes of Wright and Edwards landed on the same point from exegesis. Without making an exegetical argument, what would it take to truly argue against their position? Is it that obvious that God must have a metaphysical property or attribute of righteousness in order to act righteously?


56 thoughts on “Righteousness: Covenant Faithfulness or Metaphysical Attribute?

  1. Very interesting post. It seems that a lot depends on how you understand the attributes of God. For example, do we understand who God is based on his divine action being a reflection of his being? Or do we try to (pre-)conceive God’s being in order to understand what he will or will not do? There are more ways than this but these two seem to be at play here if I’m understanding things correctly.

    Personally, I don’t think you’re off. We should be careful not to allow divine action to take us so far that we develop an attribute where, as you said, God can become man. Could that not simply be an extension of his power (as one example)? At the same time, we shouldn’t feel the need to ascribe an attribute of righteousness to God just so he can act righteously. We should only do so if we believe scripture warrants it which seems to be the core (or should be) of this discussion.

  2. It seems to me, in a situation like this, that the emphasis must be on exegesis. If the Bible truly does link righteousness with covenant faithfulness (in a way that makes one think they are truly identical) then it doesn’t seem beyond reason to think that could be the case – and still have a doctrine of God!

  3. I am not sure why you think that it is unhelpful to think of righteous prior to covenant faithfulness. Can you flesh that out a bit?

    On Edwards’ rather platonic metaphysic of God as pure act, how is it that God has unrealized potential?

    And it seems to me that attributes are not properties, but attributions or judgments we make about a simple object. The differences are in our thinking, not in the object.

    And then the question is whether these unrealized attributions are extrinsic or intrinsic relations. Most western writers have taken them to be the former where they do not constitute the divine essence.

  4. Perry, I don’t necessary think it is unhelpful to talk about righteousness as a prior attribute of God – if in fact the text eludes it it as an attribute – and not, as Wright and Edwards believe, covenant faithfulness.

    Edwards God doesn’t have unrealized potential per se, but can have relations (covenant faithfulness, or righteousness) for instance. Post-Reformed dogmaticians would use property language from time to time, but with the same purpose.

  5. Perry, I assume you’re asking Kyle, but I’ll jump in if that’s okay. If, for example, scripture really does link righteousness and covenant faithfulness in a primary relationship then we shouldn’t think of them apart from one another. If we do then we run the risk of coming up with our own understanding of righteousness which we’ll then later bring to the discussion of what it means for God to be righteous. If ignored then it would also make it easy to neglect how scripture describes God’s righteousness and, similarly, what God’s divine action within history says about who He is (i.e. covenant faithfulness = righteousness). I’m mostly trying to think out loud here so I would love to hear further thoughts and responses.

  6. Kyle,

    Intensely important debate with tangible consequences among the people of God.

    Could we be reading an artificial dichotomy into the debate here? The distinction between attribute and activity in the world may be important from a strictly ontological point of view, but the distinction may lose its force within the realm of metaphysics, as you hinted in your last paragraph developing Edwards’ metaphysics. It seems to me that Wright has said a lot more about righteousness than just covenant faithfulness. I would think that his trademark phrase “putting the world to rights” should at least be mentioned here.

    Part of the problem we have in “picturing” what righteousness is or is not is that we continue to apply a rationalistic epistemology to the categories, and I think, perhaps, this may be evident in the arguments of Piper et al. On the other hand, Wright has not been all that clear or transparent in much of his exegesis and IMO may be guilty (at least in some places) of artificially restricting dikaiwsune theou to the notion of “covenant faithfulness”; it simply is not expansive or flexible enough to project the full metaphysical range of the concept. I do think that his latest book Justification has made a lot more progress along these lines, though still begging for further development.

    The exercise of God’s righteousness is rooted in the metaphysical truth that God is righteous and that he is so apart from the constraints of time and space. That the “exercise” of God’s righteousness within time and space is manifest in his creative acts is certainly obvious from passages like Romans 1; however, even in the same passage it is also manifest in his acts of judgment against unrighteousness, as “measured” by the law that God also gave. Moreover, the exercise of God’s righteousness is also being consummated in his acts of redemption, as Romans 8 clearly attests.

    Acts of righteousness in the OT are themselves routinely and simply labeled as righteousness (and justice), and God has always intended for these acts to be performed in the world by his chosen people. These acts are similarly to be rooted in a righteous character that is imbued within these people by the Spirit of God. One might say that we thereby “acquire” the “attribute” of righteousness, which we ordinarily label “Christlikeness.” The whole point of the Sermon on the Mount is to describe what true righteousness really “looks like,” and the Sermon is nothing if it is not describing a heart disposition that manifests itself in typical acts, given the various circumstances that inevitably recur among the people of God over time.

    The attitudes and corresponding behaviors described in the Sermon are primarily manifestations of God’s redemptive activity in a fallen world; hence, “putting the world to rights.” So, returning to Romans 1, it now makes eminent sense that, given the inescapable fact that mankind ignored the obvious and twisted what was meant to be into something it was not meant to be, then the revealing of God’s righteousness is taken to its highest “power” in the transformation of sinful man back into what he was originally created to be (cf. Rom. 12:1-2), and that ultimately this will testify even more persuasively of God’s righteousness (Rom. 8) than his creative acts or his judgment of sin alone, because death is the only result of the latter. Since the ultimate result of righteousness is always life (Rom. 5-8), the subcategories of creation and the judgment of sin cannot possibly exhaust the concept. Perhaps we should view covenant faithfulness as the means by which God accomplishes his role in the “bringing in” or final consummation of his righteousness in time and space.

    • Jim, it seems that your solution assumes what Helm’s does – that God’s activity must do more than merely say something about God, but must have some metaphysical “property” to it. My point, along with Edwards and Wright, is that I just don’t think that is necessary. Now, admittedly, it may be true – just not necessarily so.

      Therefore, righteousness and “putting the world to rights” still says something about who God is, no one is denying that, they are only seeking to imply that exegetically, righteousness itself is read through covenant. So, take attributes like goodness and justice and, through a covenant scheme, you have righteousness. Now, I don’t know if this exegetically follows, but I do think exegesis itself must win the day here.

      With Bobby, God’s act must be his being, true – but what is his being? For Edwards, God’s being is Trinity – therefore God is essentially who rather than what.

  7. Kyle –

    First off, thanks for writing. Posts like this make it worth checking what’s new at Theology Forum.

    Here is a philosopher’s take on some of the issues that you raised. You asked the following: “Does God, for instance, need to have a matching attribute (metaphysically speaking) for everything that is true of him. Does he have the attribute of “able to be incarnate” for instance?” There are really two questions here:

    1. Must God have some property or other in virtue of which he is able to become incarnate?
    2. Must God have the property “possibly becoming incarnate” in virute of of which he is able to become incarnate?

    I think that the answer to (1) is Yes, but it is much less obvious to me how one should answer (2). If you have fairly liberal views about the relationship between properties and predicates, then you’ll be inclined to answer affirmatively because it’s *true* of God that he could become incarnate (and did, thankfully). If you have more austere views about properties (i.e., you believe in ‘sparse properties’), then you may be inclined to answer negatively, taking the line God has some more general property in virtue of which it is true that he could become incarnate.

    This raises a more general point: The issue with which you seem to be wrestling is whether one should of God’s righteousness as (a) a truth (presumably about God’s character and actions) or (b) an attribute. To my mind, then, the real question concerns how fundamental God’s righteousness is in explanations of God’s dispositions / intentions / activities / etc. If you want to explain a lot of things in terms of God’s righteousness, then you should probably say that it’s an attribute (which is the route that, I assume, Edward takes). If not, then it’s probably safe to regard it as a truth about God (to which no distinct property corresponds).

  8. Bob, thanks for your thoughts. Actually, Edwards would follow the latter rather than the former. For Edwards, God’s righteousness is his covenant faithfulness (along with Wright).

    From a want-to-be-theologian’s standpoint, my concerns are in the area of God’s as Trinity, and how attributes relate to that trinitarian being. My worry is that discussion of God is bifurcated into talk of the divine essence and then talk of the persons, as if they were two different things – or as if there was a God (divine essence) behind the Trinity. I actually think that Edwards was weary of this as well as avoids it through this kind of predication.

  9. Qualities of God, with unrealized attributes as yet not expressed in actions or words, though, would have the advantage of opening God up a bit more; since in that case, God has attributes that might be as yet not expressed, or discovered.

    Whereas even “love” has some already fixed and well-known consequences. (Which, the way, they are not endless: the Bible tells us even the “heart” may be untrue, deceived, etc… So that our own Human love – and by extension, our fleshly idea even of Divine love – is undoubtedly not quite as reliable, as our more sentimental preachers and believers suppose.)

  10. I think an excellent resource for this discussion, for anyone who hasn’t read it already, is T. F. Torrance’s The Christian Doctrine of God, One Being Three Persons.

    This work continues to clarify the fundamental points that Kyle is getting at. We don’t want to separate God’s theological life (His inner, “eternal” life) from His “Evangelical life” (revealed in salvation history).

    The problem comes in, if we do follow the above distinction in God’s life, then we end up with a “God behind the back of Jesus” (per Torrance).

    Another way to say it is God’s “being” (ousia) is shaped by the interrelationship between God’s distinct persons (hypostasis) . . . so we have one in three, and three in one (perichoresis is a helpful concept here). So in other words, God’s being isn’t a “substance” of “Godness” behind the back of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — from whence they subsist (basically as attributes of “personhood”) — instead framed contrarily God and thus all of His “attributes” are inextricably related to who He is as a “Person”, a relationship of communion in union one with another. What this would imply about God’s righteousness/faithfulness is that these are not extensions “out” of God (or qualities); instead these acts disclosed in salvation history are who the three person’s are in their own Free Self-determined life.

    Kyle, I think I read a critique of Edwards by Oliver Crisp, wherein he argued that Edwards’ approach kind’ve borrows from the “classic” substance approach in re. to his “Doctrine of God.” Is this true, from your reading? In other words, that Edwards was kind of a voluntarist . . . am I recollecting, correctly?

  11. Two points to address.

    One. I confess that I have never felt the force of the objection that talk about God qua substance creates a God ‘behind the persons’. That strikes me as a straightforward misunderstanding of the philosophy.

    How does the view that God is a substance lead to the view that God is ‘bifurcated’? I’m a person. I’m a substance. I am both essentially. The fact that I am a substance makes it a no less true or fundamental fact about me that I am a person. What’s the argument for the conclusion that we should think otherwise about the relationship between substance and personhood for God?

    Talk about substance matters when we are trying to distinguish God from ‘entities’ (in the most general possible sense of that term) that he is obviously not: a property instance, an event, an abstract object, a relation, whatever. What is offensive about NOT identifying God with one of these things?

    Two. I should have been clearer in my initial post. I submit that we should think about God’s righteousness as an attribute only if we want to explain other truths about God in terms of God’s righteousness. So, if you think that God’s goodness (for example) ought to be understood in terms of God’s righteousness, then you ought to say that God has righteousness as an attribute and deny that God has goodness as an attribute. Claims about God’s goodness will be interpreted (on this view that I imagining but in no way advocating) as eliptical claims about God’s righteousness (plus whatever else it takes to fill out the analysis). If, by contrast, you think that God’s righteousness ought to be understood as (for example) God’s remarkable tendency to keep his promises, then you should probably say that God’s righteousness is not an attribute. Instead, you should probably say that claims about God’s righteousness should be understood in terms God’s will and goodness (construed, of course, as attributes). The upshot of all this is that, on the view that I am recommending, one says that God has an attribute if it is is going to be an unexplained explainer in one’s theology, and not otherwise.

    • Bob, thanks for the thoughts.

      Let me explain my issue which led to your first thought. I am not worried about a substance behind God, but a deity behind him. In other words, in an epistemic register, I worry about talking about God as deity first, and then God as Trinity second. You see this happen in, for instance, Ames’ Marrow. There is some kind of deity behind the persons, usually referred to as the essence, which has attributes of its own somehow outside of the persons. That is my concern. I want to read all things related to God as essentially trinitarian.

      Your second comment is precisely what I, with less clarity, stated against Helm. This is my thought exactly – why can’t righteousness exist as a character trait of God, built on actual attributes such as goodness? I’m not sure if traits and attributes are helpful here, but possibly.

    • Bob,

      I don’t think this represents a “misunderstanding” of the philosophy. If you don’t like the language of “substance” (which I’m thinking of Thomism), then go with Kyle’s language of essence — I don’t see a real difference there, except for semantic.

      What do you mean when you say you are a “substance,” and a “person;” doesn’t your assertion assume the biurfication that you say the philosophy doesn’t lead to?

      My argument is against “negative theology,” and the context from whence “substance” language comes. It is against the notion that we can conceive of “God,” and create a “godness” by intuitively reflecting on creation by “our reason,” and then positing by looking at the creation that it must’ve taken a “certain kind of all powerful being” to create . . . thus constructing this “godness” which we then fit the God of the Bible disclosed in Christ into. This is the “God” that is behind the back of Jesus (you can call it substance [whatever you mean by that], essence, or whatever). So my complaint is against negative theology, and its tradition . . . whether that’s through Thomas Aquianas’ framing or Emil Brunner’s for that matter.

      My concern is the same as Kyle’s on this. I would refer you to Jn 1:18.

  12. But how would you justify a theology that focuses on the Trinity – Father, Son, Holy Spirit – and yet does not find a place at all for “God”?

  13. J. Barrett,

    I am not sure how it follows that if Scripture links them in the economy that it is so for theologia. If this principled linkage were necessarily so, it would lead to all sorts of problems in the Trinity.

    I don’t think the problem you posit about coming up with our own concept of righteousness ensues. It only requires us to think of divine righteousness as self sufficient relative to creatures. God doesn’t need covenants to be righteous. Consequently it will force us to look at the biblical material on divine glory, and there is sufficient biblical data there that speaks of God’s glory prior to and apart from the economia.

    I see no reason to think that just because divine action in the economia isn’t exhaustive or fully indicative of the way things are in the theologia, that the economia isn’t genuinely revelatory.

    • In light of J. Barretts absence from the discussion, let me add in my two sense here Perry. The issue is about predication. You are assuming that God is righteous, according to your definition, as a predication of his being. Both I and Barrett are saying that it is possible, minimally, to define righteousness as “covenant faithfulness,” and therefore it would not be an actual predication on God’s being any more than God needing the attribute of incarnatable to become incarnate. It is an extrinsic relation.

      In this sense, we would certainly still learn something about the character of God, just not in the sense of metaphysical predication. Therefore, the question is how we come to such a view. For Wright and Edwards, if the biblical witness exhausts the category of righteousness solely into covenant faithfulness (a point we are not yet debating), then that would be impetus to push forward to this position. It seems, if nothing else, possible.

    • Perry,

      Thanks for your reply (forgive my delay as I was at work all day). I definitely agree that God doesn’t need covenants to be righteous. He is already so, but how do we know this? Divine action. Otherwise, we predicate this of God apart from his self-revelation (Kyle, thank you for your clarifications).

      There’s a lot of jargon being thrown around here and it makes me wonder if we all mean close to the same thing. I wonder because, if I understand you correctly, I fully agree with your last statement.

  14. Bobby,

    I don’t think we must hold that God’s activity is his being, if by being you mean the divine essence. I think it is more helpful to think of the matter in terms of essence-person-activity, where persons bring to act powers that they possess a la essence. In which case, righteousness will be a power that God has irrespective of creation, without the fear of nominalism.

    Griffin I think is on the right track. It does open things up, without compromising everything the tradition wishes to say.

  15. Good discussion here… I appreciate the dialogue between the philosopher (Bob) and the theologians! Just to throw in my 2 cents…

    First, I think Helm, et al, are making a straw man out of Wright’s argument, and then responding to that. But, more to the point of the post… Bob, re: your comment above, here’s why it seems like a bifurcation to me.

    When Helms makes statements like “Being, the being of God, must come first; acting is a consequence of being” it makes me think he is setting up a vicious circle, where God’s act and being are separated into speculative categories and both used to validate the other. I can appreciate what he’s wanting to defend, but I don’t think his approach is very helpful. It seems better to me to live in the tension created by leaving aside the ontological presuppositions.

    Theologically, it seems uncontroversial to me that any description of God’s attributes (or being!) is, at best, analogous to our own. To say “God is X” really doesn’t tell us as much about God as it does about our own conception of what ‘X’ is. To say “God’s righteousness is X” simply repeats this problem. So, establishing God’s being doesn’t get us any closer to knowing what sort of God we’re dealing with, unless we have a correct understanding of God’s acts.

    I find it difficult to make any case other than that God is the ultimate “unexplained explainer,” outside of God’s own self-revelation. Which is why proper biblical exegesis, and – of course – reading all of Scripture through the lens of Jesus Christ, is really the best way to establish a doctrine of God’s “righteousness” or any other attribute.

    So, contra Helm, I don’t think the solution is that we need a better “doctrine of God”, I think we need to better interpret the revelation of God we believe we’ve been given. Doctrine flows from that; not the other way around. This isn’t to say that the doctrine of God is unnecessary; not at all! But a doctrine of God only takes us as far as our previously accepted premises about God’s revelation will allow. Which makes me think that hermeneutics is more necessary to theology than ontology. ;-)

    • In re. to the “unexplained explainer;” didn’t Barth say that: Jesus Christ is God’s self-interpreting Word? This seems fitting.

  16. Kyle: It sounds to me as if your worry is about theological method: Perhaps you object to the idea that we should employ some pre-theoretic (or, at the very least, pre-revelatory) theory of the divine to interpret God’s self-revelation. If this is your worry, then I have the following to say about it: Ought implies can, and it is impossible for us to avoid using the concepts we have to interpret what God has revealed. Hence, we can’t be obliged to avoid using those concepts. What we are obliged to do (so I say) is to revise them in the light of new evidence – in particular, the evidence of God’s self-revelation in Christ. What I have yet to see is an argument to the effect that the *revision* will be tantamount to a *wholesale rejection*. One reason to think that it *won’t* amount to wholesale rejection is provided by the language of the Creed – three persons in one substance.

    Bobby Grow: (1) As far as I can tell, you’re inferring from the fact that I’m using two *words* (‘substance’ and ‘person’) to the idea that I must be talking about two *things*. That’s a bad inference. There are plenty of non-synonymous but co-referential terms: ‘water’ and ‘H2O’; ‘the President’ and ‘Barack Obama’; ‘the Son’ and ‘Christ’. (2) Nothing that I’ve said commits me to the view – or even suggests the view – that we *ought* to fit God’s revelation into some prefabricated metaphysical categories. That said, the idea that we can entirely *avoid* metaphysical questions about God is a non-starter. Indeed, I take it to be obvious that a great deal of the evidence *for* taking God to be a substance (as opposed to a property, or event, or whatever) comes straight from Scripture. God is clearly depicted as an agent – as the sort of things that *has* properties (and so isn’t one) and is *involved in* grand, restorative events (and so isn’t one). (3) The apophatic tradition has no time for the idea that God is a substance. The idea that God is a substance is a positive claim about God, hence not a negative claim about God, hence not compatible with negative theology.

    Geoff: (1) You say the following: “To say ‘God is X’ really doesn’t tell us as much about God as it does about our own conception of what ‘X’ is. […] So, establishing God’s being doesn’t get us any closer to knowing what sort of God we’re dealing with, unless we have a correct understanding of God’s acts.” This seems like an unreasonable kind of skepticism about God’s attributes and wild optimism about our knowledge of God’s actions. Don’t we *use* our knowledge of God’s attributes to make sense of his actions? What should one infer from the fact that God tests Abraham, or kills Uzza, or promises to condemn the unrighteous *without* the guiding assumption that God is good? True: An important basis for our knowledge of God is God’s self-revelation in history. But how could one suggest on that basis that our knowledge of God’s attributes is somehow less secure? Note: My wife’s knowledge of *my* attributes is surely no less secure because she learns about them through my actions. And that is the *only* way she learns about them, whereas, concerning God, we also have the testimony of the Holy Spirit! That’s two sources of knowledge to one. (2) Let me clarify what I meant when I said that one might take God’s righteousness as an unexplained explainer. I meant this: One might take the fact that God is righteous to be the most basic moral fact about God, and the one, therefore, in virtue of which you offer explanations of all the moral claims that you want to make about God. It is, in other words, a primitive in your theory of the divine character. Now, I’m inclined to say that you *shouldn’t* take God’s righteousness as a primitive. I like Kyle’s suggestion that one might explain righteousness in terms of covenant faithfulness, which will itself be explained in terms of God’s goodness and his steadfast will. But *that* is just to say that I prefer to take God’s goodness and will as primitives in my theory of the divine character, which I do for reasons that are as based on God’s revelation as any others of which I am aware.

    • Bob,

      Since there are finite alternatives for theological method, and ontological/epistemological construals; I’ve “presumed” certain things based upon inference from what you’ve said. The only way that I’ve made, or could make, a “bad inference,” is if I actually knew what you believed about such things. Thus far, and still, I don’t know what you believe about theological method; all I can do is see what you don’t believe, so all I’m able to do is make presumptuous inferences based upon what you’re *not* saying.

      My theological method follows the perspective that order of being precedes order of knowing; given the Christian doctrine of creatio ex nihilo, and the noetic effects of the “Fall”, this requires that all of my knowing of God must be grounded in Him. Which is to say that knowledge of God is grounded in Christ (cf. Jn 1:18). Maybe we agree, maybe we don’t; so far all I can do is guess.

      Based upon what you say to Kyle on *revision* and *wholesale rejection*, maybe you’re agnostic on this issue; or just being rhetorical . . . what is your approach? I’ll try not to be presumptuous, and let you fill me in.

      On your disjunctive (#3) syllogism. If you’re using denotative language, per *negative*, then what you say might be sound; but since this language is connotative and loaded, I think your syllogism is not sound.


      How is it that you know God is righteous apart from the *economia*? You seem to be assuming that we can know God’s *theologia* prior to His *economia*, which scripture itself (by way of its disclosure) denies. I’m, of course, not denying God’s *theologia*, but only recognizing that our point of contact (epistemologically) only comes through the *economy* (and our participation in that, by the Spirit).

    • Bob,

      If I may jump in here: I don’t think we should avoid or reject the language of substance/essence and so forth, but I’m not convinced that it should be the focus in a discussion of the attributes. On the one hand, this may appear to be an issue of theological method. On the other hand, I find it to be more of a properly ordered understanding of the divine attributes (the Trinity comes first). Therefore, we can, as you argue, continue to use those concepts but they should not take center stage and remove the Trinity from is proper place at the beginning of the discussion. As Gunton has argued, if we actually allow the Trinity to make a difference in this discussion then the personal attributes (e.g. mercy) will be discussed prior to the more abstract or metaphysical attributes (e.g. infinity; Barth also argues a similar point). In short, I don’t want to avoid metaphysical discussion when it comes to the attributes. I just don’t believe that they should be more prominent in our doctrine of God over and against the personal attributes.

      Forgive me if this is too off topic, but I am curious what your response would be to a quote by Gunton on Barth: “Indeed in Barth omnipotence is not an argument for anything: you cannot say God is omnipotent therefore (this is not a Christian argument). We must always go, as Barth says, from what God actually does, not from what he hypothetically might do” (The Barth Lectures, p. 114).

      • Jordan,

        I like what you have to say here. That’s because I like what Gunton has to say here. Thank you for clarifying things . . .

  17. Hi Bob,

    First, thanks for clarifying what you meant by unexplained explainer. That is helpful.

    Well, I suppose it would be an unreasonable skepticism, if not for the fact that we are dealing with God. That’s how it seems to me, at least. I mean, other than God’s self-revelation, what reasonable explanation might one have for theism that is not able to be critiqued by an equally reasonable non-theistic explanation? This is not to say that theism is inherently unreasonable, merely that our ability to provide reasons for spiritual truths is extremely limited, outside of a prior commitment to said truth.

    Now, certainly, God’s attributes and God’s actions are inter-related, but both are obviously dependent upon revelation, and the underlying problem (as I see it) is that we have no consensus on that revelation. One person takes the Bible literally, and thus sees God in a certain light. Others read the Bible less literally and see God as something different. Others rely on a certain experience of God which, for them, trumps any biblical reading. Further, we all import conceptions of God, and that becomes a chicken-egg question: Does my perception of God’s attributes influence how I view revelation, or does my view of revelation influence my perception of God? Probably a bit of both.

    All that to say (and I’m sure I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know), in spite of the fact that we believe we have Scripture and the Holy Spirit as our sources of revelation, Christianity has long recognized that the centrality of Jesus Christ as the primary revelation to which all others point is vital, since we are so good at developing all kinds of crazy theories about God’s character. Now, to be fair, I think there are a lot of valuable theories of God’s character as well, so I hope I’m not coming across as a complete skeptic!

    But, on the other hand, I don’t think I’m wildly optimistic about God’s actions either. I’m simply arguing for the necessity of faith in God’s revelation as a precursor to any doctrine of God. And, the Christian faith tells us, to get the best possible picture of God, look at Jesus. So arguing, as Helm does, for a prior doctrine of God to ground faith in Christ seems to me putting the cart before the horse.

    So what is my point with all this? Simply, attempting to extrapolate some basic moral fact, or ontological fact for that matter, about God, is – I would suggest – beyond our capacities as humans. Jesus Christ becomes, if I may say it this way, the unexplained explainer. Again, this isn’t to say that we shouldn’t develop a doctrine of God – I fully support that as a theological or philosophical enterprise. But I think we must always recognize the limits of that enterprise.

    Also, I don’t want to come across as though I’m ignoring the role of the Spirit or the Church in this process. Clearly, they are necessary since they mediate revelation. I hope I’m making sense here. Thanks!


    • Geoff,

      I really like what you have to say too. It reminds me of how TF Torrance speaks in his Ground and Grammar of Theology or Theological Science; that the “Object” under consideration determines and shapes its (or His) own categories and dimensions of inquiry . . . this is how we can speak of Theology as “science.” It has its own internal “grounding,” the Revelation of Jesus Christ!

  18. If I may just chime in here on the correct ordering of act and being viz. Barth: with an eye to CD II/1, paragraph 28.1, I don’t believe that Barth simply prioritizes act over being, nor does he reject the notion of a divine essence on such grounds (he uses the term ‘Wesen’ quite comfortably in this section). What he is arguing for, on the basis of the divine self-testimony, is the coincidence of God’s acts with his being such that the authenticity of revelation as a reliable resource for the knowledge of God is assured. Unless you choose to cast ‘decision’ as the primary definition of ‘act’, with the result that act determines being, logically speaking (an unnecessary move, in my view), or you are simply a straightforward Occamist who views divine economy as (potentially) unrelated to the being of God, then it seems there are few reasons to cast the divine essence as merely some sort of warrantless a priori interpretive key to God’s acts in the economy. What you get with the identity of act and being is simply the prohibition of a God who bears no resemblance to the God revealed in Jesus Christ – and I suspect Bob would agree with such a construal.

  19. Let me start with the observation that there are four issues that we may be running together (partially because of my choice of words in earlier posts):

    1. Can we come by knowledge of God outside of God’s self-revelation in Christ (and, perhaps, the testimony of the Holy Spirit)?

    2. Whatever the *sources* of our knowledge of God, are there grounds for thinking that God is the sort of thing that has attributes (i.e., basic features that explain who he is and what he does)?

    3. Assuming (a) that God is the sort of thing that has attributes and (b) that we have some knowledge about God (either through revelation alone or through revelation plus X), are we in a position to theorize about which attributes God has?

    4. On the assumption that we’ve answered (1), (2), and (3) positively, are there grounds for saying that righteousness is a divine attribute?

    I think that I’m being interpreted as though I affirm a positive answer to (1). That’s true, although nothing that I’ve said so far commits me to that view. So, for the sake of argument, let’s assume that we ought to answer (1) negatively, as I take it that most of you are inclined to believe.

    I have no idea why anyone would want to answer (2) negatively. One might be skeptical about whether we can know much of anything about God’s attributes, but surely he has some set of attributes or another.

    The real disagreement here is, I take it, over (3) and (4). My view is that we should answer (3) affirmatively and (4) negatively – we do have reason to say that God has specific attributes, but righteousness shouldn’t be one of them. I think that Helm and Piper’s view is that we should answer both (3) and (4) affirmatively. I agree with Helm and Piper (against Wright) that God’s righteousness shouldn’t be identified with covenant faithfulness, mostly for the reasons that Helm sets out in the first section of his post. I disagree with Helm and Piper because I think that postulating righteousness as a distinct attribute is unnecessary; we can get by (for the purposes of theory construction) without positing righteousness as a distinct attribute. Hence, we shouldn’t posit it.

    I don’t know how everyone else in this conversation would answer the above questions. I suspect that many of you want to answer (3) negatively. I’ve argued that you shouldn’t do this for two reasons (which I have not distinguished clearly until now): (1) God is personal, and we can (faillibly) ascribe attributes to persons – indeed, we do it all the time with great aplomb. (2) We need divine attributes to control our interpretations of God’s action. I don’t accuse my wife of cheating on me if she comes home late because I believe that she is faithful. Similarly, I don’t accuse God of abandoning me when he is silent because I believe that *he* is faithful (in a different, but no less important sense of ‘faithful’). We may know about God’s attributes through his actions (perhaps primarily through some subset of his actions), but once we know about his attributes, we can (and should) use them to interpret the other things he does.

    Two more quick points and I’ll wrap this up. First, to Jordan’s really intersting question about Gunton: I have no idea how to gloss that quote, and it would be helpful to me to hear how you understand it. On most readings it seems to me to be just plain silly. The most generous interpretation I can offer is the following: “When trying to predict what God would do, or interpret what he has done, we should not appeal *exclusivley* to God’s power *as an attribute* when offering the prediction or interpretation.” If this is his point, then I guess that I’m sympathetic; still, it doesn’t strike me as being obvious that he’s correct. I don’t see what leads him to the view.

    Second, to Justin’s point about Barth. I can’t tell from your comments whether Barth means that there is an epistemological or metaphysical identity between God’s act and being. If the point is epistemological – i.e., if the point is that God’s acts genuinely reveal God – then I’m on board. If the claim is, alternately, that what God does is essential to him, then I’m not on board, because I think that God did not need to create (or redeem, or anything else for that matter).

    • A retraction: After a cup of coffee, I’ve changed my mind about Helm’s criticism of Wright. I’m now agnostic about the claim that God’s righteousness is his covenant faithfulness. Maybe so, maybe not. In any case, I still maintain that righteousness isn’t an attribute.

  20. Hi Bob, just to respond briefly to your 4 points (well stated, by the way):

    But first, to your retraction… I am currently agnostic on that point as well. But my suspicion is that Helm, et al have created a bit of a straw man with regard to Wright’s own view (i.e. I doubt Wright actually thinks God’s righteousness is ONLY covenant faithfulness.).

    Ok, anyhow…

    Strictly speaking, I would actually say “yes” to point 1. Jesus is not the only source of God’s revelation but is the fullness of God’s revelation. So rather than being a singular source, Christ is the normative source. This of course is complicated by the fact that our knowledge of Christ is primarily dependent upon the witness of Scripture, but I don’t want to drift off topic too much.

    As for point 2, I agree with your assessment, though I wonder if we really gain much from determining that God is the sort of thing that has attributes. I would assume any belief in God would make such a determination tautological.

    On point 3, I would again say “yes”, but with a qualification: We are certainly in a position to theorize about God’s attributes, but we should never let our theory of God’s attributes trump what God’s self-revelation in Jesus Christ (via the witness of Scripture, enlivened by the Holy Spirit) has provided for us.

    In other words, any discussion of the righteousness of God ought to be articulated first through Christ, rather than an ontological or epistemological theory. If theories add value and meaning to our faith, by all means, let’s theorize. But I think too often we reverse that order.

    As for point 4 – this may surprise you! – I would again say “yes” with a caveat. Looking at Christ may very well reveal God’s attributes, and one of them may very well be righteousness. (I am hesitant because I haven’t studied this carefully enough at this point)

    But, whatever impression we have of God’s righteousness (attribute or not), my issue with Helm is that he is criticizing Wright for not having a robust doctrine of God, when Helm’s own doctrine of God seems to be grounded in an impression of God that presupposes certain attributes stemming from a particular theory, rather than an examination of God’s self-revelation in Christ. That is, he assumes (as you say) a God for whom righteousness must be an attribute, and imports that into the discussion as a prioritizing defense. And I just think that’s wrong-headed, theologically.

    Finally, for what it’s worth, it seems to me that Helm, Piper, and others who are upset with Wright, want to say something like “Yes, covenant-keeping is part of God’s righteousness, but not all of it.” To that I say, “yes, and…?” Does anyone think otherwise? The question isn’t whether we can adequately describe God’s righteousness (assuming it is, in fact, an attribute). We wouldn’t be able to anyway, which is why we describe it using the revelation given to us. I suppose that both Piper and Wright believe they are attempting this. I just happen to think Wright does a better job. ;-)

  21. Would the medieval debates on the Real Existence of Universals, Nominalism, be useful here?

    Personally, I have no philosophical problems in deriving attributes from essence; or even vice-versa. Not in general.

    Though where there are conflicts … that would be a problem: that is, alleged attributes, like “covenants,” that might not square with alleged essences. Like “Love.”

    Of course.

  22. Bobby Grow

    I am not claiming to know God is righteous apart from the economia, but rather through it. God reveals that he is just, righteous, etc. apart from creation, just as he revels that he has divine glory prior to and apart from creation. Likewise, we can’t know that qua hypostasis and in the theologia the Father is ingenerate, the Son begotten and the Spirit proceeding apart from the economia. We know about it through the economia. That doesn’t imply that one is reducible to the other and this is why what it means to be ingenerate, begotten and proceeding is beyond knowing.

    My point was that one doesn’t need to reduce the theologia to the economia or hold that one is isomorphic to the other in order to stave of the worry about Nominalism. God is creator qua power even if God never creates and Lord even if there is no created thing over which he is Lord. One can hold that God has this power even if it is not actualized as being.

  23. To all,

    It would be helpful if there were a more consistent usage of terms like being or attributes. Being is a verb and not a noun. It doesn’t necessarily refer to the divine essence across all theological models, that is for those that take the divine essence to be beyond being, that is, beyond act. If Helm follows the standard western way of looking at things (note broad brush) then it is non-sensical to say that being comes prior to act since the divine being is its own activity.

    It also helps if we get clear on what an attribute is, because attributions are predications, not properties. Theyhave no discrete existence in God. Strictly speaking, in the western tradition as a whole, God has no properties or attributes. Attributions are our judgments of our minds about a simple entity. The difference is in us and not in God, similar to the way tha tobjects feel hot or cold to us, but they merely move atomically at different speeds. They aren’t hot or cold. If you want to speak of divine properties, then some revision on the most common conception of God is in order. Attributes aren’t features either since features are parts and on the dominant western model, God lacks metaphysical parts.

    If we are to look at righteousness through Christ, then the question is whether the righteousness of Christ is something created or his eternal righteousness. If Helm wants to speak of it as eternal righteousess, I can’t see hwo this won’t create problems in the economy later down the line.

    It’d also be helpful to get clear on substance. For Aristotle, substance can have three meanings-an individual entity, literally ‘a this”, its form or essence, or the substrate, the underlying reality that properties subsist or exist in, such as matter. Clearly God is not a “substance” if by that we mean person.

    Barth seems to me to be mistaken via the argument that Justin gives. It doesn’t follow that if essence and activity are not identical that the revelation is not authentic. What follows is that one doesn’t exhaust the other and I see no reason why would need that to be the case in order for the revelation to be authentic. Barth seems to be mouthing the scholastic tradition here.

    Second, it doesn’t follow either that our choices are either actus purus or Ockhamistic nominalism. There is another way as I have pointed to, namely essence-person-activity. Persons act using their natural power and hence bring it to actualization. Consequently act doesn’t determine being because it is the persons who bring the power of the essence to act. Such an objection presupposes no role for hypostatic motion or activity. If we go with the Barthian model, we will be committed to the Filioque, among other things.

    I affirm then that righteousness is a divine property that God has prior to creation, but affirm that it is still and always in Christ and is even prior to covenantal faithfulness. If righteousness is not a divine property then are we to say that logically prior to creation, God is non-righteous? That seems wrong.

  24. Perry, could you specify a bit more what you mean when you say that God does not truly have attributes or properties in the Western tradition? I understand your point to a degree, but certainly it breaks down pretty rapidly does it not?

  25. Kyle,

    God doesn’t have attributes, in that they are not different inhering things in God. Attributions are *made* of God or to God. We make judgments concerning the simple deity and these judgments are different, but the multiplicity is in us, not in God. They are ascriptions which may to one degree or another be grounded in God so that they have a truth value and aren’t purely random. Aquinas and Scotus for examle seem to differ on how think about that, but they both agree that these are attributions whose mode is insufficient in some way or another so that while the statements are true that we make, they are askew and aren’t completly descriptive. Attributions are ascriptions we malke, not something we find in God.

    Second, God has no properties on the western view, neither essential or accidential. At least no intrinsic or inherent properties. There can be extrinsic properties, but these are not constituitive. They are like me standing five feet from a chair. The relation there does not constitute either the chair or me. So all creatures are related to God as their efficient cause, though God is not really (read intrinsiclly) related to any creature. No creature comprises God, for God has no parts of any kind to be comprised of.

    God is simple. Properties would be parts. Therefore God has no properties. This is pretty much the tradition in Rome or Geneva or Wittenberg.

  26. Perry, my previous question was entirely unclear, let me rephrase: Is the Western tradition consistent in this claim concerning the attributes and the essence, or is this precisely where it eventually broke down? My question comes from the allergy to any monadic description of the “Western” tradition as a whole. It could very well be that the tradition was consistent here, I honestly have no idea, but that is the question. My inclination, hence my comment above, was that this was true but eventually broke down.

  27. Calling “attributes” … “attributions,” prejudices the situation. Or begs the question. Which is in part, a) whether God has attributes. And b) what they are. Or whether c) our attempt to see them, is just a projection of our own human small-mindedness. And d) specifically, is “righteousness” an attribute that can be derived from essence. (Differentiated or not).

    I’d like to therefore distinguish at least between a) “attributes” (implying something God really has), and b) “attributions”; which would be our mere human ideas about God.

    What are common examples to look at? I suppose the Trinity would be an all too-common and endless example here: at once triune, but then also “one.” Though personally I find the New Testament “one”ness all too Hellenistic/Platonic (from Plato’s discussion of … Heraclitus? Or …?). And not very Old Testament at all. Some would say, it seems derived from Plato’s discussion of the “one.”

    Still, even the Trinity, if it exists in the Bible, gives at least the illusion of … some difference; differentiation. God chose to speak to us in many at least superficially “different” characters.

    Of course, we’re all tired of speaking of this example though; any others?

    Another freshman example: suppose for example, that if God is the creator of all there is; then all was made by God; and if he is righteous, then in the end everything is necessarily therefore, righteous? Many would say this does not hold up; therefore we could not in this case derive righteousness, from the essence of God.

    Better examples?

    Totally different train of thought?

    Just an amateur throwing in a few distractions here, to see if anything looks useful, for the rest of you.

  28. Perry, of course, the dilemma then becomes, if we agree that God has no ‘attributes’ or ‘properties’ per se, then the statement “God is simple” becomes problematic as well, doesn’t it?

    Also, I’m not sure I understand this paragraph:

    “If we are to look at righteousness through Christ, then the question is whether the righteousness of Christ is something created or his eternal righteousness. If Helm wants to speak of it as eternal righteousess, I can’t see how this won’t create problems in the economy later down the line.”

    Could you explain this a bit more, if you have time?

  29. Kyle,

    On the dominant western view, attributes are not things that exist in God as discrete objects. So he doesn’t “have” them. This is not to say that attributions or predications can’t be made of God or that they can’t be made truly about God, but attributes aren’t properties.

  30. Perry, my question concerns not what a broadly “Western” view, but if we can talk about the “Western” position at all? On this issue, it is certainly possible, that is what I am wondering. In other words, is this what Augustine through the Post-Reformed Dogmaticians thought about this issue without equivocation?

  31. Griffin,

    Calling attributes attributions does not beg the question. First because even those like Aquinas, Scotus, or Augustine who take attributes to be attributions or predications about God do not take them to be ungrounded in God. Second, the term comes from predication or attribution. Third, I didn’t argue that since they were judgments made by us, that the judgments are completely nominalistic and ungrounded in the object about which the judgments are made. Your gloss seems to imply that they are mere human creations and I don’t think what I wrote implies as much.

    Is righteousness something true of nature or person? If it is the latter, then why ask think that it can be derived from considerations of the essence?

    Your suggestion to take attributes as something God has simply mistakes it seems predications for properties. And between properties as real inhering objects in God as the other proposal, where they are mere human creations, you make a false bifurcation. I am no Thomist or Scotist, but both of the former men came up with a tertium quid. For Thomas, they are neither inhering properties no merely human creations. The judgments we make pick out God, but since our language is derived form composite objects which are not simple and God is, their more of predication is skewed and hence we arrive at analogical predication.
    If we eschew Platonism here, then we will be biblically justified in talking about the unity of God, but I am not sure we’d be justified in talking about the simplicity of God, at least not the way it has traditionally been discussed in the western traditions.

    True, in the bible there is a difference between the terms Father, Son and Spirit, but do those terms pick out properties, a function, or something else?
    God as having the property of righteousness won’t entail that rocks are righteous. It depends on what is appropriate for a given created object.

  32. Geoff,

    Simplicity is an apophatic term, no matter what gloss one gives. It is like God being immaterial or atemporal, etc. It is a denial of limitation.

    If we follow Helm for example and take righteousness as grounded in the essence, why then do we require a created righteousness rather than the eternal righteousness of Christ? And can a contingent created merit really stand up before God’s judgment? Why have a covenant of works at all?

  33. Kyle,

    In so far as the western tradition tends to be dominated by, structured by and influenced by Augustine, this will be true. Just look at representative statements and theologians on divine unity and simplicity from Augustine forward among the Latins and Franks up to and through the Reformation period through Barth.

    For Augustine, just read On the Trinity, bks 1-6. He’s pretty clear. If his view isn’t the dominant view, that is if it doesn’t count as the western tradition in a meaningful sense, then neither is the Trinity. The different scholastic glosses are glosses of Augustine’s view.

    For the post-Reformation period, just read Muller for yourself and see.

  34. Does anyone really believe that God is just simple, and “one” If so, then why all the predications and parsing? Where and why do we have all these other, specific properties and so forth? Why a Bible at all? Why not have one sentence that says “God is one,” about which nothing else can be said … and then end the Bible with that first sentence?

    Obviously, speaking of God as just “one,” undifferentiated, and having no real properities etc., would leave us with nothing further to say about him. We can say God is “one,” or maybe “simple” … but then at that point we will have exhausted the entire descriptive vocabulary. Nothing else can be said about his oneness.

    So regarding God as “one and nothing else, seems quite, quite sterile. It becomes impossible to know God, except as the supremely empty digit.

    I prefer the Platonic/Paremenidean construction, that speaks of the “one” and the “many”; both existing at the same time.

    Indeed in any case, the Bible begins assigning countless attributes to God; so if we are examining the Biblical god, then … the One will not quite do.

    To be sure, when we go looking for God’s metaphysical nature, its tempting to look for an overarching unifier, that would bring in everthing. But that in itself is quite impoverishing.

    So after that? What about say, commonly attributed things: like omnipresence, or omnipotence, as creator of the universe? Can we get covenant righteousness out of that?

    The reason for this concern is that some feel 1) covenant-based theology is not holding up well, to critical scrutiny; or in any case 2) feel that covenantial theology should be consistent with what we know or think about the metaphysical nature of God as well. For the sake of consistency.

    But the question again: can we do this? Can we for example get to “righteousness,” just from an examination of the “essence” of God?

    One possibility: a creator of the universe, or an omnipotent being (semi-metaphysical things), would have to be respected, for his or her or its, great power. But would such a being be “righteous”? Can we therefore really get to the same point, or to righteousness, straight out of the essential nature of God? Without the legalisms of covenants?

    It would seem difficult. We might see a being that created the universe as powerful. But righteous? Just? Many would not say that the Nature, the physical universe he created, is just or righteous; the “good” perish with the guilty; the rain falls on the just and the unjust.

    And is there anything intrinsic just to powerfulness, that makes it logically equivalent to righteousness?

    Except maybe the old California sense, of a “righteous automobile,” or “righteous weed”; that is the only construction I can think of, that equates simple power with righteousness.

    Otherwise, for now, righteousness seems to exist so far, only in the framework of – rather human – legal contracts and covenants: we agree to do something for a Lord, in exchange for his promised benefits.

  35. Thanks, Perry, for the clarifications. That helps. Your assessment of righteousness grounded in essence seems right on to me.

    Re: “simple” as apophatic term, it begs the question, can an apophatic term be considered an attribute? If we define God by what God is *not*, haven’t we still defined God?

    I realize this is getting off topic a bit, so I’ll ask another question, which is related: Could “righteousness” be viewed apophatically? Just pondering….

  36. Perry:

    If it is true that 1) God does not properly have “attributes,” but 2) we only apply attributions to him; 3) yet at the same time, you suggest, these attributions might after all reflect realistically on something God is? Then … 4) doesn’t the third point contradict the first two? And regarding the 3rd point, 5) isn’t this whole methological discussion therefore moot? Since somehow, we seem, even by our attributions, to say something real about God? So why don’t we just go on talking about him here?

    As for “righteousness,” I am indeed toying with the idea that not just God, and not just persons, but even objects – even rocks – might have this quality. Nature is full of objects … that assert their nature, and a series of laws. Perhaps these laws are more “righteous” than we thought; though they do not conform to present human ideas of justice.

    It’s interesting to think of Natural Law here.

    Or say, of the moment when Jesus was tempted to throw himself from a high place in the temple, so as not to … deny the justice and righteousness of gravity, the laws of nature and nature’s God; and the justice, the righteous reality, of the rocks below.

    Jesus of course, declined this temptation. His stated reason was to avoid tempting God’s patience by rash acts; but perhaps after all deeper down, this in turn meant testing God’s patience … by denying the justice – righteousness – of the Nature, and the natural law(s), that God himself after all, made.

    Perhaps Nature, cold as it seems, being made by God, is an expression of his justice and righteousness after all.

    Though here we have a sense of righteousness and justice that does not conform to present human ethical theories, to be sure.

  37. Kyle:

    Surely there is enough analytical cross-over and common ground, between “love” and “justice” and so forth, to logically imply “righteousness.”

    Though would they fully imply, just by themselves, exactly what was more fully specified, by doctrines of specifically, covenant righteousness? Probably not.

    In the meantime, Edwards was probably merely invoking the reality of an at least near-“tautology”: anything to be righteous, must have had the capacity to be, or the quality of being, righteous.

    To make rocks, you must have had a rock-making capability in you already.

    Though again, the capability to be “Righteous” would not have to be named specifically, and found in his essence specifically and explicitly named as “righteousness”; it might indeed be discovered within, or analytically derived from, other terms associated with the essence of God; e.g. “love”ing, “just,” etc..

    Though still, there would likely be some things in such an analytical picture, that would be different from, and not even linked to, the fuller description of righteousness, defined as loyalty to covenantal agreements.

    For example: if you love someone, you might not hold him or her to the “letter” of this or that contract that you made with them.

    Therefore, again, the righteousness of “love,” and “covenant” faithfulness, are not quite the same; and are often even in direct conflict.

    If this makes any sense?

  38. “Righteousness” without action is false, inadequate righteousness, in the same way that “faith without works is dead.”

    One is not truly righteous, until one proves it, by making it manifest. Until then, it exists as a mere unrealized potentiality, but not a reality.

    Or in part, the problem here is really the disagreement between Plato and Aristotle. Aristotle complained that Plato spoke of ideal forms existing independently of real things; as if there was a sort of “perfect circle” Form, floating in space. Independent of all the circles that exist in round things; or the tendencies of real objects to lump into circular planets in space. Whereas, Aristotle might suggest, circles and all other forms, exist only as … qualities, attributes, of objects. And have no existence independently of them.

  39. KYLE:

    If you’d like to create a link connect our Helm discussion on Helm’s website, that might get some interesting feedback and be helpful. Or let Helm know that this discussion exists.

  40. Helm (?) seemed to suggest that Wright speaks as if things come into existence for the first time, when God speaks them into existence, with a word. (cf. also Ward, elsewhere in this blog).

    But the response was, that 1) surely there was something before God’s words; God himself perhaps. Either the “one,” and/or some essence or qualities of God. To be sure, the existence of any qualities in God, as in the “one,” before scripture and covenant or word, proves hard to prove, here.

    We seemed to suggest here that 2) there appeared to be at least however, some potential for a future word, before the word of God. If nothing else, God himself existed before his utterance.

    Though 3) to be sure, some might say that those potentialities did not become full-fledged realities, unless or until the word was uttered … and material physical things – including scripture – came into existence.

    But if so, then which of the very early moments, included hints of 4) specifically “righteousness”? A few perhaps. Though none seemed apparent within the rather featureless “one.”

    Indeed, the use of “one” appeared to be rather deliberately opaque; a “apophatic” term; designed to end all our merely human and flawed descriptions of God? In the end, God is so complex, that all our human discussions of him will always be simplistic and misrepresentative. Therefore in many eras, it was simply illegal to even mention the word “God” in public. And presenting an opaque and featureless “one” is … one way of ending our own flawed characterizations.

    Though to be sure, since many people have already floated many inexact ideas of God, and those ideas already dominate the world today, we have no choice but to continue the dialogue. And continue to try, in our human way, to describe God.

    Positing God as an opaque, “One,” about which nothing could – or even should – be said, would make all of Theology impossible; all sermons impossible. Therefore, let us more on, past that.

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