Two Sides, Same Coin

Andrew Sandlin gets it. Finally. He recognizes that the conception of God workng in the majorities of western theology, whether Calvinistic or that of the Open Theists is the deity of Greek philosophy.

“I agree entirely with my friend Peter Leithart’s thoughtful renunciation of the typical liberal charge that the orthodox construction of the Trinity is a Hellenic profanation of primitive, Biblical Christianity. Peter is right that subordinationism, not Trinitarianism, is the profanation. I would add that the classical conception of God is flawed by the same factor.  Pinnock, Nash et al. have shown beyond doubt that the ideas of an impassible, static, timeless deity are pagan (Hellenic) to the core.  

Whoever this god is (and snatches of him are found no less in the Westminster Confession than in Rome), He is not the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ — the God who covenants with His people, risks His love, changes His mind, gets mad, grieves over betrayal, sends lying spirits, tempts Satan to tempt His faithful ones, drowns nearly an entire race, calls things that are not as though they are.

Both Open Theism and classical (pagan) theology proper postulate a false god.”

Of course, the conception of “classical” theology isn’t “classical.” This is just intellectual imperialism. “Classical” means Latin Augustinianism. And I wouldn’t put that much academic weight on the shoulders of Pinnock and Nash. They themselves qua Open Theist and qua Calvinist are still stuck in the Platonic Matrix.

I’d argue that a correct patristic notion of divine impassibility doesn’t posit a static deity. Of course it won’t necessarily be the conception of the Scholastics or the Reformers. Sandlin isn’t fully self conscious about how far down the Hellenism goes since he left out also rejecting the Filioque, personalistic predestinarianism, union with Christ in terms of extrinsic relationships, etc. But hey, baby steps to Jesus.

11 Responses to Two Sides, Same Coin

  1. David,

    Obviously when Is poke of Arius’ belief within a specific range. Moreover, this is theology and not philosophy and so things function differently here. If reason were sufficient to establish theological error or truth, we wouldn’t require revelation. Consequently simply showing that Arius made some logical mistake wouldn’t be sufficient since theology is given by revelation. So, post facto, if something is *distinctly* taught by Arius, that historically in the church has been sufficient grounds for rejecting it.

    If the difference between origination and influence is by ascertaining orthodoxy, the question then becomes, how to we ascertain orthodoxy? As for “baptism” this depends on ones view of baptism doesn’t it, speaking metaphorically? Justin, Origen and Clement baptised lots of things in the say Reformed or further down the line, Anabaptist sense, but this lack of joining it to Christ ended up corruptiing Christian teachings. Here I am not attempting to make the kind of distinction between the “Hebrew mind” and the “greek mind” that James Barr was famous for attacking, and rightly so. With the Fathers, and just plain old history the Abirus or Hebrews weren’t exactly right on track in terms of cultural ideas prior to their calling (and even plenty of times subsequent to it).

    Consequently, I think people like Clement, Justin and Origen are part of the problem. Not because I am adverse to using philosophical terms and concepts provided they have been appropriately reshaped, but because Greek philosophy turns on distinguishing objects by opposite qualities. This is no less true for Plato, the Stoics or even in Aristotle’s logic. It is not possible to consistently render a Christian view of things using philosophy as it stands, which is why the pagans never could have come to the knowledge of the truth apart from revelation since their view of the world depended on sin, an opposition inherent to things.

    As for Ps. D, I think he was probably Damascius, one of the heads of the Academy who converted to Christianity and I don’t think he was Syrian either. There is more than one way to read him and I agree with people like Lossky for example that he is a Christian reshaping Platonism rather than a Christian using Platonism as it stands. Consequently a careful reading of his works I think will yield specific beliefs that are quite anti-Proclean and anti-Platonic.

    I hope that clarifies things a bit more for you.

  2. a-no-onumas says:

    For those always irritated by appeals to apophaticism, let me do the honors for you:
    How can one begin to say that God is He who “covenants with his people, risks his love, changes his mind,” etc.? These sentiments seem to be saying “something” positive about the beingness of God. These somethings got to be coming from somewhere.

    So then I will reply to my own strawman objections: This is why we hold so dear to our beloved Uncreated Divine Energies. So, yes, these descriptions do say something about the beingness-in-this-world of God; yet that beingness-in-the-world IS NOT the Otherwise-than-Beingness (the not-nothing-but-not-something-eitherness) of God. These descriptions are the ways in which tradition has experienced the Divine (and we still work to explain the phenomenality of these encounters, knowing full well that the experience of the Energies is also ultimately inexhaustible); yet, nevertheless, one cannot really say anything about what God is.

    So where you, my strawman friend, and your friends keep talking about the essence of God which is impassible, timeless, etc., some of us are working from the opposite direction. You interpret revelation through your philosophically constructed God, while we rely on revelation (divine-human interaction–be it Scriptural, hagiographical, or experiential [though the latter of these is always informed within a much larger context than simply the modern notion of “personal”–i.e., there is no true “personal” outside of community [Church]) to avoid that philosophically constructed God. Your God’s essence is the lens through which you read his interactions in this world–but some of us keep wondering: “whence this essence.”

    So there where you want to keep talking about the being of God, take your cue from Nyssa’s understanding of “I am He Who is.” The “I am” is the beingness of God that shows up in this world (yes, this beingness is actually Uncreated Energy) of the God Who is (which is an irreducible, ultimately unknowable, Otherwise-than-Beingness expressed here only in the language of being). Or, in a nutshell: I believe in God; I just don’t believe he exists.

  3. Tim Enloe says:

    Well, maybe Kevin did “ban” you. However, he did not cause your comments to be “nuked” automatically, which is how I knew you had posted one. Anyway, your comment is up. Perhaps Peter E. will engage you, I don’t know.

  4. David says:

    anyway, the Hellenic world had its petty, limited, and anthropomorphic deities as well as its faceless One, and all kinds of things in between. You could probably connect most possible theses about the divine to some Hellenic theme.

  5. David says:

    Perry, I doubt we disagree about timelessness. I was just wary of the methodology; e.g. you write “If Arius… held a specific view that could be good grounds alone for rejecting it”. That’s what I disagree with. I think (though I’ll have to check my sources) that Arius believed that the sky is blue. Arius stands condemned because of a certain set of teachings, not any teachings because of Arius.

    You say ‘influence doesn’t imply origination’. But the way we tell the difference is this: is the view orthodox? If it’s not, then it’s pernicious influence. If it is, then it’s an idea that had a germ of truth and has been baptized. But you can’t establish the former just by establishing that there is a historical connection. You have to start with the question: is it true? And certainly to answer that question we look to the authentic, original Faith. But all of this emphasis on the contrast between the ‘Hellenic” with “primitive Biblical Christianity” neglects the fact that the writers of the Gospels and Epistles, not to mention the Christians of the second century, were immersed in a Hellenic world of thought and language. I might not go so far as to say, with Clement of Alexandria, that philosophy was God’s covenant with the Greeks, comparable to the Law as his covenant to the Jews; but the Fathers recognized that many of the philosophical schools within the Empire had touched on important truths. God had worked in their minds and hearts too, though not with the directness that he worked with his Chosen People. Hellenic, schmellenic.

    I wonder too what you think of the Pseudo-Dionysius as an important and respected Orthodox source, since many of the ideas you seem uncomfortable with have a home in his corpus.

  6. Tim,

    Kevin’s words I believe were ” banned.” But I’d be glad to be shown wrong.

  7. Tim Enloe says:

    Perry, you’re not “banned” at Ref Cath, just on moderated status. I believe that was Kevin Johnson’s decision some time back. However, before coming over here just now, I approved your comment to Peter Escalante. So we shall see if anything comes of it.

  8. David,

    I believe God is timeless, but I don’t believe in the Boethian simultaneity view. For theological as well as philosophical reasons. Truth be told the philosophical came first for me and the theological later. When I say timeless I mean I deny that God ad intra exists in a present “now.”

    As for 2. it doesn’t seem to be an issue that it was non-Jews but non-inspired/non-revelatory source for theology. Not to mention that the framework in which it was cast was inadequate and so at best I would argue it needs to be reshaped. I am not so convinved about the influence of middle Platonism on John, but influence doesn’t necessarily imply origination. More of expression, maybe but I don’t have a problem using technical terms from philosophy just so long as they are reshaped for use in Christian theology.

    As for the genetic fallacy, I am not so sure that works in theology in this case. If Arius, Nestorius or Apollinarius held a speific view that could be good grounds alone for rejecting it. Besides, theology isn’t evaluated by sheer reasonableness but its source. That is the point of revelation and tradition, we have by them what the philosophers could not attain by reason.

    As for the Pinnock type argument, I think making God temporally everlasting makes more problems than it solves. So, I am odd man out. I do not accept the “traditional” Boethian/Augustinian view, but I do not move God down the chain of being where Open Theists/Process people would like either. I think they went in the wrong direction, not down, but up so to speak.

    The problem that someone like Sandlin is going to have is finding a viable option since he like so many others takes the “traditional” boethian line to just be THE Christian tradition so that it forms one end of the spectrum. My view, which I take to be the Orthodox view isn’t even on the spectrum. So on the one hand I want to encourage someone like him to think more about how inconsistent a Protestant he is since many of these views can’t be demonstrated by scripture alone as well as recognizing that in comparison with the Scholastics, Protestantism in the area of the doctrine of God isn’t that different. They both endorse the same basic project. It seems to me that one is more realistic and the other is more nominalistic but they are fundamentally engaged in the same project which is why they both endorse the filioque, the development of doctrine, etc.

    That said, I am banned over at Ref Cath so this was a way to draw some readership here, which I did, so I am a happy boy.

  9. David says:

    1. do you think that God’s transcending time, being the creator of time, is an element of classical theism that was wrongly adopted?

    2. I don’t much care for the practice of identifying some thesis about God that was held by the pagans (as opposed to the Jews, say) just before the advent of Xianity; and then suggesting that its adoption by Christians must merely be a ‘stain’ or a corrupt influence. There’s no question that the Evangelist John was influenced by neo-Platonism, possibly Philo, and that this allowed him to identify Christ with the Logos. Is this a corruption of Christianity by paganism? No, it’s just something that the pagans held that was true. The evangelist baptized the notion of the Logos.

    in other words– why does it matter who held what view about God? If it was held by the pagans (or Jews for that matter) and is correct, then it should be adopted. If it’s incorrect, it shouldn’t be. But you can’t go in the other direction– arguing for the truth or falsehood of a doctrine by looking at who held it first. That’s the genetic fallacy, and/or guilt by association.

    I know this isn’t really what you’re doing, Perry, and in fact it’s practiced most by those you’re responding to. But you’re in danger of fighting fire with fire here, using the same fallacy to try to ‘save’ certain theses and ‘damn’ others by association with whomever.

  10. Jack,

    Exactly. It is not nothing but not something either.

  11. Jack says:

    Precisely because the Platonic Good is “beyond being” it cannot be a thing that is “timeless” or “static.” What is beyond being cannot be a something with properties; it is not even a “what” or an “it.”

    Another in a long line of peculiarly modern and western screeds against “platonism;” a slogan that, when prodded, seems to vomit up all kinds of contradictory nonsense: monist, dualist, dialectical, mystical, pantheistic, monotheistic, polytheistic, etc. As Plotinus quipped with regard to the work of Longinus, “He is a scholar [not a philosopher].” There is more than one Plato.

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