Archive for June 2010

Choosing Paradox – Part Two

June 15, 2010

In part one of my review of James Anderson’s Paradox in Christian Theology we examined one of the central premises in the book and that trinitarian orthodoxy entails paradox.  According to Anderson orthodoxy requires that we think of God as being in some sense both one person and three persons.  Anything less it turns out is to cross over into heterodoxy. As a result, Anderson simply chooses a contradictory conception of the Trinity and asserts that only by maintaining a strict numerical identity between the unity and plurality of the Godhead can any theory remain within the bounds of orthodoxy.  Therefore, the idea of a generic unity obtaining between persons of the Godhead sometimes called the “social trinitarian” view, and a position advanced by theologians as diverse as Gordon Clark, Richard Swinburne, Thomas Morris and others, is dismissed as heterodox despite providing a biblical, rational, and non-contradictory solution to the problem of the Trinity.  As we examined in part one, only a very stilted and narrow reading of history would require the sort of numeric unity advocated by Anderson.  Besides, the strictures on orthodoxy that Anderson requires from his reading of history are not as hard and fast as he suggests.  As Gordon Clark observed:

The present writer has the impression that some theologians count species, that some have no clear notion of numerical unity, that some therefore oscillate, and that many are confused.  This judgment is justified because hardly any of them study the theories of individuation.  (The Trinity, 103)

Therefore, Anderson’s insistence on a contradictory understanding of the Trinity, where God is said to be simultaneously one person and three persons, is not a requirement of orthodoxy at all, and, in fact, is a position that orthodoxy positively prohibits. As previously mentioned, I think many Christians would be shocked to learn that according to Anderson Van Til’s well-known assertion that “the whole Godhead, is one person” is not only acceptable but is perfectly in line with Athanasian orthodoxy.  In short, when it comes to the Trinity and the argument that orthodoxy requires believing in a paradox we judge Anderson’s claims to be a failure.

The next doctrine on the chopping block and one that Anderson believes exemplifies one of the central paradoxes of the Christian faith, is the Incarnation.  Here the problems entailed in the doctrine of the Trinity are considerably magnified. Concerning the definition of Chalcedon where Jesus Christ is said to be one person with two natures Anderson puts the problem this way:

If the doctrine of the Trinity is inherently paradoxical . . . then the doctrine of the Incarnation necessarily inherits that paradoxicality. Here is the argument: if the Son assumed a human nature, and the Son is God, then God assumed a human nature; but if the Father did not assume a human nature, and the Father is God, then God did *not* assume a human nature; therefore, God both did and did not assume a human nature. (79,80)

I would agree if the Trinity entails a paradox then any theory of the Incarnation would similarly entail a paradox as well.  On the other hand, I’m hard-pressed to see how if one begins with a non-paradoxical, or, rather, a non-contradictory conception of the Trinity, it would somehow necessitate a contradictory understanding of the Incarnation.  Anderson agrees and in a footnote states:

It might be objected that this presupposes an Augustinian model of the Trinity, whereas alternative models (e.g., social trinitarianism) would render the argument obviously invalid . . . This argument is correct.  However . . . my conclusions . . .  do not stand or fall on this point.

As we will see the difficulties that obtain in the traditional formulation of the Incarnation where Jesus Christ is said to be one person with two natures need to be faced regardless if one begins with the untenable and admittedly contradictory notion of numerical identity that Anderson prefers, or the non-contradictory conception of generic unity along with a clear and unambiguous theory of individuation that we find in, say, Gordon Clark.  That’s because the difficulty of the Incarnation is its difficulty.

To take but one of many examples of a paradoxical implication derived from Chalcedonian orthodoxy, Anderson provides the following: (more…)

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