More Trinitarian Musings

Many readers of this blog are probably already familiar with Joel Parkinson’s excellent piece, The Intellectual Triunity of God, which he wrote as basically an appendix to Clark’s monograph on the Trinity.  In that piece Parkinson offers an additional and much needed defense to Clark’s realistic and generic view of the Trinity (as opposed to the faux theory of “generic” unity currently being offered up to the confusion of some by subordinationists Ryan Hedrich and Drake Shelton).  Parkinson writes:

The doctrine of the Trinity is essential to the orthodox Christian faith. Trinitarian thought pervades the New Testament and is presupposed in the central doctrines of the Incarnation (Luke 1.35), Atonement (Hebrews 9:14), Resurrection (Romans 8:11), and Salvation (1 Peter 1:2) as well as in the practices of water baptism (Matthew 28:19) and prayer (Ephesians 2:18). Consequently, there can be no doubt that failure to accept the Trinity will lead to fatal errors in the rest of one’s theology. However, the Trinity is often viewed as a difficult if not self-contradictory concept. Is the Trinity really incoherent? The present article seeks to respond to this question with an emphatic “No.”

In essence, the doctrine of the Trinity may be outlined by the following three propositions:

  1. There is only one God who is immutably and eternally indivisible and simple (Deuteronomy 6:4; John 17:3; 1 Corinthians 8:6).
  2. The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are each fully and co-equally God (John 20:17; John 1:1; Acts 5:3-5).
  3. The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are distinct and not one and the same (Mark 1:10-11; John 15:26; Hebrews 9:14).

Now each of these affirmations is essential to the doctrine of God. To deny (1) is to fall into the error of tritheism. To repudiate (2) is to embrace subordinationism. To reject (3) is to settle for modalism. The reader may note that the personality of the Three is not explicitly stated. This is because the word “person” is not a Biblical term but one of convenience in theology. Nonetheless the intent behind the word “person” is wrapped up in these three truths. Call them what you will – persons, consciousness, or selves – whatever the Father is, the Son and the Holy Spirit are as well.

Parkinson then offers an easy to follow argument from omniscience that successfully demonstrates that

… separability among the three is absolutely impossible. If there were to be a rift within the Godhead, then each of the Persons could no longer immediately know the thoughts of the others. But this could only occur if these thoughts were never known (denying that they were ever omniscient) or if they were to forget something (denying their immutable omniscience). So we see that the unique case of divine omniscience is only possible for the three Persons if they are utterly inseparable. Or, to put it another way, the fact of divine omniscience makes divisibility among the three thinking Persons metaphysically impossible.

This  goes to the heart of a problem Clark raises in his discussion of the Trinity and one that Hedrich has repeatedly raised in opposition to Clark’s theory arguing instead that “generic unity” requires three individual beings or essences, not one.  Clark explains the problem this way:

A more substantial objection is that unity in the Godhead cannot be the unity of a species or a genus. The three Persons are one in a stricter, deeper, more inexplicable sense than the sense in which three or thirty men are one. Whether this objection is plausibly true or not depends on the sense in which men are one and the sense in which the Trinity is one. Those who make this objection should define the two senses (if indeed they are two) and point out the distinction. Unless we know how the Persons are one and how men are one, we cannot tell whether the unity is the same or different. But the objectors hardly define specific unity and disclaim ability to define divine unity. Their wording, however, suggests that they are using Aristotelian terminology and have misunderstood Plato.

Parkinson recognizes this problem too and puts the problem in terms similar to the ones Hedrich has used:

For instance, one could say that God is three Persons with one divine nature. But though this is true, if it is left unqualified it implies tritheism. Three men clearly share a common human nature but are not indivisible. One man could be killed without necessarily endangering the existence and identities of the other two. So there must be something unique to the divine nature precluding such divisibility.

Of course, the ontological subordinationism Hedrich argues for (i.e., the rejection of Parkinson’s point #2 above) puts him outside of biblical trinitarianism no matter how conceived  and no matter how many pre-Nicene fathers may appear to support his view.  Regardless of his protests, and regardless of how he tries to frame his arguments, Hedrich’s subordinationism places him in the same heretical camp along with Unitarians, Arians and semi-Arians (take your pick).

I recommend readers carefully study Parkinson’s argument from omniscience in The Intellectual Triunity of God.  I also recommend on a related theme Clark’s discussion of Traducianism that you can find here.

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8 Comments on “More Trinitarian Musings”

  1. Hugh Says:

    Thanks, Sean. Much good food here for thought! Will review Clark & Parkinson.

  2. Hugh Says:

    File:Shield-Trinity-Scutum-Fidei-compact.svg

  3. Scott Says:

    Can you please explain how you believe that divine simplicity (the denial of which you claim is Tritheism) is consistent with the doctrine of the Trinity?

    Divine simplicity entails the belief that there is no complexity or multiplicity or division within God in any way whatsoever. However, Trinitarians posit a division between God’s essence and His person. Thus, the essence/person distinction contradicts divine simplicity. Trinitarians also argue that God is three in person, which means that there is multiplicity in God, which contradicts divine simplicity.

    I think I read something by William Lane Craig where he argued quite persuasively that divine simplicity contradicted the Trinity. He concluded that divine simplicity was false.

    By the way, a great discussion of divine simplicity and everything it entails can be found in “New Proofs of the Existence of God” by Robert J. Spitzer, a physicist and philosopher who, in one chapter, creates a perfectly solid deductive argument for the existence of God (defined as an unconditioned, unlimited, absolutely simple, absolute one who continuously creates everything that is). It is the best deductive argument for the existence of God and the best discussion of divine simplicity ever written.
    By the way, the author of the book is a Trinitarian (although I think that his Trinitarianism contradicts his belief in divine simplicity), so don’t be afraid to read it because you think it is heretical.

  4. Jon Says:

    It is so important to remember that God continuously creates. His creation is ongoing. That’s key.

  5. Ron Says:

    Jon,

    God does not continue to create. We have no more matter today than we had “in the beginning.” We live in the age of providence and redemption, not creation.

    If you’re referring to the re-creation – Christ’s body, the church – that’s to use “creation” in a different way, equivocally.

  6. Jon Says:

    Yes, I was thinking of his redemptive work, I guess, which is often described in creational terms. He fashioned Israel as Israel was redeemed, for example.


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