Monday, November 27, 2017


This is from a Facebook debate I had regarding James Dolezal's defense of Thomism:

In his classic monograph (On a Complex Theory of a Simple God), Christopher Hughes unpacks the Thomistic notion of divine simplicity as a set of six distinct propositions:

(i) God is not composed of extended parts; hence, he is not, and does not have, a body.

(ii) God is not composed of substantial form–in virtue of which he is the kind of thing he is–and form-receiving matter–in virtue of which he is the particular thing he is. God is instead pure self-subsistent form, devoid of matter of any kind.

iii) God is not "composed" of act and potency. There is no distinction in God between an element by virtue of which he has certain potentialities and an element by virtue of which those potentialities are actualized. Consequently, God is entirely immutable and atemporal.

(iv) God is not composed of essence and anything disjoint from that essence. While there is a difference between the individual, Socrates, and his essence (humanity), there is no difference between God and his essence (Godhead or Deity).

(v) God is not composed of substance and accidents. There are not in God any properties outside of the divine essence which enter into composition with that essence. Instead, his wisdom, his power, his goodness, and the like are all the same as the divine essence (which is to say, the same as God), and hence all the same as one another.

(vi) God is not composed of essence and esse (existence)–or what-he-is and a that-he-is. The divine essence (God) is pure subsistent existence, inherent in nothing distinct from it, and having nothing dissect from it inherent in it.

(Ibid., pp3-4)

Now, even if you happen to agree with all that, are Dolezal's evangelical supporters claiming that you can derive each and every one of those particular propositions from Scripture? Likewise, are they alleging that all the church fathers subscribe to the same six propositions? 

If not, what kind of divine simplicity are they alleging that Scripture attributes to God? 

BTW, how many of Dolezal's supporters even understand these highly recondite categories and distinctions? I don't deny that some of his supports understand them.

Unfortunately, Frame has become his own tradition. A dangerous place to be.

Everyone is selective about tradition. By your logic, everyone is in a dangerous place.

i) Every professing Christian is selective in his appropriation of tradition. That's unavoidable because there is no uniform tradition in historical theology. Church history contains a vast plethora of divergent traditions, so you can't avoid selectivity even if you wish to. You can't simultaneously adhere to divergent theological traditions. Therefore, some sifting and sorting is inevitable.

Novelty is unavoidable, even in historical theology. You won't find the Westminster Confession in the 13C. 

There are different ways a theological tradition can be novel. Even if it contained nothing but traditional elements, the way in which that package includes some traditional elements while excluding other traditional elements makes the combination novel.

Or it may include some theological innovations, in addition to traditional elements. That's something you get in Anselm, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, &c. 

Every theological tradition is a novel package in some respects.

ii) Some professing Christians do their own sifting and sorting while others default to second parties to do that for them. Some professing Christians simply identify with whatever theological tradition they were born into, raised in, or married into.

An obvious problem with this is that it makes one's profession an accident of birth. A coin flip where the theological tradition you happen to profess is a random result of external circumstances that have nothing to do with theological truth. If your parents were Lutheran, you're Lutheran. If your parents were Methodist, you're Methodist. If your parents were Pentecostal, you're Pentecostal. If your parents were Catholic, you're Catholic. If your parents were Mormon, you're Mormon. 

That's an unreliable basis for theological identity. Geography shouldn't be the basis of your theological affiliation. 

iii) Christian duties in that regard are person-variable, depending on one's aptitude and opportunities. If you're a 19C German immigrant with little formal education who belongs to a German-speaking community in the midwest, it's fairly inevitable that you will be Lutheran. That subculture is the only frame of reference you have.

Due to the power of social conditioning, in many cases God graciously puts the elect in churches where they will hear the Gospel. The churches vary in their theological accuracy, but they are sufficiently accurate that parishioners have an object of saving faith. 

iv) However, every Christian generation has an obligation to assess the theological legacy handed down to it. God requires us to be loyal to him. We don't have a right to delegate what be believe to a second party, handing him a blank check which he fills in and we sign. That's just playacting. It can't be, "I believe whatever he believes". That's not the standard of comparison.

v) Although individual duties vary, Frame is precisely the kind of person, due to his intellect and education, who has a duty to evaluate the theological traditions at our disposal. You can disagree with his conclusions, but he's doing what someone with his gifts is supposed to do.

Also, Frame has a habit of novelty making. His theistic personalism is one, his triperspectivism is another. If the church missed something for 2,000 years, and this generation all the sudden got it right, we're in trouble.

i) That's a classic objection which Catholic apologists and theologians raised in opposition to the Protestant Reformers. By the same token, that's an objection which Orthodox Jews raise to Christian theology. 

ii) What does Josh mean by "the church"? Is that a euphemism for theologians, church fathers, &c.? If so, what makes that a representative sample? That's an infinitesimal fraction of God's people. 

iii) Is Josh suggesting that traditional interpretations are unquestionable? For instance, does Josh deem it impossible for archeological discoveries to correct a traditional interpretation? 

iv) It's a problem when people take intellectual shortcuts ("That's a theological innovation!"). That's not a discerning way to arrive at the truth. 

v) Why does Mike Ricardi like Josh's comment? Isn't he a pretrib dispensationalist? And isn't that a theological innovation in the history of the church?

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