Friday, December 20, 2013

Why I'm not a Tuggyist

I'm going to comment on a post by anti-Trinitarian Dale Tuggy:
Before I get specific, I'll make a few general observations:
i) Dale is sort of responding to Ed Feser. Feser is a Thomist. I'm not. It's not incumbent on me to defend everything Feser says. He buys into the whole Thomistic package. I don't. Mind you, the fact that I don't accept Thomism in toto doesn't mean I reject Thomism in toto.
ii) In his sort of response to Feser, Tuggy tries to pass himself off as the man in the pew, unlike those coneheaded philosophical theologians. Tuggy just goes with what the Bible says. 
But the problem with that pose is twofold: Tuggy is a philosopher rather than an exegete. He's just as philosophical as Feser. He simply tries to conceal the fact when he's playing to the peanut gallery. 
Conversely, Tuggy is out of step with serious exegetical theology on the Trinity and the person of Christ, viz. Gordon Fee, Richard Bauckham, Darrell Bock, Simon Gathercole, Larry Hurtado, Sigurd Grindheim, Murray J. Harris. So his back-to-the-Bible pose is pure hokum. 
iii) I say he "sort of" responds to Feser because he never directly engages Feser's central argument. Among other things, Feser says:
The idea is that if God were not Being Itself then he could not possibly be the ultimate cause or explanation of things.  Anything less than Being Itself would merely participate in being
When they say that God is not “a person,” what they mean is not that he is impersonal but rather that he is not an instance of the kind “person,” for the reason that he cannot intelligibly be said to be an instance of any kind or property.

At that level, I agree with Feser. To say God is "a being" in that sense would mean he exemplifies an abstract divine nature that's more ultimate than himself. Conversely, to say God is Being in itself means that God is the ultimate source of all other beings. 

As Feser defines his own terms, and differentiates his position from the opposing position, I think his position is theologically unobjectionable. 

Now Feser might include some include metaphysical accessories that I don't grant. But in that broad sense, he's unpacking a categorical difference between the creature and the Creator. 

Feser goes on to say:

John 14: 6 tells us that Christ is the truth, and John 4:6 tells us that God is love -- as opposed to merely instantiating or having love. 

Here I do think Feser overinterprets the surface grammar. I think "God is love" is simply a stylistic variation on "God is loving." Love is a divine attribute. It uses a noun adjectivally. 

Moving on to Tuggy:

As best I can tell, most Christians – Catholic and Protestant, pentecostal and Orthodox, Anabaptist and nondenominational, think, and have always thought of God as a great self. 
That's a half-truth. The Bible often depicts God as "a self." Unfortunately for Dale, the Bible also depicts God as three selves. 
Conversely, we can say the Trinity is one being. There is only one Trinity. 
Why do I say this? Listen to what they say, particularly in unguarded moments which reveal what they really think. For them, God is a “He.” 
Another half-truth. The Bible often depicts God  as "a he." Unfortunately for Dale, the Bible also depicts God as three he's. 
Dale's rudimentary prooftexting does nothing to advance his position. For Trinitarians can match him move for move.
The consensus of interpreters now is that this is God, YHWH, talking to his heavenly court, to his angels – to what in Old Testament lingo are, along with him, and sometimes various humans, termed elohim.
That's a legitimate interpretation, although Dale overstates the degree of consensus. An alternative interpretation (Robert Alter) regards this is a literary convention: interior monologue. 
Another alternative (e.g. David Clines), which is at least as good, if not better, has God addressing the Spirit of God. On that interpretation, there are two divine parties in this passage.  
BTW, the angels aren't termed elohim in Gen 1. That's a designation for God in Gen 1, in contrast to creatures. 
We have in this passage one Self consulting others, about an intentional action, a thing which can only be done by a self…God takes pity on us. He is compassionate, and sympathizes with our plight. He is supremely loving. He forgives. These actions, emotions, and character trains logically presuppose that he’s a self, a being capable of consciousness, with intelligence, will, and the ability to intentionally act.
i) If that's how Dale defines a "self," fine. But that applies to the Son and the Spirit as well as the Father. Take Paul's statement:
10 these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. 11 For who knows a person's thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God (1 Cor 2:10-11).
That clearly depicts the Holy Spirit as a "self." It trades on a body/soul metaphor, where God's Spirit is analogous to the soul. God's soul. So Dale's "self" criterion fails to select for unitarianism.  
I am not ashamed to follow Jesus in calling God and thinking of God as a our heavenly Father.
But in both Johannine and Pauline usage, there's a categorical difference between Christ's Sonship and Christian sonship. So Dale is equivocating. 
God gets mad. Literally? Yes.
Literally "yes" if you're an open theist like Tuggy. Literally "no" from my own standpoint. 

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