Thinking on God

These are my thoughts on God, purloined from Gordon Clark.

Who is God? What we think , is most important, especially about God, since the Bible says God requires us to worship him in spirit and in truth. Mindless worship or false thinking do not glorify God. The source material for thinking about God is scattered throughout the various books of the Bible. In fact, the whole theme of the Bible is God. Recently, God has fallen on hard times. Some philosophers believe God´s attributes are not viable, i.e. result in absurdities or are incompatible. We will not concern ourselves with those details, and will instead look at one common conception of God as a trinity. The trinity refers to the depiction of God  in the Bible as Father, Son and Holy Ghost. The Father is said to be a person, the Son is  a person and the Holy Spirit is also a person and hence trinity refers to three persons. The Bible says there is one God. If there are three persons, surely this makes three Gods?  In any case, what is a person? Humans are referred to as persons too. So, the definition of a person must be common to man and the persons of the Godhead. This implies that, being a person is NOT what makes God, God. And so, three persons in the Godhead does not entail three Gods as such! But this still does not answer our puzzle as to why three persons in the Godhead seem to come short of three Gods!  What sort of persons are the three? The answer of course is that they are each God. Well, then if we have three persons who are each God, doesn´t that give us three Gods? Come on, can´t you count to three, monkey? Of course we can count to three, but the Bible says there is one God! There must be something we are missing! Perhaps we have missteped in our logic somewhere. Let us go back, define all our terms and take it from there.

The first is God: Augustine Aurelius, fourth century bishop of Hippo in North Africa said God is truth. Of course he got this by reading his Bible! Jesus said I am the truth! The word truth is used in two ways. Truth is a property of propositions. A proposition is either true or false. A true proposition or a set of true propositions are then said to be truth. Truth is thus propositional. If God is truth, does this mean then that God is a congeries of propositions? Surely God must be more than mere propositions, words even? Well, does the Gospel according to John not say, ¨In the beginning was the Logos, (the Word, the Wisdom, the Truth, all equivalent),  …….. and the Logos was God¨? And so God is a Word.  God is NOT more than His word! Truth is associated with concepts like thinking the truth, believing the truth which are activities of the mind. Let us define persons as thinkers or rational minds. The mind is NOT an empty vat which can then be filled with the truth. A tabula rasa as conceived by Thomas Aquinas is no mind. Let us say, following Gordon Clark, a person is his mind, and the mind is what one thinks. ¨As a man thinketh so is he¨, the Bible tells us. And so a person is a congeries of propositions, as Gordon Clark put it! Possesing a mind is therefore what is common between God and man. But what then distinguishes the mind of man and that of God? Well, it is the actual propositions in the respective minds. God says my thoughts are NOT your thoughts! A man and his spouse definitely have different minds!!!!(This one is easy!!!) No two minds are identical! This solves the philosophical problem of unity and individuation. We have a common definition of mind(a congeries of propositions) yet we have different minds(we have different propositions in our minds).

Now back to our discussion on the trinity.  Three persons in the Godhead is then three minds. The question is then what do they think? They think God! That is what makes them God. They are what they think! The unity of the Godhead is then the unity of minds! The unity of minds is the unity of thoughts. The unity of thoughts means thinking the same thoughts, that define them as God! So we say they are of ONE mind and hence we have one God. As an analogy, there is only one number ¨2¨. It is the same number in all minds that think it. There are not as many 2´s as there are minds! Similarly, there is only one definition of God, the set of truths that constitute God! But then, how is there individuation in the trinity? Following Clark,, the Son thinks , ¨I was incarnated¨, but the Father thinks ¨I sent the Son¨ and the Holy Spirit thinks ¨I descended at Pentecost to indwell the believer¨. These are NOT identical thoughts in each person and thus distinguish them. All the thoughts in the Father,  Son and Holy Spirit individually and collectively are God and hence there is only one God.
One more question! Is God a person? The answer is an unequivocal YES!! Is this a  ¨fourth¨ person in addition to the three? No!!!
  1. The Father(The Son, The Holy Spirit) is God.
  2. The Father(The Son, The Holy Spirit)  is a person.
  3. Therefore God is a person
One is NOT violating logic in saying God is a person.

Traditionaly, the charge of tritheism or alternatively absurdity in the concept of the trinity has been defended by saying some things are three in one sense and one in another and examples abound! Hence God is three in some sense but one in some other, even if we do not know what those senses are. Therefore it does not necessarily follow that God being three persons and one God is an absurdity!  The late Cornelius Van Til, a hero to many in some reformed circles said God is three persons and one person! Since van Til never defined what he meant by person, this is irrational nonsense and heresy even! To say van Til arrived at our conclusion above without the benefit of clear definitions is hardly credible. I consistently mark students wrong who have a ¨correct¨ answer where the answer is arrived at with dubious maths! Those who say because van Til´s nonsense sounds like Clark´s carefully defined and reasoned conclusion, then Clark and van Til are both agreed, are just bent on mischief! van Til´s was sheer nonsense from his quixotic hermeneutic, paradox!

Advertisements

13 Responses to Thinking on God

  1. Doug Skiles says:

    Everytime I start reading someone who wants to use the Clark-vanTil controversy as some sort of proof-technique I am reminded of the error of attaching false-truths to Truisms as a way of introducing an unproven assumption. Was Clark a better teacher, yes! This idea we have that to attack what we deem as false-teachers is like the unsportmanlike conduct that has become a part of the games themselves. It may be what the crowd wants but it doesn’t challenge their thinking it just plays up to their thirst for emotional drama. Challenge us like the apostle Paul did in Acts 17 with a right use of Christian philosophy and stay away from the petty use of sarcasm and we will be more prone to listen AND learn.

    Kindest regards, Doug.

  2. mqeqeshi says:

    Hi Doug,
    Itś unfortunate you don´t seem able to take your own advice! Your post is not on God, the subject of the blog, which is far more interesting and intellectually challenging than your lame whine about my swipe at van Tillian paradox. Perhaps we should both take your advice and keep to the subject?

    Denson

  3. Forrest Schultz Says:

    April 30, 2009 at 6:11 pm | Reply
    THE NATURE OF GOD AS SOCIAL AND AS CREATIVE
    WAS TAUGHT BY ATHANASIUS
    by Forrest Wayne Schultz

    If you think that the only contribution made by Athanasius was defeating the Arian heresy, think again! I just learned by reading a very interesting scholarly work that Athanasius taught two very important truths which somehow have been since overlooked in spite of the fact that they are extremely vital for our understanding of God, namely that God is social and that God is creative.

    Athanasius discusses how both of these divine attributes are derived from the interrelationship between God The Father and God The Son, which is designated by theologians as the eternal generation of the Son — a doctrine which today is usually regarded as irrelevant, if it is even known at all.

    Athanasius maintained that the very being of God consisted in the personal relationship between the Father and the Son. This (plus the personal interrelations between the Father and the Holy Spirit and between the Son and the Holy Spirit) means the very nature of God is inherently interpersonal or social. This, of course, is the basis for the teachings of Schaeffer and Van Til that the meaning of the Trinity is that God is characterized by the equal ultimacy of the unity and the diversity and that the very meaning of personhood itself (since God’s personhood is the supreme personhood) is that of the equal ultimacy of the personal unity and the personal diversity — in short that societies as well as individuals are personal (or should be!). In short, God is One Personal Society consisting of Three Individual Persons. Now I do not know if Athanasius himself drew — or fully drew — this conclusion because my source does not discuss that. In fact, surprisingly he does not even use the word social!

    Athanasius also rightly saw that God the Father’s eternal generation of God the Son meant that generativity and creativity are inherent divine qualities. Therefore the creation of the world is to be EXPECTED because a creative person can be expected to create. This principle too has been lost because our systematic theologies, while teaching that God created the world, fail to mention that He has a creative nature. Now isn’t that weird?!! So, here again — and this really ticks me off — in the 4th century AD Athanasius discovered two extremely important truths about God which since became lost. Plus I just now found out about it.

    If you remember my previous posts about Irenaeus you remember that I showed how I learned from Pagels’ excellent scholarship that Irenaeus was the one who correctly defined the terms orthodoxy and canon and how since then these original and true definitions had been lost. Now I find out that the same thing happened with Athanasius — we lost his discovery that God is social and that God is creative. Folks, those DARK ages really were dark to have lost such great beams of light as these!

    OK, now here is my source for the Athanasius discoveries. Frankly, unless you are a rare person like me who actually likes wading through this kind of scholarly book I don’t recommend reading it — it is not an easy read like Pagels — it is written for professional theologians. The author is Peter Widdicombe. It is one of the Oxford Theological Monographs. (That ought to scare you off if nothing else does!) The title is The Fatherhood of God From Origen To Athanasius. The publisher is the Oxford University Press and I read the revised paperback edition published in 2000. By the way, this is not to be considered as a book review — I really do not want to do that — all I want to do is note the two discoveries I made about Athanasius I discussed briefly here.

    Sincerely,

    Forrest

    • mqeqeshi says:

      Hi Forrest,
      I was not aware of Athanasius´ views on the nature of God. I am quite baffled by God. Why is there a Father and Son and no Mother or daughter but Holy Spirit? In what sense is he social? This is not to say if mother and daughter are not there one cannot have a social structure. But the familial Father and Son is most puzzling! What does eternal generation mean? How or what is meant by the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and Son? Although Clark´s definition of person is quite an improvement on undefined substances, still one is puzzled by so much in God!
      Thanks for sharing!

      • lawyertheologian says:

        I seriously question the deductions that Athanasius made or at least the meaning or significance that can be placed on the terms he used.

        What does he mean that God is social? Can we really compare the communications between the members of the Trinity with our communications amongst ourselves?

        I do believe that God had to create, since He did in fact create. But again, what does it mean to say that He is creative? Is it the same thing as Him being a God of wrath, such that, He willed to make that aspect of Him known to man? I rather doubt it.

  4. lawyertheologian says:

    Denson,

    First of all, your syllogism is invalid because the premises equivocate in their use of the terms. That is, when you say that the Father, Son, and Spirit is God and (they) is/are persons, it is clear that they are not so in the same way. God is Father, Son and Spirit, the three persons collectively. That is WHO He is. Individually, none of the three are God, though they have the quality of Godness, the thoughts that only God has. But individually, not collectively, each is a person.

    God is not a person. Clark I believe made this clear. To even argue that God is one person and three persons is patently illogical unless you define person differently with respect to the one and to the three. But so far you have defined persons univocally. BTW, God is defined not as any particular propositions but truth itself. That is, His thoughts are truly precisely because He thinks it. That is what makes Him God. Thus, each person of the Godhead, because they think, “the Son became incarnate” it is true. But only the Son thinks “I became incarnate.”

    Van Til’s one person view of the Trinity IS heretical.

    He taught, “We do assert that God, that is, the whole Godhead, is one person.” See “Cornelius Van Til, The Man and the Myth”, John Robbins, p.19. He also said, “God is a one-conscious being and a tri-conscious being.” Ibid. That is an impossibility. Of course, Dr. Robbins thought Van Til’s view was both heretical and illogical. Also, this was Clark’s take on this Van Til’ quote, claiming that Van Til “asserted that the Godhead is three and one in the same sense.” “The Trinity” p. 86. cf. p.91.

    You say, “ALL the thoughts of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit individually and collectively are God.” This is not true. As Clark says, “The definition of Deity does not define the Son; nor can the definition of the Son apply to Deity. … the Trinity or Godhead, absolutely and as such, does NOT have the characteristics of any one Person,absolutely and as such, but each Person has all the predicates of Deity [is omniscient, is omnipotent, etc.]” “The Trinity” p. 53. In other words, what makes each Person of the Trinity a person, and the particular person, is not what makes them God. Those distinct thoughts are not individually or collectively God. It is only the common thoughts, the thoughts of Deity, that are individually and collectively (though it is a collection of the same thought)God.

    • mqeqeshi says:

      Hi Pat,
      Thanks for your criticisms.
      I must confess I have only read Clark´s definition of a person and his criticism of ¨substance¨. I have NOT read his ¨The Trinity¨ which you quote from. This much I am clear on though, that it is NOT being a person that makes The Son or Father or Holy Spirit, God, since I would like to think Denson and Pat are persons too, without pretending Deity!! I have always thought The Son is God the Son, the Holy Spirit is God the Holy Spirit and God the Father! After all doesn´t the Bible say, ¨In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the word was God¨?
      The Firm, The Father, Son and Holy Spirit (Inc) is attractive in its simplicity which is what you seem or Clark seems to be advocating for? One wishes matters were that simple! How the Father Son and Holy Spirit can have so called properties of Deity and be not God is what I can´t follow in what you say Clark says! The Scriptural material in which ´I am´ or simply ´I´( and NOT ´We are´or ´The Firm´) is used abounds in the Old Testament. This is difficult to explain if God is not a person. Using an analogy, the solid, liquid and vapor phase of water or any other material, are all water(the same chemical) without equivocating. To say ice has the properties of water but is not water is confusion. The One God referred to is not The Firm, The Cooperation, or The Society but the definition of God, which each person already is, individually! At least The Apostle John thought so. The Word was both ¨with God¨ and ¨was God¨.

      Denson

  5. lawyertheologian says:

    Denson,

    Maybe a little Greek will help. When it says in John 1:1 that the Word was God, it is not saying that the Word and God are one and the same thing. By leaving out the definite article before the word God, “God” becomes a description of the Word, which has the definite article. And the predicate is put forward in the sentence. Literally it reads, “And Divine was THE Word.” In English, the word is or was can mean equal to or has the property of. Thus “God is light” could mean that God equals light, that is they are one and the same thing. But in 1 John 1:5 which reads literally “God light is”, again having no article before light means that light is a quality or characteristic of God.

    So again, it is not correct to say Jesus is God if we mean that Jesus and God are one and the same. Instead God is, that is, God equals, God is identified by, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit collectively.

    Again, WHAT God is is a Spirit being that is omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent, etc. And though we and the Scriptures use singular pronouns to refer to God, we must bring in personhood/personality into our view of God. Admittedly, this is difficult and seems quite odd. But just think of the thing that makes God God, not the thing that makes Him persons.One can say that God/He created the universe. Or one can say that the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, they created the universe. That is why Gregory of Nazianzus says, “I cannot think of the one without quickly being encircled by the splendor of the three; nor can I discern the three without being straightway carried back to the one.”

    BTW, the problem with the analogy of water, ice and vapor is that it describes a substance that changes. In other words, it is modal. And that is not God. God does not become the Father or the Son or the Holy Spirit like the same H20 changes from liquid,gas, and solid, or water, vapor and ice. Thus water, or more precisely the compound H20, is one substance and each form it is found in is the one and same substance. But each person of the Godhead is not a particular form of God. They are collectively what make up who God is. This again will probably seem very strange. For the only differences in the persons are verbal expressions.

    As I’ve said, we all tend to fall into either of the two errors: tritheism or sabbellianism.

    It is probably worth the time to carefully read over and over again Clark’s “The Trinity” until it starts to gel. This is very difficult and heady stuff.

  6. mqeqeshi says:

    Hi Pat,
    Thank you for the clarification on the Greek language! Well, as they say, ¨It´s all Greek to me!¨
    I still have a difficulty though with accepting the explanation that seems to say God uses ¨I AM¨, ¨I am the Lord your God¨ but really should not since He is NOT a person. If God was NOT a person, then He would NOT have used personal pronouns ´I´ or ´Me´. There should be an easier explanation somewhere. Shall we call it an anthropomorphism ? But that would eventually eat away at any common or univocal meaning in words or thought between God and man. In other words we all end up being van Tilians!
    Let us accept that the use of personal pronouns by God in the Bible is not a mistake, but means exactly what it suggests, that God is a person, then try and puzzle it out!

    Denson

  7. lawyertheologian says:

    Denson, I thought I showed why the use of the singular personal pronoun as applied to God does not make God person. But maybe you just didn’t get it. Let me try again. God is one, that is, there is only one (thing?) that it is defined as such. Thus it is proper to use the singular pronoun to refer to “Him.” It has nothing to do with personality, though we refer to these pronouns as “personal.” Certainly, we are not going to say “it.” For God is not inaminate but Spirit or life. Nor is it correct to conclude that God is either a person or not. There is a third option. He is more than A person, that is one person; He is indeed 3 persons. Thus, when the Scriptures say, “I am the Lord your God”, it is NOT one person speaking, but three. The Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit is the Lord your God.

    Incidentally, since you accept that Christ is 2 persons, you should not find is so difficult to think of a unity being referred to by a singular pronoun. For we and the Scriptures often speak of Christ to refer to the unit, that is both persons, and yet we/it uses singular pronouns.

    You must discard the idea that God is a/one person. For that is clearly unscriptural. God is three persons.

  8. mqeqeshi says:

    Hi Pat,
    I do accept that one can use personal pronouns for all sorts of things eg Mother Russia or the cruiser, QE II is referred to as a ¨she¨. However, I do not see what the difficulty is in three minds making one mind. In fact, that is precisely what it means that God is ONE. We do not say God is three, He is ONE! The unity is NOT that of a Law Firm! 🙂 or a society but of thought. This can not be a mere addition of thoughts(1+1+1=3)! It must be something akin to multiplication: 1x1x1=1.
    In any case, I must read Clark for my self.

    Thanks for the exchange!

    Denson

  9. lawyertheologian says:

    Denson,

    We do indeed say God is three. We say He is three persons.

    He is one mind, yes, but not one person. He is one mind, in that, what each person of the Godhead thinks is the same (I am onniscient, I created the world, today it will rain in Salem, NH, etc.). But all of the thoughts of all of the persons are not what make up the one mind. Again,as Clark says, “The definition of Deity does not define the Son, nor can the definition of Son apply to Deity.” That is, the thoughts that make the Son the Son do not apply to, are not thoughts that define God as God. Clark uses this illustration: “A succulent does not have all the qualities of a cactus, but the latter has all the characteristics of the former.” Put another way, the Son is not Deity because He became incarnate. He is Deity because He thinks “I am omniscient, I am omnipotent, etc.

    Three minds in one mind is just as illogical as three persons in one person.

    • mqeqeshi says:

      I think you have lost me here! As I said, I would like to go through Clark´s book first.

      Denson

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: