Reflections on Biblical and
Christian Philosophy

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Theism Classical and Fixed or Personal and Changing Coherent or Incoherent?

 

What follows here are examples of professing Christians defining “classical theism” and “Christian” theism, as distinct from Biblical theism.  If the reader only keeps in mind the simple profession of the Apostles’ Creed, he will easily see the deficits of “classical theism” and a narrowly defined “Christian theism.”  He will also see that these authors move back and forth between “classical theism” and “Christian theism” with a facility that denies inherently infinite differences.  Then, I will have a brief discussion of this issue.

 

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“According to classical theistic belief—classical Muslim and Jewish—as well as Christian belief—first of all there is God, the chief being of the universe, who has neither beginning nor end.  Most important, God is personal. That is, God is the kind of being who is conscious and enjoys come kind of awareness of his surrounding (in God’s case, that would be everything).  Second, (though not second in importance), a person has loves and hates, wishes and desires; she (sic) approves of some things and disapproves of others; she (sic) wants things a certain way…. Persons have affections.  A person, third, is a being who has beliefs and if fortunate, knowledge.  We human beings, for example, believe a host of things…. That there is such person as God….

 

“But second, unlike human persons, God is a person without a body.  (In a footnote, Plantinga states, “The Christian doctrine of the Trinity introduces complications here: the second person of the Trinity, has indeed has, a body.  Here I propose to avoid these complications; I’ll use the word ‘God’ as a name for the first person of the Trinity.”)  He acts, and acts in the world, as human beings do, but, unlike human beings, not by way of a body.  Rather, God acts just by willing; he (sic) wills that things be a certain way, and they are that way…. Something similar goes for knowledge…. (God) is all-knowing (‘omniscient’) as well as all-powerful, he knows everything that can be known.  Of course, there are disputes in this area.  Theists argue whether God know the future, he knows what free beings will in fact do….

 

Finally, God has created the world—from the largest things it contains to the smallest.  He has created all the stars and planets, all the galaxies and black holes, all the quarks and gluons and electrons (assuming that there really are such things).  He has created all living things—plants and animals and human beings—either directly, or by employing other beings and processes…. (God) also sustains its existence; without his sustenance, the world would disappear like a candle flame in a high wind.  Further, God governs the world in such a way that it displays a certain constancy and regularity…. God created the various structures of the world freely…. What laws or regularities the world displays is a contingent matter; the same goes for the sorts of structures and organisms…. “  (Alvin Plantinga and Michael Tooley, Knowledge of God, 1-5)

 

Ed: Consider the above comments on including Islam and Judaism in Plantinga’s theistic position in the following analysis.  “Islam makes God unknowable and remote, fearing that his direct involvement in the world will revitalize him.  If the Islamic God were truly a se, he would not lose his transcendent glory by entering history.  Islam also turns predestination into fatalism, thus veering toward (sic) an impersonal concept of God.  Judaism today (whatever recent scholarship may conclude about first-century Judaism) is a religion of works, rather than of an a se God who gives what we cannot repay.  And Judaism, like the Jehovah’s Witnesses and other cults, rejects the Trinity, which, as we have seen, is closely related to God’s aseity."  (John Frame, “Divine Aseity and Apologetics,” in Oliphint and Tipton, Revelation and Reason, fn120)

 

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“Classical Christian belief includes, in the first place, the belief that there is such a person as God. God is a person: that is, a being with intellect and will. A person has (or can have) knowledge and belief, but also affections, loves, and hates; a person, furthermore, also has or can have intentions, and can act so as to fulfill them. God has all of these qualities and has some (knowledge, power, and love, for example) to the maximal degree. God is thus all-knowing and all-powerful; he is also perfectly good and wholly loving. Still further, he has created the universe and constantly upholds and providentially guides it. This is the theistic component of Christian belief. But there is also the uniquely Christian component: that we human beings are somehow mired in rebellion and sin, that we consequently require deliverance and salvation, and that God has arranged for that deliverance through the sacrificial suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, who was both a man and also the second member of the Trinity, the uniquely divine son of God. I shall use the term ‘Christian belief’ to designate these two components taken together. Of course, I realize that others may use that term more narrowly or more broadly. There is no need to argue about words here: the beliefs I mentioned are the ones I shall discuss, however exactly we propose to use the term ‘Christian’. I also recognize that there are partial approximations to Christian belief so understood, as well as borderline cases, beliefs such that it simply isn’t clear whether they qualify as Christian belief. All of this is true, but as far as I can see, none of it compromises my project.  (Alvin Plantinga, Preface, Warranted Christian Belief)

 

I have commented more completely on this Preface elsewhere .

 

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“Classical theism is an approach to the doctrine of God that emphasizes unchanging being, divine transcendence and sovereignty as captured in a set of divine attributes that typically includes atemporal eternity, immutability, impassibility, and divide simplicity.  Classical theism was developed over centuries by theologians critically interacting with important pagan philosophical theology including that of Plato (as Form of the Good), Aristotle (God as Pure Act and Unmoved Mover) and Plotinus (God as transcendent One).  Exponents of classical theism come from all the major monotheistic traditions, including Judaism (Philo, Maimonides), Christianity (Augustine, Anselm, and Aquinas), and Islam (Averroes, Avicenna)).  Within Christian classical theism, Anselm’s conception of God as the greatest conceivable or most perfect being, and Aquinas’ identification of God’s existence and essence have also been influential concepts.  Many Christians today reject classical theism, claiming that concepts of Greek origination like impassibility produce a ‘god of the philosophers’ that has little relation to the God of biblical revelation.  While admitting that there may appear to be a tension between scriptural revelation and classical theism, advocates of the latter argue that there is a deeper concord, and indeed that this is the best way to ensure a theology that is both biblical sound and philosophically coherent.  (Hill and Rauser, Christian Philosophy A-Z, 182—italics are theirs, bolding is Ed’s)

 

 In a section entitled, “The Classical Christian Concept of God,” Francis Beckwith writes:

 

“The classical concept of God is the center of orthodox Christianity.  At the center of every religion or philosophy there is the concept of an ultimate being or beings.  The classical concept of God, or classical theism, holds that God, the omnipotent, transcendent creator is the only ultimate being, and that everything else that exists or could exist depends upon him for its existence.  Although classical theism has been much challenged in recent thought, we believe that this model of God is both taught by the Bible and philosophically superior to any alternatives.

 

“Classical theism is the theism that has been believed in by most theists in Western civilization.  In particular, classical theism holds that God is (1) personal and disembodied, (2) the creator and sustainer of all things, (3) omnipotent, (4) omniscient, (5) omniscient, (6) immutable and eternal, (7) perfectly good and the source of all moral values, (8) necessary, (9) the only God, (10) infinite, (11) sovereign over all things, and (12) knowable but incomprehensible.  We can look at these attributes one by one.  (And he does.)  After that, we will examine two concepts central to Christian theism: (1) the trinity, and (2) the incarnation of God the Son.  (Francis Beckwith and Stephen Parrish, See the Gods Fall, 59-60—Ed’s bolding)

 

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Ed’s Comments

 

The differences in the above are really obvious, just in the light of the Apostle’s and Nicene Creeds, but I will point out a few problems.  The major and devastating argument is that most, if not all, of these characteristics of God would not be known apart from the Bible?  How does one get omniscience, omnipotence, omniscience, eternity, disembodiment (transcendent—above the senses), immutable, and other attributes from naturalism or natural theology?  Everything observed in the universe is sensed, sensical, and sensation.  One of the few things on which virtually all philosophers agree is that empiricism does not give certainty, only probability.  So, where does the certainty of classical theism come from—from the Bible—sneaking it in without citing the reference.  The God that most philosophers reject is this caricature of the Biblical God—the god of one of the philosophers.  I agree with Hill and Rauser (above) that there is no tension between classical theism and the Biblical God—there is no correspondence at all!

 

Other issues are these.  (1) Plantinga argues for the same characteristics of God for the Christian, Jew, and Muslim.  Frame (in the paragraph following Plantinga’s first quote) demonstrates that this position is untenable.  (2) Plantinga argues, “There is no need to argue about words here.”  Oh, I thought definitions were central to reasoned arguments.  With no precise definitions, there can be no precise predicate nor valid inference, and such reasoning is what philosophy proposes to do better than any other discipline!  Beckwith states, “Classical theism is the theism that has been believed in by most theists in Western civilization.”  And,  pray tell, what other theism there is in the West besides a theism that is (mostly inaccurately) derived from the Bible?  (At least until recent decades.)

 

(3) The reader should note the movement of Beckwith back and forth between “classical theism” and “the classical Christian concept of God.”  Few would argue that “classical theism” and “Christian theism” are identical.  This movement demonstrates his and others’ confusion of these terms.  (4) Both Hill/Rauser argue for a “biblical sound and philosophically coherent” theism.  Beckwith argues for a “philosophically superior” theism.  These statements show the higher authoritative position that philosophers give to philosophy over theology (Biblical authority).  (5) Classical theism does not exist except in the minds of philosophers.  There is no religion of “classical theism.”  There is no “book” of it for worship or for guidance as a religion.  It is a contrived term with its only intent to truncate Christianity in a way that is not offensive to anti-Christians!  (6) The reader should note the use of “she” by Plantinga in his reference to God from his Tooley debate.  It shows Plantinga’s commitment to philosophy over Biblical theology, as both Christian and non-Christian philosophers are commonly using “she” in their generic designation of a single person (whoops, “per-people,” son is not generic).  I have written briefly on the generic use of she.  (7)  Then, note his use of “belief” relative to God in his discussion of theism from Warranted Christian Belief.

 

Plantinga and others who debate and argue from a position of classical theism are (1) standing on an incoherent position because it is not deductively Biblical, making it vulnerable from a simple naturalism, and (2) presenting a god who is not the God of Christianity.  Cornelius Van Til consistently argued that the Christian (Biblical) system must be defended, as a whole, not piecemeal.  Another philosopher who took the right approach in debate was Greg Bahnsen in his debate with Ben Stein.  All philosophers, theologians, and laymen who believe that “classical theism” has a place in a Biblical apologetic or philosophy would profit from Van Til’s and Bahnsen’s approach.

 


 

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