God the Father Almighty (Erickson)

Erickson, Millard. God the Father Almighty: A Contemporary Exploration of the Divine Attributes. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1998.

Always go to Millard Erickson when it comes to strong doctrines.  With the possible exception of his take on eternal generation, Erickson is a most reliable guide to the doctrine of God. This volume brings all the strengths of analytic theology without burdening the reader with truth tables, Bayes’ Theorem, and the like.

Erickson begins with a thorough analysis of heterodox and heretical positions such as process theology and open theism.  The one good thing we can say about process theology is that it acknowledged that metaphysics is an important and inescapable view.  Instead of substances, process theology sees reality as “actual occasions” and “concretions.”  Reality is di-polar, having a physical and mental pole.  Process thought is better able to accommodate modern science than earlier atomistic views.  The flow is dynamic.  As Cobb says, “Things happen in bursts or jerks rather than an even flow” (quoted in Erickson, 54).

All of that is well and good and probably true on the creation-level.  It completely rejects the normal understanding of God.  God is now seen as a “loving-creative response.”  Further, on process thought it is hard to understand how anything–man or God–could be identical through time, since reality is “bursts and jerks.” Burst 1 follows Burst 2 but what is there in the gaps?  

Erickson then gives the standard evaluations of open theism, which I won’t go into here. In another chapter he explains how God doesn’t change while noting the numerous ambiguities in the word “change.”

His chapter on God and Time is quite good and hints towards several possible solutions.  Is God eternal (the traditional view) or everlasting (infinite duration, but duration nonetheless)?  Before we can even answer this question, we have to ask: “What kind of definition of time are we using: A-tense or B-tense?).  A-tense is the normal understanding of time.  B-tense is a tenseless view, which suggests that the flow of time is an illusion.  Here is where it gets interesting: the Eternal and Everlasting positions can accommodate either.

Here is where it gets even more interesting:  if Einstein is correct, and time should be viewed more as “spacetime,” then the debate changes.  I’m not entirely sure of Erickson’s conclusion, but he suggests that the atemporalist and temporal debates might not be real contraries when applied to God.  


If God is impassible, does that mean he is devoid of all feelings? Augustine said that impassibility is a balanced harmony where the mind is in agreement with reason (Civ. Dei. 8.17).  Further on, Erickson notes that impassibility is connected with discussions on divine foreknowledge and immutability. If this obtains, then can God really be said to answer prayer?  Thomas Morris offers a plausible scenario: “God’s intentions are indexed to…occurences in the created universe” (quoted in Erickson, 150). For example, per Jonah, God didn’t change his will but has eternally willed a change from ‘the Ninevites will be punished’ to ‘the Ninevites will not be punished’ if they repent.  As Erickson comments, “changing one’s will is different from willing a change in things” (151).

Divine Power

This hasn’t been debated as much as foreknowledge or impassibility, but a proper view of God hinges upon it.  Erickson runs through the standard discussions in analytic philosophy of religion. In short, God cannot perform logical contraries or anything contrary to his perfections (e.g., God can’t will himself not to exist).

Divine Simplicity

This is the most important chapter in the book.  Erickson highlights one fascinating implication of divine simplicity: we cannot say we don’t know God’s essence.  Or rather, the claim that we can know God’s attributes but not his essay doesn’t work.  God’s attributes are his essence, and if we can know one we can know the other.  Of course, we must immediately add that we know analogically.

Erickson tackles the number one problem with divine simplicity: if God is identical to his properties, doesn’t that make God a property? A similar property is that if God is good, does that mean he is exemplifying the property of goodness, which means that God participates in something greater than himself?  That clearly will not work, which is why theologians have always said “God is Goodness.”  Yet, if we say that we are back at Plantinga’s critique.

Erickson borrows from William Mann’s essay and reformulates the problem this way:

With regard to God’s properties, we aren’t saying that wisdom (W) = power (P).  We are saying the W of God = the P of God.  This means there is a difference between “Deity-instance identities” and “instance-instance identities” (220).  This might sidestep Plantinga’s critique, but in its present form his technicality limits its use. It’s not immediately clear what an instance-instance identity is.

Mann has another interesting argument, though.  We make a distinction between degreed and non-degreed properties. Many of God’s great-making properties are generally degreed, such as knowledge.  I can always have more knowledge.  But God’s degreed properties have something mine do not: an intrinsic maximum.  God already has the maximum amount of a degreed property. God can never be “more knowledgeable.” 

It’s a bold move.  I think it takes more work, though.  Morris responded to Mann’s essay (eliciting a response from Mann).  

Transcendence and Immanence

Hegel: history is just God daydreaming (264).

This is a top-level book in both the doctrine of God and philosophical theology.

The Word Enfleshed (Oliver Crisp)

Crisp, Oliver D. The Word Enfleshed: Exploring the Person and Work of Christ.  Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2016.

As with all of Oliver Crisp’s works, this volume brings rigorous analytical clarity to weighty discussions.  Furthermore, the essays are connected.  Some of Crisp’s earlier works (i.e., Retrieving Doctrine) seem more like collections of essays, even though they are quite good.  This is a valuable intermediate-level text for Christology.

Eternal Generation and Paul Helm

Crisp explores some “varieties of Arianism,” so to speak and whether Paul Helm’s criticisms of eternal generation (EG) hold water.

The problem for adherents of EG: “if God the Father eternally causes the existence of God the Son, then his existence is logically dependent on the eternal causal action of the Father” (Crisp 5).

Response #1: Logically dependent isn’t temporally dependent, so Arianism is blocked. Another important point is that since this generating act is spiritual and non-physical–its being generated from within the mind of God–it is “an eternal divine act of internal self-differentiation” (13).  It is a “de re” necessary relation, so Helm’s claim that it moves economy into ontology doesn’t work (though this might be a problem for ESS).

Christ Without Flesh

Crisp rebuts Robert Jenson’s later criticisms of the logos asarkos. Robert Jenson notoriously claimed that Christ is identical to the 2nd Person of the Trinity.  This has the bizarre implication that Jesus’s flesh is eternal.

Jenson might not mean that, though.  He clarifies that Christ is the narrative pattern of Israel

Incorporeality and Incarnation

Problem: how can a simple God the Son possess a material body, yet not be made of parts?  Crisp gives a fascinating discussion of Neoplatonism and panentheism.

Christological Doctrine of the Image of God

Crisp explores the various proposals for the image of God, calling particular attention to the difficulties in the Plato/Calvin view.  If the image of God is what we have to the exclusion of everything else in creation, and I think all sides would agree with that, and if the image is reduced to the soul/rational faculties, then we have the uncomfortable position that angels (and perhaps demons) are also in the image of God.  Few want to go down that road.

On the other hand, attempts to get rid of any “substance talk” concerning the image of God and/or human nature don’t work, either.  For those who hold that the image is connected with ruling and dominion (which I think it is), we still have substance ideas.  Someone who is ruling has the metaphysical properties and capacities for ruling.  I think the dominion idea is correct, but you can’t avoid substance-talk.

Desiderata for Models of the Hypostatic Union

Pace Bruce McCormack, we have to deal with substance.  Even Barthians like McCormack make claims about the properties or concrete particulars of Christ (78).

The problem: Does Chalcedon commit us to a particular metaphysics?  

Answer: Probably.

Some conclusions:
(1) The Son didn’t assume a personal human nature.  This is the an/enhypostatic distinction.

(2) For Chalcedon, a hypostasis “was essentially a particular individual within a universal species, identifiable as such or such a thing by the qualities” it/he/she shares with other individuals (Daley, quoted by Crisp, 86). 

(3) Persons are concrete things. A person is a substance (or supposit) that instantiates a substance-kind by a de re relation.

(4) This does not entail Nestorianism, though.  While almost all human natures are human persons, they don’t strictly have to be. In philosophy a proper part of a person isn’t a person.  There is the famous Tibbles-the-Cat experiment.  Tibbles is a cat with all of the properties of a cat.  He has 1,000 hairs on his fur.  He also has the property part of all of Tibbles’ hairs-minus-one (T -1). Does that constitute a new cat?  What if he also has the part T -2, and so on until T -999? 

(4*) Therefore, God the Son, though he has the property of human nature, is still only a divine person and not also a human person.

The Union Account of the Atonement

What’s the difference between a “model” of the atonement and a “metaphor,” with the latter term being more popular today?  A model of the atonement is a thicker description.  It actually–with varying degrees of success–attempts to explain the “mechanism” for how the atonement works.  Metaphors don’t do that.  Crisp (rightly) opts for models in this chapter.

Aulen: Ransom/Christus Victor.  Gustav Aulen’s historiography has been thoroughly criticized.  So does his claim work on the deeper level?  No. It seems that the ransom is being paid to the devil.

Anselm: Satisfaction.  God’s nature requires that he be satisfied for the wrongs against him. Human sin was committed against an infinite good and requires an infinite sacrifice. The strength of this view is that it actually explains the mechanism better than earlier views.  There are some problems, though.  Nothing is said about penal substitution.  It isn’t necessary for Anselm’s view, so Protestants might balk at this point.

Crisp then discusses the moral and penal views, with the standard arguments pro and con.  His own view, so it seems, is what he calls a “Union Account.”  He has Augustine’s philosophical realism do “all the heavy lifting” (130). If traducianism (T) holds (and I think it does), then there is no injustice in God’s punishing me for Adam. I am metaphysically united to Adam.

There are some difficulties at this point, though none of them are fatal.  If T obtains, then there isn’t any need for imputation language.  Further, are souls fissile?  Crisp says no.  I think they might be, so that’s not a problem for my traducianism.  Further, if T obtains and if the issues resolving sin and human nature are resolved, this doesn’t explain anything about the actual atonement.  T only works regarding sin, not righteousness.

Crisp then augments his view with a “mystical union” account. He doesn’t actually develop it in this chapter.  He does pick up some ideas in the following chapter on the Spirit and Christ.

The Spirit’s Role in Union with Christ

This section gets interesting as Crisp ties in Nevin’s realism with Edwards four-dimensional ontology and identity with time.


There is some overlap in the book and Crisp does use material from previous essays.  Nevertheless, there is a conceptual “flow” to the book.  

Jonathan Edwards: Freedom of the Will

I thought I had a book review of this somewhere, but I can’t find it. Edwards’ work is an impressive treatment that anticipates some key issues in analytic theology.


  1. Will: that by which the mind chooses anything (1.1).
    1. Act of will: act of choosing.  JE identifies volition with the prevailing act of the soul; what other writers call “voluntary.”
    2. Determined: under some influence to a fixed object.
  2. Thesis: it is that motive which, as it stands in the view of the mind, is the strongest that determines the will (I.).

Necessity of consequence:  while JE plays fast and loose sometimes with terms, what he says makes sense, nonetheless.   There is also a weaker type of necessity, accidental necessity.

  • Part 1
  1. Thesis: a man never wills anything contrary to his (greatest apparent) desire (section 1).
  2. Section 2: Determination of the WIll
    1. A will is determined when its choice is directed to a fixed object. Motive is that which excites the mind to volition. For Edwards “understanding” is the whole faculty of perception.
  3. Section 3: Necessity
    1. A thing is necessary when it cannot be otherwise. Necessity is a fixed connection between things (e.g., the subject and predicate of a proposition).  Contingency is when something has no previous connection.
  4. Section 4: Moral Necessity and Inability
    1. Moral necessity is the certainty of the will itself.  Edwards’ argument seems to be that it is impossible for the will to act contrary to its greatest inclination. This impossibility is the moral inability.
    2. Moral inability is the want or defect of an inclination.  Being able is not the same thing as being willing.  I can have the faculty/capacity to do x, yet never actualize it.
  5. Section 5: Concerning the Notion of Liberty and Agency
    1. Liberty is the power to do as one pleases.  It doesn’t belong under the category of “Will,” but agency.  Agents are free, wills are not.

Part 2: Is there a such thing as Arminian Liberty?

  1. Inconsistency
    1. If the Will determines all its free acts, then every free choice is determined by a preceding act of choice.
    2. JE sees a chain of causes in each act of the will.  The key question: is this first act of the Will free or not?  If it is free (in the sense of uncaused), then we have an uncaused Cause (God).  If it isn’t free, then the Will is not free.
  2. Is the Will active or passive?
    1. If the Will is active, then the Will is determining other acts of the Will.  If passive, then in what sense is the will a determining factor?
    2. The very act of volition is itself a determination of the mind.
    3. Definition of a cause: an antecedent on which an event depends.
  3. Short essay on the Cosmological Argument.
  4. The soul, even if active, cannot be the subject of effects which have no cause.
  5. JE recaps his argument.
  6. Difficulties in the view that the will is uninfluenced
    1. This is like saying that the mind has a preference but at the same time it has no preference.
    2. To suppose the Will to act in a complete state of indifference is to assert that the mind chooses without choosing.
  7. Liberty of Will and Indifference
    1. On an Arminian gloss, indifference must be taken in an absolute sense. This is so because if the will is already inclined, then the choosing isn’t solely on the sovereign power of the Will.
    2. Is a self-determining will really free? How can the soul be both in a state of choice and a state of equilibrium?
    3. Does the mind suspend itself in a state of complete indifference?
  8. Liberty and Necessity
    1. Acts of will are never contingent.
  9. Connection between the Will and Understanding
    1. Every act of will is connected with the perceived good from the understanding.
  10. Volition and Motives
    1. Every act of will is excited by some motive.
    2. The motive is the cause of the will’s act.
    3. Volitions are necessarily connected with the motive.
    4. If the motives dispose the mind to action, then they cause the mind to be disposed; and to cause the mind to be disposed is to cause it to be willing; and to cause it to be willing is to cause it to will.
  11. God’s Foreknowledge
    1. Thesis: God has a certain foreknowledge of the voluntary acts of moral agents. These acts, therefore, are not contingent.
    2. If God doesn’t have knowledge of the future actions of moral agents, then the prophecies in general are without foreknowledge.
  12. God’s foreknowledge inconsistent with contingent actions.
    1. The voluntary acts of moral agents are necessary in the sense of connection or consequence.
      1. For example, past actions are now necessary.
      2. God’s foreknowledge, therefore, gives the actions a kind of necessary ground of existence.
      3. If something is indissolubly connected with a necessary event, it, too, is necessary.
    2. Therefore, there is a necessary connection between God’s foreknowledge and these events.
    3. Infallible foreknowledge proves the necessity of the event foreknown, but does not necessarily cause it.
  13. Recap of argument

Part III: Is Liberty inconsistent with moral excellency?

The Arminian objects that anything that is necessary cannot be morally praiseworthy.

  1. God’s nature and moral excellency are necessary but that doesn’t preclude His being praiseworthy.
    1. Indeed, it is commanded.
    2. On the Arminian objection, why should we thank God for his Goodness, since His good acts are necessary?
  2. Jesus was necessarily holy and couldn’t sin, yet he is praiseworthy.
    1. In this section Edwards upholds dyotheletism.
    2. God promised to preserve and uphold Jesus by his Spirit.
    3. The benefits of Christ’s obedience are in the nature of a reward.
  3. Moral necessity and Inability are consistent with blameworthiness because of the fact that God gives people up to sin.
    1. If coaction and necessity prove men blameless, then Judas was blameless for betraying Christ.
  4. Command and obligation to obedience are consistent with moral inability to obey.
    1. The Arminian says that the only good acts are when the will acts from a state of Indifference and equilibrium.  Yet, this runs into problems:
      1. If the soul doesn’t act by prior determining influences, then volitions are events that happen by pure chance.
      2. Laws require virtue and repress vice, yet a libertarian action is indifferent with respect to law.
      3. If liberty consists in indifference, then anything that biases the will destroys Liberty.
      4. Yet Scripture teaches that the Saint is most free when he obeys God.
    2. The inclination of a will is itself unable to change.  This would be like saying the mind is inclined otherwise than it is now inclined!
  5. Sincerity of Desires are irrelevant
    1. Men are already inclined or not inclined prior to the relevance of needing to be sincerely inclined.
      1. It is like saying a man should sincerely incline to have an inclination.
      2. Being sincere is no virtue unless it is being sincere towards a virtuous thing.
    2. But being sincere destroys the idea of a Will resting in a complete state of indifference.
  6. Liberty of Indifference is not Necessary to virtue but actually opposed to it.
    1. If indifference of Will is necessary to Virtue, then the heart must be indifferent to the virtuous act when it performs it!
    2. Therefore, there is no virtue (or vice) in habitual inclinations.
  7. Arminian notions of moral agency (indifference) are inconsistent with the influence of motives and Inducement.
    1. If the only good act is one springing from an indifferent will, then what is the point of using motives or promises?
    2. Motives bias the mind and destroy indifference.
    3. If acts of the will are incited by motives, then motives cause those acts, which means the will isn’t self-caused.
    4. If the soul has in its act no motive or end, then in that act it seeks nothing. It desires nothing.  It chooses nothing.

Part IV: Refuting Arminianism

  1. Essence of virtue, etc., lies in nature, not in Cause.
    1. We condemn or praise an act, not in its cause, but in the nature of the act.
    2. If we blame the cause of an act, then we have to ask why that Cause is evil, which moves the discussion back to a previous cause, and so on.
  2. Metaphysical notions of action and agency
  3. On necessity
    1. Strong connection between the thing said to be necessary, and the antecedents.
  4. Moral necessity consistent with praise and blame.
    1. When someone does wrong, it is because he is doing as he pleases, and we blame him for doing as he pleases.
    2. We do not speculate on the Causes of his actions (at least not immediately).
  5. Objections considered
    1. Necessity does not render endeavors to be vain, for we judge an endeavor based on the success of it, and not simply on the means.
  6. We are not fatalists.  Edwards admits he has not read Hobbes.
  7. Necessity of the Divine Will
    1. God wills necessarily, yet no one bats an eye at this.
    2. God necessarily acts in a way to exhibit the perfections of his Nature.
  8. Necessity of God’s volitions
    1. If presented between two objects, ex hypothesi, God will always necessarily choose between the fittest.
    2. JE then gives an amazing analytical theological discussion about the nature of identity.  
  9. Is God the author of sin?
    1. God is not the author of sin in that he is the agent of sin.
    2. Yet God does order the universe in such a way that sin does come about.  Even Arminians must admit this.
  10. Concerning sin’s first entrance into the world.
  11. On supposed inconsistencies.
    1. God’s secret and revealed will.
    2. Men are still invited to the gospel, even if God has secretly ordered the universe in such a way that men will not respond.
  12. On atheism and licentiousness
    1. JE’s apologetics: the doctrine of necessity is the only medium for proving the being of God.
  13. Are we too metaphysical? No.
    1. The being of God is metaphysically construed, and this is valuable for apologetics.
  14. Conclusion
    1. God orders all events.
  15. Appendix
    1. Liberty is the power that anyone has to do as he pleases.
    2. Moral necessity is the connection between antecedent things and consequent things.

If Aristotle Ran General Motors

Morris, Tom.  If Aristotle Ran General Motors: The New Soul of Business. New York: Holt, 1997.

Greatness is rooted in simplicity. Former Notre Dame philosophy professor Thomas Morris takes the insights from philosophy and applies them to the business world.

Goal of the book: catch the wave of wisdom at work and create the right environment “for ultimate motivation in the workplace” (Morris 9).

Aristotle’s insight: everyone in life is chasing after happiness, however it is defined.  Morris lists three basic views:

  1. Pleasure; this is unrealistic, since most people in the workplace don’t experience one long, uninterrupted wave of pleasure.
  2. Happiness as personal peace: this is a better view but it still runs short.  We do not grow in a state of pure equilibrium.
  3. Happiness as participation in something fulfilling. It is a joy of creating and participating.

The Four Dimensions of Human Experience

  1. Intellectual (Truth)
  2. Aesthetic (Beauty)
  3. Moral (Goodness)
  4. Spiritual (Unity)

Key Point: each dimension corresponds to a foundation of human excellence ().


“Truth is that mapping of reality that corresponds to the way things are” (25). Knowledge, obviously, is vital to business.   

Truth implies, pace materialism, that men have minds.  If men have minds, then we can’t organize the workplace in such a way to think they are mindless machines.

Knowledge might be power, but people draw the wrong inference.  It is power, but this power only expands when knowledge is shared (36).  When you benefit others, you benefit the network in which you are already embedded.


Beauty might not seem relevant to the bottom line, but aesthetics is usually tied with job performance and satisfaction. In any case, the reverse is true.  Soul-killing environments usually affect performance.  Think of the Soviet Union.  Or in a slightly more humane way, think of Ron Swanson’s office in Parks and Recreation.  He has visitors sit in a chair in front of a mounted shotgun.

Beauty isn’t something as simplistic as “being pretty.” Rather, beauty provides the structure and soil for growth and flourishing.  This leads to Aristotle’s observation that the polis (or business) is a collaboration or partnership for living well (103).


Goodness and ethics are about creating strength for making proper decisions (120). If ethics were nothing but rules, we’d need infinitely more rules (145).  Therefore, ethics needs virtue, or “that deep wellspring of ethical tendency that joins the wisdom to create in us….moral character” (151).

Morris then provides advice on how to create a social context in which virtue flourishes:

  1. Moral mentors: Network with sages.  You can’t just show a new employee the ropes.  He might just hang himself. A good mentor cultivates good decision-makers.
  2. The importance of small details: Take care in little things. Whenever you make a decision, you are always becoming.
  3. Moral imagination: Cultivate a perceptive imagination.   Great art (usually literature) sparks our “imaginative abilities to perceive the ethical implications of what we are doing” (167).


His final section on unity weaves the three transcendentals together.


This is one of those few books that communicate rare, spiritual power. It is the best book on applied ethics I have ever read.

The Creation Hypothesis (Moreland)

Moreland, J. P., ed. The Creation Hypothesis. Downers, Grove, IL: IntervarsityPress, 1994.

Stephen C. Meyer: Methodological Equivalence of Design and Descent. Meyer explores some of the arguments against any “method” used by Intelligent Design and how such a method can’t be scientific.  He points out that many of the same criticisms cut against methodological naturalism as well.

Demarcation argument: we know what “science” does and ID ain’t it. 
Response: The problem is that there isn’t one single theory of scientific deduction.  In fact, pure deduction is a rarity.  Naturalism then used logical positivism and falsificationism as a reference point, only to find that those methods were self-refuting.

Ultimately, though, the question is whether the theory is warranted by the evidence and not on the purity of a single method.

Secondly, many scientific laws are just descriptive and not explanatory, so the point can’t be that naturalism has explanatory power and ID doesn’t.  And laws alone don’t always explain events.  As noted, “Oxygen is necessary to combustion, but that doesn’t explain why my house burned down.”

Observability: true science is observable. ID isn’t.

Response: Numerous concepts in physics aren’t strictly observable: forces, fields, atoms, quarks, past events, mental states; they are inferred from observable phenomena (Meyer 83).  Even worse, no one has observed evolution in action.  Further, if ID isn’t observable, then it can’t be subject to refutation by empirical observations.

Hugh Ross: Ross gives a learned discussion of modern scientific cosmologies, noting how only a personal, transcendent Creator avoids all of the problems.  Immanuel Kant was the first modern to posit “agnostic cosmologies.”  God might exist, but you can’t know he created anything.  An infinite universe, so reasoned Kant, yields infinite possibilities of creation.  This sounded impressive in the 18th century.  The problem is that science makes complete nonsense of it.  (Ross doesn’t develop this point, but this is largely the reason Continental philosophy and all post-Hegelian streams are a joke.  They really don’t work in the real world).

“Heat transfer by radiation.” There is no infinite medium in the sky to soak up all the radiation.  If there were, then that medium would also be luminated.

“Gravitational tug.”  If there is an infinite universe, then the gravitational pull should be infinite in all directions.  This, obviously, is quite false.

I do appreciate Ross’s refutation of the “oscillating universe model.” Given the huge nature of entropy at the death of a universe, it wouldn’t have the needed energy to “bounce back.”  This refutes Hinduism and Alt-Right paganism’s desire for a “Kali Yuga.”

Time is finite.  It is the Judeo-Christian (and possibly some Islamic streams) view that a personal Creator who is extradimensional (beyond dimensions of time and space) creates the space-time dimensions (Ross 153).


Some chapters on bio-chemistry are above my pay grade, so I really can’t evaluate those.  The final chapter dealing with language is quite good, but complex.  This is an early foray into the ID movement.  It is somewhat dated, as recent volumes now focus on the information embedded within the cell. That’s hinted at in this book but not really developed.

Oxford Handbook of Philosophical Theology

Flint, Thomas, ed. The Oxford Handbook of Philosophical Theology. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.

Philosophy of Religion has come into its own under the guise of Philosophical Theology and Analytical Theology. Philosophy of Religion had traditionally focused on issues like the existence of God, miracles, religious experience, and evil. Philosophical and analytical theology also covers those areas, but they do it with a level of clarity and precision not usually achieved in classroom contexts.

I don’t see this text replacing a college text on philosophy of religion such as William Rowe’s or Wainwright’s. The argumentation is a bit complex for sophomore level students. It is accessible for someone who has had some reading in medieval or analytic philosophy.

Revelation (Stephen T. Davis)

Fairly standard traditional account of God’s revelation, though Davis makes the important but sometimes ignored observation that God’s special revelation isn’t always linguistic. Sometimes God reveals himself through mighty deeds. This means that revelation does not equal canon.

He does raise the issue of “appropriated revelation,” which is “simply recorded revelation speaking to the reader,” such as God’s voice (37). There is no reason to believe that such a claim automatically bears divine authority for all Christians.


This chapter contains a number of good rebuttals to methodological naturalism without committing itself to specific biblical claims. Del Ratzch places the adherent of naturalism in a dilemma: whence does religious belief arise? The old Freudian and Marxian challenges have long since been exposed as absurd. If it is explained as simply a by-product of evolution that helps man survive, then why would it be irrational and other by-products, like reason, be rational? The claim isn’t that reason is okay because it is rational, but that anything from evolution is irrational.

We can say it another way: there is no necessary connection between a belief (either in God or reason) and behaviors that lead to survival.

Divine Simplicity (Jeffrey Brower)

Classical theism has always said God is identical to his attributes (or properties). The difficulty with this claim is that if God is identical to his properties (see Anselm, Monologion 16), and his properties aren’t different, then God is a property, which seems absurd. Brower gets around this by his account of “truthmakers,” or that which makes an entity true.

If I say “a is F” is true, there must be something that makes it true.

(TA) If an intrinsic predication of the form “a is F” is true, then a’s F-ness exists, where this entity is to be understood as the truthmaker for “a is F” (Brower 112).

Let’s take the following array of properties:

(G1) God is good.
(G2) God is wise
(G3) God is just, and so on.

Classical theism has always said God is identical with these properties, but this always raised new problems. Brower’s account, by contrast, says God is identical with the truthmakers for these properties. Whatever it is that makes these properties true, God is identical with that.

It’s a very promising move that avoids most of the problems associated with divine simplicity. God is no longer reduced to a property, which is usually where strict accounts of simplicity lead. This does raise the odd question that God might now be identical to a Truthmaker. That seems strange, but calling God a “truthmaker” does fit his character. The only difficulty is that “truthmaker” theory is notoriously difficult to pin down.

Omniscience (Edward Wierenga)

The problem: if God is omniscient, can he know first-person indexicals? In other words, can God know the following proposition:

(P1) I, Jacob, am sitting at my computer.

We aren’t asking if God knows that I am at my computer. We are asking can he know it from my perspective. This is similar to our claim that God doesn’t have experiential knowledge of sin. Wierenga proposes the following solution: indexicals express haecceity. God can “grasp” the propositions without necessarily needing to have de se knowledge of it (Wierenga 136).

Omnipotence (Brian Leftow)

Classical theism has always said that God is omnipotent in the sense that he can do all that is consistent with his nature. Leftow clarifies this to mean both range and power. Two beings can have the same range of activity, but if one can do it with more power, then that one is omnipotent. From there, Leftow takes the reader to dizzying heights.

There is a neat discussion regarding contingency and logical conjunctions. If p is contingent, and q obtains, then the conjunction p ^ q is also contingent.

Moral Perfection

Laura Garcia has a fine Anselmian essay on a morally perfect being, including some problems with the claim that God is morally excellent. If moral perfection is analyzed along the lines of duty, then we seem to be saying that God is praiseworthy only because he fulfills his duties, and that doesn’t seem quite right. Moral excellence, on some glosses, only obtains when a being acts excellently between alternatives, and it doesn’t seem to square with the classical theist claim that God’s choosing evil was a live alternative.

I think the better claim is just to jettison deontological ethics altogether.

Divine Action and Evolution (Robin Collins)

I reject Collins’ underlying premise that “evolution” is a given. That isn’t even argued. Notwithstanding, there are a number of important claims. Those who hold to a theistic evolutionary position have the tendency to speak of “nature” in anthropomorphic terms.

There is a quite interesting speculation that the “universe being subject to decay” is analogous (or maybe an effect of) the law of entropy. Perhaps. I don’t see why not, though that is beginning to like the feared “God of the gaps” argument (Collins 251).

Divine Providence (Thomas Flint)

We don’t have to agree with Flint’s Molinism, but his discussion is quite helpful. The main philosophical problem with Molinism is the “grounding objection.” Molinists claim that the counterfactuals of creaturely freedom are true prior to any action or existence. Therefore, what “causes” or “grounds” their truths (Flint 278)? It seems like Molinists are saying that these counterfactuals are true before their truthmakers even obtain. Molinists have responses, of course, but that is where the issue is.

The Trinity (Michael Rea)

Rea examines the numerous “Latin” and “Greek/Social Trinitarian” proposals. His own position is that the divine nature-persons relationship functions similar to the distinction between the “stuff” of an object and its actual form (Rea 418). A statue and a pillar have the same substance (stone) but different properties (e.g., being a statue and being a pillar). This is similar to what the Cappadocians said, but as Rea correctly highlights, Gregory of Nyssa did not hold to a Social Trinitarian view. The Greek fathers did use social analogies, but those analogies fall short precisely at the point that STs need them to obtain.

Original Sin and the Atonement (Oliver Crisp)

Crisp argues for his “realist penal substitution” theory. He wants to circumvent the traditional charge that both “original sin” and to a lesser degree, penal substitution, involve legal fictions.

The Incarnation (Richard Cross)

Cross begins with a difficulty from Constantinople III: if Christ has both divine causal powers (energy and will) and human causal powers (energy and will), then it seems we cannot associate causal power (or mind) with personal identity (Cross 453). That’s the problem that needs to be solved.

Following Thomas Morris, we say that a mind is (but maybe not exhausted by) a “range of consciousness.” Next we posit an asymmetrical accessing relationship between the two ranges of consciousness. The divine mind has access to all the experiences and knowledge in the human mind, but not the other way around (Cross 466).

Resurrection (Trenton Merricks)

Merricks gives a physicalist account of the Resurrection, meaning among other things that he believes we are identical with our body. He claims such a view removes the problems that plagued traditional accounts of dualism and the Resurrection. These include a body decomposing or being eaten by cannibals. Further, what grounds our identity through time if our bodies are changing?

His essay is rigorous and well-written. It’s also funny at times. I completely reject it, though. It’s not clear how physicalism can account for identity through time (which is the standard criticism of physicalism). Secondly, I don’t see how physicalism escapes the difficulties imposed by cannibalism et al. Further, to update our examples, let’s suppose a person is vaporized in a nuclear explosion. The physicalist would probably respond that God could reconstitute the body at the Resurrection. The dualist says the same thing. Finally, Merricks rejects passages that speak of life-after-death as metaphorical, but this begs the very question.


This book doesn’t give you the answers to the questions. It gives you the tools and frameworks to work through them.

The God We Worship (Wolterstorff)

Wolterstorff, Nicholas. The God We Worship: An Exploration of Liturgical Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2015.

I usually get nervous when I read new books about liturgical theology.  The experience reminds me of the old prayer, “Protect us from other people’s good ideas.” Fortunately, this is not Nicholas Wolterstorff’s aim.  He isn’t “renovating” traditional liturgies.  Rather, by bringing all of his philosophical acumen to bear, he explores what we mean by our conceptual statements within worship. 

Wolterstorff defines liturgical theology as “the site where the church, by means of the work of its theologians and philosophers, arrives at a self-understanding of the theology implicit and explicit in its liturgy.”  There is more in this claim than is apparent on its surface. This plays directly not only in the type of God we worship (e.g., his attributes and properties) but in what we are able to say about this God.

God’s excellence: What “grounds” God’s excellence? Wolterstorff suggests it is God’s glory, a theme common in the Psalms.

God’s holiness: for Jonathan Edwards God’s holiness is altogether attractive.  It is “beauty and sweetness.”  It’s certainly that, but when you look at Isaiah 6 that’s not really the picture we see.  No doubt Isaiah thought God beautiful and sweet; nevertheless, in the passage he recoiled.  Barth, on the other hand, says God’s holiness is in the judging actions of God’s love.  Again, that might be true but that’s not what is evident in Isaiah.

Isaiah, by contrast, felt unclean.  God’s holiness is God’s space.

The next chapter is titled “The God Who is Vulnerable.”  This seems like we are already off to a bad start.  Is Wolterstorff denying impassibility?  Is he saying God can suffer?  No.  He isn’t saying God is vulnerable to passions, but that God is vulnerable to being wronged.  Can we wrong God?  Certainly.  Does this mean he is suffering?  I don’t think so. If we are duty-bound to God praise and glory to God, and we refuse to do so, are we not wronging God?

When we praise and speak to God, we are entering into the realm of speech-acts (and also raising the sometimes uncomfortable issue of whether God can respond).  Wolterstorff makes the following claim:

(1) In our liturgy we are addressing God as one who is a listener.

Here we are starting to cut hard against a traditional type of theology, an extreme form of divine simplicity seen in Maimonides and some medieval Christians, that views God as a purely simple essence who can’t listen (or speak) because he already knows all possibilities. If God is the ground of being or the Unconditioned Condition why would he bother responding?  Indeed, it’s doubtful he could speak.

We will return to Maimonides’ bad theology.  For now, we should reflect on what it means to speak.   In speech act theory we have several terms:

Locutionary act: It is raining.  A locutionary act is the sentence.

Illocutionary act: My act of asserting “it is raining.” 

The point is this: my locutionary act, as Wolterstorff points out is perceptible.  You can hear me utter the sentence “It is raining” (or you can see me write it, etc). It functions akin to a universal. My act of making this, my illocutionary act, it’s imperceptible.  What I think Wolterstoff is saying is that my illocutionary act is tied to intentionality.  I am intending to make this statement (and I, in fact, do).  You can’t see my intentionality.  

The relationship between locutionary act and illocutionary act is not causal.  One act doesn’t cause another.  Wolterstorff suggests that the act is a “counting-as” act. “My performance of that locutionary act counts as my illocutionary act.”  This will make more sense when we get to prayer and preaching.

Maimonides, having reduced almost all of the biblical statements about God to anthropomorphisms, had to address the problem of whether God could even hear us.  This is related to but not identical with the Calvinist problem of why pray.  Since God is immaterial and doesn’t have eardrums, can he “hear” our vocal vibrations in the air?  We would say, “He doesn’t need to, since he can see our thoughts.”  True enough, but then why pray aloud at all?

Speech-act theory offers a way of dealing with this issue.  “To speak is not to express some mental state but to perform some illocutionary act,” so Wolterstorff says.  Yes, most of the time the illocutionary act reveals my mental states, but the two aren’t identical.  Strictly speaking whether God can hear my vocal words is irrelevant to the nature of speech, if speech is understood as an illocutionary act. The aim of these acts is that “God will attend to them, grasp them, and respond favorably.”

Pace Maimonides, they aren’t bodily actions.  We perform them by doing something with our bodies.  It doesn’t matter that God doesn’t have ears.  Not even humans can bodily perceive illocutionary acts.  If we say that God listens, we mean that “God attends to and understands imperceptible particulars of a certain sort, namely, illocutionary acts.”

If we say that God listens to our prayer, do we expect him to perform some speech act in response?  Wolterstorff goes on to describe the distinction between analogical predication and analogical extension.  As I understand him, analogical extension is when we use a predicate, “is f,” of something when we use it to say of something that “it possesses the property of either being f or something a good deal like it.”

If I say “My dog is a gem,” I am speaking analogically, meaning my dog is precious. He has little in common with the properties of “gem-ness.” Analogical extension is a bit stronger.  This is what we mean when we say that God “attends to” or “grasps” our prayers.

Having successfully dispatched Maimonides’ first objection, Maimonides (or the tradition he represents) would respond, “Yeah, but does God speak to you?  He doesn’t have vocal cords.” Further, would not God’s speaking (and hence acting in miracle) violate the causal order?

Wolterstorff dodges these questions.  He responds with a fine exposition of the Lord’s Prayer but never really deals with Maimonides.  He does deal with something like it.  God speaks to us in the liturgy via the preaching of the word and the proclamation that our sins are forgiven.  I suppose that deals with one angle of Maimonides’ objection, though it doesn’t address the claim of miracles and the causal order.

Without entering into the cessationist vs. continuationist debate, one line of response would be found in 1 Cor. 12-14 in terms of prophets’ hearing God speak. Of course, Wolterstorff in contrast to Barth deals with Old Testament prophets speaking on behalf of God (this would be similar to a “counting-as” relation).   Further, given what Wolterstorff said earlier about illocutionary acts not being causal, would that not provide a line of response to Maimonides?

Notwithstanding the above observation, this is a fine and unique book on liturgical theology.

In This World of Wonders (Wolterstorff)

Wolterstorff, Nicholas. In This World of Wonders: Memoir of a Life of Learning.  Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2019.

When someone who has mastered a discipline over fifty years speaks of his experiences in that discipline, and if said discipline also overlaps with your interests, you listen when he speaks–even when he is sometimes wrong. Wolterstorff is the model of how one should do rigorous philosophy.  He is clear and thorough and never pretentious.  

His “life on the farm” growing up (son of Dutch immigrants in rural Minnesota) has that familiar ring of many in the Depression era.  He grew up poor but never really thought about it. 

During his time at Calvin he tells of studying philosophy under the famous Harry Jellema. From Calvin he pursued philosophy at Harvard and wrote his dissertation on the metaphysics of Alfred North Whitehead, to which he never returned.  That’s probably a good thing.  After Harvard he pursued various fellowships in England and the Netherlands. His description of Jellema is just too good:

He mentions a prank some students played at Calvin.  They got a local cow and led it up the stairs of a building.  Well, they could get the cow up the stairs, but they couldn’t get it down.  The janitors had to kill and dismember the cow.

The heart of his teaching career was at Calvin where he teamed up with Plantinga and others, culminating in the Reformed Epistemology project. After Calvin he taught at Yale.

He initially didn’t want to go back to Yale, but Hans Frei really pushed for him.  Frei warned the faculty that if they didn’t get someone like Wolterstorff, then some “d*mn process theologian would fill the position!”  Wolterstorff tells of how he had to teach a class on theological aesthetics.  Not knowing anything about it, he just used the previous professor’s syllabus and book readings.  There was a section on Hans urs von Balthasar and Wolterstorff’s first impression was “This is boring.”  Then he got to the part where Balthasar praised the “passive receptivity of the Virgin Mary.”  Wolterstorff cringed.  This won’t go over well with the feminists in the class.  It didn’t.  The next day the feminists started screaming at each other over Balthasar’s words!

His section concerning the death of his adult son Eric was quite powerful, as was the episode where he taught at a men’s prison.

It might seem bad form to analyze someone’s memoirs, yet Wolterstorff’s thought is so rich one can’t do otherwise. And while Wolterstorff is never as flighty as the current worldview Kuyperians–in many respects he is their polar opposite–one can see the seeds of dissolution early on. He described himself as a feminist from at least the 1970s, bemoaning “sexist language” in his earlier works.   His wife was ordained in the Episcopal Church. He also participated in liturgical reform in the CRC.  Oddly enough, he doesn’t mention his most recent support for same-sex unions.

He ends with a discussion of his recent books on justice and rights.  Here is where he differs from most Social Justice Warriors.  Wolterstorff can actually define the word justice without setting a trash can on fire. Further, most Christian social justice activists are disciples of O’Donovan and Hauerwas.  Wolterstorff is not.  He clearly rejects them.  I don’t think he is being fair to Oliver O’Donovan’s work, since O’Donovan is on the opposite end of Hauerwas.

Aristotle said justice is the equitable distribution of rights and benefits.  That doesn’t make much sense if we take a horrific case like abuse.  On that gloss abuse would be wrong because benefits weren’t distributed equally!  That just doesn’t seem right. A better take is from the Roman jurist Ulpian-we render to each person what is his natural ius, or right. Therefore, according to Wolterstorff, 

Despite all of that, the book has much value. Indeed, it is a literary masterpiece (something for which analytic philosophers aren’t always known).  You can’t help but be drawn into the narrative. It is that well-written.

Jesus Under Fire (ed. Moreland)

Wilkins, Michael J., Moreland, J. P. eds. Jesus Under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents the Historical Jesus. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1995.

If all we had were the remarks by Josephus, Tacitus et al about Jesus and the prima facie reports of the empty tomb, we would be fully warranted in believing Jesus of Nazareth lived, died, and rose again.  The Jesus Seminar rejects that and rejects that we can know most anything about Jesus.  This book is an early response to the juvenile methods of the Jesus Seminar.  It also serves as a great text for an intro to a Synoptic Gospels class.

I. The Seminar’s Method

Aside from their ludicrous coloring system, the Seminar says:

a. If an utterance isn’t a parable or an aphorism, then Jesus didn’t say it.  That’s rather strange; why would they say that?  They want Jesus to be a wandering Cynic or guru.  In other words, he’s from Woodstock.  Of course, no other body of scholarship would dream of applying such restrictive criteria to any other religious figure.

B. Jesus’s Jewish heritage is exorcised(!) from his ministry.  This makes sense, since a Hebrew prophet wouldn’t have been a Greek Cynic.  Of course, even critical New Testament studies would reject that today, since if anything all the emphasis is on Jesus’s Jewishness.

C. The Gospel writers either borrowed from the Gospel of Thomas and/or the Secret Gospel of Mark.  Oddly enough, the stringent criteria above is not applied to these texts.

Craig Blomberg gives a good rebuttal to the above points.  We especially note the oft-made claim that Jesus expected the end of the world (and was likely disappointed).  The problem is that he gave a bunch of instruction which presupposed a long interval of time (Blomberg 31). He mentioned mundane issues such as paying taxes, divorce, and marriage.

And to say the early church made up the texts simply won’t work.  If the church “invented” Jesus’s deity, then why are there passages where Jesus seems to downplay it?  

The most important essay is Darrell Bock’s essay on the historiography of the Gospels.  Is the reporting of the gospel events designed to be a memorex, live, or jive?  In other words, given the standards of ancient writing, did the authors write dwon the exact wording of Jesus (memorex), nothing of Jesus (jive), or the “gist” of Jesus (live)?  Bock makes a convincing case for live.

If you hold to the memorex view, then you have a hard time affirming inerrancy in light of different sequences (or even worse, did Jesus heal the blind man as he was going into Jericho or leaving Jericho?).

The live view seeks to reproduce the “voice” or Jesus, not the exact words.  Compare this with Thucydides account in 1.22.1.  Thucydides admits he is summarizing, and perhaps reordering, a speaker’s thoughts and words, yet scholars recognize him as a model of accuracy and good reporting.

Other comments:

Gary Habermas remarks on the Seminar’s disavowal of miracles:  the Seminar says we can’t trust the miracle narratives because the authors wanted to believe in them.  Whether they did or not is irrelevant.  It’s called the genetic fallacy.

Strangely enough, skeptics like Marcus Borg believe in the exorcism stories, but he gives us no reason for accepting the attestation of all Gospel writers on these stories while excluding the nature miracles.

William Lane Craig offers his standard defense of the Resurrection.  I’ll forgo it here because I think it is better presented in Craig’s later works (cf. On Guard). He does note that the Resurrection can’t be a hallucination on the disciples’ part.  Hallucinations can only show what is already in the mind, and Jesus’s resurrection isn’t identical with the Jewish afterlife (Craig 161).

Edwin Yamauchi’s concluding essay is  fine survey of “Jesus studies” after the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls.  He also touches on Josephus’s writings, including the controversial passage in Antiquities 18.  It’s mostly authentic.  Eusebius’s edition is somewhat doctored, but it is clear that Josephus knew of Jesus and his miracles.

This is an outstanding short response to the Jesus Seminar.  It is somewhat dated as N.T. Wright’s refutation of the Jesus Seminar came out soon afterwards.

Flames of Rome (Paul Maier)

Maier, Paul. Flames of Rome. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 1981.

The Neckbeard Emperor! Nero of Rome. : neckbeard

Imagine if Dan Brown were orthodox and capable of writing a coherent paragraph. This is what Paul Maier gives us. It is a perfectly paced novel that puts the reader in the midst of the caldron that is Neronic Rome. Maier’s credentials are unquestionable. He is a professional historian, having translated Eusebius and Josephus from the Greek.

This is what he calls a documentary novel. What separates it from standard “historical fiction” is the historical reconstruction provided in the notes at the end. If I were teaching a class on 1st Century Christianity, I would make this a required text. The novel itself is quite good, but the reconstruction at the end is simply breathtaking.

Despite the title, the book isn’t mostly about Nero. Claudius plays just as important a role. The reader gets some idea about the machinations in the palace.

The Christianity angle is interesting. We see Priscilla and Aquila in Rome, which matches the timeline and Claudius’s edict banning the Jews from Rome (and to what extent, as in the notes, that could have been carried out).

Maier takes the line that Peter did in fact make it to Rome (Schaff had argued, quite forcefully, that Peter couldn’t have made it to Rome given his bishopric in Antioch). The evidence that Peter made it to Rome is too strong to ignore. Pace Roman Catholicism, though, Peter could not have had a 25 year ministry there as head of the church.

If you know a little about Nero, you probably have a general idea of what happens in the novel. It’s still worth reading, though. It is perfectly paced and the characters are quite developed.