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.


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