Is Van Til Orthodox on the Trinity?

This question has been a debated question in the blogosphere as well as in print. Van Til makes some startling statements in his An Introduction to Systematic Theology. In chapter 17 of that volume he makes the assertion that “God, that is, the whole Godhead, is one person” (p. 363). This is not merely the same thing as saying that God’s essence has personality. Van Til says that “God is not an essence that has personality; he is absolute personality” (p. 364). In order to determine, therefore, whether Van Til is contradicting Trinitarian orthodoxy, the question that must be answered is this: does Van Til use the word “person” in the same sense in these statements of the uni-personality of God as he does in those statements concerning the tri-personality of God? If he uses them in the same sense, then he is unorthodox. If not, then he is merely guilty of difficult and confusing language (which is probably true regardless; I’ve never found VT easy reading!). Ultimately, I think Van Til is orthodox on this point, though I wish he had phrased himself more felicitously. My evidence is the following contextual clue that “person” does not mean the same thing in both contexts: “Yet, within the being of the one person we are permitted and compelled by Scripture to make the distinction between a specific or generic type of being and three personal subsistences” (p. 364). I believe that what Van Til means here is that the “specific or generic type of being” corresponds to the phrase “God is one person,” and that the phrase “three personal subsistences” refers to the tri-personality of the three persons. In other words, the distinction between “God is a person” and “God is three persons” is a distinction between a generic type of being (and therefore personality) as contrasted with the three relational persons of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

What is Van Til trying to safeguard here? The difficulty with traditional formulations is not that they are wrong, but that they can be understood wrongly to separate the essence of God from personality. It is not as if we can say that the essence of God happens to be personal, as if personality were an afterthought. I think the best way to say this is that God’s essence is absolutely personal. God is personal as His essence is divine personality. This is true in a generic sense, therefore using the adjective “personal” in a different way than in the tri-personality of the three distinct persons, although, by definition, the three persons are “personal” as well (not in the same sense).

The problem with Van Til’s language here is the confusion that can result from using “person” in these two different ways. He didn’t exactly make it clear that he was using the term in two different ways. Only by a judgment of charity can we come to that conclusion. Some are not willing to extend that judgment of charity to Van Til’s thought. I will close by quoting Bill Edgar’s footnote on Van Til’s statement, a helpful reminder of what VT was trying to do:


This is one of Van Til’s most original contributions to theology proper. As he said at the beginning of the chapter, to speak of God as one is to speak of God as a person. This fits our ordinary experience, as, for instance, when we pray, we pray to one person. It also fits biblical data that constantly refers to God as a person. By this reminder Van Til avoids two errors. The first is the tendency, found mostly in Western theology, of separating God’s essence, which becomes a remote inaccessible being, from the persons. The other is the neoorthodox error of reducing personality to relationship, rather than regarding it as the foundation of ontological consciousness.

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35 Comments

  1. Kevin+ said,

    November 25, 2010 at 8:48 pm

    So, let me see if I have this right.

    VanTil, doesn’t talk the way I do.
    He sometimes talks about complicated subjects.
    Complicated subjects are much easier when I talk about them then when other people talk about them.
    Sometimes, when other people say things that I don’t understand, they are wrong.
    A lot of Really Smart People say that VanTil is NOT wrong.

    Therefore, VanTil must be using some kind of tricky language that I can not understand. (But it IS NOT MY FAULT!! HE IS USING TRICKY LANGUAGE)

    Sheesh.

  2. Daniel Chew said,

    November 25, 2010 at 11:51 pm

    If having the potential to make one wrongly understand the Trinity as being impersonal allows Van Til to say that God is one person, why cannot we similarly say that affirming that Christ is one person in two natures has the potential of one wrongly understanding it as saying that Christ is schizoprenic, and therefore we must say that Christ is one person with one nature and one will too? So Christ is simultaneously a one-nature and two-nature being. Would any Van Tillian accept this line of reasoning?

    The doctrine of Christ being begotten of the Father has the potential to make one believe that Christ is not eternal. Since that is the case, using the same logic, why cannot we say that Christ is both unbegotten and begotten in order to “rectify potential misunderstanding”?

    Where will all this excusing of Van Til’s error end?

  3. Ken Mattson said,

    November 26, 2010 at 3:17 am

    To me Cornelius made the Trinity out to be paradoxical instead of a mystery with the wording of it in his Introduction to Systematics which I read along with most of his other books. But with that said, I owe a lot to him and his writings. I just wish that he would of cleared this up or at least updated his Trinitarian theology. At least he could of explained himself more and I think we’d all be helped if he did.

    Ken

  4. David C said,

    November 26, 2010 at 12:13 pm

    It was an especially infelicitous comment given the revived interest in Trinitarian studies in the latter half of the twentieth century (and which continues today unabated, touching on several key aspects of how we think about the Trinity. While it is theological language with which we are not quite so familiar, the Greek hypostases remains a more helpful term to employ than our Latin based ‘person’ at times. Thanks for this interesting article.

  5. steve hays said,

    November 26, 2010 at 1:33 pm

    David C said,

    “While it is theological language with which we are not quite so familiar, the Greek hypostases remains a more helpful term to employ than our Latin based ‘person’ at times.”

    Since “hypostases” is opaque without further definition, I don’t see that the Greek term is more or less helpful than the Latin loanword. In each case we’re dealing with theological jargon, where the operative terms have a specialized meaning.

  6. November 27, 2010 at 2:23 am

    I’m willing to cut Van Til some slack because we’re always straining at human language when talking about the Trinity. God is one essential Being who exists as three Persons. Each Person is fully God, yet there are not three gods, but only one true and living God.

    An excellent book: “The Christian Doctrine of God: One Being, Three Persons” by Thomas F. Torrance (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1996). In my opinion, this is Torrance’s masterpiece. He completed the manuscript around Christmas, 1994, when he was 81, and it was published 2 years later. A great, great book.

  7. Evan said,

    November 27, 2010 at 4:40 pm

    The #1 problem at all times with Van Til is that he was a born Dutch speaker with a tendency to be, at times, less than perfectly clear when writing in English.

  8. David C said,

    November 28, 2010 at 12:54 pm

    Steve, if the term were offered with the appropriate theological definition, might it not be more useful than the Latin, given meanings that the general usage of ‘person’ we may import into a more specialized theological discussion/debate, etc.? I agree it would have to be defined – that may well be a point in its favor as one would have to stop and help people more adequately understand what is meant – not a bad thing when it comes to teaching.

  9. Jim Cassidy said,

    November 28, 2010 at 9:04 pm

    Richard, I would agree its a great book. But also a thoroughly Barthian and actualistic doctrine of God is advanced. So, read with discernment!

  10. Jim Cassidy said,

    November 28, 2010 at 9:07 pm

    Also, for the record, Augustine also speaks about God as one person in his De Trin. I can get a page number if anyone likes. But it’ll have to await the next time I’m in my study which will be, D.V., tomorrow afternoon.

  11. November 29, 2010 at 7:14 pm

    [...] in the generic sense as opposed to God consisting of “three personal subsistences.”  Keister writes: I believe that what Van Til means here is that the “specific or generic type of being” [...]

  12. Cris D. said,

    November 30, 2010 at 10:16 am

    Well, the plain answer is, yes, CVT was orthodox on the Trinity. One statement does not prove a pattern. This statement is not representative of a repeated theme or pattern of discussions of the Trinity. As already noted we are talking about CVT; a man who recognized his own shortcomings in writing and communication skills. So we can recognize, with CVT, that he did not always communicate as well or as exactly as he might want to. Who knows how many permutations of Greek, Latin, Dutch and German went on in his thoughts behind what he penned in English. Listen to his lectures (iTunesU-WTS), he quotes Barth, Brunner et al, in German!

    When I had Doctrine of God at WTS this never came up as an “issue”. Don’t recall exact page assignments, but I’m sure we read parts of Intro to ST. This was when Frame was still teaching at WTS, Philadelphia, and CVT himself was alive ( oh yah I’m that old!). Apparently no one ever asked him for clarification while he was still around.

  13. pat said,

    December 1, 2010 at 8:01 pm

    “As he said at the beginning of the chapter, to speak of God as one is to speak of God as a person. This fits our ordinary experience, as, for instance, when we pray, we pray to one person.”

    This is wrong thinking. To speak of God as one is to speak of God as one God period. We do not pray to one person, but to one God who is three persons. CVT made the common misconception of thinking of God as one person rather than one God, and then trying to make the contradiction with God being three persons make sense. It doesn’t. We need to get our minds around the thought that God is one essence, that is, one by definition. He and He alone (or they and they alone are) is God.

  14. Paul M. said,

    December 2, 2010 at 9:20 am

    In the posts on this at my blog I’ve demonstrated that the phrase “God is a person” has a historical pedigree that is contemporary with and preceding Van Til. It’s not a lone, idiosyncratic phrase that he and he alone came up with (e.g., I cited J.G. Vos using the same phrase, and Alister McGrath discusses this in his Intro to Christian Theology; also, John Feinberg discusses this in his DoG and answers in the affirmative. In fact, other than social trinitarians, most orthodox trinitarians have historically either said God was a person or spoke of him just like one would speak of a person). If Van Til is unclear here (and it is interesting that the post notes that Van Til qualifies the claim in the very chapter), then so is the Bible and the Westminster Confession of Faith for using singular personal pronouns of God; and without scare quotes too! This cannot easily be dismissed since trinitarians appeal to the Bible’s use of *plural* pronouns (e.g., let *us* make man in our image) to show that there are *persons* in the Godhead, so why wouldn’t the *identical* argument work when we read the Bible using singular pronouns in contexts that don’t refer to any trinitarian member in particular but to the numerically one divine essence? I maintain that Van Til is standing within historic Christianity and within Confessional thought. In the very least he’s simply making explicit what is implicitly contained in the Bible, Creeds, and Reformed Confessions.

  15. pat said,

    December 2, 2010 at 10:47 am

    “God is a person” is simply an incorrect statement. It is a statement not found in the Bible or any Reformed Confession. That we use a singular personal pronoun to refer to God does not mean/imply that God is a (one) person. Again, one God does not equal one person. Again, the concept of God being one is a difficult one because our minds go to person or thing when we think of oneness . So we want to apply the term person to God’s oneness. But God’s oneness has to do with WHAT God is and not to WHO God is. Being 3 persons does not define God. What the 3 persons think in common is what defines God, eg. omniscience, omnipotence. There is only one who is omniscient and that one is three persons. A difficult concept since we know of nothing to compare it with. But we must leave it at that and not fall into a denial of God’s personalitIES! or claim that there are there Gods.

  16. Paul M. said,

    December 3, 2010 at 1:51 pm

    First, Pat is confusing words with concepts. Second, Pat responds to the prima facie evidence of both the Bible and the Creeds use of first person pronouns to refer to the essence of God by saying that it “does not mean/imply that God is a (one) person.” Of course, that’s simply an assertion in response to this one peice of evidence in a cumulative case argument. He then *psychologizes* about why one would claim that God is one person rather than interactive with the *arguments* those who make this claim bring to the table. Pat then pulls out the “one what, three whos” claim as, presumably, solving the problem. But this, so far as I can tell, does nothing to move things forward. This “what” still speaks, thinks, acts, knows, wills, and refers to “himself” by singular first person pronouns. Pat accounts for the “oneness” by pointing to areas where all three members “agree,” but this is similar to the Mormon’s view of God, and is insufficient to prove any numerical oneness. Unfortunately, as with all who deny that God is a self, Pat treads dangerously close to tritheism with his language.

  17. Paul M. said,

    December 3, 2010 at 2:12 pm

    Phil said that refering to God as a person (I like to say an ousa-person rather than a hypostasis-person) is not confessional. Instead, he claims the confessional view is that God is “one what and three whos.” However, let’s look at the WCF:

    *****

    CHAPTER 2

    Of God, and of the Holy Trinity

    1. There is but one only, living, and true God, who is infinite in being and perfection, a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions; immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty, most wise, most holy, most free, most absolute; working all things according to the counsel of his own immutable and most righteous will, for his own glory; most loving, gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin; the rewarder of them that diligently seek him; and withal, most just, and terrible in his judgments, hating all sin, and who will by no means clear the guilty.

    *****

    Here the confession is commenting on what Phil calls the “what” that is the divine essence. Notice the Confession refers to this one “what” as one “who“. It is also interesting to note that the “who” is not “whos” (plural).

    By definition, only persons have free will and act intentionally for purposes. If God has free will and acts intentionally for puposes, the God is a person. Social-type Trinitarians need to be very tricky. Technically, *God* doesn’t think, will, or act. Essentially, what we see here in some Reformed is the Trinitarianism of J.P. Moreland. Notice how Dale Tuggy (author of the SEP article on the Trinity) shows the linguistic and conceptual troubles those like Moreland constantly get themselves into:

    http://trinities.org/blog/archives/2312

  18. December 4, 2010 at 9:32 am

    I don’t think the post really removes the problem. To say that there is a distinction between a generic type of being qua personal and hypostatic existence seems to me to just confuse the categories of person and nature. Setting forth the confusion doesn’t remove it. It was common in the 18th through early 20th centuries to use the pscyhological language of “personality” which lead to all kinds of confusion. ( See Dixion, Nice Hot Disputes)

    As one commentor remarked, Augustine spoke this way at times, but this was due in large measure to the Platonic or Idealistic structure Augustine was using. THe same problem emerged in the 19th century with the influence of German Idealism and I wouldn’t be suprised if Van Til fell into the same problem.

  19. pat said,

    December 4, 2010 at 11:25 am

    Paul,

    If you claim that God being one is about His essence, then you are not speaking of person. The prima facie evidence thus points to the term “one” as not referring to one person, but one essence, that is, definition. Again, the fact that God is three persons doesn’t tell us about his essence, that is, what it is that defines him. Thus, again, WHAT speaks of his essence, what it is that defines him (essentially). WHO God is speaks of qualities/characteristics not essential to His being so defined. These indeed are helpful distinctions to keep in view.

    Yes, again, we can, as the Bible does, refer to God with singular personal pronouns (1st, 2nd or 3rd), but that does in no way imply that we or the Bible is claiming that God is one person. We know that HE is three persons. In fact, if we were to say “THEY” are three persons, it would suggest that God is tritheistic. BTW, the Bible refers the oneness of God to his being One God not one person. ‘Hear, O Israel; the Lord our God is one LORD.” Deut 6:4. “There is none other God but one.” 1 Cor.8:4. v.6 “But to us there is one GOD.” Again, the oneness of God from Scripture is never intended to imply one person, or one self,whatever that might be. When it comes to God’s oneness, all that we can and do affirm is that He is one God, and leave it at that.

    The fact that each of the Persons think the same Godlike thoughts is indeed what makes them a Person in/of the Godhead. The fact that they think different distinct thoughts from one another is what makes them the particular Persons that they are. This is not Mormonism nor a tritheistic idea at all.

  20. Paul M. said,

    December 4, 2010 at 8:55 pm

    Pat, the distinction is fine, but it can’t be used to say that the one what isn’t a person. Indeed, it can’t be used to say the numerically one God is not a “who,” as the Confession plainly states he is.

    Your claim that God is a “he” and that “he” is three persons is odd if you’re denying that the “he” isn’t a person. As far as the singularity verses, you forgot this one: “I am that I am.” This implies God is a person. Why does “I” not show that the one God that exists is a person but the “us” verses shows that there are three persons in the godhead?

    On your view, there is no being, then, that thinks “I am trinitarian.” That’s an odd consequence. This can be the same thoughts since no trinitarian person is trinitarian. But then you also claim that the fact that they think the same thoughts make them one person, singular. This is odd. Moreover, you seem to individuate the persons on strictly economic grounds, which appears modalistic, which is unorthodox. The facts of procession, begotten, etc., is what distinguishes them. Moreover, the account of unity you propose does nothing to distance your view from generic unity. I’m afraid my initial questions went largely unanswered, perhaps not even appreciated?

  21. pat said,

    December 4, 2010 at 10:07 pm

    That God is not a/one person is based on the Scripture’s revelation that God is three persons.

    God is not a who, neither does the WCF say that He is. A who is nothing. Again we ask “WHAT” is it? when we are looking for a definition of something. We ask “WHO is that? when we are looking for certain particulars of something. For example, I am a man. That is what I am. But who I am is a different question that seeks information on the particular man that I am. So also, we can ask about who the Father, Son and the Spirit are. But we don’t ask who is God, but what is God.

    “Your claim that God is a “he” and that “he” is three persons is odd if you’re denying that the “he” isn’t a person. As far as the singularity verses, you forgot this one: “I am that I am.” This implies God is a person. Why does “I” not show that the one God that exists is a person but the “us” verses shows that there are three persons in the godhead?”

    What you’re claiming is what Van Til seemed to claim, that God is both one person and three persons is logically impossible. “I am that I am” does not imply that God is a/one person. The singular “personal” pronouns are all we have to describe the oneness of God. It’s incredible that you continue to assert this. You are claiming that the Bible is claiming a blatant contradiction. It is not. BTW, the “us” verses do not show that God is three persons, only that is a plurality of persons. The number of persons that God is deduced from the Scriptures that speak of the three Persons as God.

    “On your view, there is no being, then, that thinks ‘I am trinitarian.’ ”

    All three person think. No, there is fourth Person that thinks “I am trinitarian.” God thinks what the three Persons thinks, for that is who God is. He is those three Persons, nothing less and nothing more.

    “But then you also claim that the fact that they think the same thoughts make them one person, singular.”

    No, I never claimed such. I said that the thoughts that they think in common are what make them Divine Persons. For example, each Person thinks “I am omniscient” and “the Word became flesh.” But the Persons do not thing the same with respect to that last statement. Only the Logos, the Second Person thinks “I became flesh.”

  22. pat said,

    December 4, 2010 at 10:08 pm

    That should have said “No, there is NO fourth Person…”

  23. Ron said,

    December 4, 2010 at 11:02 pm

    I’m not terribly inclined to discuss CVT on this matter, at least not in such a forum as this, but I will say a couple of things starting with this statement of Bill Edgar’s: “This fits our ordinary experience, as, for instance, when we pray, we pray to one person.” Bill Edgar does not speak for me in his use of “we”. In the context, it seems clear to me that he is saying that when we address the Trinity, we are addressing God as one person. (Certainly he doesn’t mean to say that when we address the person of the Father we address one person.) When I pray to >one person, I’m usually praying to the Father (through the Son by the enabling of the Holy Spirit, but nevertheless to the Father, a singular-person). On more rare occasions I address the Savior (also one person); yet I so often pray “Our great God in Heaven – Father, Son and Holy Ghost” and when I do – I trust I am not thinking in terms of one person (as Bill Edgar seems to suggest) but rather one God in three persons. After ten plus years of being in Letham’s congregation, I think I’m at least cognizant of that much.

    Paul stated:

    This cannot easily be dismissed since trinitarians appeal to the Bible’s use of *plural* pronouns (e.g., let *us* make man in our image) to show that there are *persons* in the Godhead, so why wouldn’t the *identical* argument work when we read the Bible using singular pronouns in contexts that don’t refer to any trinitarian member in particular but to the numerically one divine essence?

    That’s a fair question and one that deserves an answer. My guess is that in Scripture, as CVT appreciated, the triune God reveals himself as relational and in that regard – to us, at times, maybe as a person – hence CVT’s use of the terms one and three persons. God does lisp with his children. But, the one being of God is no less than the harmonious God in three persons. The Trinity is not merely an abstract of relations, but God is three persons in harmonious relationship one with another. Given the oneness of harmonious unity of communion in the Trinity, into which we are received in Christ, we should strive, I would think, to find some sort of “equal ultimacy” between the plurality and the unity in the Godhead, which would mean upholding both one God and three persons. At the very least, “one person” is not the happiest of terms in my estimation. Finally, as Paul M. noted elsewhere, CVT so often qualified his statements, but that didn’t seem to make them any easier to track for some. If we’re charitable toward CVT, then we’ll attribute any ambiguity to the difficulty of the doctrine; if not, we’ll blame only CVT for everything. I think it might have been a combination of the two and although individual statements could seem even heretical, an honest read of his amplifications placed him on orthodox ground without question.

    RWD

  24. Paul M. said,

    December 5, 2010 at 6:47 am

    Pat, the view that there is a sense in which the godhead is a person is likewise based on Scripture and the creeds.

    The WCF states that God is a who, and I quoted it.

    That God is in a sense a person and that God is three persons is only logically impossible if the terms are used in the same sense, got an argument for that crucial assumption…especially considering Van Til specifically stated that they were not used univocally?

    So Pat believes that God has no belief about him being tripersonal.ANYway, if the “us” persons show that God is multi-personal, why does ot the sigular pronoun verses show that God is a person? That’s arbitrary exegesis.

    J.G.Vos staes that God is a person in his commentary o the LC. Moreover, the respected historical theologian, Alister McGrath, has noted the historical precedence in referring to God as a person.he notes, with me, that the phrase is “analogical.” He notes the term ‘person’ does not have the same meaning in these two sentences: (1) God is a person and (2) God is three persons. He then looks at the various historical uses of person and shows how this can be. He notes that “Christians speak of God as both ‘a person’ and ‘three persons.’ We can enter a relationship with the one single numerical God, and this is something that can only obtain between persons. McGrath also distinguishes this between ‘personal’ and ‘person,’ noting that the terms weren’t used synonymously (cf. McGrath, Christian Theology, 267-270).

    Similarly, TEDS professor, John Feinberg, in his DoG, apart from affirming the Niceno-Constantinoplitan Creeds held to the numerical identity of the persons with the Godhead (p. 482), he also argues that it is proper to refer to the numerically one God as a person (cf. 225-231) and yet when he discusses the trinity he denies that the Godhead is a person. That’s because the terms have a specific meaning in that discussion. But he notes that the being of the numerically one monotheistic God “has the key ingredients of personhood,” and says the attributes that belong to the single monotheistic God “seems to be a bare minimum we would expect of anyone deemed a person.” He goes on to ask whether Scripture portrays God as “both a person and personal in the senses described? The answer is a resounding yes” (228-229). The numerically one God is self-conscious, self-aware, loves, acts, reveals Scripture, and has knowledge. Feinberg also notes that the term ‘person’ “is used in different senses,” and offers some possible different senses (226-228).

    “No, I never claimed such. I said that the thoughts that they think in common are what make them Divine Persons. For example, each Person thinks “I am omniscient” and “the Word became flesh.” But the Persons do not thing the same with respect to that last statement. Only the Logos, the Second Person thinks “I became flesh.”

    Again, the problem of those who deny that the unity of God is a person creeps up. This is idistinguishable from tri-theism. Moreover, note that Pat must be very, very tricky. On his view, is is false to say that the numerically one God is omniscience, wills, loves, etc. Technically, God qua God does none of this. Moreover, Pat appeals to Gordon Clark’s view to save the trinity, but he is distinguishing them via economic roles, which are *contingent*.

  25. Paul M. said,

    December 5, 2010 at 6:55 am

    Ron seems to fall into the same trap. God qua God isn’t ever addressed, only specific persons. But the WCF ascribes personhood to one being of God when it speaks of him in his essence apart from any trinitarian person, though it doesn’t use the term ‘person,’ I am assuming we won’t be confusing words and concepts here. Moreover, the Bible speaks of the numerically one God without speaking to a specific trinitarian person in particular on several occassions. Of course, Social Trinitarians make much of the “harmony” of the three divine persons, so there’s nothing said by Ron so far to show that he isn’t ST or that he isn’t teetering on the edge of tri-theism (though I know Ron would never consciously want to admit this, since he is thoroughly orthodox).

  26. Paul M. said,

    December 5, 2010 at 7:02 am

    Then there’s this question. The Athanasian creed, which was affirmed by the Westminster Divines, states;

    15. So the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God;

    So we have an identity relation. Is the “is” of identity here that of numeric, generic, sameness-without-identity, what?

    If it is numeric, then that’s where the problem arises. For example, we know that identity is transitive such that if the Father is a person, and the father is numerically identical to God, then God is a person.

    So, what view of identity will we take? Numeric appears to be the historic position:

    “Kelly expresses some reservations about the traditional view, but remarks that homoousios ‘in the last resort requires’ the stronger numerical sense. Pelikan and Schaff both suggest that the original Nicene usage was ambiguous, although Schaff concurs with Kelly that on theological grounds that it should be (and later was) taken in a sense connoting numerical identity. Gerald O’ Collins expresses little doubt: “It is clear from the whole tenor of the Nicene Creed that the former meaning [i.e., numerical identity rather than generic identity] was intended.’” (Anderson, Paradox, 19).

    “the homoousion . . . must be understood as identity or numerical unity of substance, in distinction from mere generic unity. Otherwise it leads manifestly into dualism or tritheism” (Schaff, cited ibid, 20).

    Anderson offers arguments for further endorsements of numerical identity by those like the Cappadocian’s as well as Augustine.

    “While three persons among men have only specific unity of nature or essence, that is, share the same kind of nature or essence, the persons of the Godhead have numerical unity of essence, that is, possesses the identical essence. . . . the divine nature is indivisible and therefore identical to the persons of the Godhead. It is numerically one and the same, and therefore the unity of essence in the person is numerical unity” (Berkof, ST, 88).

    I could continue, but it is interesting to note that our seminary student has labeled not only the majority of the early Church fathers, but also Charles Hodge and Louis Berkof, as “unorthodox.”

    “That the Council intended the word to be taken in the latter sense, as expressing numerical identity, is plain. . . . In all these illustrations, however inadequate, the point of the analogy was unity (numerical identity) of essence with triplicity” (Charles Hodge, ST, 460, I.VI.5.B).

    So is numerical identity denied here, or is the Athanasian Creed denied? If the latter isn’t, what’s the alternative account of the identity relationship proposed by the Athanasian Creed?

  27. Paul M. said,

    December 5, 2010 at 7:04 am

    The mention of “seminary student” above is there because I copied that part from my blog, sorry.

  28. Ron said,

    December 5, 2010 at 7:48 am

    Ron seems to fall into the same trap. God qua God isn’t ever addressed, only specific persons.

    Paul,

    I don’t think that is a fair representation of what I said. I noted that I often pray: “Our great God in Heaven – Father, Son and Holy Ghost.” That is no less than an address to the Trinity and not just one divine person. Therefore, I don’t agree that I only address individual persons of the Trinity.

    Of course, Social Trinitarians make much of the “harmony” of the three divine persons, so there’s nothing said by Ron so far to show that he isn’t ST or that he isn’t teetering on the edge of tri-theism (though I know Ron would never consciously want to admit this, since he is thoroughly orthodox).

    I gave essentially two formulas for my prayers. The first was addressing the Father, through the Son by the Holy Spirit and the other was addressing the Trinity. I’m not sure how either formula is “teetering on the edge of tri-theism.”

    Ron

  29. pat said,

    December 5, 2010 at 12:42 pm

    “But the WCF ascribes personhood to one being of God when it speaks of him in his essence apart from any trinitarian person, ”

    It does no such thing. You are clearly not understanding the WCF correctly to make such an absurd declaration.

  30. pat said,

    December 5, 2010 at 1:40 pm

    “Pat, the view that there is a sense in which the godhead is a person is likewise based on Scripture and the creeds.”

    I disagree. I say they clearly do not.

    “The WCF states that God is a who, and I quoted it.”

    Again, you misread/misinterpret the WCF. I’ve already explained it. Don’t just repeat your assertions. Deal with my explanation.

    “That God is in a sense a person and that God is three persons is only logically impossible if the terms are used in the same sense, got an argument for that crucial assumption…especially considering Van Til specifically stated that they were not used univocally?”

    You can’t just say that there is a sense in which God is a/one person. You must show/explain what that sense is. It makes no sense to make such a claim without giving a definiition of person different from the usual/biblical sense as applied to the Trinity, unless you are claiming that the Bible explicitly says that God is one person and and three persons and now it is up to us to figure out what the Bible means by the word in the differentt contexts.

    “So Pat believes that God has no belief about him being tripersonal.”

    No, that is not true. You are not understanding what I’m saying. You need to stop posting until you are able to understand better. Maybe it would be helpful if you go read Clark on the Trinity. It might helo you to understand what i’m saying. I’ll try saying it again in different words. God, who is tinitarian, that is three persons, thinks that he is three persons. But what that amounts to is that the trhree persons think that colllectively they are God. Thus, it is true that the Trinity, which is God, thinks He is trinitarian. Not we say “He’ not “It” when referrring to God (as we would say of a family) because of the uniqueness of the Trinity as a speciific unity not generic unity (as it is with a family of persons). Of course, we can and do use the word ‘they” when referring to the (Three Persons of) Trinity, though it is the same one God we are referring to that we refer to as “He.”

    I don’t care who the person might be, theologian or not, anyone who claims that God is a/one Person is claiming something that isn’t true, if he means by person the common understanding of the term “person.” If fact to assert that God is three persons, one MUST use a different term to speak of God’s oneness if he wants to speak intelligibly. BTW, consider Jesus statement ‘I and my Father are one.” As John Gill notes, ” he cannot mean one person, for this is …most absurd and contradictory.” So also it is absurd to think that the three Persons of the Trinity think that they are one person.

    “ANYway, if the “us” persons show that God is multi-personal, why does ot the sigular pronoun verses show that God is a person? That’s arbitrary exegesis. ‘

    Because we know from the Scriptures that God is a they in that He is particularly three persons. Again, we know that the singular pronoun cannot be referring to God’s personhood, because that would contradict Scripture.

    “Again, the problem of those who deny that the unity of God is a person creeps up. This is idistinguishable from tri-theism.”

    Are you for real? What I’ve said sounds nothing like tri-theism. BTW, it seems again that you are claiming that the three Persons combine to form a Fourth Person called God. “But the three Persons of the Trinity are already immutable and eternal, so that nothing higher is conceivable.” And “A genus is not one of its included individuals.” Clark “The Trinity’ p. 108. In other words, whatever God is, He is not one of the Persons; He is the three persons, no more no less. What they think is what he thinks. All three Persons think “I created the world.” Note the “I” here does not refer to God the Trinity but to one of the Persons in the Godhead/Trinity.

    “On his view, is is false to say that the numerically one God is omniscience, wills, loves, etc.”

    Again, that simply isn’t so.

    “Moreover, Pat appeals to Gordon Clark’s view to save the trinity, but he is distinguishing them via economic roles, which are *contingent*.”

    The only thing that distinguishes the Persons in the Godhead are the propositions that apply specifically to them. The Logos is the Logos precisely because He and not either of the other two Persons can think “I was incarnated.” Otherwise, you must necessarily be asserting tri-theism.

  31. Paul said,

    December 5, 2010 at 2:34 pm

    Pat,

    “I disagree. I say they clearly do not.

    And I cited historical precedence for speaking that way. I also cited bible verses which offer prima facie evidence for it. It is clearly the case that the Bible and the creeds *clearly* do not ascribe personhood to God. It may be a wrong inference, but it is clearly not the case that they clearly do not.

    “Again, you misread/misinterpret the WCF. I’ve already explained it. Don’t just repeat your assertions. Deal with my explanation.”

    You haven’t explain anything. The WCF clearly describes who the numerically one God is:

    CHAPTER 2

    Of God, and of the Holy Trinity

    1. There is but one only, living, and true God, who is infinite in being and perfection, a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions; immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty, most wise, most holy, most free, most absolute; working all things according to the counsel of his own immutable and most righteous will, for his own glory; most loving, gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin; the rewarder of them that diligently seek him; and withal, most just, and terrible in his judgments, hating all sin, and who will by no means clear the guilty.

    Necessarily, if a entity has free will, then we have a person. God has free will, hence . . .

    Note that these are ascriptions to the numerically one God that exists. The persons are mentioned later in 3.

    We also have the use of singular prounons used of the ousa. If I said, “He loves you” that is the same as saying, “That person over there, loves you.” Pat needs to introduce scare quotes into the Confession.

    “You can’t just say that there is a sense in which God is a/one person. You must show/explain what that sense is. It makes no sense to make such a claim without giving a definiition of person different from the usual/biblical sense as applied to the Trinity, unless you are claiming that the Bible explicitly says that God is one person and and three persons and now it is up to us to figure out what the Bible means by the word in the differentt contexts.”

    Of course, that’s a ridiculous standard as we’re dealing with the mysterious, incomprehensible God who reveals himself to us analogically. However, I went some way to explicate the matter here:

    http://aporeticchristianity.wordpress.com/2010/11/28/daniel-chew-on-van-til-and-the-trinity-4/

    Also, the view is covered in some detail in James Anderson’s book, Paradox in Christian Theology.

    “No, that is not true. You are not understanding what I’m saying. You need to stop posting until you are able to understand better. Maybe it would be helpful if you go read Clark on the Trinity.”

    I have, and Clark is Social trinitarian and I deny Clark’s view. If you think there is a being that believes the proposition “I am trinitarian,” then since, per Clark, a person is the propositions s/he thinks, and since no trinitarian person thinks “I am trinitarian,” then either God does not think so or the godhead is a person.

    “I’ll try saying it again in different words. God, who is tinitarian, that is three persons, thinks that he is three persons. But what that amounts to is that the trhree persons think that colllectively they are God.”

    This makes no sense. If there is one being “he” that thinks, “I am trinitarian,” then that being is not the Father, the Son or the Holy Spirit. If that simply means that three divine persons believe that they are God, you’ve not distanced yourself from tri-theism.

    “Thus, it is true that the Trinity, which is God, thinks He is trinitarian.”

    Per Clark, then you have a fourth person.

    “I don’t care who the person might be, theologian or not, anyone who claims that God is a/one Person is claiming something that isn’t true, if he means by person the common understanding of the term “person.”

    There is no “common understanding of person,” not least of all by G. Clark, Pat. Moreover, all of those who think this have noted that the sense is analogical and not used in the same sense as saying that you are a person or that any trinitarian person is a person (BTW, if you weren’t so rude and cocky you’d not say what you do about reading because you’re clearly not well read on the subject. Read what Calvin has to say about the word ‘person,’ for instance as applied to the trinitarian persons. He said it isn’t univical with saying that a human is a person.)

    ” So also it is absurd to think that the three Persons of the Trinity think that they are one person.”

    Of course, this is an assertion, Pat.

    “Because we know from the Scriptures that God is a they in that He is particularly three persons. Again, we know that the singular pronoun cannot be referring to God’s personhood, because that would contradict Scripture.”

    We also know from Scripture that God is a person. There would only be a contradiction if the terms were used in the same sense. Didn’t I ask for you to demonstrate this? If this is your only objection to the IDENTICAL proof text argument for God being a person, then you have no argument against it. You have not demonstrated that there is a contradiction and this is the ONLY argument you’ve put forward to avoid my argument. So again, it is arbitrary exegesis to argue that the verses where God refers to himself as “us” shows the multi-personhood of God but passages where God refers to himself as “I” don’t show that God is also a person.

    “The only thing that distinguishes the Persons in the Godhead are the propositions that apply specifically to them. The Logos is the Logos precisely because He and not either of the other two Persons can think “I was incarnated.” Otherwise, you must necessarily be asserting tri-theism.”

    Right, the trinitarian individuation is *contingent*, then. This is modalistic.

    Moreover, if there is anything that thinks, “I am trinitarian” then, per Clark, you have a fourth person since NONE of the trinitarian persons can think that.

    Pat thinks that what really is going on is three divine beings all think they are God, but again, this is tri-theistic. On Pat’s view, there is no numerically one mind that thinks, “I am trinitarian.” Moreover, to think “All three of us make up God,” isn’t to think “I am trinitarian.” So again, on Pat’s view, there is no being that thinks “I am trinitarian.” On Pat’s view, God doesn’t believe he’s a trinity.

    I also note Pat didn’t interact with the historical pedigree on numerical identity.

  32. Paul M. said,

    December 5, 2010 at 2:39 pm

    “It is clearly the case that the Bible and the creeds *clearly* do not ascribe personhood to God.”

    Should be:

    “It is clearly not the case that the Bible and the creeds *clearly* do not ascribe personhood to God.”

  33. pat said,

    December 5, 2010 at 9:07 pm

    ‘Necessarily, if a entity has free will, then we have a person. God has free will, hence . . .”

    It does not follow that God is a person. That is an invalid inference. For if an entity is three persons, and has free will then that entity is three persons.

    “We also have the use of singular prounons used of the ousa. If I said, “He loves you” that is the same as saying, “That person over there, loves you.” ”

    No, it is not when it comes to God. I’ve already explained this. Why do you insist on imposing your illogic to your understanding of God. God is not a person. He is three persons. Accept the Bible’s revelation of who God is. I suggest you go back and read carefully what I said, and go off and take some time to ponder this whole subject and stop posting replies.

    “Of course, that’s a ridiculous standard as we’re dealing with the mysterious, incomprehensible God who reveals himself to us analogically.”

    No, that is ridiculous. God reveals to us His thoughts. We can understand precisely what He thinks. And the subject matter has nothing to do with it. Logic is logic. You have to use univocal terms if you want to make sense.

    I have, and Clark is Social trinitarian and I deny Clark’s view. If you think there is a being that believes the proposition “I am trinitarian,” then since, per Clark, a person is the propositions s/he thinks, and since no trinitarian person thinks “I am trinitarian,” then either God does not think so or the godhead is a person.

    First of all, Clark is not a Social trinitarian. You need to read Clark more, and stop reading Van Til and other irrationalists like him. Second, your conclusions don’t follow. The fact that no Person thinks “I am trinitarian” does not mean that God does not think “I am trinitarian.” The reason being is that God, who is the Three Persons, is the One referred to by the singular pronoun “I.” Again, there is no God apart from the Three Persons. God is not a Fourth Person formed by combining the Three Persons. God is the Three Persons.

    “This makes no sense. If there is one being “he” that thinks, “I am trinitarian,” then that being is not the Father, the Son or the Holy Spirit. If that simply means that three divine persons believe that they are God, you’ve not distanced yourself from tri-theism.

    “Thus, it is true that the Trinity, which is God, thinks He is trinitarian.”

    “Per Clark, then you have a fourth person.”

    Again, you are not getting this, which is why you say it makes no sense. One more try. Please take the time to get this: There is no Fourth Person. The only One who thinks that “I am trinitarian” is God, who is the Three Persons. None of the Persons themselves think “I am trinitarian” for no one Person could think that He, the particular Person, is three persons. Each Person thinks rather “God is trinitarian,” and “we are trinitarian” which expresses the same truth.

    “We also know from Scripture that God is a person.”

    No, we know such thing. That is a contradiction, unless you mean something different by the term “person.” And if you do, then it makes no sense to even make the assertion. You ought to choose another word besides person. To use terms equivocally in a argument/discussion is to promote confusion. Again, if you are claiming that God is a person in a different sense than he is three persons, say what sense you mean. Because you seem to using the term person in the same sense as me, and in the same sense that the Bible refers to the Godhead as three Persons. And then you want to say it is mystery or paradox or something to avoid the irrationalism. It doesn’t work that way. Again, you can’t say that the Bible seems to describe God as both one person and three persons in the same sense, but somehow it must not be the same sense. That is the same as saying that the Bible seems to reveal a contradiction, but simply believe it and say it isn’t so because the Bible reveals that “apparent” contradiction. That is utter nonsense.

    “The only thing that distinguishes the Persons in the Godhead are the propositions that apply specifically to them. The Logos is the Logos precisely because He and not either of the other two Persons can think “I was incarnated.” Otherwise, you must necessarily be asserting tri-theism.”

    “Right, the trinitarian individuation is *contingent*, then. This is modalistic.”

    There is nothing contingent or modalistic to what I’ve said. The Persons have eternally thought those thoughts. The Logos could be said to have thought “I will become incarnated.” Truth is eternal.

    “Pat thinks that what really is going on is three divine beings all think they are God, but again, this is tri-theistic.”

    No, that is not what I think. Again, you don’t get what I’ve been saying. You really need to stop and ponder more. There are three Persons who don’t think “I am God” but “I am omniscient, omnipotent; my thoughts are true because I think them.”

  34. pat said,

    December 5, 2010 at 9:11 pm

    “It is clearly not the case that the Bible and the creeds *clearly* do not ascribe personhood to God.”

    Okay, either you are saying that the Bible and the creeds ascribe personhood to God, but don’t do so “clearly,” or you are saying that the Bible and the Creeds clearly do ascribe personhood to God. Which is it? I say the Bible clearly does ascribe personhood to God. It clearly teaches that God is three persons not one person.

  35. brandonadams said,

    December 6, 2010 at 11:35 am

    Lane, I hope my comment here doesn’t get lost in the chatter…

    Are you familiar with Witness Lee and Living Streams Ministries? They are a cult founded by a man named Witness Lee back in the 50s-60s. Walter Martin led CRI in condemning Lee’s teaching as heretical (explained in a CRI article by E. Calvin Beisner, which can be found here http://www.ecalvinbeisner.com/freearticles/TeachingsofWitnessLee&LocalChurch.pdf ). Lee taught that the Father is the Son and the Son is the Spirit – all are one – though his heresy had a spin on modalism in that he separated the “ontological Trinity”, which distinguished the Persons, from the “economic Trinity”, which did not.

    The reason I mention this is because after 30 years, CRI has now come out and said they were wrong in their condemnation of the cult. (Of course, CRI is under different leadership now, and Beisner is strongly opposed to this new position). Many, many Christians look to CRI for discernment in the area of cults and they are now being led astray by this acceptance of the Lee cult. (And I can attest this is not just theory. I know of Christians and pastors now fellowshipping with this cult because of CRI’s position).

    CRI devoted an entire issue to exhonerating the cult. http://journal.equip.org/issues/we-were-wrong

    Lee said things like “The Father, the Son, and the Spirit are not three separate persons or three Gods; they are one God, one reality, one person.”

    and also We may say that the Triune God has three persons but only one essence; the persons should not be confused and the essence should not be divided; the Father, the Son, and the Spirit are three in person, but they are one in essence.

    Lee held to what he called the “twofoldness of Divine Truth”, which basically allows for contradictory views to both be held as true.

    In the issue, CRI said the following:

    We were aware at CRI that Lee made such statements and we therefore classified the LC’s theology as aberrant rather than heretical, according to the theological definition of aberrant that we have adhered to for decades. Aberrant theology will affirm orthodoxy but then will add to those confessions of orthodoxy further affirmations that contradict, compromise, or undermine them. We simply concluded that the LC believed they lived in a world where two contradictory propositions could be true at the same time and in the same sense…

    …when Lee affirmed the existence of three eternally distinct persons in the Godhead he was stating his true belief. Furthermore, when he affirmed that the Trinity is one person he was not engaging in boldfaced self-contradiction. He was rather attempting to safeguard LC theology from the implication of separateness of being (tritheism) that the word person at least potentially carries… [Lee said] “We dare not say that the Father, the Son, and the Spirit are three persons, nor do we dare say that they are not, because this is truly a mystery.”…

    Lee’s thinking was very close to that of the late Reformed theologian Cornelius Van Til on this point, and although Van Til has been criticized for his view, no one that I am aware of has charged him with heresy. Theology blogger Phil Gons writes:

    Avoiding modalism and tritheism is as challenging as steering clear of legalism and antinomianism. Errors in formulating a biblical doctrine of the Trinity stem from the desire to say too much. Perhaps Van Til’s approach is best. He leaves the tension unresolved and maintains the full mystery of the Trinity by arguing that God is both one person and three persons, though in different senses. Van Til is combating the notion that “God” is some kind of attribute that the three persons of the Trinity share in common. Frame’s defense of Van Til on this point is quite insightful. Van Til’s formulation helpfully preserves us from the tendency toward either modalism or tritheism. God is one and God is three, but in different senses (and thus not contradictorily). In precisely what ways He is one and three, we cannot and should not say. http://philgons.com/2008/01/are-you-a-practical-modalist/

    And so this issue is not just an in-house Reformed skirmish. Much less is it a Clark/Van Til issue. This is a matter that concerns all of Christianity. Not only is Van Til’s unbiblical view of paradox wreaking havoc all over the place, but even his specific view of the Trinity is allowing outright cults to be branded as Christians and be accepted by one of the longest standing countercult groups.

    For an overview of Lee’s teaching, see here http://contrast2.wordpress.com/2010/09/25/the-false-gospel-of-witness-lee-and-the-living-stream-ministries/


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