Wednesday, September 24, 2014

David is God: Follow-up

An anonymous commenter asks what I think the upshot is from Dale Tuggy's recent post I put up on the blog.  Instead of commenting back, I decided that this required a post of its own.

 Dale Tuggy's points diverge somewhat from my own, but not entirely.  Tuggy (who wrote the above) is an anti-Trinitarian.  He's a Unitarian.  He thinks that there is one God, the Father, and the Holy Spirit and Jesus are not God.  His argument for this view is purely historical, from what I can tell--he thinks the historical case for what the Apostles and some of the Early Church Fathers held is strongest for Unitarianism (which is, if not identical to, than akin to Subordinationism) over Trinitarianism.  His view is thus very similar to Origen's. His main point, I take it, is that certain evangelical scholars give poor arguments for their view, arguments which are no better than the argument he gives that Jesus is David and that David is God.  And surely we can agree that there are some poor arguments in the evangelical scholarly community.  Another point of his is about humilty--it's often false humility to appeal to "what the Bible says" when what one is really doing is giving an interpretation of what the Bible says and ignoring one's presuppositions that factor into that interpretation.

I also agree with him in thinking that careful exegesis and theologizing can be a tricky business.  But another point that Tuggy's post raises (to my mind) is what theology might look like divorced from tradition.  I give serious weight to ecumenical councils and tradition more generally for the (philosophical? theological? biblical?) reason that it seems to me that if God founds a Church and guides it by the Holy Spirit that it is unlikely to err in important doctrines over the long haul. (This I might add is the same reason for holding to some view of reliability or innerancy of the Scriptures).  If a religion errs regarding the nature of God, then that's some evidence against thinking that it is God's religion or at least that it's for the most part in a right veridical relationship with God.  That's not to say that the Church is infallible (at least in all matters) but that is to say that the burden of proof is on Christians who disagree with well-entrenched, traditional teachings or interpretations of Scripture.  Take annihilationism which is currently in fashion with certain evangelicals. It's clearly a minority view (Seventh Day Adventists are the only group I'm aware of that subscribes to it).  The long standing view, in contrast, is that hell is forever.  So, as I see it, the burden of proof is on the annihilationist. I find the historical evidence (i.e. the evidence which uses the contemporary historical method to divine what the original authors believed) no greater for annihilationism than eternal punishment.  Tradition (as well as philosophical argument) tip the scales for me.

I think Tuggy, though, does feel the pull from the reasoning I just mentioned (and I should add, Tuggy is no dummy).  In a recent podcast of his I just listened to (on John Locke), he entertained the point I just raised about the Church erring, but didn't have a whole lot to say in reply.  He basically countered by saying that it's also problematic that the Jews had the wrong conception of God for so long, not believing in the Trinity but instead thinking that God was one person.

But I think this is more of a pseudo-problem or a genuine problem that can be more easily handled.  Revelation in the biblical times was clearly progressive; God meeting people where they were, so to speak.  I don't see any good reason for thinking that God would've revealed his Trinitarian nature to a people who clearly were quite open to believing in multiple gods.  Moreover, insofar as they (eventually) believed in one God, they were in agreement with Trinitarians.  In addition, the concept of a person (as opposed, say, to a human) seems not to have been in the minds of Jews (and Christians) for some time, so one shouldn't expect a Trinitarian formulation, especially before the Incarnation.  Finally, the Jewish situation is disanalogous to that of the Church because (a) the Holy Spirit had not yet fully come and (b) if Trinitarianism is a later invention (as Tuggy holds) the Church got things right at first but then majorly screwed up for most of its history, whereas the Hebrew people gradually moved away from pluralism or henotheism, accepting monotheism and getting more things right along the way (even if not always acting the way they should have).


  1. "forever" may not mean the same for the blessed souls and the damned souls. "hell is forever" may mean "hell is final". This is a view CS Lewis has defended, in the Problem of Pain, I think.

  2. Thanks for the comment, Bedarz. Yes, I'm aware of the view. "Eternal Destruction" might mean destruction of the soul or complete destruction such that once destroyed one will be destroyed forever. I'm just not convinced that this interpretation is any better than everlasting punishment and thus tradition and philosophy tip the scales. I have several posts on annihilationism. Here is one on C.S. Lewis:

  3. Your interpretation of CS Lewis I find odd:
    " her animalistic impulse to grumble".
    "1. Nancy ceases to be and all that remains is an animal not identical to Nancy or
    2. Nancy (the once rational- animal) becomes a mere animal".

    To begin with, CSL explicitly likens the damned soul to machine. Do you equate animals to machines? And it the meaning of "animalistic impulse to grumble" is unclear. Certainly,CSL never meant that a rational soul that is damned is an animal soul now.
    There is a further discussion in The Great Divorce where the damned soul is likened to a collection of antagonistic sins.
    The key idea is that the existence a damned soul has is nothing like the life a blessed soul enjoys.
    I should think this to be obvious and unobjectionable.

    Have you read discussion of Hell in the Problem of Pain?

  4. Bedarz,

    First, I've read everything by C.S. Lewis that can be purchased in a store; and I have the utmost respect for CSL. However, I haven't read the Problem of Pain in a while. In addition, that post was just focused on TGD.

    You say that CSL likens damned souls to machines and then ask if I equate animals to machines. (1) I don't know what it would mean to liken a soul to a machine. Souls have no mechanistic parts whereas machines do; souls are immaterial whereas machines are not. (2) Are animals machines? I don't think so. Animals are ensouled. They have feelings. The are conscious.

    Does it help if we think of souls like sins? I don't see how. A sin is a deformed action done by something that is or has a soul. The idea of a sin is parasitic on the idea of a soul (on a created living thing). We can think soul without thinking sin but I don't think we can think sin without thinking soul (or created being with life).

    "The key idea is that the existence a damned soul has is nothing like the life a blessed soul enjoys.
    I should think this to be obvious and unobjectionable."

    I don't object to that. What you say seems consistent with the existence of a damned soul living a life (forever) which is "nothing" like the life of a blessed soul.