In this episode Kurt talks with Brian Huffling of Southern Evangelical Seminary on the doctrines of classical theism.
Kurt: Good day to you and thanks for joining us here on another episode of Veracity Hill where we are striving for truth on faith, politics, and society. So nice to be with you here in studio. The Roland VR50 HD is here. Defenders Media has acquired a new addition to its tech department and it’s a very fine top of the line video switcher we’re very excited about. There is a learning curve and I’m told on today’s program, our video resolution’s going to be a little bit down because we’ve got to get one more cord, but Chris is the tech master and he’s back in studio today. Last week Robb filled in for him and did a fine job and today is Bloomingfest in Downtown West Chicago so I don’t know if our mikes will pick up people having the conversations out on the main street here in Downtown West Chicago where we are located. Yes. We’re very excited for today’s program and the future of the production of our show with the new tech addition and so hopefully, Chris will be able to manage that and we might check in with him towards the end of the program today.
This morning, I had the opportunity of running a 6K in Wheaton, Illinois. It was a 6K instead of a 5K because we ran or some walked 6K because that’s the distance that a child has to walk just to get clean water for their family in parts of Africa and so we’re raising awareness and our church raised $7,000 for that. There were a couple of folks that went above and beyond the call of duty and raised money for that goal and it was a lot of fun. You can see me there on the screen, very sweaty. It was the first time I had run a distance like that since high school actually and so I was exhausted, but I ran the whole way and so I was very thankful that I could still do whatever that was, 3+ miles, not quite 4 miles. It was exhausting, but it was good and if you are interested in learning more about that, we can post a link at our website about World Vision and today’s event. It was something like 60,000 people, I’m not sure if that was the country or the world, were going to be walking and running to raise awareness for that. That was a lot of fun.
The internet was taken by storm this week or Yanni or I mean Laurel. Chris. I don’t know if you heard anything, Yanni or Laurel.
Chris: The clips I heard definitely sounded like Laurel, but I think it was a frequency thing based on how it was equeued or what the speakers were coming out. The underbed of it sounded like it Yanni. It sounds to my perception like the narrator, voice-over artist, clearly saying Laurel. His background noise makes it sound like Yanni.
Kurt: I was reading a couple of articles on this. It was pertaining to the frequency. It was a recording of an audio of a dictionary of someone saying Laurel, so it was a recording of a recording, and I think it was, I don’t know if they had manipulated the EQ after that or not, but that’s really what it came down to. It was strange because I heard Yanni the first couple of times and then I started hearing Laurel. I don’t know if there were just different recordings out there. I’m not sure what would explain it, but at any rate, the internet was taken by storm by this. These are first world problems. We’re talking about clean water for families in Africa and here we are debating over Yanni and Laurel so that’s really something. At any rate, on today’s program, we’re going to be talking about classical theism and classical theism is sort of a label that can cover a broad spectrum of doctrines so today we’re going to be talking about these doctrines and joining us on the program is the assistant professor of philosophy and theology at Southern Evangelical Seminary in Charlotte, North Carolina, Dr. Brian Huffling. Thank you so much for joining us on today’s program.
Brian: Thanks for having me. I appreciate it. It’s good to be here.
Kurt: Yeah. Brian. Tell me. I’m reading over your biography and you’ve been involved in various types of ministry, two American churches, but also two Korean churches and that piqued my interest. Could you tell me a little about that?
Brian: Sure. So when we moved to Charlotte, my wife and I moved from Tennessee after we graduated from college and she was insistent to apply for this youth pastor position that I didn’t really want to apply for at the time because I just didn’t want to be in ministry at all at that time. I applied for it and it wasn’t advertised as a Korean church and we went there and lo and behold, it was a Korean church. Ended up getting a job and working there for two years. Loved it. It was a great place to be. Great people. Fell in love with the kids, the adults, the Korean culture, and then went in and worked several years for another one for awhile and we just really enjoyed the youth age folks being in youth ministry. It’s just been really fun for us to do that. It was enjoyable to learn a different culture. It was American. They would speak English and it was Americanized and it was here in the United States in Charlotte. It was just a Korean culture, but it was a lot of fun, a lot of fun.
Kurt: Interesting. So I’m sure you were able to taste lots of different foods during potlucks.
Brian: We did. They actually ate every Sunday.
Kurt: Amen to that. Wow. My pastor would love that. I would love that.
Brian: They would cook food. Have a whole shindig after the service. All kinds of stuff. You had every Sunday.
Kurt: That’s my view of the Eucharist. I’m kind of opposed to the very ritualistic tendency that has happened in church history, but having meals together, that’s where it happens.
Brian: Yeah. I agree.
Kurt: That’s great. You also have quite a bit of military service too.
Brian: That’s right. I was a reserve in the Marines for three years and then I went and actually transferred to the Navy to go into intelligence. I transferred right before I started seminary, and I didn’t want to get activated while I was in seminary, so they let me go into the individual ready reserve which is inactive status, but in seminary, I wanted to become a chaplain. I decided to check that out. I didn’t want to be on a boat for months and months at a time, so I decided to join the Air Force. I heard the quality of life was really good and it was fun and everything. I did the chaplain candidate program with them for about three years and then I’ve been with the air force chaplaincy. I served three years at Seymour Johnson in North Carolina and I’ve been at the Air Force Academy in Colorado for about five years now in the reserves.
Kurt: Yeah. Nice. Through all these experiences, you’ve had a strong interest in philosophy and theology and thinking about God and that led you over to Southern Evangelical Seminary where you’ve been pursuing degrees and you found yourself, end up teaching there.
Brian: That’s right. I really started off interested in apologetics and being at SES for just no time at all, it was obvious with folks like Norman Geisler and Tom Howe and different professors, Richard Howe, that if you’re going to do apologetics well we think that you need to do philosophy well. We brought that in and started added that as a major in everything. That’s been an important part of the SES experience.
Kurt: Nice. Alright. Let’s get to the main topic of today’s program. We’re talking about classical theism. As I briefly mentioned, it’s kind of a label that’s used to cover various different doctrines about God and who He is and so if you had to explain what classical theism is in a broad sense and I’m sure we’re going to get to more specifics throughout the program, but how would you broadly describe what classical theism is?
Brian: Classical theism is the label that we normally give to the historical traditional orthodox view of God that’s come out of church fathers in the creeds and classical theism upholds the traditional doctrines like God is simple, doesn’t have parts, that He doesn’t change. He is not inside time, He’s timeless. He is not affected by creation so He’s what’s called impassible. He transcends all of His creation. He’s not part of His creation. He is distinct from it. This is in distinction to the view that God does change, more or less like process theology, that God changes. He’s in time. He’s affected by His creatures. A classical person like me would a lot of times say there’s two views of God. The classical view of God and the process view of God. Classical means He is timeless and all that, doesn’t change. The process is that He’s in a process of becoming something, changing in some way, He’s somehow inside or temporal inside of time and so that’s the historical-traditional view of God.
Kurt: And help someone like me out. Under this view, this is where some of the main omnis would be located right? God is omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresence, and omnibenevolent. That would fall under this sort of big tent if you will of classical theism.
Brian: It does. We would say God is omniscient. He’s all-knowing. He’s everywhere. People who aren’t classical will often times still uphold things like omniscience, that is that God knows all things, but they redefine what it means to know and what can be known. For example, the classical theist would say God knows the future. He doesn’t have a future. He knows our future. A non-classical theist would say things like “The future isn’t at thing to be known yet and so He doesn’t know it.” He kind of learns as the future unfolds so to speak.
Kurt: I see. Interesting. I’m sure, in the Calvinism/Arminianism debate there’s often a discussion of what constitutes omnipotence and so maybe there is room for disagreement even among classical theists as to what would properly qualify as those omnis, but there still is a border it seems, that at some point one begins to go outside the bounds of classical theism and I know maybe this can be a very complex question, but what might be some symptoms that someone has gone outside of those bounds?
Brian: The more subtle symptoms from what we would say is if someone starts talking about God being in time, if they’re talking about God changing in some way, that means that God’s learning. If He’s temporal, for example I did my doctoral work on a philosopher named Richard Creel and he held, he’s a major player in this impassability debate, that is that God can nor cannot be affected by things. He holds that God cannot be affected in areas outside of His knowledge, but when it comes to His knowledge, because the future is unfolding and new things are being learned, if He knows temporal things like today is Saturday and tomorrow’s Sunday, if He knows that then He has to be temporal as well. If He’s knowing like that or knowing temporal things or in a temporal way that would be a symptom. A more obvious and off-the-chart symptom like Clark Pinnock who would say that God is, we should think about God actually having a physical body. There’s kind of a range of we would see things, like in Christian evangelical thinking, we see people like William Lane Craig for example who wants to pertain that God was eternal but became temporal at the moment of creation so that He could relate to creation. That’s not often times as seen as off the radar as much as say Clark Pinnock who says that God can be seen or should maybe be thought of being a physical being as the Bible seems to describe Him in that way. There’s definitely a range here.
Kurt: Yeah. And for some, it seems like there’s a radar or something if you will, and I was going to ask you about William Lane Craig because I took his philosophy of religion class back so many years ago and I remember he drew some distinction regarding impassability, so the idea that God cannot change, but that God changes with regard to His relations.
Kurt: I don’t know if you would call that soft mutability. What are your thoughts on that?
Brian: Well, as a classical theist, if God changes in any way, that’s going to introduce the possibility of changing and if God has a possibility of changing then He has a kind of potency, which is a part of His being, which means He is put together of parts and that’s an issue we’ll talk about later. We would just deny God changes at all, because He does nothing, Craig calls it, extrinsic and intrinsic changes, where He does change with His relationships and He does outright deny impassibility, but if we hold that God is passible, that is He is changing or is affected in someway by His creation or creatures, then He is necessarily temporal and changeable which would just be a denial of classical theism altogether.
Kurt: Interesting. We also have the area of omniscience. The traditional view is that God knows all things and by that, historically speaking, philosophers and theologians have said that this includes not just all future possibilities, but the actual future, what will come to pass God knows, and there especially in the last say twenty, maybe thirty years, there’s been a movement called open theism which has called into question chiefly that belief, that God knows the future, or how He knows the future, or that there are future facts to be known. Even in open theism there are sorts of different strands, but the traditional view, how would the traditional view respond to the broad camp of open theism?
Brian: Well, we would emphasize again that open theists, their first problem that they often times bring up is that our view, the classical view, is based on or rooted in a quote, unquote, pagan Greek view of God, because we’ll often times point to people like Plato or Aristotle who can be seen as predecessors of classical theism and I think Augustine, Anselm, and Aquinas, three of the chief classical theists, and they will say “If you’re going to go back and root your thoughts in Plato and Aristotle, that’s just pagan thinking so we can’t start there. We have to start with the Bible.” We would start even more fundamentally or in a more foundational way than just their views is why they want to reject our views, and that’s just a case of what’s called a genetic fallacy. Something’s not right or wrong because of where it starts. We would just respond by saying there’s no monolithic or universal view even in Greek thinking, really on anything, but even when it comes to God or the gods for them. They had the gods for them were also very passible, very material, very temporal. If it’s going to go against our view, it’d go against their view as well, but we would also say, they say “We can’t start with philosophy. We have to start with the Bible,” but really we have to start with reality because we read the Bible in the context of what we know about reality. The Bible doesn’t tell us what a garden is. It just says God made one. It assumes we already know what a garden is for example. We have to understand that when we do come to the Bible through these philosophical categories and notions, we want to start there and say we’re doing exegesis, but we’re also having a philosophy of nature because we just, all we mean by philosophy is our views of reality, knowledge, and all that. We can’t not do that. More specifically when it comes to saying things like God doesn’t know the future. That’s correct depending on if you’re saying God doesn’t know His future. He doesn’t have a future for a classical theist. God is simultaneous in His existence. He doesn’t have a past, present, or future. We can say God knows our future, because the view that they’re espousing kind of goes into this Calvinism/Arminianism thing you mentioned earlier. If God does not, in a sense, look down the corridors of time and kind of react a passive away, for a classical theist, because God is the cause of all being other than Himself, He doesn’t know things by looking outside of Himself. He knows all beings and all effects of His causation because He is the cause and since He knows Himself perfectly, He knows that He’s causing these effects to be. He didn’t just cause them and then just let go in kind of this deistic fashion of God winding a clock and let go of it. God is actively causing us to keep being in existence even now. Since He knows Himself perfectly, He knows His effects perfectly, so we can know to us what is going to be our future, even, though for Him it’s just simultaneous with His own existence.
Kurt: One can get the impression that a lot of these beliefs and doctrines are interconnected.
Brian: They are. That’s why when you start chiseling the foundation, you start eroding everything that’s based on that foundation. That’s why we are so emphatic that we start with the notion of things like God not having parts, not being put together of things. If He’s put together like a set of divine legos, something has to put those divine legos together. Once you deny, once you say that God has those kinds of parts, then who put Him together? What does it mean to be put together? Then we have to start admitting maybe God can change. If God is in time, but then we start describing what looks like more a creature than the transcendent creator, then we start making God to be more like us, as Norm Geisler book says “Is Man the Measure?” We’re making God to look at us as opposing to recognizing God’s nothing like us. We’re created in His image. We’re very different from Him.
Kurt: In some ways though, it can be a struggle to use human terms to describe the divine. I mean, after all, we are just humans and so to a certain extent, yeah, we do find ourselves in these qunadaries where we want to describe for example, the time before time began to exist, and that just doesn’t really make sense. Right?
Brian: Not if you put it in that category. Right. Yeah.
Kurt: I could certainly understand how to a certain degree, God just begins to look more like us, but at the same time we’re limited on the words and ideas that we have.
Brian: That’s right, and that’s an excellent point, and that’s one of the foundational aspects of this kind of discussion. This is normally just called God talk or if you want the big fancy term, it’s called religious epistemology, how we know about God.
Kurt: I have never heard that term, but that’s great.
Brian: Epistemology is the study of knowledge so religious epistemology is the study of how we know about God. You’re hitting the nail on the head when you’re saying we have to use human language, because this is really the issue when we start talking about God, because we really don’t have an experience of Him the way we experience trees and children and basketballs and squirrels, these kinds of things. We don’t experience God, but how is we’re made to experience and know is through our senses, but we don’t sense God. We can know about Him through His effects, Romans 1, we can know His divine nature, His eternal nature, power, through what has been made, but we have to recognize as you’ve already said and rightly so that our language has to, we have to understand that our language only approximates God’s being. If we notice these terms are mainly negative, God is immutable. He is not changing. Eternal, He’s not temporal. Impassible, He’s not affected by His creation. Infinite, He’s not limited. A lot of what we say about God is He’s not this. He’s not that. What is He? We don’t really know what the infinite being of God is. We can describe it and chisel away what it’s not, but we as finite creatures really don’t know what infinite being is.
Kurt: If I’m remembering the term, wouldn’t that way of speaking about God be via negativa?
Brian: That’s right. Via negativa. Way of negation or sometimes it’s called apathetic theology, theology through negation or negative theology, saying what God is not. It’s not bad to do that, because it’s not wrong to say God’s not physical. He’s immaterial and He’s not physical. It’s correct to say He’s not physical, but we just don’t have any direct knowledge and even if we did we’re finite beings. We can’t comprehend what infinite being is.
Kurt: We’ve got Tyson here who’s following us on the livestream today. Thanks for tuning in Tyson. He’s wondering here what your theory of time is and I think you’ve talked about that a little bit, but if you could describe it more, I guess, succinctly, what would you say your theory of time is?
Brian: When someone asks that they’re probably looking for an A or B answer. Views of time today are normally expressed in an A-theory or a B-theory. An a-theory normally means past, present, and future, and a B-theory is there’s no past, present, and future. This would be more along the lines of what Einstein held to. If everything is simultaneous, we can talk about before and after, like this podcast is after Abraham Lincoln, but it’s really on the time continuum happening simultaneously, but it’s happening in a sense after, not in the sense of temporal after, but sequentially on this temporal map as it were, whereas an A-theory holds we can talk to a past, present, and a future. At SES, we’re very unique in that we don’t tend to follow the typical conventions of the way things are going nowadays. I follow the Aristotelian notion of time that just says time is a measurement of change. There’s no such thing as say a minute, a second, a day, a year. There is such a thing as planets revolving around the sun and we just call that revolution a year or rotation on the Earth’s axis of day. We would say that an inch or a foot literally exists, you’re not going to trip over an inch. You can trip over an inch of concrete, but not an inch of just nothing. Time itself is nothing either.
Kurt: Time is sort of, it’s man-made. It’s a measurement to help us in a sense even just live our days because like you said, when you take, you recognize planetary rotation and you can divide the time, if you will, you could divide the, how would you describe it without saying time? You can divide the…
Brian: Duration of change.
Kurt: Good. Duration of change.
Brian: Duration. Time. Still using a synonym for, but I see what you’re saying.
Kurt: The extent of….
Brian: Amount of change maybe?
Kurt: Yeah. Right. Just as you divide that more and more you get down to the clock going tick, tick, tick, tick. It’s not as if seconds exist out there somewhere, but that a clock just measures things and so you would say that time doesn’t really exist out there somewhere.
Brian: Yes. It’s not a thing that is. It’s just the way we talk about things changing. If I say the Earth takes a year to revolve around the sun. There’s no such thing as Saturday. We call today Saturday. There’s no such thing as Saturday. We just made this calendar and we said this is the X day that we’re calling a week and it happens to be now during this particular rotation on this axis and away the sun, it’s fairly conventional. The temporal or the things that do change are real. The Earth really is rotating. It is revolving. You’re waiting on me to finish talking and this kind of thing. I have to wait for certain things to change, but the way that we measure it isn’t an existing thing. It’s much like, again, measurement of length of something like a foot, doesn’t exist itself. A foot of something exists, but a foot or an inch as a foot or an inch, isn’t a thing, except for the standard foot or the standard meter, but that’s again arbitrary.
Kurt: So that’s kind of your theory of time.
Brian: There you go.
Kurt: That time doesn’t really exist.
Brian: Not a thing.
Kurt: It’s not a thing, but it’s a measurement that we use and it helps us to communicate things that have happened in the past, I guess, you would say, so would you then say that the A and B theories of time, that’s not necessarily about measurement though is it?
Brian: Well, it can be, but what they tend to do is they make time into an existing thing, but it depends on the person. Even in the A-theory you’ve got different ways of looking at it. The A-theory talks about a past. So if you think we’re moving into the future, there’s two ways to look at that. If time exists as a thing. We can say the past is getting bigger and bigger and that’s called a growing block theory in A-time or the A-theory of we can get into saying we’re kind of chiseling off more and more of the future, it’s called a shrinking block theory. Even within these various theories there’s still sub-theories. There’s all kinds of ways to cash it out and people differ on even their own theories so it just depends on who you want to talk about really.
Kurt: So there are as many theories of time out there as there are people.
Brian: That’s right. There are a lot of them.
Kurt: That can happen sometimes.
Brian: That does.,
Kurt: We’ve got some other comments from folks tuning in. We’ve got to take a short break, but after we come back from the break, we’ll address some of these comments and some other questions I had about what might be some more technical aspects to sort of a philosophical theology. I’d like to pick your brain on describing what divine simplicity is and maybe even the theistic personalism debate. I know that can be a little heady for folks, but hopefully, if you’ll stick with us we might be able to even just wedge a little bit more of an understanding on these tricky subjects so stick with us through this short break from our sponsors.
Kurt: Thanks for sticking with us through that short break from our sponsors. If you’d like to learn how you can become a sponsor of the program, you can go to our website Veracityhill.com. Dr. Huffling, I didn’t tell you about this segment of the show and our questions, we need to come up with new questions, Chris. We have a short segment of the show called Rapid Questions here and it’s a 60-second sort of little game to answer as many questions as you can and they’re kind of just random questions about your life. We’ll get to know you a little bit better here. I’m gonna start the clock…
Brian: I answer in 60 seconds or ask as many in 60 seconds?
Kurt: As many as you can.
Brian: Okay. Gotcha.
Kurt: If it were 60 seconds apiece.
Brian: That’d take forever.
Kurt: Yeah. Here we go. What is your clothing store of choice?
Brian: Oh gosh. We’ll say Belk.
Kurt: Taco Bell or KFC?
Brian: Taco Bell.
Kurt: Where would you like to live?
Brian: I’m in Statesboro, GA and it’s very nice. I will stay here.
Kurt: What’s your favorite sport?
Kurt: What’s your spouse’s favorite holiday?
Brian: Probably Christmas.
Kurt: What’s your favorite movie?
Brian: Mine is, I like Bowfinger because it’s hilarious and a Few Good Men are very good.
Kurt: Nice. Have you ever planked?
Kurt: Do you drink Dr. Pepper?
Kurt: Have you ever driven on the other side of the road?
Brian: Yes. Not on purpose. You just dodge something.
Kurt: Here’s a new one. Did you hear Yanni or Laurel?
Brian: I haven’t heard anything.
Kurt: What’s your inner milkshake flavor?
Kurt: Hokey Pokey, electric slide, or the Macarena?
Brian: Electric slide.
Kurt: Nice. Alright. That’s a good one. Thanks for playing that round of Rapid Questions. Excellent. You’re a Dr. Pepper lover like myself, very good to hear. How frequently do you find yourself with a Dr. Pepper in your hand?
Brian: Not too often, but here lately I have had a few.
Kurt: I won’t hold you at fault. I’m a frequent, I probably have Dr. Pepper a few times a week I’d say. Very nice. Good. Good. There was another thing too. What was it that got to me? Oh. Your current location. You’re in Georgia. Is that right?
Brian: That’s correct. I’m in Statesboro, Georgia, where Georgia Southern University is.
Kurt: Nice. How close is that to Tallahassee, Florida?
Brian: Tallahassee? I don’t know. We’re about six hours from Orlando. Tallahassee is northwest of there. I’m gonna guess four or five.
Kurt: Okay. My wife is from Tallahassee so we make some trips down there, once a year roughly to visit her family so
Kurt: I figured you were in Charlotte, but I guess I know SES has a very popular online program so you probably do a lot.
Brian: That’s right. I do go up to Charlotte when I need to. Do online stuff. Back and forth. We do that a lot.
Kurt: Nice. Okay. So in the first half of the program we talked about classical theism as a broad tent that included many doctrines and sometimes there is room for disagreement on these doctrines, perhaps say on God’s omnipotence and what that is like. Maybe even views of God and time, that there’s some room for disagreement, but that there are still some aspects when they begin to go further astray, you can see that there are problems and sometimes those problems are interconnected. There’s a web of beliefs here and doctrines. We’ve got here Mark Phillips who’s asked if you could explain to listeners what divine, he’s got a few here, divine aseity, so what is divine aseity?
Brian: Divine aseity just means that God exists on His own and doesn’t require anything else to exist. That’s what all that means. He doesn’t rely on anything besides Himself. To be aseite is to be self-existing, so aseity means that God is just self-existing.
Kurt: When I’ve thought about divine aseity it’s been in the context of apologetics. Sometimes people would say, “Who created God?” That’s the sort of question that just doesn’t make sense because you’re not talking about the same thing I’m talking about. When we talk about God, we’re talking about a being that is not contingent but is necessary, that exists of Himself. You could probably again explain the doctrine a bit better than I could, but it’s interesting to see how while this can be a heady topic, discussing classical theism, it has implications for the conversations that we have with everyday people, people who have never studied theology. By thinking about these things, reflecting upon them, it really can help us in not just edifying and learning more about the faith we hold, but in how we can reach people and answer their questions about our faith. Really important stuff. Okay. I want to pick your brain here about two things. First, let’s talk about divine simplicity. You talked about it a little bit in the first half of the program, that God does not have parts. When we say that God is a simple being, what does that mean?
Brian: Well. It means broadly speaking that God is not composed of anything. We oftentimes think He’s not composed of physical stuff like we are. We’re composed of our skeletal system and different organs and skin, that’s not what we mean at all. We do deny that of God, of course, but it means on the more metaphysical level, the philosophical level, we talk about metaphysical categories, again going back to Aristotle, at SES the philosophy department tends to follow Thomas Aquinas’s philosophical theology and his views of God, His nature, which he really draws a lot on from Aristotle. Aristotle says for a being to exist, it has to be put together of various metaphysical parts. One would be your form and your matter. Form would just be kind of thing that you are coupled with what makes you individual. We would say you and I share the human form, that we have a human essence, but you and I have different matter or we’d be the same individual person. We’re distinguished with our matter. We would say God is not composed of matter and form. He’s not composed of things like act and potency where act or to be actual just means existing. To be composed of this kind of stuff you would have to be existing or be in act and to be able to change you’d have to have the potential, the potentiality, or the ability to change. It means power from the word potent or potentia for power, so you have to have the power or ability to change, but again, those are metaphysical parts that are put together that require being put together by some other agent than the being in question so we can have act and potency, because we’re put together from different beings. Our proximite cause would be our parents, our physical cause ultimately would be God, but if God has any kind of these metaphysical parts, then He requires a composer, so we say God is not composed in anyway or He would require a composer, He would be composed and not be God. That’s the real general broad way of talking about simplicity. It goes a lot deeper. There are about eight different categories, for example, Thomas Aquinas denies of God. That would be our essence is human, but we don’t have to exist. We are contingent. God is necessary. We can talk about dragons for examples, we can say dragons have a nature like leprechauns or unicorns, but they don’t exist. They can have an essence apart from existence. For God, His essence is existence or His existence and essence are one and the same so even there is not a distinction, these eight kinds of categories and Aquinas will deny any kind of composition with God or we start getting into problems and saying God is really just a creature, and that’s going to be, if listeners want to read this, if you want some real fun reading, Summa Theologia is, you can go online and look at it for free. It’s the third question on God if you want some really meaty stuff to chew into or if they want to go to Brian Davies book, The Thought of Thomas Aquinas.
Kurt: Interesting, and I was going to ask you, what are some of the problems that find themselves working out in your perspective of a denial of simplicity?
Brian: Okay. This is a great question. I’m looking forward to, just got approval the other day, that Richard Howe, one of our professors, we are going to have a panel discussion on this very topic at the EPS section of the AAR-SBL meeting with William Lane Craig and Steve Davis. There actually was a symposium on this very topic, if your listeners want to listen on it go to William Lane Craig symposium on simplicity or go to Claremont McKenna College and some of the things that they’ll argue against simplicity, for various reasons. Your question is what happens if you deny simplicity?
Brian: If you deny simplicity, you have to affirm, and this is what I see people doing. They want to deny simplicity. They don’t want to affirm that denial actually means. If He’s composed, what’s He composed of? What does it for God to be divinely composed? We would just say ultimately if God is composed, He’s going to require a composer. He’s going to have parts. He’s therefore not going to be God, and if He’s made up of parts, you can’t have an infinite being made up of parts. You have to add parts together. You’ll never reach an infinite being. It would seem to encroach upon God’s infinity and perfection in that regard as well and He would somehow be limited. There are all kinds of, He would just be limited. He would be composed. He wouldn’t be the God of classical theism to put it succinctly.
Kurt: I’m curious. In my doctoral research I’ve been studying the view of original sin of guys that have had an Eastern influence, what we might consider today Eastern Orthodoxy? Do the Eastern Orthodox, and I don’t know if this is something that you’ve looked into, what would they say regarding simplicity?
Brian: From what I understand, Eastern Orthodox guys really don’t like systematic theology. You can probably tell me more about it than I can, but the guys I know and talk to, especially from a chaplaincy in the Air Force, they don’t like to systematize doctrines of God. They want to emphasize mystery over systematic theology and so I don’t really think there’s a lot going on. I could be missing the boat on this completely, but I don’t see a lot in the literature from Eastern Orthodox guys on this. There may be some that do like it, but for the most part, they want to uphold mystery over systemization and so I don’t hear a lot of the discussion on that from them and that could be just my fault, not anything.
Kurt: I haven’t looked into it too much, but I’ve heard of this essence/energies distinction. I don’t know if this is this field or not.
Brian: It is. I’m not overly familiar with the energies discussion. I have to hear more of it in context. From what I understand, it has to do a lot with the nature of the Trinity and what emanates from God and that kind of thing. It would depend on how it’s cashed out in some way.
Kurt: Sometimes we might use different words, but really we’re describing the same concepts. It’s good to hash those things out. One area I know that, at least I’m pretty confident I know, that Eastern Orthodox and the Thomistic perspective would agree is on the issue of theistic personalism or the rejection thereof. There’s this debate going on in the world between classical theists and theistic personalists. It’s a very difficult debate to understand and, correct me if I’m mistaken and I certainly want to get your comments, somehow it has to deal with whether we might think of God as some being or thing that is categorized or categorizable, so for example, we could think of Thor as the god of thunder, but when we’re talking about God, what we’re really saying is that God is, and I’m gonna use the term that some critique, the theistic personalists critique, that God is wholly other, so maybe you could help enlighten me and those who are following along with how to understand this debate.
Brian: Yeah. I think it’s difficult to define what theistic personalism is. I think the term was used first by Brian Davies to describe the antithetical view to classical theism as you’ve already mentioned. From what I can gather it basically is a characterization of a position that says if we’re going to think of God as a person or as personal then He has to have certain characteristics. For example, He has to be able to relate to us. He has to be temporal because if He’s not temporal, the criticism is God is static. He’s not interacting with us, but people are not static. They’re dynamic, and so you have to be somewhat temporal. We can’t think of God as unchanging because if we’re gonna be in a relationship that requires kind of a give and take. It could not require God to be impassable because we would be affecting God and He would be in this relationship. If this is where you’re wanting to go, the debate is against whether or not to be a person or to be personal or to have a relationship with people requires certain divine attributes and so the Thomistic classical guys want to say, “Well, God is simple, immutable, eternal, perfect, impassable, these kind of things, but He’s still personal.” Our critique of the theistic personalist is that when we say God is a person we don’t mean like Brian Huffling is a person. He’s not a person like me. Now of course in Jesus’s humanity, He’s a person in that way, but God as a being is not a person like me. We have similarities in that we’re created in His image. God has or is an intellect. He is/has a will. He has power and can cause and we can have all that as well, and I think even Thomas has said that we use the term person because that kind of language comes out of the creeds, and it’s not wrong per se, but we don’t always mean….
Kurt: The same thing….
Brian: And it goes back to that language issue we discussed earlier, this God talk. We don’t want to say God in His divine being is a person in the same sense that a human is a person. We as classical theists would say, yes, God has all these attributes, but He’s still personal and relational. It doesn’t require God to be temporal and changing and passable in order to have a quote unquote relationship with us. A lot of this is if He is an eternal being, He can’t be personal. Is that the aspect of theistic personalism you’re wanting to get at? I’m not sure if that’s the area you’re really wanting to get into or not.
Kurt: I’m just asking. I’m learning myself here.
Brian: Okay. Best from what I can tell Craig, Plantinga, different people, want to maintain that if God is a person, because the Bible teaches He is a person, He has a will and uses the word I and my and me like persons do, so to be personal would mean we’d have to deny the classical attributes of God being timeless, unchangeable, and as classical theists we say no, we still maintain this. God is still personal with these attributes.
Kurt: Interesting. It’s something I would like to find myself thinking more about on the future, although as I’ve mentioned I’m a doctoral student so I’ve got to work on finishing my area first before delving into other fields.
Brian: It’s a lifetime of learning. You’ll never get there. It’s a lifetime of stuff.
Kurt: That’s right. Yeah. Wow. I know this has been a very heady program on today’s episode, but Brian, I want to thank you so much for taking time out of your day to help us understand what classical theism, what are some of these doctrines, and why it’s important as well because these beliefs find their way into the everyday conversations that we have with people.
Brian: That’s right. They’re not just heady philosophical things. They have very pastoral issues associated with them as well.
Kurt: Yeah. That’s right. It’s good for folks to become educated and learn and think more about these things so that way they can grow as a disciple of Jesus and they can then also take what they’ve learned and share it with others and in the apologetic context, to be able to persuade people and to respond to those that just won’t believe, those that continue to object. Thank you so much for coming on today’s program.
Brian: Thanks for having me. I really enjoyed it. Appreciate it.
Kurt: Of course, and if you want to learn more about Dr. Huffling, you can go to his website, Brianhuffling.com. We’re going to put that link on our website as well so if you want to click over to that in a couple days, you can easily get a link that goes to his website. So before we end today’s program, I’ve got two things I want to talk about. I shared this article from the New York Times. U.S. fertility rate fell to a record low for a second straight year and I shared this on the Veracity Hill social media and it got a lot of comments from folks, a bit more interaction than I had thought. John Appleton, bless his soul. He writes in, “Kurt. I’m doing my part. We have five kids. Do I need to step it up?” Of course, that was met by a couple of folks. Michaela wrote, “Seven is the number of perfection.” John. I think you’ve met the quota. The big concern here is the average. There are more and more couples that are choosing to forego having kids or folks just aren’t getting married and having children. It’s really a complicated issue and this rate, this statistic, I think is an indicator of multiple problems in our society today. I have said here that on the page that I’m a Lockian, so I think that the family is the fundamental building block of society, so I’m a Lockian with regard to political philosophy. I think the traditional marriage really provides the foundation for a flourishing society and so when children are born to the mother and father in that stable relationship, that teleological relationship, that design, God-designed relationship, that’s a good thing and that leads to a flourishing of society. I appreciate some of the other comments here that note about. Lindsey writes in here the phobia of responsibility, the love of wealth, the worship of self, and that this is in a sense, he even says, the hate of children. It really is a difference viewing children as a burden or a blessing and when we view children as burdens, we’re going to be less likely to have them and to care for them, but when we view children as blessings as they really are, that leads to a flourishing life. I want to encourage those out there that can consider how valuable it is to have a flourishing society and to have a personally flourishing life as well. I think children provide a lot of the meaning and life experiences that one can really appreciate. I know for me, when I had my first child, I really experienced, experienced, for the first time, unconditional love. There is nothing that that child did to earn my love and I wanted to just show and pour out my love for that human being. With all other relationships, you think even there’s something that you’re getting in return, but for the first time you experience that unconditional love, and that’s something I never would have experienced.
Now, of course, I’m not saying that everyone should have children. Some people shouldn’t. Some people cannot, and those I think are sometimes sad situations, but nevertheless, I think when we’re talking about the general rules, the general principles for a flourishing society, I think that having many children is a good sign of a flourishing society. I want to thank those that tuned in to the article there that I posted online. Thanks for your comments and for sharing that as well some of you.
One last thing. Next week we’re doing a casual fundraiser, so if you live in the Chicagoland area and you would like to join me and others from the Defenders Media team at Cozymels. I think that’s how it’s said. Cozymels Mexican Grill in Wheaton, Illinois. Next Saturday 6-8 PM. I would love it if you came and joined us. It’s just going to be a great opportunity. I’ll be giving a twenty minute presentation on the need for apologetics in our country and what Defenders Media is doing to help fulfill that need. You’ll hear about some great opportunities, ways that you might be able to go. Interesting opportunity for a realtor who’s offering a chance for his commission to go to Defenders Media. If you are in the area, it’s free food. You have to RSVP so you can go to the Defenders Media website and you can RSVP. Seating is limited, but I did want to get this invitation out there to those that might be able to make it and I hope that you will give that consideration.
That does it for today’s program. I’m grateful for the continued support that we have with our patrons. Those are folks that just chip in a couple bucks each month. If you’d like to become a patron you can go to the website Veracityhill.com, click on the patron tab there, we would love to get your support. You help things like the VR-50 come into our office and we’ll improve what we do week after week. I’m also grateful for the partnerships that we have with our sponsors. Defenders Media, Consult Kevin, The Sky Floor, Rethinking Hell, The Illinois Family Institute, Fox Restoration, and Non-Profit Megaphone. I want to thank our technical producer Chris today, a fine job. Chris. I hope you did well with today’s program and with the new VR-50, and last but not least, I want to thank our guest Brian Huffling for coming and enlightening us about the doctrines of classical theism and how that really can help us in our lives, and last, but not least, I certainly want to thank you for listening in and for striving for truth on faith, politics, and society.