Tag Archives: Trinity

An Observation About the Tuggy-Brown Debate

Last week Dr. Dale Tuggy debated Dr. Michael Brown on the question, “Is the God of the Bible the Father alone?” (Tuggy affirmed; Brown denied.) The entire debate, including Q&A, can be viewed here. A print version of Tuggy’s opening statement can be found here. Brown’s opening statement can be read here.

Tuggy-Brown Debate

I thought it was a very useful, high-quality debate between two smart, serious people who stuck to the arguments and treated each other with respect. Tuggy and Brown are quite different in their skill sets, theological methodologies, and speaking styles, which made for an interesting match-up.

I have only one observation to make here, which I haven’t seen noted elsewhere. Throughout the debate, from his opening to his closing statement, Tuggy pressed the claims that the NT doesn’t reflect a trinitarian theology (as he defines it) and that Brown hadn’t offered an intelligible “Trinity theory” (or any Trinity theory at all, for that matter). But note the question that framed the debate:

Is the God of the Bible the Father alone?

Tuggy’s task was to argue that the God of the Bible is the Father alone. Brown’s task was to argue that the God of the Bible isn’t the Father alone. To win the debate, Brown didn’t have to defend trinitarianism or any particular theory of the Trinity. He only had to show that the God of the Bible is identified with someone other than the Father, such as the Son or the Spirit. In fact, Brown targeted nearly all of his ammunition on showing that the Bible identifies the Son with Yahweh and attributes to the Son things that imply his equality with the Father as to deity (the Son is eternal, creator of all things, shares the glory of the Father, receives the same worship as the Father, etc.). You can review Brown’s opening statement to confirm that this was his main emphasis.

Strange as it may sound, given the specific proposition being debated, Brown could have adopted a modalist position and still won the argument! (Interestingly, Tuggy suggested a few times that Brown was in fact expressing a form of modalism, albeit unwittingly. Even if Tuggy were right about that, it would have been beside the point in the context of the debate.) Brown’s task wasn’t to defend the specific claim that there is one God who exists in three distinct persons, still less to defend some metaphysical model for that claim. Indeed, he expressed reservations about adopting creedal language (“persons”) rather than biblical language. I don’t share those reservations, but again, that’s beside the point here.

All Brown had to do was argue that the Bible teaches the full deity of Christ, i.e., that the Son is divine in the same sense that the Father is divine. In my judgment Brown did argue that persuasively, and Tuggy’s alternative interpretations of the key texts seemed stretched (e.g., Heb. 1:10-12 and Col. 1:15-17 are really speaking about the new creation; the logos in John’s prologue is something like God’s eternal wisdom rather than the preexistent Son who became flesh). For that reason, even while admitting my own biases, I’d say Brown won this round.

Tuggy’s Triad and the Death of God

God's Not DeadDale Tuggy has recently been discussing at some length what he takes to be an inconsistent triad of claims:

1. Jesus died.

2. Jesus was fully divine.

3. No fully divine being has ever died.

He thinks that 1 is beyond dispute for Bible-believing Christians, and that 3 also finds strong support from the biblical affirmations of God’s immortality (Rom. 1:23; 1 Tim. 1:17; 1 Tim. 6:16). He therefore concludes that 2 should be rejected for the sake of logical consistency. That would, of course, require one to reject one of the essential tenets of the doctrine of the Trinity.

I’ve listened to several of Dale’s podcasts on the issue, but not all of them, so I may well be overlooking something here. Still, it seems to me that there’s a fairly straightforward way for a Trinitarian to affirm all three claims without inconsistency. I agree with Tuggy that there’s solid biblical support for 1 and 3, but as I see it there’s an equivocation on the term ‘died’. (I know that Dale has denied any such equivocation, but hear me out.)

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Further Thoughts on Tuggy’s Challenge

Dale Tuggy has replied to my brief response to his challenge to “Jesus is God” apologists. In this follow-up post I’ll clarify the thrust of my earlier response and add some further thoughts.

Dale’s original challenge presented an argument, with premises he thinks orthodox Christians should accept, to the conclusion that Jesus “is not a god.”

I offered a parallel argument as a means of indicating where I think Dale’s challenge goes awry. Dale seems to think that I was arguing along these lines: Michael Rea’s view of material constitution is correct, therefore premise 4 in the parallel argument is false, and hence premise 4 in Dale’s original argument is false. To be fair, I can understand why he might have interpreted my response that way, but that wasn’t quite my point.

As it happens, I don’t endorse Rea’s position on material constitution. I think it’s plausible and defensible, but I recognize that there are some serious arguments against it. I have an open mind on the issue, because it’s a difficult one to resolve. There are competing metaphysics of material objects, each with its own virtues, and it’s a tough debate to adjudicate. And that’s my point — or at least part of it.

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A Brief Response to Tuggy’s Challenge

Dale Tuggy has offered a challenge to those who claim that Jesus is God. The challenge takes the form of an argument, with premises that Tuggy thinks orthodox Christians should accept, to the conclusion that Jesus is not God (more precisely, that Jesus is not “a god”).

Here’s Tuggy’s argument:

  1. God and Jesus differ.
  2. Things which differ are two (i.e. are not numerically identical)
  3. Therefore, God and Jesus are two (not numerically identical). (1, 2)
  4. For any x and y, x and y are the same god only if x and y are not two (i.e. are numerically identical).
  5. Therefore, God and Jesus are not the same god. (3, 4)
  6. There is only one god.
  7. Therefore, either God is not a god, or Jesus is not a god. (5, 6)
  8. God is a god.
  9. Therefore, Jesus is not a god. (7, 8)

So where does the argument go wrong?

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Paradox in Theology

IVP’s New Dictionary of Theology is an outstanding reference work. (Just look at the original editorial team and you’ll see why!) So I was delighted not only to learn that a second edition is in the works but also to be invited to contribute an updated entry for ‘Paradox in Theology’. The editors of the new edition have kindly granted me permission to reproduce the article here.

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Positive Mysterianism Undefeated

“Positive Mysterianism Undefeated: A Response to Dale Tuggy” is the paper I presented at the EPS Annual Meeting last November. It’s too long as it stands, and some of the arguments need further development (perhaps in separate papers), but I’m posting it online because a number of people have asked about it and I’d like to get more feedback on it. I’ve already received some valuable critical comments from several folk, including Dale. Comments welcome below or via email (contact details here).

Gordon Clark’s Paradoxical View of the Trinity

Some years ago I wrote a short article defending some of Van Til’s remarks on the Trinity and offering some criticisms of Gordon Clark’s view of the Trinity. In that article I noted a point of disagreement with Steve Hays. Whereas Steve had argued that Clark’s view reduces to modalism, I argued that his position is clearly a form of social trinitarianism (which I’ve contended elsewhere is not a form of monotheism and is thus unacceptable as an interpretation of orthodox trinitarian doctrine).

Well, after re-reading some of Clark’s writings on this issue, I’ve changed my mind. I’m happy to report that I no longer disagree with Steve. But that’s not to say I’ve abandoned my earlier conclusion. Rather, I now think we were both right (which is a much more agreeable position to take).

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Response to Gary Crampton

The December 2009 issue of The Trinity Review featured a review of my book. The review, which is highly critical, was written by Gary Crampton. I’ve posted a response on my website. It’s lengthy and forthright; but given the serious deficiencies of the review, it had to be.

I have copied below the section on Gordon Clark’s treatments of the Trinity and the Incarnation, because it may be of wider interest.

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This is the Voice of the Mysterians…

The Maverick Philosopher, Bill Vallicella, has turned his attention to the doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation in recent weeks. In one post he makes a preliminary critique of “Negative and Positive Trinitarian Mysterianism”, drawing on Dale Tuggy’s excellent “Trinity” article in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Since Dale’s article discusses my defense of theological paradox under the heading of “Positive Mysterianism” I decided that any self-respecting Mysterian ought to speak up in his own defense — and I did so, here and here. The whole comment thread is worth a read.

Update 1: The conversation continues here, on the question of whether materialists can also move in mysterian ways.

Update 2: Further discussion can be found here, on the question of whether inconceivability entails impossibility.

Update 3: Still further discussion here, as atheist philosopher Peter Lupu tries to show that my position leads to theological skepticism, and I demur in the combox.

Update 4: Peter Lupu takes another shot, this time focusing on whether divine revelation could warrant the conclusion that the doctrine of the Trinity is a MACRUE.

Update 5: Peter Lupu strikes again! Does my proposal face the specter of “semantic defeat”? He thinks so; I say no.