Revelation and Response

According to both Stump and Lucas, the moral heart of any Christian doctrine of atonement lies in the way in which the Incarnation and the gift of the Spirit enable God's costly, forgiving love to penetrate and transform sinners and draw them into the triune life and energy of God. The question still arises, however, whether all this can only take effect where the revelation of God's love in Christ becomes the object of explicit response. This was certainly the case on Swinburne's view...

Does Life after Death Make Sense

So far, in considering the question 'Is death the end ', the meaningfulness of the idea of survival has been presupposed. This was true whether we were thinking of philosophical arguments for immortality, theological arguments why God might or must raise the dead or empirical claims for some communication from beyond the grave. In turning to the question of the coherence of the idea of survival, we now examine challenges to this presupposition. The suggestion that life after death is a...

Does Christianity Need a Revelation

This may seem an odd question to ask, given the fact that, apart from its first article on God the Creator, the Christian creed is entirely concerned with what has allegedly been revealed through God's special acts, namely the Incarnation of his Son and the sending of his Spirit. But the question, 'Does Christianity need a revelation ' has been raised, notably in the exchange mentioned in chapter 1 between Maurice Wiles and Basil Mitchell. Mitchell begins his contribution by noting the...

Philosophers and Theologians

Most of the work considered in this book is by philosophers rather than by theologians. In the course of an interesting programmatic essay on the condition and prospects of Christian philosophy at the end of the twentieth century, Alvin Plantinga included a short section on philosophical theology, which he defined as 'a matter of thinking about the central doctrines of the Christian faith from a philosophical perspective it is a matter of employing the resources of philosophy to deepen our...

Revelation as Tradition and Interpretation

A key issue arising from what has been surveyed so far is whether special revelation is held to have occurred or reached a climax in the past, or whether, in Swinburne's words already quoted, 'the revelation goes on'. Any historically nuanced treatment will stress the gradual, mediated nature of special revelation, whether the stress falls on verbal communication or on manifestation through acts and events. The logic ofindirect communication applies both to the developing tradition which...

Evidence for the Incarnation

It will be recalled that one of the three main difficulties which the authors of The Myth of God Incarnate found with classical Christology was the paucity of historical evidence for so extravagant a doctrine. Applying the methods of historical criticism to the Christian scriptures, the only substantial records available, New Testament scholars have often been led to the conclusion that ascriptions of divinity to Jesus Christ are few and late, and intelligible in terms that fall far short of...

The Doctrine of the Incarnation

But what precisely is the doctrine of the Incarnation It is well known that its classical formulations in the creeds and confessions of the Christian Church were the result of centuries of contested debate, and that they remain subject to very different interpretations, not least in contemporary Christian theology. Readers who wish to scrutinize the relevant New Testament texts, and the first agreed summaries in the Chalcedonian Definition and the Athanasian Creed, will find them cited in the...

Time and Eternity

Before pursuing these reflections, we need to consider a more theological objection that has been raised to talk of a future life beyond death. Put crudely, the objection is this if God's eternity is thought of in non-temporal terms, it does not make sense to think of our eternal life, that is, our participation in God's eternity, as life after death. For 'after' is undeniably a temporal term. The question of how seriously, indeed how literally, we should take the word 'after' in talk of life...

Is Death the

All living creatures on this planet are mortal. From the point of view of everyday experience and natural science, human beings, like all other animals, are born and die, each with a limited life span here on Earth. But, for large tracts of human history, all over the globe, most human beings have believed that they are more than biological organisms. Rather, they are composite creatures, made up of body and soul. In world cultures and world philosophies, east and west, the soul, the subject of...

Justification and Sanctification

The Christian doctrine of salvation was traditionally expressed in terms of justification and sanctification. Justification was understood as God's gracious acceptance of repentant sinners, either by imputing, or by imparting, righteousness to them. Sanctification was understood as the process whereby the faithful are refashioned, and made holy, by the indwelling Spirit of the crucified and risen Christ, into whose Body, the Church, they are incorporated by baptism. The two terms justification...

The Resurrection World

The communal aspect of the end state of God's new creation was stressed by Hick in the final chapter of his book, Death and Eternal Life.41 He suggested there, with reference to eastern as well as western thought, that the overcoming of ego-centredness will lead to the transcendence of individuality and the transformation of personal existence into an interpersonal corporate life, reflecting the communal nature of the triune God. This latter point can be made all the stronger, the more we go...

The Tedium of Immortality

Before we proceed to examine the more specifically theological aspects of Christian hope, it is worth pausing to consider an objection to the notion of unending life after death that has exercised a number of philosophers. Bernard Williams, for example, cites the play, The Makropoulos Case (turned into a splendid opera by Jamcek), in which, unknown to everybody else, the heroine has lived on and on, through one relationship after another, for 342 years, in order to bring out the utterly boring...

The Consummation of All Things

The religions of Semitic origin see the world process, in teleological terms, as leading to a final consummation beyond death and beyond history. The Christian creeds conclude with the affirmation of belief in the resurrection ofthe dead and the life ofthe world to come. There are many problems that exercise philosophers of religion reflecting on these apparently extravagant beliefs. Are there philosophical grounds for expecting survival Does the notion of life after death make any sense Is...

The Changing Scene in the Philosophy of Religion

When I began the study of the philosophy of religion in the 1960s, the subject had two main emphases a historical element, largely devoted to the interaction, sometimes positive, sometimes negative, between western philosophy and the Christian religion, certainly from Plato to Kant, but then very much in the British and later Anglo-American, empiricist tradition and a topic-oriented element, where we learned to wrestle with the standard problems of the philosophy of religion arguments for the...

Sin Judgement and Forgiveness

The word 'sin' is a religious or theological term. It is not simply to be equated with wrongdoing or alienation, although it can be used in that more general sense. Indeed, Austin Farrer, defined 'to sin' as 'to do the wrong thing in relation to some person'. But, for our purposes here, sin is to be understood as wrongdoing or alienation vis-a-vis God. Swinburne defines it as 'failure in a duty to God'. That definition has to be expanded to include the state of alienation from God brought about...

Revelation as Religious Experience

I have cited Mavrodes's manifestation model of divine revelation as including manifestation through act and event, but Mavrodes himself concentrates, under this heading, on manifestation through religious experience. We turn then, finally, to the idea that divine revelation is conveyed primarily through religious experience. It should be noted at once that this idea is strongly contested in much Christian theology, including philosophical theology. Two German theologians, mentioned in chapter 1...

Identification

Lucas writes 'A better account of the significance of the cross is available in terms of identification.' (We have already encountered the notion of identification in discussing the work of MacKinnon and Adams. ) According to this view, the exchange at the heart of Christian soteriology is this God identifies himself with us by incarnation, so that we may be identified with him by union with Christ. Lucas refers to the key affirmation taken up by the Eastern Orthodox tradition from the writings...

Other Themes In Christian Doctrine

1 See, e.g., David Fergusson, Community, Liberalism and Christian Ethics (Cambridge Cambridge University Press, 1998), and Raymond Plant, Politics, Theology and History (Cambridge Cambridge University Press, 2001). 2 E.g. Hans Kiing, The Church (Tunbridge Wells Search Press, 1968). 3 Philip L. Quinn, 'Kantian Philosophical Ecclesiology', Faith and Philosophy 17 (2000), pp. 512-34. 4 Kant's work (dating from 1793) may be found, in English translation, in the volume of the Cambridge Edition of...

Swinburne and his Critics

Swinburne's Responsibility and Atonement is the most substantial treatment of this chapter's subject matter to come from a philosopher working in the analytic tradition. Swinburne's method, here as elsewhere, is first to analyse in detail the human conceptuality involved in the topic under scrutiny, and then to spell out its theological application. Thus he begins by offering a detailed account of moral goodness, responsibility and freedom, merit and reward, guilt, atonement, punishment and...

Purgatory Heaven and Hell

The one exception referred to above, that is to say, the one aspect of specifically Christian eschatology to have attracted a great deal of attention from philosophers of religion in recent years, is the question of hell. Hell does not feature in the Christian creeds but it has been the dominant view in Christian doctrine down the ages that salvation in and through Christ is effective only for those who, explicitly or implicitly, accept God's forgiveness and open themselves up, in faith, to the...

Revelationbased Arguments for the Trinity

As a matter of historical fact, the doctrine of the Trinity was not developed on the basis of a priori reasoning, but rather as a response to what Christians believed to be divine revelation. The heart ofthat alleged revelation was the Incarnation. Growing conviction of the divinity of Christ led, over centuries although its beginnings are there in the New Testament (cf. the Prologue to the fourth Gospel) to profound and often tortuous reflection on what this meant for the doctrine of God that...

Immortality and Resurrection

We resume, then, the question of how the future life beyond death, promised in the Gospel, is best to be conceived. This brings us to the topics of immortality and resurrection. In a wide sense, as when Christians speak of 'the hope of immortality', the word 'immortality' simply means unending life and, as such, includes resurrection. But, more usually, 'immortality' and 'resurrection' are contrasted, the former meaning the soul's non-susceptibility to death, the latter meaning a divine act of...

The Doctrine of Providence

We turn finally to the second of the two major, non-credal doctrines which underlie all the actual doctrines of the creed, namely, the doctrine of providence. This, as I say, has received a very great deal of attention from philosophers of religion and philosophical theologians in recent decades. Not that the concepts of providence and divine action simply coincide. Creation is par excellence God's action, and as such was discussed in chapter 3 (see especially section 3.1). But the act of...

Priori Arguments for Trinitarian Theism

The chief a priori argument for affirming a plurality of Persons in God is the one already mentioned in the chapter on Creation. If God is thought of by analogy with an isolated individual, some creation or other appears to be necessary for God to have an object of his love. It follows that the supreme goodness of interpersonal relation cannot be predicated of God as such. But the only alternative to making some created object necessary to God, ifGod is love, is to postulate the relation of...

The Uniqueness of the Incarnation

The other main reason for demythologizing incarnational belief was a moral argument in favour of religious pluralism. According to John Hick, a global perspective requires us to give equal revelatory and salvific significance to all the great world religions. From this perspective, the Christian doctrine of the Incarnation constitutes a major stumbling block. For if the Word became flesh in Jesus alone, the revelatory and salvific importance of this event is bound to exceed that of all other...

Tensions Between Philosophy of Religion and Theology

A number of felt difficulties with the whole project must be considered and discussed before we get down to business. In the first place, it has to be admitted that philosophical analyses, and even defences, of Christian doctrine are often not welcomed with open arms by systematic theologians in theology departments or Church seminaries. At times, the latter suggest, in the spirit of Blaise Pascal, that the God of the philosophers has little or nothing to do with the God of Abraham, Isaac and...

Myth Metaphor or Truth

Classical Christian belief in the divinity of Christ was challenged by the Quakers and the Unitarians in the early modern period, by the liberal Protestant critique of the history of dogma in the nineteenth century and at the Girton Conference of the Modern Churchmen's Union in 1920. The much discussed volume, The Myth of God Incarnate, which appeared in 1977, summed up the difficulties found by many modern Christian theologians with the credal affirmations. That book's editor, the...

Identity Continuity and the Soul

If resurrection consists in the new creation, not the renewal or even the transformation of the body, then it is clear that the bearer of continuity and identity across the divide between this life and the next must indeed be something like the soul as traditionally conceived, namely as an enduring spiritual substance, preserved by God's sustaining hand through death and resurrection, death being the loss of the old body, resurrection being the gift of a new, imperishable, immortal 'body'. The...

Revelation as Divine Discourse

Analytic philosophers who have contributed to the debate on divine revelation in recent decades would, nearly all of them, agree with Mitchell rather than with Wiles. The main disagreement among the philosophers has not been over whether Christianity needs a revelation, but rather over the primary locus of special revelation, whether this is best thought of in terms of verbal communication, or in terms of manifestation either through historical acts and events or through developing traditions ,...

Is the Doctrine of the Trinity Rationally Accessible

There are, of course, limits to what can be said about God. In its time-honoured doctrine of divine incomprehensibility the Christian Church has recognized, and taught us to respect, the mystery of God and the incapacity of the created human mind fully to comprehend the divine essence.6 But, as was argued and illustrated in our first two chapters, that does not mean we can say nothing positive and true about God. As already pointed out, the way of analogy7 permits a degree of understanding of...

Arguments Against the Social Analogy

It is time we looked at the objections that have been raised against social trinitarianism. Three scholars, Keith Ward, Sarah Coakley and Brian Lef-tow, will serve to illustrate the other side of the argument. We have already encountered Ward's views in chapter 3 on Creation. Ward frankly accepts the consequences of his critique of social trinitarianism in holding that some creation or other is necessary to God, if God's goodness is to have the form of love. But what precisely are his reasons...

Subjective and Objective Theories of the Atonement

In the history of the Christian Church the spectrum of views on this topic extends from subjective or 'exemplarist' theories of the Atonement, such as those associated with Peter Abelard in the early twelfth century1 and Hastings Rashdall in the early twentieth century,2 to objective views, such as those associated with Anselm of Canterbury in the late eleventh century3 and Gustav Aulen in the mid-twentieth century.4 As we shall see, there is more to 'subjective' views than just the provision...

The Social Trinity and Tritheism

The accusation of tritheism is strongly resisted by defenders of social trinitarianism. We have already noted Brown's reference to the way in which an inseparable loving union of Persons transcends individuality. It is this insight that invites reflection and expansion in this final section of our chapter on the Trinity. Brown himself develops the point in an essay in the Feenstra Plantinga volume. In it, he acknowledges the wide and changing range of meanings of the word 'person', but suggests...

Historical and Linguistic Sensitivity

A little more may be said here about the need for historical and linguistic sensitivity on the part of philosophers attempting to examine and reflect on Christian doctrine. Of course, theologians themselves can manifest historical and linguistic insensitivity. Wedded to a particular school say, that of Thomism the systematic theology derived from St Thomas Aquinas they may attempt to teach a rigid, inflexible 'orthodoxy' that ignores the medieval background, the particular factors shaping St...

The Logic and Metaphysics of God Incarnate

I had already provided an immediate response to the charge of logical contradiction prior to the publication of The Myth of God Incarnate What is the basis for comparing talk of one who is both God and man to talk of a square circle Certainly a square circle is a contradiction in terms. The terms 'square' and 'circle' are precisely defined terms, and their logical incompatibility is obvious from the definition. But 'God' and 'man' are far from being such tightly defined concepts. It is...