Creation

The first major doctrine of the Christian creeds is the doctrine of Creation. It is a basic tenet of both natural and revealed theology that the universe exists with a derived reality, created out of nothing by the infinite, eternal God. And the first, most straightforward answer to the question 'Who or what is God ' is that God is the maker of the world. In this chapter we shall be looking at some of the contributions made by philosophers of religion to the analysis of what it means both to...

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...

Arguments in Favour of the Social Analogy

Of the writers considered so far in this chapter, Williams, Geach, Swinburne, MacKinnon and Brown all favour the social analogy over the psychological analogy for very obvious reasons. The psychological analogy, despite its venerable pedigree in Augustine and much western theology, contains a fundamental weakness. It seeks a model or image of the triune life of the God of the Christians in the distinctions and relations between, say, memory, understanding and will in an individual human mind....

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...

Natural and Revealed Theology

One recent development, highly pertinent to the theme ofthis whole book, is the challenge that has been made to the traditional distinction between natural theology and revealed theology. This distinction, clearly exemplified by the approach of St Thomas Aquinas, is the distinction between what can be known or rendered plausible by the use of human reason at any place and at any time, simply through reflection on the universally available data of our experience of the world, and what can be...