One of the most noteworthy developments in contemporary philosophy of religion has been the ingress of Christian philosophers into areas normally considered the province of systematic theologians. In particular, many Christian philosophers have taken up a share of the task of formulating and defending coherent statements of Christian doctrine. In the next three chapters we shall examine briefly a few of the most important peculiarly Christian doctrines which have attracted philosophical attention.
It is remarkable that despite the fact that its founder and earliest protagonists were to a man monotheistic Jews, Christianity, while zealous to preserve Jewish monotheism, came to enunciate a nonunitarian concept of God.
* Originally published by InterVarsity Press in Philosophical Foundations for a Christian World-view by J. P. Moreland and William Lane Craig. © 2003 by J. P. Moreland and William Lane Craig. Reprinted and published by permission of InterVarsity Press, P. O. Box 1400, Downers Grove, IL 60515, USA. www.ivpress.com
On the Christian view, God is not a single person, as traditionally conceived, but is tripersonal. There are three persons, denominated the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, who deserve to be called God, and yet there is but one God, not three. This startling rethinking of Jewish monotheism doubtless grew out of reflection on the radical self-understanding of Jesus of Nazareth himself and on the charismatic experience of the early church. Although many New Testament critics have called into question the historical Jesus' use of explicit christological titles, a very strong historical case can be made for Jesus' self-understanding as the Son of man (a divine-human eschatological figure in Daniel 7) and the unique Son of God (Mt 11:27; Mk 13:32; Lk 20:9-19). Moreover, something of a consensus has emerged among New Testament critics that in his teachings and actions—such as his assertion of personal authority, his revising of the divinely given Mosaic Law, his proclamation of the in-breaking of God's reign or kingdom into history in his person, his performing miracles and exorcisms as signs of the advent of that kingdom, his messianic pretensions to restore Israel, and his claim to forgive sins—Jesus enunciated an implicit Christology, putting himself in God's place. The German theologian Horst Georg Pohlmann asserts,
This unheard of claim to authority, as it comes to expression in the antitheses of the Sermon on the Mount, for example, is implicit Christology, since it presupposes a unity of Jesus with God that is deeper than that of all men, namely a unity of essence. This ... claim to authority is explicable only from the side of his deity. This authority only God himself can claim. With regard to Jesus there are only two possible modes of behavior; either to believe that in him God encounters us or to nail him to the cross as a blasphemer. Tertium non datur.
Moreover, the post-Easter church continued to experience the presence and power of Christ among them, despite his physical absence. Jesus himself had been a charismatic, imbued with the Spirit of God; and the Jesus movement which followed him was likewise a charismatic fellowship that experienced individually and corporately the supernatural filling and gifts of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit was thought to stand in the place of the risen and ascended Christ and to continue in his temporary absence his ministry to his people (Jn 7:39; 14:16-17; 15:26; 16:7-16; Rom 8:9-10; Gal 4:6).
In the pages of the New Testament, then, we find the raw data that the doctrine of the Trinity later sought to systematize. The New Testament church remained faithful to its heritage of Jewish monotheism in affirming that there is only one God (Mk 12:29; Rom 3:29-30; 1 Cor 8:4; 1 Tim 2:5; Jas 2:19). In accord with the portrayal of God in the Old Testament (Is 63:16) and the
1 Horst Georg Pohlmann, Abriss der Dogmarik, 3d rev. ed. (Gütersloh, Germany: Gerd Mohn, 1980), p. 230.
teaching of Jesus (Mt 6:9), Christians also conceived of God as Father, a distinct person from Jesus his Son (Mt 11:27; 26:39; Mk 1:9-11; Jn 17:5-26). Indeed, in New Testament usage, God (ho theos) typically refers to God the Father (e.g., Gal 4:4-6). Now this occasioned a problem for the New Testament church: If God designates the Father, how can one affirm the deity of Christ without identifying him as the Father? In response to this difficulty the New Testament writers refer to Jesus principally as "Lord" (kyrios), the same word which the Septuagint translators used in place of God's name Yahweh. The New Testament writers applied to Jesus Old Testament proof texts concerning Yahweh (e.g., Rom 10:9, 13). Indeed, the confession "Jesus is Lord'' was the central confession of the early church (1 Cor 12:3), and they not only called Jesus "Lord" but also addressed him in prayer as Lord (1 Cor 16:22). This diflErence-in-sameness can lead to odd locutions like Paul's confession "yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist'' (1 Cor 8:6).
Furthermore, the New Testament church, not content with use of divine nomenclature for Christ, also ascribed to him God's role as the Creator and Sustainer of all reality apart from God (Col 1:15-20; Heb 1:1-4; Jn 1:1-3). In places restraint is thrown to the winds, and Jesus is explicitly affirmed to be (ho) theos (Jn 1:1, 18; 20:28; Rom 9:5; Tit 2:13; Heb 1:8-12; 1 Jn 5:20). Noting that the oldest Christian sermon, the oldest account of a Christian martyr, the oldest pagan report of the church, and the oldest liturgical prayer (1 Cor 16:22) all refer to Christ as Lord and God, Jaroslav Pelikan, the great historian of Christian thought, concludes, "Clearly it was the message of what the church believed and taught that 'God' was an appropriate name for Jesus Christ.''2
Finally, the Holy Spirit, who is also identified as God (Acts 5:3-4) and the Spirit of God (Mt 12:28; 1 Cor 6:11), is conceived as personally distinct from both the Father and the Son (Mt 28:19; Lk 11:13; Jn 14:26; 15:26; Rom 8:26-27; 2 Cor 13:13; 1 Pet 1:1-2). As these and other passages make clear, the Holy Spirit is not an impersonal force, but a personal reality who teaches and intercedes for believers, who possesses a mind, who can be grieved and lied to, and who is ranked as an equal partner with the Father and the Son.
In short, the New Testament church was sure that only one God exists. But they also believed that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, while personally distinct, all deserve to be called God. The challenge facing the postapostolic church was how to make sense of these affirmations. How could the Father, Son and Holy Spirit each be God without there being either three Gods or only one person?
2 Jaroslav Pelikan, The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine, vol. 1: The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition (100—600) (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press,
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