Monday, October 25, 2010

Are You A "Theistic Personalist"?

Baroque Trinity, Hendrick van Balen, 1620, (Si...                     Image via Wikipedia
Over at Ed Feser's excellent philosophy blog, he is going on about the difference between classical theists and the modern types, who are somewhat disparagingly dismissed as "personalists".
The formula ‘God is a person’ is (given the history of theistic thinking and writing) a relatively recent one. I believe that its first occurrence in English comes in the report of a trial of someone called John Biddle (b. 1615), who in 1644 was brought before the magistrates of Gloucester, England, on a charge of heresy. His ‘heresy’ was claiming that God is a person. Biddle was explicitly defending Unitarian beliefs about God, already in evidence among Socinians outside England.
In other words, Biddle’s ‘God is a person’ was intended as a rejection of the orthodox Christian claim that God is three persons in one substance (the doctrine of the Trinity). One can hardly take it to be a traditional Christian answer to the question ‘What is God?’ According to the doctrine of the Trinity, God is certainly not three persons in one person. And when orthodox exponents of the doctrine speak of Father, Son, and Spirit as ‘persons,’ they certainly do not take ‘person’ to mean what it seems to mean for [Richard] Swinburne and those who agree with him. They do not, for example, think of the persons of the Trinity as distinct centres of consciousness, or as three members of a kind. (pp. 59-60)
This quote, from the Answering Infidels site provides an accessible definition of theistic personalism.
First, the problem of evil as it is argued by atheists depends on a certain conception of God. Here we may distinguish between “classical theism” and “theistic personalism.” For a theistic personalist, God is a person like us; he’s just far more powerful. But for classical theists, God is not a person, nor does he have emotions like humans. God isn’t like us at all. A classical theist would reject a concept of God which views him as the sort of being who would come to our rescue when we’re in danger, for this wouldn’t be a changeless, eternal being (and, according to the classical theist, sheer anthropomorphism). A theistic personalist, on the other hand, would reject the idea that God lacks a personality: God has emotions and can rush to our aid whenever he so chooses. My own position lies somewhere in between these two views; however, I lean towards theistic personalism. Thus, if God allows some particular evil, I would argue that he has reasons for allowing it. A classical theist, however, would say that I’ve got the wrong view of God. Both camps believe in a God who is all-powerful and wholly good. They disagree about what it means for God to be changeless. My point here is that most of the arguments used by atheists would not affect classical theists at all, so we need to understand that these arguments, at best, only affect a particular conception of God.
I'm not sure that this definition is philosophically rigorous, but it gives you an idea of what is at stake. Roman Catholicism is wedded to classic theism; modern movements such as pentecostalism are, most emphatically, not. Which of the two ideas is most in keeping with the thrust and parry of Scripture? I would say theistic personalism.

"He who has seen me has seen the Father".  Why explain it away?

I guess that makes me a theistic personalist.

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"... nothing intellectually compelling or challenging.. bald assertions coupled to superstition... woefully pathetic"