A Note on Political Theology

A Note on Political Theology

The Noahic Covenant remains because no place in Holy Scripture abrogates it. On the contrary, it assumes its continuance in places like Romans 13. It’s institution is neither causal nor characteristic of the domain of darkness (1 Jn. 1:5). But neither is it’s administration granted to the Redemptive Kingdom (kingdom of God). This is because the sword is instituted in the Noahic Covenant, and this is nowhere said to be a power of grace and faith but of nature and law.

The civil sphere is of the Noahic administration (or civil/common kingdom), and a necessary part of creation (Cf. Gen. 9). It may contextualize the Redemptive kingdom (the kingdom of God is in the world, not of the world), but its ordinances do not belong to the Redemptive kingdom. Romans 13 gives the “sword” to civil government, “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God (v. 1).” At no point does Scripture grant the powers of the sword to the kingdom of God.

So, there is a domain of darkness (principalities, powers, etc). But distinctly, there are two kingdoms both of which are afflicted by that same domain and influenced by it in different ways, yet neither are ever defeated—the common/civil kingdom being upheld by common grace, and the Redemptive kingdom through special grace.

The common kingdom is the Noahic institution and administration which remains until the consummation and judgment. The Redemptive kingdom is the New Covenant and all which comes through it. The domain of darkness is the realm of the devil and his demons who were defeated by Christ and have been immutably sentenced to eternal damnation. This realm affects both the common and the Redemptive kingdoms at present, yet the common kingdom remains good in itself, and the Redemptive kingdom remains good in itself. And the domain of darkness will be finally extinguished upon the consummation.

The Kingdom & Its Implications

The Kingdom & Its Implications

If God speaks on earth, the people to whom He speaks are obligated to Him. The covenant established at Mt. Sinai was a covenant of law, the violation of which made one liable to judicial punishment. When God speaks on earth, He imposes upon His people a covenant they are obligated to keep upon pain of death. When God speaks from heaven, however, much less will those escape who refuse such a punctuated address. And indeed the way in which the Father has spoken to us in these latter days is through His Son, the Lord from heaven (1 Cor. 15:47). If Christ is refused, no hope remains. God has spoken from heaven through His Son, and in His Son, He has established a greater covenant through which comes a greater kingdom than that which came through the Mosaic covenant. The old things have been, are, and are being shaken and removed. The new things have come, are coming, and will come in Christ Jesus—an economy which will by no means fade away (Heb. 12:22-24).

The Conclusion to Hebrews 12:18-24

Hebrews 12:28-29 begins with a “therefore,” because it is drawing an important practical conclusion from what has thus far been said, “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom…” This is only the third time in the whole of the epistle the term kingdom is utilized. In Hebrews 1:8, it was used when our author quoted from Psalm 45:6, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever; A scepter of righteousness is the scepter of Your kingdom.” It was used in Hebrews 11:33, speaking of the faith who “subdued kingdoms.” And now, it is used a final time in Hebrews 12:28, “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom…” What kingdom? What is the term kingdom in reference to? The term has not once been employed in ch. 12 until now. What, then, could possibly be its significance?

The Identity of “Kingdom” in v. 28

There has been much speculation as to the identity and timing of God’s kingdom. Contemporary speculation on the kingdom of God tends to domesticate and separate the kingdom from Christ and His work, and it fails to account for present-kingdom language used throughout the New Testament. Moreover, it often cannot account for how the Old Testament relates the kingdom of Christ with His first, not second, coming. Some believe the kingdom has not yet been established, and that it is a future-only reality. Others believe the kingdom has been established to such a degree such that there is nothing but the kingdom of God in the here and now. Everything is the kingdom of God, or so it is thought. I do not think either of these positions account for the biblical data. One reason for this is our text, “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom…” The term for “are receiving” is in the present tense. This kingdom is, at present, being received by God’s people. In fact, we could render it more strongly, “Therefore, since we are taking a kingdom…”

The kingdom is something all Christians receive or take in the here and now. But, what about its identity? We know it is present to us. But what is present to us? We have to remember how v. 28 begins, “Therefore…” It is a conclusion. Moreover, this kingdom is one that “cannot be shaken.” We should also remember that vv. 25-27 and its contrast between shakable and unshakable things corresponds to the contrast in vv. 18-24, that between Mt. Sinai and Mt. Zion—the mountain of terror and the mountain of glory. Thus, the mountain of glory and all it entails is one and the same with the unshakable things. And the unshakable things are summarized by our author using the term kingdom. What is the kingdom of God? Verses 22-24 tells us: Zion, heavenly Jerusalem, the church, God, His Christ, the New Covenant, and justification, i.e. the sprinkling of the blood “that speaks better things than that of Abel.”

If this is not the kingdom, it follows that our author introduces an entirely new concept in v. 28. But such a new introduction would not help his purpose. If his purpose is to motivate his audience unto godliness through vv. 22-24, i.e. Mt. Zion and all it entails, he would not introduce something new and altogether separate in v. 28. So, the kingdom, I contend, just is what is described in vv. 22-24—God, His Christ, His Covenant, His people, that is, His kingdom. Some do not understand the church to be God’s kingdom. It is true that the church at present is not the sum total of the kingdom. But the church does constitute the people of the kingdom. “He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love… (Col. 1:13).” Who is conveyed into the kingdom? “Us,” Christians—the church. The church is the citizenry of Christ’s kingdom, and this is made necessary by vv. 22-24 where it is the church who dwells atop Mt. Zion in heavenly Jerusalem. Thus, Christ’s kingdom is now. It is being received at present by all true believers. And the identity of Christ’s kingdom is found in vv. 22-24—the unshakable inheritance of all those who are in Christ Jesus.

Implications of the Kingdom

Yet, our passage moves beyond the unshakable kingdom now to certain implications of the reality of this kingdom. “Since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken,” our text says, “let us have grace…” We are here admonished to “have grace.” And it is this grace “by which we may serve God acceptably…” Apart from grace, it is impossible to serve God in any kind of acceptable manner. And this grace is both justifying and sanctifying grace—justifying, that our works may be acceptable before God in Christ; sanctifying, that we would be enabled to perform such works in the first place. And thus, as John Owen notes, this admonishment to “have grace” is nothing more than an exhortation toward perseverance in the gospel. And it is the grace of the gospel which, in turn, moves us to “serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear.”

By grace, we serve God acceptably. In what manner do we serve God? “With reverence and godly fear.” We need to look at both of these terms individually. The term for reverence (αἰδώς) could literally be rendered modesty. The primary lexical connotation is to have a sense of shame. The idea here is to serve God humbly, having a lowly disposition rather than one that exalts man in a proud or irreverent manner. To revere someone is to observe their superiority to yourself. We revere others because their accomplishments and reputations far outshine our own, and thus they seem special and deserving of our undivided attention. How much more ought we revere God, who is Himself beyond us—our Creator, Sustainer, and Redeemer!

The second term employed is “godly fear.” If read narrowly, this term could almost be synonymous with the term reverence. But “godly fear” denotes more of a recognition of God’s awesomeness, His sublimity, magnificence, etc. To serve God in godly fear is to serve God whilst consumed by the overwhelming glory of our Triune God. For those who stand in awe of a king have no time to disobey—they are too taken by his character and majestic appearance. So too, if we labor to stand in awe of our God through contemplation of the divine essence, less time we have to disobey and much more strength we will have to obey.

An Ominous Reality for Those Outside the Kingdom

In v. 29, our author solidifies this point by returning to the holy nature of God, “For our God is a consuming fire.” This is an application of the terror of God as seen atop Mt. Sinai, “The sight of the glory of the LORD was like a consuming fire on the top of the mountain in the eyes of the children of Israel (Ex. 24:17).” You may be wondering, “But I thought we came to Mt. Zion, where there is no terror or wrath, not Mt. Sinai!” This is true. But those who are without the gospel still relate to God just as the disobedient Israelites did in those days under the law. All those who are without the gospel are, by nature, transgressors. And so all they see, all they will experience with a veiled face, is YHWH shrouded in smoke along with His threats and condemning wrath. The admonishment in v. 28 is to persevere in the gospel. The threat of v. 29 is not a threat of the New Covenant (the New Covenant has no threats toward its members, since it’s unbreakable), but a threat toward those who would not persevere, thereby proving their apostacy and condemnation under the law. Without the gospel, outside the New Covenant, there is only the condemnation of the moral law—the same moral law issued upon the stormy, smoky, fiery Mt. Sinai.

Uncovering Simplicity in Scripture

Uncovering Simplicity in Scripture

The term “simplicity” is not in the Bible. 

Much less is the term “simplicity” as it applies to the divine essence found in the Bible. Like the word “Trinity,” the word “simplicity” eludes those making the demand for an express, biblical reference. So, how do we know if it’s biblical? 

For those just joining the discussion, divine simplicity is a doctrine which states, “God is not composed.” Composed of what? “Anything,” we might respond with every shred of accuracy. However, the classical terminology has been, “God is not composed of parts.” The gist is that God is not an aggregate of anything that is more basic than Himself which makes Him to be what He is. God is not the sum of attributes, properties, or even Persons. The Second London Baptist Confession of Faith (1677/89) puts it this way: “[God is] a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions… (2.1).” We might simply say, along with Dr. James Dolezal, All That Is In Godis God.

Recently, this doctrine has been charged as being the product of nothing more than an over-realization of Greek philosophical categories within the sphere of sacred Christian theology. It is the stuff of Aristotle; and it, if consistently believed, lands one squarely within the bounds of deism—where God is a seemingly lifeless, emotionless, cold deity disconnected from His creation. An additional charge is that simplicity represents Roman Catholic hangovers on the part of theologians like Stephen Charnock and Francis Turretin. After all, the preeminent scholastic defender of simplicity Thomas Aquinas, a Roman Catholic, set out to offer a synthesis between Aristotle and the Christian faith. These are two charges which amount to nothing more than genetic fallacies if taken alone. Simply because Aristotle or Aquinas say or write something does not automatically entail invalidation or lack of soundness in their argumentation. Aristotle systematized the logical system our entire world depends upon for any measure of real-world interaction or productivity; I doubt we want to throw that baby out with his otherwise dirty pagan bathwater.

Nevertheless, such charges have led many, well-meaning Christians to ask the question, “How do we know these doctrines weren’t invented by men? How can we know whether or not doctrines like simplicity are true, sound… biblical?

Exegetical Assumptions

I do not want to spend a great time dealing with the a priori assumptions Christians (must) make before coming to the text of Scripture. But every Christian ought to agree that there are things that must be true if Scripture is to have even an ounce of meaning. First, the laws of logic must hold. The laws of logic determine the impossibility of contradictions actually obtaining. In other words, without the laws of logic, anything would go, and there would be no discernibly objective meaning in the world—Scripture not excepted. Second, the basic reliability of sense perception must also hold. We come to the text of Scripture assuming not only that it exists, but that we, the readers, exist as well. Moreover, we assume we, the readers, can apprehend the supposed object of knowledge—the Scriptures in this case.

I would press further and say that we assume God exists prior to coming to the Scriptures. Scripture itself witnesses both to the universal knowledge of God’s existence in Romans 1, and a compulsory law to obey God revealed through nature in Romans 2. Therefore, there is a God and we must obey Him. This provides sufficient, motivational reason to not only read the Bible, but also to obey the claims of the Bible as well. Furthermore, this God has revealed certain attributes through His creation. Simplicity is a doctrine pertaining to God that can be demonstrated through nature via what has been labeled the neo-Platonic proof by Edward Feser—an argument from composite contingency to non-composite necessity. In his words, “The Neo-Platonic proof is an argument from the existence of things that are composite to a first cause that is absolutely simple or non-composite.”

That all created things are composite, in one way or another, means they are caused, i.e. by their constituent parts. This composition cannot continue ad infinitum up or down. The further we drill down into a thing, the more composite parts we find. The higher up we go, e.g. through the solar system, galaxies, universe, etc., the more composite parts we find. But this cannot go on forever. There must be a first cause responsible for the composition of creation in the first place. And that first cause cannot itself be composed, since in that case it would also need an explanation outside itself. This first thing must be, in a word, simple.

Exegetical Reasons for Simplicity

Even if readers take issue with what I have set forth above, the doctrine of simplicity isn’t only revealed through nature but through Scripture as well. Prior to giving a few exegetical reasons for simplicity, I want to be clear that I assume the possibility of good and necessary inference. According to this rule, there are things taught in the Scriptures that are not expressly set forth. One obvious example is the doctrine of the Trinity. Another example might be a covenant of works in the Garden of Eden between God and Adam. And yet, another example would be language of incarnation, a term not found in Scripture explicitly but necessarily taught by it. These are all terms accurately applied in Christian theology precisely because they are taught by Scripture. But they are taught implicitly in many cases, not explicitly.

Moving on, I want to quickly note how Genesis 1:1 necessarily implies the simplicity of God. It says, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” If God created all things, it follows He is simple. Why? Because that which is composed is composed of parts more basic than itself upon which it depends to be what it is. A thing that depends is caused by that upon which it depends. Therefore, if God created all things, He is not caused. If He is not caused, then He is simple, since to be composed is to be caused.

The next place we will visit is Deuteronomy 6:4, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one!” The natural question is, “One what?” At bare minimum, we should answer, “one substance.” Or, we might say, “one essence.” “YHWH our Elohim, YHWH one!” we might more woodenly render the text. This is, among other things, a substantial statement of identification. The text isn’t only telling us there is one God. That is true enough. It is telling us this God, of which there is only one, is one. This is a statement of identity that could not be said about any created object, human or otherwise. It would not be accurate to say “Josh is one” in this sense because Josh is not one substance per se, but a conglomerate of several substances which go into making Josh what he is. When the Israelites said, “YHWH one!” they were making the definitive claim that their God does not depend upon stuff, matter, parts to be what He is. This was relevant to a godly nation surrounded by idolatrous peoples whose gods were made of wood, stone, precious metals, etc. The shema not only exclusivised the God of Israel as the only true God, but it also proclaimed Him to be uncaused by constituent parts, as the heathen gods no doubt were.

There is an interplay between the doctrine of simplicity and that of immutability. Malachi 3:6 says, “For I am the LORD, I do not change; Therefore you are not consumed, O sons of Jacob.” Malachi 3:6 is not telling us God does not change because He chooses not to change. Malachi 3:6 removes change from God altogether. We could render the text, “For I am the LORD, unchanging…” How does this relate to simplicity? If God does not change, that is, if there is no possibility of change in God, then it follows there are no parts in God. If there were parts in God, we could conceive of there being one or two less parts than there are, which would represent a possibility for change through a subtraction of His parts. In this case, God could change, contrary to the bold claim made by YHWH Himself in Malachi 3:6. Moreover, at bare minimum, a God who could change would be composed of actuality and potentiality. That is, He would be, and He would also have the potential to be otherwise. But since God does not composed, He is not made up of actuality and potentiality, but is only actuality—pure actuality. Therefore, God does not change.

Conclusion

This article is not intended to be an academic treatise on the exegetical proofs for divine simplicity. It is only a primer intended to communicate the presence of exegesis behind this all-important article of orthodoxy. The doctrine of simplicity is not devoid of biblical support. It is not, contrary to common perception, the stuff of over-theoretical philosophers and theologians. It has been featured in the theological work of John Calvin, Heinrich Bullinger, Franciscus Junius, and other post-Reformed Puritans complete with exegetical support and practical application. It is a doctrine upon which the Christian faith stands or falls. If God is composed, He is caused. If He is caused, He is not God. If God is not composed, He is not caused, He is independent, a se, etc., and the hope of the Christian church remains well-founded.

Drink deeply of this far-reaching doctrine, saints.

The Way Jesus Uses Nature

The Way Jesus Uses Nature

Appeals to natural revelation, and thus the assumption of a natural theology, are rife throughout the didactic work of our Lord Jesus Christ. Natural theology, you’ll remember, is the “what,” whilst natural theology refers to our exploration and knowledge of the “what.” If natural revelation is known to any extent, there is a natural theology.

In His parables and teaching illustrations, Jesus regularly appeals to nature. Whether it be human ethics (Matt. 18:28-35), economics (Lk. 12:41-48), ornithology (Lk. 12:24), geology (Lk. 6:8), or botany (Matt. 6:28, 30), Jesus is not afraid to use His creation for the purposes of teaching His audience. Since this is the example of our Lord, we also shouldn’t shrink from doing the same. Keep in mind that Jesus makes these types of appeals to both believer and unbeliever, to His disciples and to the magnitude or crowd.

A (Low) Key Text

In Luke 12:1-12, Jesus addresses the crowd. He admonishes them, “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.” Obviously, Jesus assumes these people can basically apprehend what He is saying to them. This is an “innumerable multitude,” the lion’s share of whom ultimately turn their backs on Him, even lobbying for His death. It appears they were not regenerate people. And even if they were regenerated at some later point, at this current time-stamp in the gospel narrative, readers should not get the sense Jesus understands this multitude to be indwelt by the Spirit in any measure—Pentecost debates aside.

In vv. 6-7, He appeals to two different concepts: human dignity and basic economics—both of which I would argue fall under natural law. Moreover, Jesus makes the assumption His audience has a basic grasp on these two things, and this is abundantly clear when we examine His use of rhetorical inquiry, “Are not five sparrows sold for two copper coins?” The question is Socratic in method, and the price of the sparrows is proportional to the value of the sparrows’ lives. Rhetorical questions such as these are intended to play upon facts already known and assumed by the interlocutor. This is why Socratic questioning is so effective. It forces the other person to answer a question to which they already know the answer. Jesus’ audience, if they would have been allowed to verbalize a collective answer, would have said, “Of course!” And perhaps some did. In which case Jesus’ answer was, “And not one of them is forgotten before God.” Sparrows are cheap. But God’s knowledge is so great, nothing escapes its view.

In v. 7, Jesus says, “But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.” Why is it that Jesus could utilize the assumption of His audience, that there is gradation in life-values, from lower order lifeforms to higher? Why is it assumed that life has value at all? Why should God knowing the number of hairs on these people’s heads be a desirable thing? Why should they care if they are valuable in God’s eyes or not. The only explanation is natural theology. These people know, through natural revelation, that God exists, that He explains their existence, that because of this they are valuable, and that God cares for them. There is a natural benevolence God has for all creatures, and this is seen in His providence—when animals and people alike are provided for. They are valuable in God’s eyes. However, Jesus is about to reveal God’s primal benevolence in Himself when He says, “Also I say to you, whoever confesses Me before men, him the Son of Man also will confess before the angels of God. But he who denies Me before men will be denied before the angels of God (Lk. 12:8-9).”

Jesus further adds, “And anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him; but to him who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven (v. 10).” He is here preparing His audience for the administration of Word and Spirit that would soon tear through that area from the mouths of the apostles, post-Pentecost. Jesus has essentially moved from natural principles, to the gospel, and to the penalty for refusing the gospel. In vv. 11-12, He addresses those who will believe the gospel with the practical application of the theology He taught from nature, i.e. the Father’s benevolence toward those whom He loves, “Now when they bring you to the synagogues and magistrates and authorities, do not worry about how or what you should answer, or what you should say. For the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.”

Conclusion

Apart from natural theology, the assumptions Jesus makes throughout Luke 12:1-12 would be unintelligible to His very own audience. If they could not know that which God has revealed through creation, be it Himself or His law, the first half of the passage wouldn’t make sense, and the second half, consisting of supernatural theology, would be unintelligible. This is just one example where our great Teacher utilizes various aspects of His Father’s world to prepare His hearers for that which He Himself reveals in addition to nature, that is, the beatitude one enjoys in and because of Him alone. Apart from a natural knowledge of God and His will, Jesus’ words would have simply fallen on deaf ears. But nowhere does Jesus make the assumption His audience is ignorant of what He speaks, and He everywhere makes the assumption that they can.

The Failure of ‘The Failure of Natural Theology’—A Review (Chs. 7-9)

The Failure of ‘The Failure of Natural Theology’—A Review (Chs. 7-9)

God sees all other things in continual motion under his feet, like water passing away and no more seen; while he remains fixed and immovable… the centre is never moved… it remains immovable in the midst of the circle; “There is no variableness nor shadow of turning with him” (James i. 17).

~ Stephen Charnock, The Existence and Attributes of God, vol. 1, (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1979), 316-17.

I only wish to observe… that this method of investigating the divine perfections, by tracing the lineaments of his countenance as shadowed forth in the firmament and on the earth, is common both to those within and to those without the pale of the church.

~ John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, (Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 2008), 20.

In the previous two installments, we looked at chs. 1-6, collectively. We have, thus far, seen Johnson reject natural theology. We have seen him claim that God is not actus purus. We have seen him introduce motion to within the Godhead. Along with this, we have seen him misrepresent fellow authors, such as R. C. Sproul and even Thomas Aquinas himself. In this final part, we will see Dr. Johnson continue in all the above; but this time, be on the look-out for specific denials of immutability (though he claims he affirms it), a reaffirmation of Kanitan idealism, in principle, and, most nauseatingly, the location of individual consciousness to within each divine Person (cf. the latter portion of this article). The Father’s consciousness is distinguished from the Son’s, and so on… The book ends in a cataclysmic mingling of analogical and univocal predication, which I will attempt to untangle, at least in part.

By the time I reached the end of this book, I simply didn’t see any God left. All that remained was creature. Such is the end of theistic personalism and/or process theism.

Nevertheless, without any further ado—

The Problems of Divine Immobility

Again, tracing Aquinas’ alleged theological and philosophical errors to Aristotle (the boogeyman), Johnson writes, “because of his commitment to the metaphysics of Aristotle, Aquinas added an attribute to God’s nature that is not revealed in the Scriptures—divine immobility (FNT, 136).” This, of course, is a negative development in the eyes of Johnson. But would Scripture agree? Surely not. “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning (Jas. 1:17).” The term for “variation” signifies only mutability, which Johnson claims to deny. How he mutability in God whilst affirming motion in God is yet beyond me, and is never meaningfully explained in his book. However, the second word, “turning,” refers to the revolutions of the heavenly bodies, characterized precisely by motion. There would be no reason to use these terms together unless one were trying to emphasize a particular way in which God does not change, i.e. through movement or motion, as all other contingency does.

Though Johnson wants to argue against the notion of nature giving us any sure knowledge of the transcendent God-realm, James sure seems to think it does when he uses a cosmological term in order to illustrate the nature of God—analogically of course (we’ll get there). Johnson says, “not only is the concept of divine immobility not compatible with apologetics, it is also incompatible with theology (FNT, 136. Emphasis added).” Yet, he never explains this statement in light of some of the most relevant biblical data we have on the subject. So much, it seems, for the centrality of special revelation. If Scripture occupies such an exclusive spot in theological science, one would think a person who’s entire business it is to defend such a notion—whilst tearing down the opposite opinion—would practice what he “preaches.” As it is, all I see in Jeff’s work is philosophical conjecture, the very enemy he set out to destroy in the first place.

He goes on, “The Bible does not teach divine immovability… [God] didn’t come into existence or need any external power to actualize any passive potency within him. God is God (FNT, 137).” Yet, God did need motion, in order to create according to Johnson, “Because he is not stuck in a motionless state, creation does not have to be necessary or eternal. The self-moving God is free to create, govern, and relate without altering his simple essence in the process (FNT, 163).” Either motion and God are one and the same, or motion is a part in God, a part that is not identified with God, yet nevertheless required by God if He is to bring about a new world. Purely and simply, Johnson has just introduced contingency, or dependence into the divine essence. If motion is God, there is no place for immutability. But if it is a part of God, it follows God depends upon it to do what He does.

Quoting from Herman Bavinck, Johnson tries to further bolster his point, “Immutability… should not be confused with monotonous sameness or rigid immobility (FNT, 137).” This, Johnson believes, aligns his position with historical Reformed orthodoxy. But let’s hold Johnson to his own standard and see if he uses Bavinck in context. Bavinck says—

Scripture necessarily speaks of God in anthropomorphic language. Yet, however anthropomorphic its language, it at the same time prohibits us from positing any change in God himself [ad intra]. There is change around, about, and outside of him, and there is change in people’s relations to him, but there is no change in God himself. In fact, God’s incomprehensible greatness and, by implication, the glory of the Christian confession are precisely that God, through immutable in himself, can call mutable creatures into being (Reformed Dogmatics, vol. 2, 158).

The problem, however, is that Johnson doesn’t believe that an unchanging God ad intra can affect change in creatures. God must be able to move in order to create or change His creation. Lest there be any confusion, Bavinck strengthens his claim on the next page—

We should not picture God as putting himself in any relation to any creature of his as though it could even in any way exist without him. Rather, he himself puts all things in those relations to himself, which he eternally and immutably wills—precisely in the way in which and at the time at which these relations occur Dogmatics, vol. 2, 159).

The misrepresentation of Bavinck on this point is monumental, but it does not stop with him. He misrepresents William Perkins, the father of puritanism, as well. He says, “And Puritan William Perkins identified the life of God as that ‘by which the Divine nature is in perpetual action, living, and moving in itself (FNT, 138).’” But here, Perkins only alludes to the emperichoresis spoken of by Turretin and others. It teaches a mutual and eternal indwelling of the divine relations, one into the other. But this is not to be confused with the perichoretic theology of the Celts, for example. Perkins is not alluding to an intra-Trinitarian movement, per se, nor ad intra, but God as actus purus, or pure actuality (which Perkins, no doubt, affirms). And thus, his mention of motion, in light of what he says immediately thereafter, must be seen as an improper allusion to God as life in contrast to death (“movement” poetically indicating life rather than the contradiction thereof).

Perkins, for example, says in an earlier part of the same volume, “The simpleness of His nature is that by which He is void of all logical relation in arguments. He has not in Him subject or adjunct (Works, vol. 6, 12).” This denies real predication in God, something Johnson denies by applying motion to the divine essence. Perkins says in the same place, “Hence it is manifest that to have life and to be life, to be in light and to be light in God are all one. Neither is God subject to generality or speciality, whole or parts, matter or that which is made of matter… Therefore, whatever is in God is His essence; and all that He is, He is by essence.” Quoting Augustine, he says, “In God… to be and to be just or mighty are all one; but in the mind of man, it is not all one to be and to be mighty or just. For the mind may be destitute of these virtues and yet be a mind.” He concludes, “Hence it is manifest that the nature of God is immutable and spiritual (Works, vol. 6, 13).”

Quite to the contrary does Johnson state, “without differentiation within God, there is no real possibility for God to subsist in three differentiated and distinct persons. In other words, if there is no ad intra differentiation in God, there is no Trinity (FNT, 138).” Richard Muller, however, sets the historical and theological picture aright when he says:

Since the existence of God is identical with the divine essence, Keckermann continues, it must be fundamental rule of trinitarian doctrine that the mode or manner (modus) of God’s existence does not differ from the mode of His essence. It is not as if there can be diverse “things” in God—rather the divine modi existential must be God himself (PRRD, vol. 4, 208).

Turretin writes, “the singular numerical essence is communicated to the three persons not as a species to individuals or a second substance to the first (because it is singular and undivided), nor as a whole to its parts (since it is infinite and impartable); but as a singular nature to its own act of being (suppositis) in which it takes on various modes of subsisting (Institutes, vol. 1, 265).” Neither Perkins, Turretin, Keckermann, or Muller permitted what Johnson called “differentiation” in God, ad intra. This is an entirely a-historical and heterodoxical assertion.

Before he closes this chapter, he returns once more to the alleged war between philosophy and revelation, “This means that neither man, by the use of philosophy, nor God, by means of revelation, can penetrate the transcendental wall that separates God from man (FNT, 147).” Aside from the idealism assumed in this statement, which is not Christian by any stretch of the imagination, one could ask, “But, does one’s hermeneutical philosophy determine what one thinks about the Bible?” If so, then it would seem that the hard and fast separation between philosophy and theology is unwarranted. There are, most certainly, hermeneutical principles not taught in the Scripture which must nevertheless be assumed in order to interpret the Scripture aright, e.g. the laws of logic and even the existence of God (Heb. 11:6).

Alluding to what he will say in ch. 9, Johnson critically summarizes Aquinas, “God may be able to communicate, but his communication is restricted to the use of earthly symbols and physical metaphors… Man’s relationship with God cannot be with the real God that remains locked behind the transcendental wall (FNT, 148).” Note, Johnson never defines what the term real means when he speaks of real knowledge or real relationship, even though this realness characterizes what Johnson thinks is a defeater for Thomas’ view.

The Necessity of the Trinity

Aside from Van Til’s doctrine of equal ultimacy, which I will not get into here, and following some neat biographical facts about Thomas, Johnson begins quoting Dr. Craig Carter. In an effort to make Carter appear as if he rejected any inkling of relatability from creature to Creator, Johnson writes, “a God without differentiation is a non-Trinitarian God who cannot create, communicate, or relate. Craig Carter, for instance, denied God’s relatability (FNT, 156).” He then quotes Carter, saying, “The false gods are relational because they are creatures; Yahweh is not relational because he is not a creature. Therefore, to worship a relational god is to worship the creature rather than the Creator, which is Paul’s definition of idolatry in Romans 1:22 (FNT, 156-157).”

Carter, however, explains himself quite thoroughly in the interview from which Johnson quotes—

Nicene Trinitarian theology, however, sees the relationality of God to be wholly internal to the simple, perfect, eternal being of God. The only distinction we can identify between the Father, Son and Spirit are the relations of origin: generation and spiration. These relations of origin are eternal and unchanging, and they are part of God’s own being, not ways by which he relates to creation. The missions of the Son and Spirit into the world must not be confused with the processions, which are internal to God (Credo Magazine, vol. 10, Issue 2).

Carter obviously does not deny all creaturely relation to God, as Johnson intimates. Instead, he denies reciprocal relationality between Creator and creature. The creature, in verbal form, relates to God, though God has not undergone change in order to relate to creature. He says in the same place:

The missions indeed involve a relation between God and the world but not in a two-way fashion such that God is changed by the world. As Augustine put it, when God becomes our refuge (Ps. 90:1), the change is a result of our faith. By placing our faith in God, he becomes our refuge, but not because God has changed but because we have changed.

Johnson, while “critically” interacting with Carter, never actually gives Carter the light of day. No matter the fact Carter is only restating what men such as Stephen Charnock have already said, that God, as “the center is never moved… remains immovable in the midst of the circle (Existence, vol. 2, 317).”

Johnson goes on to misuse Turretin as well. He says, “Francis Turretin said there is a clear distinction between the one essence of God and the three persons of God (FNT, 159).” Johnson is here trying to historically vindicate his doctrine of ad intra differentiation. But he is never transparent about Turretin’s intention. “The former,” he quotes Turretin, “is absolute, the latter are relative.” If he were to have proceeded in his study of Turretin, he would have understood Turretin was not speaking ad intra. Turretin says, “but eminently and analogically, all imperfection being removed. Thus the person may be said to differ from the essence not really (realiter), i.e., essentially (essentialiter) as thing and thing, but modally (modaliter)—as a mode from the thing (modus a re) (Institutes, vol. 1, 278).” Turretin further says:

Here we do not have a thing and a thing, but a thing and the modes of the thing by which it is not compounded but distinguished. Again, composition belongs to those things which are related to each other as power and act (which cannot be granted here). Nor can the term composition be applied to God without implying imperfection.

Peter van Mastricht writes, “A twofold difference occurs. The first difference is that through which a person differs from the essence: certainly not a real difference, in which they differ as one thing and another thing (Theoretical-Practical Theology, vol. 2, 503).” From an historical vantage point, then, Johnson’s ad intra differentiation falls flat. From a philosophical or logical one, it is altogether absurd and even forbidden by a comprehensive meaning of Scripture.

Johnson, within the next couple pages, quips, “A system that prioritizes unity tends to end up with a supreme principle of unity that contains no diversity (FNT, 161).” Interestingly, he doesn’t make the opposite charge, that of placing too high a price on plurality, to any similar extent. The fruit of this has been Johnson’s 200-page book, supposedly intended to refute Thomas’ natural theology, but which actually slices God into too many parts to count. By the end, it leaves one wondering, “Where, exactly, is the unity part (Deut. 6:4)?”

He affirms simplicity, but he goes on to differentiate, realiter, between the essence and Persons. Yet, the Persons are still all God. But, if each Person is fully God, and there are real differentiations in God, where is the unity? The divine essence and the Father, for example, are really different. Where, then, is the unity? It’s been entirely swallowed up in Johnson’s ax-grinding.

Johnson, returning to motion, says, “God is not dependent on anything outside himself (FNT, 163).” But the integrity or consistency of this statement in relation to the whole book is tested by the question, “What, then, is the motion in God?” Is it God Himself, in which immutability would be entirely exiled from the equation (because, principle of identity)? Or, is it a part of God that is not God per se, which nevertheless moves God? If so, then God does indeed need something that is not Himself, i.e. motion. Johnson may want to answer, “Ah, but the motion is in God!” But if something is in God, it must either be God, or it must be something not-God, “outside” of God, geographical imaginations notwithstanding (I can’t believe I even feel the need to say this).

Because God is in motion, so thinks Johnson, He is, “free to create, govern, and relate without altering his simple essence in the process.” This statement is never explained. He further says, “God does not have to take on new properties to create; he simply had everything he needed within his immutable, eternal, and triune nature to freely act in time and space (FNT, 163).” Yet, if God acts in time, He must change since time is but a measurement of alteration, variation, motion, and change in general. Johnson clearly thinks God needs motion in order to create, “For once God creates and relates, he then ceases to be the unmoved mover (FNT, 169).”

As I hope you, the judicious reader, have discerned—Johnson’s rejection of natural theology and accompanying conflation of ontology with epistemology has accounted for his sour doctrine of God. He says, “Science is impossible to carry out without presupposing the existence of logic, mathematics, and ethics. Thus, without the right transcendental conception of God, knowledge (all knowledge) is impossible (FNT, 170).” Our knowledge not only grants an epistemological context for further knowledge, e.g. of first principles, it must be correct if knowledge is to exist (be possible) whatsoever. This has led Johnson to affirm immediate natural revelation. God has to be the first thing known in order for anything else to be known at all. But this raises another problem. How is God really the first thing known if it’s revelation we know and not God Himself? In other words, there is still a medium between God Himself and our knowledge of Him, i.e. revelation. 

Johnson could claim the revelation is God Himself, but that would tend to identify creation with the divine essence, i.e. pantheism. And it would also imply a Cartesian-like doctrine of God, that He is pure thought. Or, Johnson could (rightly) admit revelation is not the divine essence per se, but a created disclosure of the divine essence. But this would, of course, negatively impact his doctrine of immediacy.

Analogical Language

This final chapter helps to explain much of Johnson’s earlier confusion. He either does not understand analogical language, or he is intentionally redefining it. He most certainly revises Thomas without warrant, “when Aquinas said all knowledge of God is analogical, he meant that all knowledge of God is metaphorical… (FNT, 177).” Here he never cites Aquinas in attempting to justify this claim. Metaphor is non-literal predication of something. An example might be, “There is a snake in the grass.” This expression usually refers to foul play afoot, a turncoat or some such. But a turncoat is not a literal snake (unless they’re Satan). This is a figure of speech. The snake is metaphorical. But Thomas affirms literal, and thus non-metaphorical, language about God. He expressly says, “Therefore not all names are applied to God in a metaphorical sense, but there are some which are said of Him in their literal sense (ST, I, Q. 13, Art. 3).” He goes on to write:

According to the preceding article, our knowledge of God is derived from the perfections which flow from Him to creatures, which perfections are in God in a more eminent way than in creatures. Now our intellect apprehends them as they are in creatures, and as it apprehends them it signifies them by names. Therefore as to the names applied to God–viz. the perfections which they signify, such as goodness, life and the like, and their mode of signification. As regards what is signified by these names, they belong properly to God, and more properly than they belong to creatures, and are applied primarily to Him. But as regards their mode of signification, they do not properly and strictly apply to God; for their mode of signification applies to creatures.

Johnson has, therefore, blatantly misrepresented Thomas—as he has with other authors. He doesn’t interact with Thomas at all on this point. There are two reasons Johnson believes Thomas thought all analogical predication concerning God was metaphorical—

Reason one: “Thomas believed an infinite chasm separates us from God. Because there is no probation or gradation between the finite and the infinite, our communication of God, from Aquinas’s perspective, is at best metaphorical, if not altogether mystical (FNT, 177).” Yet, as we’ve seen, Thomas expressly denies all language about God is metaphorical. Moreover, Does it seem as if Johnson implies infinity infinitely surpassing the finite is false? The reader can decide.

Reason two: Johnson thinks Thomas thought, “all knowledge of God is metaphorical… because God has no direct access to us (FNT, 177).” What does it mean for God to have direct access to His creatures? I assume Johnson would say, “It means God reveals Himself immediately to all men.” I would then ask the question I asked earlier, “What is the difference between God on the one hand and revelation on the other?” If revelation is not God, but creature, it continues to be the case that God does not have direct access to creatures in terms of “immediate knowledge,” since knowledge is mediated through revelation and not comprehensive of God ad intra.

He concludes, “for these two reasons, what Aquinas means by analogical language is really metaphorical or symbolical language. But this has its consequence—it not only destroys any real knowledge of God but it destroys any real covenantal relationship with God (FNT, 179).” First, I want to examine what Thomas believed about analogy. Second, I want to connect this language to the incarnation of Christ.

First, for Thomas, analogy is not equivalent to metaphor. Thomas develops his doctrine of analogy beginning with the genus of likeness. He distinguished between three species of likeness: equal likeness, imperfect likeness, and analogical likeness. Equal likeness refers to two things that are, for example, equally white in color. Imperfect likeness refers to two things that are similar, as two white objects, while one is perhaps more vividly white than the other. And analogical likeness refers to two things bearing similarity, not equally noror imperfectly (as if differing on a scale), but generically. For example, existence is common to all. But whereas God has existence of Himself versus creatures participating in existence, Creator and creature share existence, but not according to the formality of a genus. God is not located within a genus, creatures are (ST, I, Q. 4, Art. 3). Thus, there is something like existence in God though it surpasses our mental capacity to define it univocally because, again, God is not in a genus among other genera, distinguished by traits, properties, parts, factors, etc.

In trying to explain his version of analogy, Johnson says that any two analogically related things must have a point of real similarity. He never defines real in this context. I can only guess he meant a “point of identity,” as his comparison shows: “For example,” he says, “oranges and apples are different but similar—they are analogous. They are analogous in that they are different types of fruit, but they are both round pieces of fruit. The real point of similarity is that the word round and the word fruit carry the same meaning for both oranges and apples (FNT, 182).” But what Johnson just described is univocal, not analogical predication. This is because apples and oranges are in the same genus (fruit), and they bear a likeness of equality (roundness). This is definitionally univocal, not analogical. Johnson not only thinks creatures are like God, but also that God is like creatures. I reply, then, with Thomas, “Although it may be admitted that creatures are in some sort like God, it must nowise be admitted that God is like creatures.”

My point is not to write an essay on Thomas’ philosophy of language, but to show to what extent Johnson neglected meaningful interaction with Thomas on this point. It also illustrates Johnson’s implicit assumption that God is just a bigger, better creature, belonging to within a genus like humans.

While much more could be explored and discussed in relation to this chapter, I must end by looking at perhaps one of the most important—and most dangerous—statements in the whole book. Under the heading, “The Trinity Is the Reason God is Immanent and Relational,” Johnson says:

Thomas’s understanding of the Trinity does not allow for the Father, the Son, or the Holy Spirit to have their own distinct self-awareness. And without each of the three persons being self-aware, there can be no communication or interaction (FNT, 185).

How this does not end Johnson in tritheism, I do not know. What would the ontological difference be between Jeff’s conception of the Trinity on the one hand, and tritheism on the other? But there is yet a further implication, that being upon the incarnation of the Son of God. If self-consciousness is a property of the Person, as Johnson thinks of it, i.e. “their own distinct self-awareness,” then one should ask, “How could Jesus have a human consciousness?”

Remember, the incarnation does not posit two Persons in Christ (Nestorianism), but two natures united in the Person of Christ. Christ’s human traits all accrue to that human nature, such as a human mind or soul, and a human body. This means Christ, in His human nature, has a human intellect, will, consciousness, etc. But when Johnson makes consciousness a property of the Person, it is no longer a property of nature. This means Christ’s human nature would not be furnished with human consciousness. It would need to be personal in order for that to be the case, lending credence to some form of Nestorianism, or two-Person Christology.

This is a sad state of affairs indeed.

Conclusion

This project has essentially been one of reviewing an unreviewable book.

On the one hand, it is unreviewable because it would really require me or someone else to write another book just to correct Johnson’s errors. Yet, on the other hand, since this book is written at a more popular level, I felt the need to address the more serious and obvious issues. From blatant misrepresentation to unorthodox views on theology proper, brother Johnson, I hope, will be encouraged to rethink much of what he has written. I do pray there are people in his life that will respond to this volume with much love and a willingness to clearly address many of these things to him stoma pros stoma (2 Jn. 12).

Moreover, I want my readers to understand that I had no intention of “stirring the pot.” And, had it not been for its more popular appeal, I would not have been so anxious to review this unreviewable book. However, I could only think of my own congregation. Whether they will study these reviews at length is beside the point. I only wanted to have some developed response prepared for when these errors Johnson currently promotes come knocking on the doors of my church. This project, chiefly, aimed at protecting my particular flock. If it can be of use to other pastors and congregations, thanks be to God.

Semper Reformanda.

The Failure of ‘The Failure of Natural Theology’—A Review (Chs. 4-6)

The Failure of ‘The Failure of Natural Theology’—A Review (Chs. 4-6)

With respect to the previous post, I’d say the main takeaway was this: Johnson implicated a want in God. A less archaic way of saying the same: God, thinks Johnson, is in need of motion in order to create the world. The belief in this divine need diminishes in no wise throughout the next three chapters, as we will see.

Before I get started, I would like to address those who have begun their criticisms by saying, “You haven’t read the whole book yet!” I answer—You haven’t read my whole review yet. So, what are you doing criticizing my work? My conscience is clear given where I’ve been with similar subject-matter in the past, and also coming from a Van Tillian background. Please, assess my review on its merits as I am attempting to do with Dr. Johnson’s book. As it is, there is nothing new under the sun, and this most certainly is not an original work. If you’ve read Van Til, Oliphint, and Frame you’ve already read Johnson’s book—a claim perhaps to be proven another day.

The following review will critically evaluate the next three chapters, chs. 4-6. I believe you will find that my criticisms of the first three chapters will hold by the time our evaluation of chs. 4-6 is complete. With that said, let’s get started— 

The (Relevance?) of Pseudo-Dionysius’ Natural Theology

Johnson’s main point in writing this chapter is not to criticize natural theology or Thomas, but to present a survey of Dionysius’ natural theology. For this reason, I do not have many direct critiques of this chapter. But, in reading the following chapters, one gets the feeling Johnson was setting his readership up to accept a massive genetic fallacy. A genetic fallacy occurs when an argument (or something of the like) is rejected purely because of its source. It would be like someone denying 2+2=4 simply because Hitler once verbalized it in a speech. The validity of said equation does not rest upon Hitler. It is true regardless of Hitler’s character. In following chapters, though it be assumed, it doesn’t seem Johnson actually proves causal relation between Dionysius’ philosophical assumptions and terminology to that of Thomas’. I’m not saying there isn’t one, I just do not think Johnson succeeds in making that connection.

Assuming Johnson’s biographical, historical-philosophical and theological information is accurate, this is a somewhat useful chapter in understanding Dionysius’ thought. Yet, seeing as how this book is not purposed to evaluate and critique Dionysius, one has to wonder why it is in here, especially given the conjectural and spurious connections between Dionysius and Thomas in following chapters.

Because this chapter is more descriptive and not opinionated, I only have a single qualm. Johnson writes:

Dionysius, in his attempt to reconcile Neoplatonism with Christianity, claimed that he did not want to add or take away anything from the Scriptures. Concerning the Scriptures, he asserted, “We strive to preserve its treasure in ourselves without addition, diminution, or distortion” (DN. 2.3). Nevertheless, he completely undermined the objectivity and sufficiency of Scripture by reducing divine revelation to an analogical language that is essentially and completely symbolic: [The Scriptures] enwrapped spiritual truths in terms drawn from the world of sense, and super-essential truths in terms drawn from Being, clothing with shapes and forms things which are shapeless and formless, and by a variety of separable symbols, fashioning manifold attributes of the imageless and supernatural Simplicity” (DN. 1.4).

For those just tuning in, there are basically three species of language or predication: univocal, equivocal, and analogical. Univocal language is predication corresponding more directly to its subject. To that end, it comprehends (to one extent or another) that of which it speaks, i.e. “the circle is round.” The predication is proper to the subject, we might say. Equivocal language refers to a single predicate with diverse subjects, e.g. the trunk of an elephant vs. the trunk of a car. And analogical language predicates true things about the subject analogically, e.g. candle light is like sunlight (but the two are obviously not the same). Analogy communicates likeness.

Johnson has taken issue with symbolic language. Oddly enough, however, words themselves are symbolic notwithstanding. Francis Turretin writes, “words are the types (typoi) of things (Institutes, vol. 1, 1, I.).” Contrarily, Johnson implies there is some more direct mode of communication, entirely evasive of symbology or analogy. To jump ahead, he says of Thomas’ view, “Because there is no probation or gradation between the finite and the infinite, our communication of God… is at best metaphorical, if not altogether mystical (FNT. 177).” It is unclear how Johnson makes a distinction between analogical language on the one hand and metaphorical language on the other. He affirms Scripture uses analogical predication through and through, but he never seems to define its meaning in such a way as to distinguish it from metaphor or “mystical” language.

Johnson’s issue with Aquinas seems to be his (Aquinas’) reluctance to allege a comprehension of the infinite divine essence by finite, creaturely terminology. But this impossibility of finite comprehension of the infinite must be the case since that which is infinite cannot be piecemealed, quantified, or otherwise comprehended by finite creatures. A maxim popularized during the Reformation was, “finitum non capax infiniti,” the finite cannot comprehend the infinite. It was relevant especially to the Romish doctrine of transubstantiation. But, for our purposes here, we must affirm the same with regard to our knowledge of the divine essence. Thomas was right. We cannot know God in Himself because God in Himself is infinite. If we finite creatures could “get our arms around Him,” so to speak, God would not be infinite, and so God would not be God. As Turretin says, “finite and created [theology]… is made to travelers… (Institutes, vol. 1, 2, VI).” This is a reference to the Reformed scholastic division in theology: theology of the pilgrim (theologia viatorum), theology of beatitude (theologia beatorum), and theology of union (incarnate theology of Christ)(theologia unionis).

While much of Dionysius is brought forth here, and while I have no doubt Thomas drank deeply from him, it never becomes quite clear what the necessary link is between the two. Johnson appears as if he wants to implicate Thomas in Dionysius’ errors. But he never succeeds in showing where Thomas adopted Dionysis’ errors in the first place.

The Philosophical Theology of Thomas Aquinas

In ch. 5, there are some odd, one-off remarks made which makes me question some of Johnson’s presuppositions. I myself always tell members of our church, “The Christian ought always be in search of the truth.” My assumption, of course, is that all truth is God’s truth. He is the one who, after all, created the cosmos. Yet, Johnson appears uneasy at the prospect of appropriating all truth into the Christian faith, “And like Boethius, who sought to reconcile Aristotle, Plato, and Christ, Alber [the Great] believed that wherever truth is found, either in Aristotle or in Plato, it ought to be assimilated into Christianity (FNT, 96).” Assuming Johnson sees this as controversial, I could just ask, “Why?” 

If God is responsible for all truth, would not all truth tell us more about God? The Second London Baptist Confession (1677), says, “the works of creation and providence do so far manifest the goodness, wisdom, and power of God (1.1).” Would it, thus, not follow that all truth in creation communicates something of God, and thus finds some place in our theology?

In this chapter, aside from likening the via negativa (apophaticism) to bad directions to one’s house, there are other issues. Continuing his assault on analogical language, which he calls metaphorical (for what explanation, we know not), he says, “our knowledge of God at best is only a symbolic representation of God (FNT, 106).” If language is just theology made explicit, we might follow Turretin at this juncture and respond, “All propositional knowledge and language is significant of that which it signifies. We have an ectypal not an archetypal theology. And thus, we know God in creature-mode.

On the very next page, Johnson begins comparing the Thomistic and Reformed position with Plato’s cave. “Our relationship with God,” he laments, “is based on knowledge, and this, based on a creative picture. It doesn’t matter if God can speak to us or not; we cannot rise above the cave that enslaves us (FNT, 107).” If by “creative picture” Johnson means a creaturely medium, then what Johnson bemoans as an intellectual handicap is prima facie true! The finite cannot comprehend the infinite, and for this reason revelation must be creaturely. I wonder if Johnson would recognize a distinction between God Himself and His revelation. If there is a distinction between the two, it would follow that revelation just is a creative picture of God, because it is creature rather than Creator. Yet, it nevertheless reveals the Creator accurately and sufficiently, albeit not in the way Johnson has hoped for. More on this when we get to ch. 9.

The Fatal Flaw

As with ch. 3, ch. 6 reveals a staggeringly unorthodox conception of the doctrine of God. This seems, once more, to result from Johnson’s bent against anything having to do with the operation of human reason in discerning the existence of God “by the things that are made (Rom. 1:20).” He asks, “Is philosophy—without the aid of revelation—even capable of leading rational people to the same God of natural and supernatural revelation (FNT, 114)?” The question is deficient. First, natural revelation is the object of natural knowledge/theology (what Johnson rightly places within philosophy). Second, that anyone believes natural theology is mutually exclusive to revelation is a canard I’ve already sought to reveal in my previous piece. The object of natural theology, even for Aquinas, are the things through which God revealed Himself, i.e. His works. Against the heretical Socinians, Turretin writes:

The orthodox, on the contrary, uniformly teach that there is a natural theology, partly innate (derived from the book of conscience by means of common notions [koinas ennoias]) and partly acquired (drawn from the book of creatures discursively)(Institutes, vol. 1, 1. 3. IV).

Later, Turretin asks, “Can the existence of God be irrefutably demonstrated against atheists? We affirm (Institutes, vol. 1, 3. 1. IV).” Under article VII of the same topic and question, he says, “The newness of the world with the commencement of motion and of time proves the necessary existence of God. For if the world began, it must necessarily have received its beginning from someone.” He places motion and time side-by-side, because as time is merely a measurement of change, it follows that that which moves is bound or measured by time, i.e. neither infinite nor eternal. After issuing proofs and discussing atheism, Turretin moves right into the locus of divine unity, following the same methodical order of Aquinas (who goes from the existence of God to God’s simplicity).

In identifying what Johnson calls “the fatal flaw,” he writes, “the fatal flaw of the philosophical theology of Thomas Aquinas is the foundation of his natural theology—divine immobility, the idea that God cannot move Himself (FNT, 114).” (And this is a bad thing!?) Johnson qualifies this statement with a footnote, saying, “To be more precise, I would say the fatal flaw lies in Aquinas’s unbiblical commitment that all knowledge begins and is confined to sense experience.” This warrants a bit of a rabbit trail before returning to immobility.

While Thomas believed all natural knowledge begins in the senses, he did not hold that it was “confined” to the senses. For Thomas, there are lower and higher appetites, sensitive and intellectual. Animals, for example, only have a sensitive soul. So, for animals, it would be right to say that their knowledge is confined to their senses. But this is not so with mankind. While knowledge begins in the senses, it does not end in the senses. “Now it is natural to man to attain to intellectual truths through sensible objects, because all our knowledge originates from sense (I, Q. 1, Art. 9).” Thus, the higher considerations of the intellect, while starting with the sensitive powers, certainly does not end in the sensitive powers. We often refer to this as inference. We infer higher truths through sensible objects. Modern empiricists, however, reduce man to beast in assuming all knowledge is confined to the sensitive appetite.

Now, because Johnson wants an immediate knowledge/revelation in man—un-infered or intuited through any kind of process or movement of the intellect—and because Johnson assumes a basic separation between the phenomena and the noumena, i.e. the sensible world cannot give us any sure knowledge of the noumena or God, he says, “No matter how hard Aquinas tried, he could not change the fact that divine immobility is incompatible with the God of the Bible (FNT, 115).” Immobility is a conclusion from the effect of God. But any discursion over God’s works, it is presupposed, cannot land man upon a true knowledge of God. He further says, “Aristotle presumed that what was true concerning motion in the observable realm would be true concerning motion (if it existed) in the unobservable realm (FNT, 116; emphasis added).”

Further elaboration on what he sees to be errors in Thomas’ reasoning, especially with respect to his five ways, Johnson writes, “But who is to say both non-motion and motion couldn’t exist in the Trinity? Seeing that God is triune, could not his essence be without cause, while motion eternally exists within the relationship of the three persons as they eternally communicate their love toward one another (FNT, 116)?” And, “Aristotle assumed that motion would apply the same to an autonomous being as it applies to contingent beings; Aquinas made this same assumption (FNT, 117).”

Johnson assumes Aristotle and Aquinas want to apply motion to God. But this is completely backwards. Whereas motion is creature, Thomas thought, it must be removed rather than applied to God. Thomas was remoting or negating motion—which he held to be nothing less than the actualization of a potential—from the divine essence. Motion, even if self-induced, would require God to be caused by something that is not God. There are basically three options:

  1. God is wholly identified with His movement, in which case there would be no place given for immutability.
  2. A part of God moves God, in which case God is composed and caused to be by said parts.
  3. God is both unmoved and moves Himself at the same time and in the same relationship, a violation of the law of contradiction, the commitment to which would render all predication unintelligible.

In the final analysis, neither of these three options are available to the Bible-believing (Mal. 3:6), orthodox Christian. And this means we must remote or remove motion from the divine essence altogether. 

Furthermore, Turretin believed man was able to draw this conclusion through nature, as was above alluded. Nature reveals a God that is not mobile, but is the cause of all that is mobile. Johnson has committed himself to the same principle error of the process theologians. Rather than remoting creatureliness from God, Johnson wants to understand the essential Godhead in creaturely terms. Rather than understanding creaturely terms to be univocally inapplicable to the divine essence, Johnson falls headlong into affirming a creaturely attribute as proper to the divine essence, i.e. motion. This becomes clear in ch. 8, when he writes, “The Trinity is the only being (because he is both one and many) who can move himself ad intra… For something to be self-mobile, it has to be unmovable and movable at the same time (FNT, 161).”

Among other odd claims in the chapter, Johnson adds, “Natural theology must conclude that it is dependent on divine revelation to go any further than the knowledge of the existence of God (FNT, 118).” This statement comes within the context of Johnson denying accurate, logical inference from God’s effects to God. Just before it, he says, “Just because all contingent things in motion require an external cause does not mean that motion in God, if motion exists in God, requires an external cause.” And remember, he has already said, on p. 116, “Aristotle presumed that what was true concerning motion in the observable realm would be true concerning motion… in the unobservable realm.” Johnson thinks this is a faulty assumption. But if it is a faulty assumption, how could Scripture be any different? If Scripture falls within the “observable realm,” and if Scripture is creature, not Creator, then how could it map the unobservable realm? Kantian idealism has its consequences, and this is one of them. To arbitrarily except Scripture—which is creature—from this problem is to engage in special pleading.

Quoting from Herman Bavinck, he goes on to write, “We have no right… to apply the law of causality to such a first cause, and that we therefore cannot say anything specific about it (FNT, 117).” And he himself says immediately after, “The cosmological argument collapses because it jumps from physics to metaphysics, from science to philosophy, without having any epistemological warrant for such a leap.” There are a few important things to note at this point— 

  1. If there is no epistemic warrant to conclude divine things from creaturely things, metaphysical things from physical things, etc., then how can Scripture, which is ontologically creature, communicate anything about divine things?
  2. The law of causality is but an extrapolation of the law of noncontradiction. Every effect must have a cause (contra John Stewart Mill who thought every thing must have a cause). That every effect needs a cause is an analytical statement because causality inheres in the very meaning of the term effect

We must deny that God is an effect in every sense, because an effect just is that which has a cause. It would be contradictory to say of God, who is not an effect, that He is both uncaused and caused, or unmoved and moved. If this does not apply to our predication of God, it follows the laws of logic do not apply to our predication of God. And thus it would follow predication, biblical or otherwise, is entirely unintelligible. The way by which Johnson tries to reduce Aquinas’ arguments to absurdity actually results in reducing his own position to absurdity as well. For if we are without epistemic warrant to infer of heaven through what is made on earth, it follows that the Scriptures themselves, being creaturely, are altogether ineffectual.

Johnson goes on to ask several questions designed to illustrate alleged incoherence in the notion of an unmoved mover. He begins by saying, “So Aquinas, who sought to integrate the unmoved mover of Aristotle with the God of the Bible, had to explain how the unmoved mover can be the moving cause of the universe (FNT, 121).” Johnson is on a warpath against divine immutability, a la., immobility, and by extension, divine simplicity. He asks questions like, “How can the unmoved mover create anything new?” And, “If God is identical to his acts, how is God not one with his act of creating anything new?” Astounding is Johnson’s apparent assumption that these objections haven’t been discussed for the past 2,500 years. And he hardly interacts with the numberless explanations given, by manifold historical authors, on the point of immutability/immobility and its relation to creatio ex nihilo.

In terms of historical orthodoxy on the point of immobility, Benedict Pictet writes:

From the simplicity of God follows his immutability, which denotes nothing else than such a state of the divine essence and attributes, as is not subject to any variability. We argue this immutability… since whatever possesses all perfection, such is incapable of mutation (Post-Reformed Reformed Dogmatics, vol. 2, 312).

Richard Muller on the same says:

This assertion of immutability is to be understood absolutely denying every sort of mutation, including corruption, alteration, changes in knowing and willing, changes in and of attributes, and changes of place involving “local motion (PRRD, vol. 2, 313).”

Thomas Edwards states:

And so in all the Changes that happen in the World, in the several Ages of it, the case is the same. It is the permanent, and unchangeable Will of God, that he will act and influence on his Creatures, especially Men, as there is occasion. It is his immutable Decree that he will produce such and such alterations in the World, and at such a time. God himselfe [sic] is Immovable and Unchangable though he moveth and changeth all things. We move, not God. We are changed, not He (PRRD, vol. 2, 317).

Johnson’s burden, in this chapter and in others, was to show that mobility was not mutability. He never meets this burden, and as a result, onlookers are completely justified in implicating Johnson in the denial of classical and confessional immutability. And such a denial is contrary to orthodox Christianity, as Turretin writes, “With the orthodox, we maintain that every kind of immutability is to be ascribed to him both as to nature as to will (Intitutes, vol. 1, 3. 11. II).” Quoting Augustine, Turretin goes on, “Whatsoever is changed from the better for the worse, and from the worse for the better, is not God, because perfect virtue can neither change for the better, nor true eternity for the worse.” Also, Turretin denies Johnson’s assumption, that the act of creation requires change or motion in God, “Creation did not produce a change in God, but in creatures… It is one thing to change the will; another to will the change of anything. God can will the change of various things… without prejudice to the immutability of his will because because even from eternity he had decreed such a change.”

In short, if God moves, He is not God. Even if it is so-called “self-motion,” movement assumes a final cause, or that end toward which the object moves. This, even on self-movement, introduces contingency within the Godhead.

Conclusion

The rest of the chapter attempts to deconstruct Thomas’ proofs upon the faulty assumptions Johnson makes which we’ve already reviewed. There is much I could say in defense of Thomas, but in this review, I am not so much concerned to defend a man as I am to examine the integrity of Johnson’s views on natural theology in se and theology proper, both views of which I believe to be soul- and church-destroying.

In this part of the review, we’ve seen clearly Johnson’s affirmation of motion in God. And this, interestingly enough, is seemingly drawn from his rejection of the proofs. Johnson has rejected natural theology, or the first principles. Because of this, he’s landed squarely in a denial of divine immobility, and has rejected the unmoved mover, which has introduced contingency within the divine essence.

Again, Jeff, I pray you walk backwards.