Book Review – Our Idea of God: An Introduction to Philosophical Theology by Thomas Morris (Pt. 4)

Last time we took a brief look at Thomas Morris’ argument in Our Idea of God: An Introduction to Philosophical Theology. Today I will wrap up this series by making a few critical observations regarding his method. If you want to read parts 1-3 of this series these links: Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.


Critical Observations

Although one could argue against specific points he makes throughout the book, for example his libertarian account freedom in the chapter on God’s knowledge, I would like to make one critical observation regarding the method that he bases his book upon. As I have shown above Morris argues for a perfect being theology. In this way of doing theology, one fills out the concept of a perfect being by consulting our value intuitions. Using one’s intuitions to fill out our concept about God seems a bit worrisome. First, we must acknowledge that we live in an age of pluralism. We can no longer assume that what I believe is a great making property will be similar to what my neighbor believes is a great making. If as a society we are unable to come to a consensus about what a great making property is, then it seems like the task of describing God might seem hopeless. Thankfully Morris recognizes this problem, and makes it an assumption of this method that there will be some widespread agreement among people as to what these great making properties would be.[1]

So it seems as though Morris can sidestep this problem. By sidestepping the problem he is able to compose a list of great making properties that most people would agree with. One tentative set of attributes that Morris gives includes the properties of being conscious, being a free agent, being benevolent, having knowledge, having power, and being ontologically independent. Perhaps this list of properties is a list that most people would be in agreement with. It might even be the case set of properties is correct, and it really does list out several great making properties that God possesses. However, we might be wrong. I believe that Morris relies too much upon our intuition to form our concept of God. Using our intuition alone to form our concept of God is a dangerous thing, mainly because of the noetic effects of sin. Having ignored the noetic effects of sin, Morris is too optimistic about how far our intuition can actually get us. For all we know it might be the case that it is better to be unconscious than conscious, or to be evil instead of benevolent. Although these are probably exaggerations, we must not ignore that the noetic effects of sin might cause us to form an imprecise, and potentially harmfully incorrect concept of God.

Once again Morris provides a way out of this problem. He admits that our value intuitions might be skewed or distorted, thus we should allow revelation to overturn or correct our value intuitions.[2] I believe that it is a good thing that he allows revelation to overturn our potentially incorrect intuitions. But I believe that since he allows scripture to overturn our intuitions he ultimately undermines the project of perfect being theology.

In the beginning of the book he outlines several specializations of theology historical theology, biblical theology, systematic theology, and philosophical theology. Biblical theology finds it ideas in the Bible. Historical theology studies the development of doctrine and theology over the life of the Church. Systematic theology integrates these two and philosophical theology uses philosophical methods and techniques to do theology. Perfect being theology, a method for doing philosophical theology uses our intuition in addition to Biblical material. However it seems as though the Biblical material serves to correct our intuitions. Thus ultimately all our intuitions must be in accordance with scripture. Thus scripture is the only place where we can be sure of the great making properties we are using. If all our intuitions about great making properties are coming out of scripture then it seems as though we are really doing biblical theology. It no longer makes sense to say that we are using our own intuitions, we are using intuitions shaped by the biblical narrative. So the project of doing perfect being theology is actually the project of applying philosophical methods to biblical theology. That is not to say that applying philosophical methods to biblical theology is not a worthwhile project, however it is wrong to say that in doing perfect being theology we are doing something other than biblical theology.

If we believe that Morris is trying to propose a different way of doing theology then we must acknowledge that Morris fails in showing us a different way of doing theology. However if we believe that Morris is simply trying to show the reader how to approach biblical theology philosophically then we can say that he was successful in achieving his aims. Whatever the case might actually be Our Idea of God, is a book worth reading.

[1] Morris, Our Idea of God, 38.

[2] Morris, Our Idea of God, 43.


Published by cwoznicki

Chris Woznicki is an Assistant Adjunct Professor of Theology at Fuller Theological Seminary. He works as the regional training associate for the Los Angeles region of Young Life.

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