On Wednesday March 8th the Analytic Theology Seminar had the pleasure of hosting Ryan Mullins, the Director of Communications and Research Fellow at the Logos Institute for Analytic and Exegetical Theology at the University of St. Andrews. Mullins endured an unbearably long flight across the pond, yet he managed to deliver a stimulating paper that generated much discussion during the second portion of our seminar. In his paper, titled, “Divine Impassibility and the Uninfluenced Love of God,” Mullins made a case for a passible God. He argued that even while granting impassibilists their favored definition of love as benevolence + union, this definition pushes the impassibilist towards a passibilist God. In order to make a case for this thesis he engaged in several moves.
The first move he made was to articulate the doctrine of divine impassibility in a charitable manner. He noted that there are three common themes that make up the core of this doctrine: 1) God cannot suffer, 2) God cannot be moved, nor acted upon, by anything ad extra to the divine nature, and 3) God lacks passions. This last core component of the doctrine draws most of Mullins’s attention. He was primarily concerned with how impassibilists treat “love.” William Shedd, for instance, concludes that God lacks passions, yet God has the emotion of love. Mullins then made his way through various historical examples to explain how impassibilists attempted to attribute love to an impassible God. His survey of how this has been done historically lead him to modify the third core theme of the doctrine to “it is metaphysically impossible for God to have an emotion that is irrational, immoral, or that disrupts His perfect happiness.”
Love, Obedience and Moral Obligation: Reflections on Scotus
Scotus – Divine Command is not the source of our obligation to Love God above all things. Love of God entails an obligation to obey his commands.
This might not be a actually a divine command theory
Scotus – so widely believed to be DCT & V
Scotus’s views do not comfortably bear these labels
Quinn: V – thesis that morality depends on the will of God
Murphy some moral status M stands in dependence relationship D to some act of the divine will A
If this is true – Scotus is not V – some moral obligations that don’t dpend on God’s will, i.e. the moral obligation to love God.
Scotus & Ockham were more liberal about what they thought it was logically possible to do.
According to Kent he is V, Williams he is not, Under Quinn & Murphy he is not, According to Evans he is not either.
A Mitigation Interpretation
A mitigating interpretation – giving reasons why God legislated what he did, etc.
Thomas William’s unmitigated – God can do whatever is logically possible
Scotus – there are necessary moral truths over which God has no control:
Necessary moral truths – are logically necessary
This affects how we should think of the claim that God can do logically possible for God to do (as opposed to logically possible simpliciter)
Scotus – God must be loved
This is independent of the command to love him
From this obligation to love God, we can derive an obligation to obey God’s commands
3.Scotus on the Natural Law
If its part of natural law: first practical principles known in virtue of their terms or as conclusions that necessarily follow from them. If some precept p is part of the natural law then p is necessary in a very strong sense: God cannot make P false
Loose sense natural law – not entailed by but highly consonant with natural laws
He thinks some of the 10 commandments are part of natural law – the first table belong to the natural law in the strict sense, the second table belongs to the natural law in the loose sense
Augustine – we love our neighbor for God’s sake. Scotus might be seen as continuing the Augustinian intstrumentalization of the great commandments.
Second Table – If that good were not commanded, the ultimate end could still be attained and loved (beatific vision), the attainment of the ultimate end would still be possible.
Second table conformity is at best contingent upon achieving the ultimate end
Second table is contingent in the fact that God could have put forth other commands or none at all
First table commands describe precisely what natural law requires
4.The logical necessity of the practical necessity that God must be loved
Deus est diligendus… is a practical truth preceeding any act of the divine will
Conclusion: Scotus thinks that God’s doing or willing anything in any way contrary to Deus est diligendus “includes a contradiction” and is therefore impossible.
5.Logical Modalities a la Scotus
Real possibility: something is really possible if there is a power to bring it about
Logical Impossibility: defined in Scotus’s terms as a certain way in which terms cannot be combined by the mind because of the relationship of terms in a proposition, namely that they are opposed to one another
Logical Necessity IFF its contrary (or subcontrary) and contradictory are logically impossible.
God must be loved is necessary in this sense.
6.God must be loved
A logically necessary practical necessity
What should be loved the most is the best – so God should be loved the most
If we grasp the meanings of these terms we just “see” that God should be loved the most
There is a normative connection between love and the good
God has not choice but to be the highest God, thus he has no choice to be the object of greatest love
7.Logically Possible for Whom?
Its logically possible to hate God, but God can do anything which does not entail a contradiction, God should be able to hate himself. Why not?
A command to hate or to fail to love God is prima faciaie logically possible
Needs to be qualified: Humans, robots, elepthans can kick a soccer ball but pens and parameciums can’t. So do determine logical possibility we need to consider the PHI-ing in relation to the x.
Hating God is logically possible for humans and angels, but for God it is logically impossible.
The terms God & failing to love God are opposed to eachother.
God’s power means – God can do whatever is logically possible for God to do
8.God must love God
His radical voluntarism is more moderate if understood as “God can do whatever is logically possible for God to do.” Vs. “God can do whatever is logically possible.”
God by nature has intellect and will & is therefore capable of happiness + God has no potentiality, so he is happy. Only by knowing God can a person be happy. So God loves God.
9.God can’t command you to hate God
Also God cannot dispense anyone from their obligation to love God.
Where God to issue a command – never love me
Either it would generate a moral obligation or it wouldn’t
If so, he would have a moral obligation to love him and NOT love him. This would be an command in which one would be determined to fail
This is a jerk move, so God cannot possibily will to obligate some never to live him
OR… FRUSTRATION MOVE
God would be frustrated in his legislative obligation
But God cannot be frustrated: he gets what he wants
So He could not possibly issue a command which could not generate a moral obligation
From Love to Obedience
Loving God, is “to repeat in our wills… God’s will for our willing. But willing what God wills for our willing is obedience. So it is necessarily true not just that God is to be loved, but that God is to be obeyed.”
One of the problem of DCT – is that they can’t show there are obligations to obey the command
What we need then is some other obligation to obey divine commands
We are required to love God, but not simply because it is commanded, but because it is logically necessary.
We have this moral obligation that does not depend on God’s will, because it is logically necessary that we love God.
For the past five years Biola’s Center for Christian thought has been holding conferences which have addressed various big questions, such as: “What is Christian scholarship and how should it influence culture?” “How can psychology shed light on the process of spiritual formation” “What are the chief intellectual virtues that promote civil discourse within societies?” “What is the relationship between neuroscience and the soul?” This year CCT’s annual conference revolved around the question: “What is the meaning of love?”
Gathered at Biola’s beautiful campus on an unusually rainy Southern California weekend a wide variety of theologians, philosophers, pastors, psychologists, and social scientists gathered to see if they could make some progress on a constellation of questions related to the meaning of love. The conference, which was held on May 6th-7th, consisted of eight plenary sessions and twenty four breakout sessions. The contributors came from all over the map. There were presenters from Southern California institutions, including Biola, Fuller Seminary, Pepperdine, and Loyola Marymount among others. Presenters also came from institutions from all over the US, including the University of Kentucky, Texas A&M, Baylor, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Princeton Seminary. The fact that so many of the presenters came from different disciplines and different parts of the country made for quite an interesting experience. This diversity really embodied the CCT’s goal of creating an environment in which Christian scholars from a variety of disciplines can work collaboratively on some of the most important issues of our day.
The Conference – A Summary
The conference was kicked off by philosopher-theologian Thomas Jay Oord. His lecture was quite fitting for an opening lecture of a conference on the meaning of love, as his was the only plenary session which explicitly attempted to give a definition of love. During his lecture Oord defined love by saying, “To Love is to act intentionally, in sympathetic/empathetic response to others (including God), to promote overall well being.” He proceeded to unpack the various elements of this definition. The work Oord did in providing a definition of love proved to be quite fruitful as his definition often ended up being a point of discussion in various other plenary and breakout sessions.
Thomas Oord’s lecture was followed by Frances Howard-Snyder’s lecture which was titled “An Ethics of Love and Future Generations.” Here she focused on the second great commandment, “Love Your neighbor as yourself.” She wondered whether this commandment can help us think through the non-identity problem in ethics. Briefly the non-identity problem focuses on the obligations we think we have in respect of people who, by our own acts, are caused both to exist and to have existences that are in some sense unavoidably flawed. Her talk revolved around a thought experiment in which a mother is faced with two choices of 1) conceive a child now, knowing the child will be handicapped or 2) wait to have a child, and know the child will develop without any disabilities. She concluded that an ethic based on the second commandment would allow the mother to follow through with case one. Her conclusions received some intense pushback during the question and answer time, especially from Nicholas Wolterstorff. However, this sort of pushback and discussion embodied CCT’s spirit of civility in the midst of disagreement.
The first two sessions approached the topic from a somewhat philosophical perspective, but the third and fourth sessions approached the issue from the social sciences. Lynn G. Underwood, presented a social science approach to understanding the concept of love. Her lecture focused on research done at a Trappist monastery and the Daily Spiritual Experience Scale, in which four out of the sixteen questions focus explicitly on divine love. Out of her research at the monastery she discovered various practices for strengthening love. Her research on the Daily Spiritual Experience Scale pointed to the fact that those who had higher scores on this scale tended to experience lower burnout rates and tended to report a greater loving attitude towards others. Her findings had some very practical implications for ministers in the audience. Not only did she address some ways to grow in love, but also she addressed some important issues of pastoral burnout.
Bennet Helm’s lecture focused on what he calls “Communities of Respect.” These communities hold each other accountable to certain binding communal norms. His research focused on whether or not this concept of “Communities of Respect” can provide a foundation for an objective morality based on an ethics of care. He provided an argument for how this may be so by turning to Kant who claimed that “concepts without intuitions are empty; intuitions without concepts are blind.” Thus, in Helm’s reading of Kant, the upshot is that objectivity requires grounding of moral theory in experience. Helm’s conclusion seemed to be that the community’s understanding of what ethics of care looks like will be grounded in that community’s conceptual schemes. After the lecture, some concerns were raised as to whether Helm had read Kant correctly and whether this account can actually provide a robust account of objectivity that Helm seemed to be after.
The final plenary session of the first day happened immediately after a dinner reception in which the attendees were served a delicious full course meal. Here Nicholas Woltersorff built upon earlier research on the relationship between love as beneficence and justice by turning to the relationship between love as attraction and justice. Love as attraction and justice are two modes of acknowledging embedded goodness. Thomas Aquinas defines beautiful things as those which please when they are seen or heard. Thus, For Aquinas beauty is a recognition of the embedded goodness of a thing. Thus, Wolterstorff made the connections and argued that in a way, attraction and justice are intimately related to recognizing the beauty of a thing.
Saturday morning’s first session was kicked off by Princeton theologian George Hunsinger. With what might have been the most creative plenary session, Hunsinger compared the work of J.R.R. Tolkien with that of Karl Barth. One would be hard pressed to find other scholarly work making this sort of comparison. The lecture began with an explanation of Barth’s account of agape. Barth’s definition of God’s agape includes four elements: 1) a concern for fellowship, 2) a disregard for aptitude or worthiness in the object of love, 3) it is an end in itself, and 4) it is necessary. He then turned to the mystery of evil in Barth and Tolkien. He pointed out the affinities between Barth’s account of evil as das Nichtige (Nothingness) and Tolkien’s description of the Witch King of Angmar – the Lord of the Nazgul in The Lord of the Rings. Both the Witch King of Angmar and das Nichtige are conflicted and absurd, actual and empty, a symbol of an impossible possibility. The defeat of both of these elements cannot be divorced from longsuffering, which is a crucial aspect of agape.
The final two plenary sessions were delivered by Stephen Post and Alan Tjeltveit. Post argued that a recognition of the image of God in every human being can provide the basis for the practice of agape love toward those whom he called “the deeply forgetful” i.e. those with dementia, Alzheimer’s, etc. Post drew upon his experiences to give real life examples of what it would look like to show love towards this particular group of people. Tjeltveiet showed how a two-way interaction between psychological research and theological insights can shed light on issues which impede love and provide practices which can help provoke love towards others. These practices include being careful how we use the word love, training our emotions, choosing our social contexts wisely, developing empathy, choosing to perceive the worth and goodness of others through God’s eyes, and finally, but perhaps most importantly, allowing God’s grace to develop the virtue of love within us.
In addition to these plenary lectures there were a number of breakout sessions. These breakout sessions covered a wide variety of topics including: medieval theology of love, non-violence and love, definitions of love, love and technology, biblical accounts of love, and philosophical perspectives on love. Most of these breakout sessions were marked by quality presentations of original research and lively discussion after each paper.
Some Thoughts About the Conference…
This was my first time at a Center for Christian Thought conference, but suffice it to say that I walked away from it very impressed. First, the environment was excellent, and I’m not just talking about the venues for the main sessions and the breakout sessions, though they were superb. I’m talking about the tone and feel of the conference. The environment was collegial. There was a real sense that everyone present was there to support one another’s work and research. Though at times some of the responses were critical, they were always critical for the purpose of building up. The environment was productive. Some of the presenters that I talked to really felt as though they received really good constructive feedback during the sessions which will help them improve their work. Also, some new lines of research were opened up for some of the participants. One could hear chatter during the breaks about future lines of research on the subject of love. Finally, the environment was fun. That isn’t usually what you expect from an academic conference, but it was fun nevertheless. There was a sort of lightheartedness that pervaded most of conference. Whether it was Thomas Oord or Nicholas Wolterstorff’s jokes, discussions at lunch over gourmet sandwiches and salads, or the root beer float reception at the end, the conference was quite enjoyable.
But more than being a great environment for the conference, another feature of the weekend that stood out to me was the strength of most of the presentations. Naturally there were a few that were not as impressive (including a couple of the plenary sessions), but most of them did what good research does, i.e. they presented original ideas and/or further lines for future research. A few that stood out to me as being especially strong where Thomas Jay Oord, Nicholas Wolterstorff, and Alan Tjeltveit’s lectures. In my opinion each of these lecturers embodied what the CCT is all about. They were doing serious Christian scholarship which will have further implications for not only the church but for society in general.
Overall, I came to the end of this conference with the opinion that more of these kinds of conferences need to happen. We need more rigorous Christian scholarship that has an eye towards serving the world and the church. We need more opportunities for scholars who take their faith seriously to interact with others who share the same goal if doing scholarship for the sake of the world. We need more venues for this sort of scholarship to happen and to flourish. Although it was my first time at this conference, I see that Biola has a good thing going with the Center for Christian Thought. I look forward to seeing what they have in store for the community of Christian scholars next year.
Saturday’s first plenary was delivered by George Hunsinger. He is the McCord Professor of Systematic Theology at Princeton Theological Seminary. He earned his degrees at Stanford, Harvard, and Yale. He is most noted for being a leading expert on Karl Barth. His paper brought together two, (to my knowledge) conversation partners that have never been brought together, namely Tolkien and Barth.
Tolkien as “author of the century”
Like Tolkien, Barth can be considered “century’s greatest theologian”
Little work has been done to compare the two
1st – how Barth understands agape, 2nd – meaning of evil, 3- eschatology of agape
Meaning of Agape
Not benevolence, beneficence, compassion
Agape has these but adds – a desire to give oneself, union w/other, self giving for the sake of koinonia
Summary of Agape
God’s loving is concerned w/a seeking and creation of fellowship for its own sake by loving us in JC – God take us up into fellowship/communion that God enjoys as Holy Trinity
God’s loving us is concerned is w/o reference to aptitude or worthiness of the object of love. God’s agape is not conditioned by any prior reciprocity of love. God doesn’t love us b/c we are lovable, lovable because he loves us.
God’s loving is an end in itself. God doesn’t even will his own glory for his own sake, but for the sake of his agape. God loves b/c he loves. His agape is the supreme end which includes all other ends in itself.
God’s agape is necessary. It belongs to him primordially and by definition. Its eternal as God is eternal in his triune life.
The Mystery of Evil in Barth and Tolkien
Convergences exist in their depiction of evil. See Barth and Nothingness vs. Witch King of Angmar – the Lord of the Nazgul
Nothingness – act of cosmic power, destruction, chaos, ruin. Its inexplicable, can’t be explained only described. Origin is obscure, but effects are not. The impossible possibility. Actual yet empty at the same time. God did not create it. God defeats it at great cost to himself. No right to exist, serves no greater good. Not means to some higher end.
The answer to the problem of evil is not an argument but a name
Tolkien’s Lord of the Nazgul captures something of Barth’s Nothingness.
Conflicted and absurd, actual and empty simultaneously,
Good symbol of Barth’s impossible possibility
Image for the paradox of evil, powerful yet hollow at the same time.
Eschatology of Agape
Tolkien writes w/ idea that evil must be fought w/knowledge that we cannot ultimately defeat evil. “We have fought the long defeat.” No victory is complete, evil rises again, even victory brings loss. But the long defeat is not the last word.
There can be no true theology of glory divorced from the theology of the cross.
For Paul agape cannot be divorced from longsuffering
This weekend I will be at Biola’s Center for Christian Thought presenting a paper on the topic of love and epistemology. It is titled: Amo ut Intelligam (I Love so That I May Understand): The Role of Love in Religious Epistemology. Below you can read the sort of long abstract:
Most contemporary discussions about religious epistemology have revolved around discussions about foundationalism, coherentism, realism, anti-realism, basic beliefs, and divine hiddenness among other topics. However, one topic that has received noticeably little attention is the role that love plays in our knowledge of God. This paper turns to the works of T.F. Torrance in order to show how love plays a crucial role in our religious epistemology.
In his epistemological works Torrance presents two basic principles of knowledge: The first principle is that “All genuine knowledge involves a cognitive union of the mind with its object, and calls for the removal of any estrangement or alienation that may obstruct or distort it.” The second principle is that “we may know something only in accordance with its nature.” That is, the nature of that thing prescribes the mode of knowing appropriate to it and determines the way we ought to behave towards that thing. The concept of love plays an important role in both of these principles.
In regards to the first principle, I show that God’s loving act of atonement is what removes the estrangement and alienation from God which prevents knowledge of him. Specifically I argue that given the Holy Spirit’s nature and his role atonement we are enabled to love God and thus to enter into the union of love with God which is necessary to know him. In regards to the second principle I show that this principle entails that in order to know God we must know God in a godly way. Thus given that it is God’s nature to be loving we must approach God in love in order to know him.
Both of these points have interesting implications for the task of theology. The first implication is that only those who love God will be able to have knowledge of God. This does not mean that the person who does not love God cannot hold true beliefs about God, it simply means that these beliefs do not count as knowledge. A second implication is that theologian who desires to know God must be committed to growing in her love for God. This in turn has implications for the personal life of the theologian, i.e. she must be committed to being a part of a community that helps her grow in love for God, she must be committed to loving others as God has loved her, she must seek to eradicate those things in her life which hinder her from loving God, etc.
This paper does not seek so circumvent other important topics in religious epistemology, since discussions about justification, realism, and divine hiddenness are certainly important. Rather it seeks to show that love ought to play a more prominent role in our religious epistemology. By showing this I provide another reason for further research into the nature of love.