The “stuff” out of which God is made?

trinityI’d like to share a quick thought regarding a recent ReKnew video blog of Greg Boyd’s. It deals with a Christological issue that we’d prefer to postpone until we’ve outlined his Trinity and Process. But his addressing the question of whether or not the Son was separated from the Father on the Cross provides us with an opportunity to highlight some important differences. Greg concludes that the eternal Son (the Logos) is separated from the Father on the cross. At 3:50 he begins to conclude with, “The love that unites the triune God is greater than their own enjoyment of that unity” and moments later “The separation of God from God on the Cross represents the perfect unity of God with God.”

This, we think, is a miscalculation with wide ranging implications. When we outline Trinity and Process, we’ll show how Greg’s present position amounts to an abandonment of his views in Trinity and Process in which he argues that the relations between Father, Son, and Spirit are essential and necessary and as such can’t be broken, ruptured or vacated by any experience of the world. For example, he says (Trinity and Process, p. 381, n. 64):

“The metaphysical necessity of God’s self-relationality means, I believe, that it is not possible to conceive of the death of the Son as anything other than an expression of the intense love of God’s inner life. This paradox shall be discussed shortly, but it presently needs to be said that this means that all talk about a ‘breakdown of the relationship that constitutes the very life of the Trinity’ such as we find (for example) in Moltmann is, if taken literally, strictly impossible….”

That’s a mouthful, but what Greg is expressing here is the Orthodox belief in the indissoluble relations of Father, Son and Spirit. The triune relations are eternal and necessary and thus are not world-dependent. What they are essentially can’t be emptied or vacated at will. But it certainly looks from Greg’s recent video blog that he now believes the eternal Son vacates his experience of loving relationship with the Father. The Son is ‘separated from’ the Father. The question becomes, Is what Greg’s saying now an abandonment of his views in Trinity and Process? We think so. Is it an implicit abandonment of God’s essential triune actuality? We think so. Greg will surely insist that God is essentially triune and can never become otherwise, but nevertheless the Son is actually separated from the Father. This leads to his conclusion that the actual separation of the Son from the Father must be in some mysterious way their actual unity. Does this work? We think not.

We want to argue that in order for Greg to maintain this, he has to abandon a ‘relational’ metaphysic (a view of God’s essential divine nature as irreducibly relational) for a ‘substance’ metaphysic, something he explicitly advises us not to do in the same video blog. Greg is now (unknowingly) committed to a ‘substance’ understanding of divine reality because he no longer views God’s triune actuality as the actual, conscious, experience of shared loving identity between Father, Son and Spirit. On the contrary, Greg now holds that the Son ceases to share in and be constituted by this experience, and this is only possible if something other than actual, experienced relations accounts for God’s unity. It is now this “something” and not the actual experience of divine persons-in-relation which bears the necessary attributes of God and constitutes his unity. What might that something be? Whatever it is, it isn’t ‘personal relations’ (i.e., the actual experienced enjoyment of the begetting, receiving and sharing of loving personhood). It can only be some divine “substance” or “stuff” out of which God might be said to be made and which is more fundamental to God and God’s unity than the actual enjoyment of loving relations, something more fundamental than conscious experience itself. Grounding God’s unity in this “something” (other than the actual experienced enjoyment of the Three) is what seems now to have transformed Greg’s view of God from an essentially ‘relational’ to an essentially ‘substance’ view. God is essentially something other than the conscious, experienced enjoyment of triune love.

Not good news.

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52 comments on “The “stuff” out of which God is made?

  1. You guys are going much deeper and more mysterious than I dare comment on. Paradoxically, with that in mind, I will dive in with a couple of thoughts. First, if God’s love is truly “self sacrificial” then would it not ultimately require some form of real sacrifice if the situation warranted it? Can the unity of God’s love be destroyed or broken by the sacrifice of it? The enjoyment of that love is expressed in the very separation that was mutually agreed upon by the trinity. The son lays down his life and endures the separation from the Father on the cross in perfect and loving agreement (unity) with the Father and the Holy Spirit. It was for the “joy set before him” that he endured the cross. The loving unity of God transcends the temporal, but very real, separation on the cross. The nature of God in loving expression, or the enjoyment of it, were not suspended by the cross. Rather his enjoyment of it simply took on the temporally revealed aspect of it that was there all along–loving sacrifice. The separation on the cross simply expresses the enjoyment of loving unity in a temporal way. So I can agree with Boyd and you, all at the same time. But, since I dare not comment I will resolve the paradox by lovingly separating myself from this comment. Peace.

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    • tgbelt says:

      Terry, thank you for daring to comment! Excellent thoughts. If I’m following you, I think you pretty much express Greg’s view. And there’s a lot in what you say I’d agree with too. But remember, Greg reduces the Son/Logos to the subjectivity and experience of Jesus. That, we hope to show, is what involves him in some very unorthodox views and what also moves him into a view on God very different from what he argues in Trinity and Process.

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      • I have not read “Trinity and Process” so perhaps I jumped in too soon (The story of my life). It might be good to have Greg Boyd actually answer this post. Didn’t the Logos himself reduce (or as Philippians says, “empty” and “lower” ) himself into and unite himself with humanity in Jesus?
        I like the responses below regarding the separation was only “felt” in his human nature, but I am not sure we can separate the divine and human nature of Christ to satisfy our understanding. I am sure he never stopped being God or ceased to be in essential relationship with the Father. Does separation require the ceasing of relationship or unity? Again if love is truly self sacrificial, then did only his humanity suffer separation? Perhaps that is one plausible reason he took on our humanity. I guess I have more questions than answers. I will watch this post and glean from others who have wrestled for answers to these kind of questions. Thank you for your kind response and respectful dialoge.

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      • tgbelt says:

        Thanks so much for the comment Terry! I promise we’ll wade through things in time. These are definitely deep waters, and I’m learning to swim like the rest. Hang out with us and we’ll get around to the relevant issues.

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  2. Teresa says:

    My son saw this coming about 6 months ago. Greg’s been preaching it!

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  3. Greg lost me when he embraced open theism. I believe the orthodox formulation of the trinity. I also believe that the Son has never been separate from the Father nor will He ever be.

    Great post.

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    • tgbelt says:

      Hang in there Juan! I hope our open theism doesn’t lose you. Raise your glass, Juan. Here’s to “an open orthodoxy”!

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  4. Kurt says:

    Yo Tom, Question: What about the idea that only Jesus’ human nature experienced that momentary separation? If you hold to one person and two natures (human and divine)… Can you say that Jesus’ felt separation shows up at the level of his human experience, while the divine nature is relationally continuous?

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    • tgbelt says:

      Precisely, Kurt. That’s where we’re going. What else does Jesus suffer on the cross but loss of the felt company of the Father? “My God, why have you forsaken me?” But even when epistemic distance is increased so greatly and evidence that the Father has forsaken Jesus demands that he conclude he is no longer his Father’s Son, Christ STILL refuses to step outside his relationship as Son to the Father. As far as Jesus is concerned, he is still ‘his Father’s Son’…”Father, into your hands I commend…” etc. So on the cross Jesus demonstrates that human nature in the natural constraints of its createdness (with its ambiguity and incongruities and appearances–all the stuff that causes us to conclude that we ARE separated from God) can always choose to self-relate WITHIN the truth of sonship. THAT is good news. I think the cry of dereliction from the cross is Jesus experiencing the same apparent absence of God we experience in life but refusing to let the Father’s silence define him. He calls to his “Father,” and commends himself as the Son into his “Father’s” hands. And by whom is Christ empowered not to step outside his identity of Son? The Holy Spirit! The Spirit is present empowering Jesus on the Cross to self-identify WITHIN his identity as beloved and begotten of his Father.

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  5. Shane says:

    Fascinating discussion here. At risk of anthropomorphizing, I’m wondering if it might be helpful to employ the family (relational) therapy concept of cohesion, where families/relationships can fall along a continuum of cohesion, from disengaged (excessive separateness, rigid individual boundaries, too much “I”) at one end to enmeshed (excessive togetherness, diffuse or minimal individual boundaries, too much “we”) at the other. The idea being that the healthiest families fall in the middle, where there’s a healthy balance of separateness/”I” and togetherness/”We” (in what is sometimes called “self-differentiated relationship” or “differentiated attachment”).

    But families/relationships are also commonly assessed along another dimension/continuum, that of flexibility, with rigidity (excessive inflexibility) at one end and chaos (excessive flexibility) at the other. Again, healthy families tend to fall near the middle of the continuum.

    And these two concepts/continua (the former pertaining to the relational/attachment, loosely speaking, and the latter to the instrumental/functional) are cross referenced in something called the Circumplex Model of Marital and Family Systems (http://darkwing.uoregon.edu/~rlweiss/473/section1/olson.gif). The cross referencing suggests that the healthiest family/relational systems aren’t simply going to fall in the middle of the cohesion continuum but will also be flexible in their degree of cohesion (or relational attachment) to one another and, consequently, able to slide to the right or left of center as circumstances warrant (e.g., increasing togetherness during childbirth or tragedy, or allowing for more separateness during adolescence and emerging adulthood).

    So landing the plane here…When it comes to (at least human) family/relational systems, intentionally increasing separateness (lowering cohesion) isn’t necessarily indicative of family/relational ill-health. It can actually be precisely what the context calls for, a manifestation of family/relational/systemic health and security, and in no way indicative of brokenness or jeopardized attachment in the family/relationships/system. If done well, of course.

    And really, our life is designed to developmentally move from dependence (infant on parent, high cohesion) to independence (adolescence and emerging adulthood, more separateness) to interdependence (back towards center in a healthy balance of separateness and togetherness, “differentiated attachment,” mutuality, give and take, etc.).

    The point being that I’ve wondered if the Incarnation might exemplify any of this. It is part of what it means to be human, after all. Or so it seems to me. 🙂 I’ve wanted to do some exploring of potential intersections of these relational/family therapy concepts with the Incarnation (as well as with divine sovereignty) for some time on my own blog and haven’t gotten around to it, so thanks for giving me an excuse to scratch down some thoughts around it. For what it’s worth.

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  6. Jason says:

    This is a very “deep” and fascinating discussion, and one that I am not equipped to enter into except to say that I think we may be making it more complicated than Jesus would have it. As I suggested to Boyd, Jesus’ cry of abandonment is a reference to Psalm 22 and his identification/union with estranged humanity. While I believe that Jesus is truly experiencing the feeling of abandonment in his humanity, by referencing Psalm 22 he is proclaiming to the people that God will indeed deliver him and they will see the salvation of God. Jesus purposefully referenced Psalm 22, a Psalm that the people would have known and would have begun reciting to themselves, to interpret for them what was happening. This is God’s victory!

    I think the Bible is clear that the Father, Son and Spirit can never under any circumstance be separated (perichoresis); and this eternal unity of the Godhead is our confidence that we can never be separated when we are united to God in Christ by the Spirit. I love Boyd and am tremendously blessed by his ministry, but I think Boyd is wrong on this and to suggest any disunity in the Godhead is, I believe, theologically dangerous.

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    • tgbelt says:

      I love Greg too, Jason. A lot. I don’t know anyone–ANYONE–whose ‘mind’ and ‘heart’ are as in sync and on fire as his.

      I’m eager to see him flesh out his ideas. I actually think he’s still in process on some of this and the back-and-forth will help. Good comment about Ps 22. That helps us situation Jesus’ own self-understanding a bit when on the cross.

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    • Jason, I like your reference and thoughts about Psalm 22. It clarifies some things a little more for me. I hope that Greg Boyd will enter the conversation so we don’t prematurely decide he has concluded any of the things alluded to here. I, at least, thought he made it clear (in the video reference here) that he was not suggesting any “disunity” in the Godhead.

      I don’t believe or even see how disunity can or could ever possibly exist in God. It would truly be an theological contradiction, in my view. However, I can still see unity existing in a loving sacrifice that somehow would create a temporal “separation” as long at that “separation” was an extension of and a manifestation of the unity. But, as I read my own words, it seems that my language might be creating a paradox, at least in language. Perhaps the paradox lies in the definition of “separate”.

      Thank you for posting and listening to my “theological wrestlings”. Peace.

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      • Jason says:

        Tom and Terry. I just want to clarify my deep appreciation for Greg. Next to my pastor (first) and Thomas F. Torrance (second), Boyd has been the most influential voice in my and my wife’s walk with our Lord these last few years. I continually thank the Lord that we “discovered” Greg and his ministries. In fact, it is through Boyd’s work (sermons and books) that we have begun to, well, “open up” to Open Theism (or the Openness of the future, as Greg likes to say). His idea of the “flexable sovereignty” of God is very appealing. And every time I hear him speak or read his works we are more excited about our relationship with our Great God and Savior! This is why it is so disappointing and discouraging to hear him speak of the Father abandoning the Son as Jesus bore our sin. Greg doesn’t have to go this far to explain the work of Christ or to show us how how much God loves humanity.

        In Greg’s response to my initial email he suggested that Jesus would not have been capable of seeing himself (or expressing himself) as the fulfillment of Psalm 22, that he would not have cared about this, and that his listeners would not have been able to see this connection. But we see this type of thing throughout the New Testament. The N.T. authors always quote just a short portion of Scripture to make their point because they expected their listeners/readers to know the full context of what they were referencing. And it always has to do with God’s fulfillment of his promises. Jesus himself used this “literary technique” many times in his ministry and his hearers knew full-well what he was saying. It seems to me that Jesus was doing the same thing on the cross, as Matthew, Mark and Luke testify.

        While I appreciate Boyd’s response and his attempt to reconcile his position that Jesus was actually abandoned (separated) from the Father with the biblical testimony that God is One and is forever united, I think his answer is biblically (and maybe logically) incoherent. We can throw the “paradox” card out all we want, but that doesn’t make it so. Sometimes a contradiction is actually a contradiction. I agree with TFT who said, more or less, that if God is eternally Father, Son and Spirit who exist in an eternal perichoretic unity, then any separation between Father, Son and Spirit would by definition bring disintegration to the Godhead. And this, I believe, seriously compromises the doctrine of theosis (both as Orthodox and non-Orthodox understand it), which for biblical reasons I cannot do.

        I think Boyd’s position is biblically and theologically indefensible and because of this I’m afraid some will discount his many other wonderfully powerful teachings about the love of God and his work of reconciliation. Specifically on this point I’m thinking of his teaching concerning the imagination and contemplative prayer/spirituality. I don’t want people to discount this important teaching because they feel he’s playing fast and loose with the Scripture.

        I pray that Greg will be “open” to change his stance on this very important topic.

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      • tgbelt says:

        Jason, thanks for the comments. I share you affection for Greg too. He’s been a huge influence to me through the years and I always walk away from every conversation with him challenged and invigorated. I think his Christology on this point is pretty vacuous. But that’s kenoticism (most versions of it at least) for you. But recall that many Evangelicals are kenoticists of the same sort. It goes right to the top! Millard Erickson himself holds the same view, and he’s Mr. Evangelical.

        It’s increasingly symptomatic of a great deal of Protestantism the more disconnected we are from the Fathers. I was there too. I remember sitting around with friends laughing at the Fathers and deriding their enslavement to tradition. The more I expose myself to Orthodoxy, though, a see a relevant ‘fit’, even with what we like to call God’s “flexible sovereignty.” That sort of flexible providence is perfectly Orthodox. I was just reading Christopher Knight (British Orthodox scholar) on this very point and was completely encouraged.

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  7. Greg Boyd says:

    Heh guys, LOVE the new site! Way to go. And I’m honored your decision to interact with my “Trinity and Process.” Thanks.

    I believe my thought has deepened since writing that work, but it has not essentially changed. The error I believe you make in your critique is that you assume a PERFECT LOVING RELATIONSHIP must be exhaustively defined by a moment-by-moment UNBROKEN EXPERIENCE of unity. What I’ve come to believe is that the relational unity of the Trinity is even GREATER than that, precisely because it is OTHER-oriented and SELF -SACRIFICIAL. The loving unity is so great, it is willing to suspend the EXPERIENCE of unity for the other who needs this (us). Yet, because the horrific suspension is entered into out of LOVE, the suspension EXPRESSES the most profound unity rather than abolishes it.

    I’m afraid your suggestion that I’ve suddenly retreated to a “substance” metaphysics misses the point completely. I can only conclude you’d misunderstood what I’ve said. I COULD perhaps be character with placing a other-oriented, self-sacrificial, loving DISPOSITION over the moment-by-moment EXPERIENCE of unity as more fundamental to the Trinity. But the allegation of a smuggled in “substance” metaphysics is just out in space my friends.

    Imagine if you will a perfectly united husband and wife who had a beloved son who’d been kidnapped and faced execution and could only be saved by the wife freely entering into a momentary state in which she genuinely felt forsaken by her husband. Once reunited with their son, I believe we’d all say their loving unity was all the more beautiful because of their agreed upon experience of separation. Indeed, if they HADN’T been willing to enter into this state, preferring their experience of unbroken unity over the salvation of their son, I think we’d judge their love to be LESS profound, and the two to be less profoundly united , then if they DID agree to it. The fact that they agree to endure this horrific experience demonstrates their loving unity was an OTHER-oriented, SELF-SACRIFICIAL unity, rather than a self-centered and self-serving unity. So too, I see the loving unity of the Trinity as all-the-greater precisely because they were willing to temporarily sacrifice it. Indeed, in my mind, the unsurpassable sacrifice — God experiencing his antithesis — REVEALS the unsurpassable nature of the love — the other-oriented love — of the Triune fellowship.

    And with that, allow me, good sirs, to turn the table. If the Trinity experienced no disturbance whatsoever when Jesus cried out “my God my God,” — i f they just went on in the unbroken bliss of their moment-by-moment experienced unity — then pray tell:
    a) what did the Trinity SACRIFICE in saving us — for it looks like it costs them NOTHING? and ,

    b) how was Jesus’ cry of ABANDONMENT NOT a charade? (Note: IF you plan on pulling either the old “Jesus felt abandoned in his humanity but not his divinity,” or the new “Jesus was quoting the whole Psalm” explanations, I’ll simply register my beef ahead of time and say — in my forthcoming book, I argue they do not work. 😉 )

    Blessings on ya’ll. And again, I love the site!
    gb

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    • tgbelt says:

      The man himself! Thanks for the visit, Greg! I’m out the door right now, so we’ll have to play later.

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    • tgbelt says:

      Just summarizing Greg for my own benefit here:

      * Greg’s present view (that of the temporary sacrifice of God’s actual experience of Godself as triune) is a deepening and not an abandonment of his views in Trinity and Process.
      * The relational unity of the Three is greater than their actual enjoyment of each other precisely because it is ‘other-oriented’ and ‘self-sacrificial’. Their loving unity is so great they are able and willing to suspend their enjoyment of it for our sake.
      * The loving unity of Trinity is all the greater because they were willing to “temporarily sacrifice it.”
      Because this “suspension” or “sacrifice” is entered into out of love, it expresses God’s unity rather than abolishes it.
      * This does not involve a commitment to ground the unity of the Three in any kind of divine ‘substance’. On the contrary, the unity of the Three is grounded in God’s disposition for other-oriented love and not in the actual, unbroken experience of love between the Three. Thus, this disposition is more fundamental to the Trinity than its actual exercise experienced as love (between Father, Son and Spirit).

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      • yieldedone says:

        According to Tom’s summation, Greg holds that…

        “…the unity of the Three is grounded in God’s disposition for other-oriented love and not in the actual, unbroken experience of love between the Three. Thus, this disposition is more fundamental to the Trinity than its actual exercise experienced as love (between Father, Son and Spirit).”

        Greg…meet Greg ala T&P. Emphasis mine.

        “God’s being is defined by God’s eternal disposition to delight in Godself and the eternal actualization of this disposition within the triune life of God. It is the unsurpassable intensity of the beauty of the divine sociality–their shared love “to an infinite degree”–and God’s eternal “inclination” to eternally be such, which defines God as God and thus most fundamentally distinguishes God from creation, for this divine sociality needs no other sociality to be what it is.”
        Greg Boyd, T&P, Page 386

        Two things:
        1) The shared, conscious experience of love between the divine Persons is fundamental to who God eternally is.

        2) The disposition that grounds the Trinity is eternally actualized!

        All this means, Greg, that your current thoughts simply cannot be a “deepening” of your views in Trinity and Process; they are effectively a repudiation of Trinity and Process!

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      • tgbelt says:

        Greg, meet Greg. Exactly!

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    • Alan Rhoda says:

      GB: “what did the Trinity SACRIFICE in saving us?”

      Greg’s question begs a couple prior questions:

      1. Why must the Trinity sacrifice anything to save us? Why does salvation require sacrifice of any sort? (The point here is not to question whether some sort of sacrifice is necessary, though that too can obviously be questioned, but to understand the *why* of it.)

      2. On the assumption that salvation requires some sort of sacrifice, what sort of sacrifice is logically required?

      I’m not sure how to answer these questions myself, but how one answers them would determine to a large extent whether Greg’s question (and the implicit objection behind it) is appropriate.

      GB: “Imagine if you will a perfectly united husband and wife who had a beloved son who’d been kidnapped and faced execution and could only be saved by the wife freely entering into a momentary state in which she genuinely felt forsaken by her husband. Once reunited with their son, I believe we’d all say their loving unity was all the more beautiful because of their agreed upon experience of separation.”

      An interesting analogy, but it’s not clear that the scenario makes sense, especially when applied to God.

      3. Is it even metaphysically possible that God enter into a momentary state in which the Son feels forsaken by the Father? (There are prima facie reasons for doubting that this is possible stemming from perfect being theology and from the idea that God’s essence is perfect Love.)

      4. How could the wife’s “freely entering into a momentary state in which she genuinely felt forsaken by her husband” *possibly* rescue the son in this scenario? (This hearkens back to questions 1 and 2 above. In short, the scenario needs to be fleshed out quite a bit more before we can be confident that it makes sense.)

      PS. I think the whole “relational” versus “substance” metaphysics theme is beside the point. As the term “substance” is used in contemporary metaphysics, God qualifies, on any robustly theistic understanding, as a substance par excellence. Substance doesn’t preclude relationality. It is a precondition for it. As the late W. Norman Clarke once aptly put it: “To be is to be substance in relation.”

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      • tgbelt says:

        Great points Alan.

        On the substance thing, my point (I hope) is consistent with your qualification. By a supposed ‘substance’ I mean something that exists apart from actual (experienced) relation. Now if Greg is going to say that F, S, and SP aren’t fundamentally/essentially an experience of intra-trinitarian (intra-personal) love (i.e., if that can be broken, suspended, or sacrificed), then there must be something else, something other than ‘experienced relations’ that constitutes God’s triunity. That means there’s something more fundamental to God than conscious experience. He calls it “disposition.” That’s fine. But it’s a disposition OF something other than the persons, something behind or underneath them, for the person of the Son, Greg claims, sacrifices this divine disposition. Why do I say that? Because part of Greg’s motivation in all this is the conviction that the Son has to experience the actual consequences of our sin — and those consequences are the rejection and abandonment of the sinner by God, the breaking or rupturing of relationship. Sin must come to “define” God (and for Greg’s dispositional ontology in T&P that means “dispositionally define” God); it must define divinity in its very nature (not just in Christ’s humanity).

        Greg’s reply will be (I’m guessing), “The Son does continue to possess the divine disposition to love IN the experience of alienation from God, since this alienation is chosen for loving reasons.” So “God alienated from God” is constitutive of the divine disposition to be God. God is (among other things) essentially the disposition to deny Godself. And if God isn’t this, Greg feels, he’s not truly “love” at all.

        Whether or not Greg is right, this is certainly a contradiction (not a “deepening of”) his position in Trinity and Process. Greg was very careful in T&P to distance himself from Moltmann’s view (on divine suffering), a view Moltmann expresses in precisely the same terms Greg’s now talking. So Greg’s presently far removed from T&P. I’d like him to admit that much, but I’m not holding my breath. It’s gonna be a long night!

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  8. yieldedone says:

    Hey Greg. I’ll keep this short because it doesn’t need to be long.

    Some quotes from your Trinity and Process:

    “If in fact a non-divine world is not a metaphysical necessity, and if in fact God is a metaphysical necessity — and with God, God’s knowledge and God’s love — then it is necessary that God be conceived of as being self-differentiated and that this self-differentiation consists of God’s social knowledge and love. As necessary, the God-defining social action within Godself must be in need of (contingent upon) no other, but must be sufficient unto itself. God must then be metaphysically defined as just the event of this eternal, divine, self-sufficient knowledge and love.

    The One whose power is this One’s love, and whose love is this One’s knowledge, is the necessary and eternal divine event which structures and internally satisfies, in and of itself, all rationality and which further grounds all contingent being. The contingent relationality, rationality, love and knowledge of non-divine being has its source in the necessary relationality, rationality, love, and knowledge of this social and eventful One. The fundamental purpose for the being of contingent reality…is to express (not constitute) the fullness of the One who has freely, and therefore graciously, called it into being.”

    Following the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, the person of God the Son simply IS the personal reception of the nature and love of God (the Father) in whom the Father’s Spirit ‘rests’ from His ‘procession’ from the Father as an aspect of the eternal event defining uncreated triunity. This is what you, Greg, describe in T&P as the “God-defining social action within Godself” that involves “necessary relationality, rationality, love and knowledge of this social and eventful One.”

    The very least of what this means is that the triune “perfect loving relationship” that involves “rationality, love, and knowledge” is unbroken because:

    1) The perichoretic relationship is uncreated and thus eternal. The person of the Son is immutably uncreated/divine because the person of the God the Father, from whom the Son receives his nature, is immutably uncreated/and divine.

    2) The triunity of God is a “metaphysical necessity” and thus not contingent. God’s self-knowing, self-loving event — in which the Son is a sine qua non — is necessary, not contingent. This means that the Son’s reception and reciprocation of the Father’s love in the Spirit is necessary!

    If what your say in T&P is true, then neither the Incarnation nor the Cross can alter the self-defining unbroken nature of God’s experience of himself as actually related triunely. Am I right on that?

    Regarding your questions:

    a) “…what did the Trinity SACRIFICE in saving us — for it looks like it costs them NOTHING?”

    It costs the Trinity plenty! Via God the Son’s assumed humanity, God-abandonment was a personally (felt) experience of a divine Person. That is huge. As you said, it was the farthest extent to which the uncreated, eternal, metaphysically necesssary God could go to identify with the alienation and suffering that we humans go through. And God did so freely and out of love!

    It seems that you want to judge the merits of Jesus’ work on the Cross by a certain level of personal vulnerability he should or should not have. I don’t think that’s a very good gauge for the beneficence and graciousness of what Jesus did for our salvation. That would be like saying that if Superman saved the world, it would ONLY be meritorius if he was absolutely vulnerable to being killed while doing it, otherwise it wasn’t truly “self-sacrificial” love. I don’t think anyone would say that in that situation. Why in the Cross of Christ?

    2) “How was Jesus’ cry of abandonment not a charade?”

    Kinda the same answer here. The Eternal Son/Logos personally experienced God-abandonment in his fully assumed humanity. It’s not like Jesus’ humanity was in no authentic way a part of the Son’s personal experience. The opposite is what Chalcedonian Christianity affirms! All of the subjective experience of Jesus is personally attributable to God the Son/Logos.

    It seems that you want to consider Jesus’ cry of abandonment genuine if and only if it meant actual separation of the love relationship of the Father and Son. If we used that same logic, we’d end up saying that Jesus work was only worth a fig if death holding Jesus was a genuine possibility. But death could not hold him. Why not? In the end, it goes back to the person who Jesus was. I know you don’t have a problem with that. Why should you have a problem with the former idea if the reasoning is the same (i.e., the uncreated/divine personhood of the Incarnate Word)?

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  9. I will jump in the pool that is over my head, on the deep end, on another reply. But, first let me say thanks to Greg Boyd for commenting and at least potentially clarifying his views. This is actually the first blog of this kind I have interacted with. I have not deeply studied many of the orthodox views often commented on here and quite honestly have to refer to a dictionary more often than I like to admit. I hope this blog will continue the “open” tone of sharing and inviting dialogue with out the kind of posturing that often plagues these kinds of discussions. I have Native American heritage and am in active ministry with Native American people. What I like about the way they traditionally dialogue is the attitude they enter in with. They will present their thoughts and then say “That is how I see it.” or “That is all I have to say.” By this they are not closing the door to further dialoge, just the oposite, they are inviting others to express their thoughts. Not for critical judgment, but for reflection, knowing their own view come from a limited perspective. Often the counsel of many clarifies and opens up new ways of seeing. They don’t listen to others to find ways to counter their views, and they will listen beyond the words to the heart of the person. I, personally, have longed for this in the larger Christian community, but have been too often disappointed. Greg Boyd has renewed my hope as I have watched and listened to the way he dialogues in a respectful way with others. This is a “tradition” I want to walk in. So, thank you for listening and opening this blog. Peace.

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    • tgbelt says:

      Terry, jump right in to the deep end of the pool. We’re all down here together. I promise you this will remain an inviting and safe dialogue. For the record, I think Greg’s done more to get people examining their view of God than anyone I know.

      Like

      • On second thought I think will sit on the pool edge and watch for a while again. Hope no one drowns in the process.. I thought legal language was hard to understand, but this language seems to go beyond that :). Thanks.

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      • tgbelt says:

        Sorry to get so deep. A lot of this conversation, Terry, uses terms (‘dispositional ontology’, etc.) that Greg uses in T&P. It does get pretty philosophical.

        But don’t despair! 8) I’m glad Greg jumped in. It’ll encourage us to break down what it is he’s saying (and why) in simpler ways. That’s totally doable. So in future posts all this will get unpacked.

        Like

      • I think the glory of intelligence is to simplify, non complicate. I will wait patiently for the glory to be revealed.

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  10. yieldedone says:

    FYI. “yieldedone” is Dwayne Polk. 🙂

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  11. Greg,

    It’s not like I need to know that God’s love is that much more intense via the husband and wife analogy. I know God loves me through personal experience and especially his sacrifice on the cross. I think the fact that Jesus came to this hell hole is sacrifice enough. Why does it have to cost the Trinity anything? Who are we trying to prove God’s love to?

    Secondly, when Jesus asks, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” It’s a question, not an assertion. It’s a cry that Jesus felt abandoned as he absorbed just the weight of sin. It’s an identification with all of humanity who would feel isolated, lonely, abandoned, forsaken and hopeless on behalf of you, me, and everybody who would ever feel that way. A question of solidarity?

    Even still, when Jesus quotes Ps 22: 1 the question is answered in vs 24,

    “For he did not despise or detest the suffering of the oppressed; he did not ignore him; when he cried out to him, he responded.”

    To say otherwise seems to turn Rom 8:38-39 on it’s head.

    Like

  12. yieldedone says:

    See if this helps, brother Wildman and others.

    Let’s think of things in terms of “conversation.” Tom and I are saying that it is the unincreasable intensity of intimate, infinite love, joy, and peace in the divine Conversation between the Uncreated Father, the Uncreated Father’s Image/Son/Word, and the Father’s Uncreated Spirit. Interestingly enough, this divine Conversation can rightfully be considered uncreated self-relationship: intra-God conversation. At any rate, Tom and I–agreeing with the the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed and Greg’s Trinity and Process– say that the divine Conversation”…

    1) eternally makes the triune Godhead what it is

    2) gives God freedom from having to create a world in order to be a “conversationalist” and

    3) never, ever, ever, ever stops.

    Tom and I would also say that, on the Cross, God the Son personally experiences a new expression of the Conversation via his assumed humanity in Jesus: an expression where alienating distance from God can be a personally-lived emotional, psychological reality. We affirm that the new creaturely expression of the Conversation does NOT STOP the Conversation itself.

    At present, Greg says that the Conversation between the Father and his Son actually STOPS on all levels at some point on the Cross. Greg also says that this CEASING of the Conversation perfectly expresses the Conversation’s unincreasable intensity of intimate, infinite love, joy, and peace.

    How does this work, brother? Simplify some things?

    Like

    • I think I get your analogy. Your saying that if God is an ongoing eternal and never ceasing conversation, then the conversation can’t be interrupted. If interrupted God would cease to be God, which is impossible and contradictory.

      Do I also hear you say that when the eternal Logos (expression) of God became a true human being, a new expression was created/initiated within the conversation. The new expression in the conversation is human and can experience what humans experience which includes death/separation from God.

      And are you saying that God only experienced the separation vicariously through the now added human expression of the conversation.

      If that is what you are saying, then I am tracking with you to a point. However, if the incarnation was truly a uniting of the divine and human nature, is not that unity inseparable? So that what Jesus actually experiences can’t be separated from what God actually experiences? If there was some kind of human interruption in the conversation, then would not the unity of the God/human nature in Jesus equally share in it? If this is so, then it seems to me that Greg has a point. I don’t know how to reconcile this any more than I have fully reconciled the unity and diversity of the Trinity.

      If you have then, maybe that is why you see something I don’t yet see. Or maybe their is another perspective?

      Throw me a lifeline I might be sinking 🙂

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      • yieldedone says:

        Let’s do this, my brother! 🙂

        Terry: I think I get your analogy. Your saying that if God is an ongoing eternal and never ceasing conversation, then the conversation can’t be interrupted. If interrupted God would cease to be God, which is impossible and contradictory.

        Dwayne: Yes!

        ————————————

        Terry: Do I also hear you say that when the eternal Logos (expression) of God became a true human being, a new expression was created/initiated within the conversation. The new expression in the conversation is human and can experience what humans experience which includes death/separation from God. And are you saying that God only experienced the separation vicariously through the now added human expression of the conversation.

        Dwayne: Pretty much there, brother Terry. It has to be kept in mind that the new expression of the internal intensity of the divine Conversation in play…is the Uncreated, Eternal Son who takin on human nature–becoming a true human being–without ceasing to be uncreated and eternal. See, the whole subjective and intersubjective experience of Jesus of Nazareth is uniquely, directly attributable to the Uncreated, Eternal Son. This means that the Son is one and only personal subject who experiences all of the creaturely reality of Jesus (ie birth, crucifixion, death); neither the Father nor the Spirit personally experience the human nature in Jesus. At the same time, the personal experience of the Uncreated, Eternal Son includes, yet goes beyond his assumed human nature post-Incarnation; the personal reality of the Son is not LIMITED ONLY to Jesus’ human experience. The Son fully experiences both the creaturely reality of Jesus AND his own naturally uncreated reality with the Father and Spirit simultaneously. This is what it means that the Son is one uncreated/divine person with two natures: 1 naturally-possessed uncreated/divine nature and 1 choice-assumed created/human nature. Now, these two experiences in the one Uncreated Son are as distinct as the natures themselves are…and that gets into deeper waters we can get to later.

        Anyways, we are saying that God the Son experienced the felt alienation/separation of the Cross through his fully assumed humanity…and this experience didn’t interrupt the uncreated Conversation that the Son was taking place in the uncreated realm at the same time.

        ————————————

        Terry: If that is what you are saying, then I am tracking with you to a point. However, if the incarnation was truly a uniting of the divine and human nature, is not that unity inseparable? So that what Jesus actually experiences can’t be separated from what God actually experiences? If there was some kind of human interruption in the conversation, then would not the unity of the God/human nature in Jesus equally share in it?

        Dwayne: The unity of the divine and human natures in the ONE Son is inseparable. Just remember how that unity is established: the one Person Uncreated, Eternal Son becomes a true human being WITHOUT ceasing to be uncreated and eternal as God, thus giving the Incarnate Son of God two natures. So, the Son (who IS God) does personally experience felt alienation from God the Father on the Cross as Jesus. In that way, God DOES suffer on the Cross.

        Hope all this helps!

        Like

      • yieldedone says:

        Forgot this important point, Terry.

        Greg is a kenoticist. Evangelical kenoticists assert that, after the Incarnation and on the Cross, the personal reality of God the Son was effectively confined to the human reality of Jesus. They believe that God the Son gave up the use of definining uncreated characteristic (ie omniscience, omnipresence, etc) in his becoming human…only retaining a perfectly loving character. In talking about the crucifixion, kenoticists would say that there were only two persons (the Father and the Spirit) experiencing the uncreated realm while Jesus was going through an all-too-creaturely alienation on the Cross. This is why Greg believes that Jesus’ experience on the Cross ceases the divine Conversation; if the human Jesus is “separated” from God the Father, then the Conversation HAS to cease, because there is no other level of relationship with the Father to sustain the Conversation. In proposing what Greg proposes, he is staying consistent with his evangelical kenoticism…but he is dramatically inconsistent with both his own work AND Orthodox Christianity.

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  13. yieldedone says:

    Sorry. Messed this up. I meant to say:

    “Tom and I are saying that it is the unincreasable intensity of intimate, infinite love, joy, and peace in the divine Conversation between the Uncreated Father, the Uncreated Father’s Image/Son/Word, and the Father’s Uncreated Spirit that makes the uncreated/divine Conversation what it is.

    Like

  14. tgbelt says:

    Good Dwayne. Good stuff.

    An important distinction Greg makes in T&P is between two different kinds disposition. Greg writes:

    “We must first distinguish between ‘definitional dispositions’ and ‘constitutive dispositions’. A ‘definitional disposition’ may be thought of as that power, or cluster of powers, which defines an entity’s ‘essence’ — that without which an entity would not be the entity that it is. This concept specifies what an entity has to do in relation to other entities to be what it is. These must be invariant throughout the career of the entity. Thus, for example, malleability, fusibility, ductility, and electrical conductivity are examples of the defining disposition of copper. If an entity lacked any of these properties it would not be properly called ‘copper’. A ‘constitutive disposition,’ in contrast, is a power which an entity may or may not possess and yet be the essential entity that it is. A person may lose their power to speak, but they would nevertheless continue to be a human being. But if they were to somehow have their genetic structure altered, and thereby lose not only their speech, but all power to interact socially, they would not, or most accounts, yet be considered human.”

    Greg argues in T&P that God has both kinds of disposition. God’s disposition to create non-divine reality is a constitutive disposition. It’s exercised contingently. God can be God without exercising the disposition to create a non-divine world. But what is God’s ‘definitional disposition’? As Dwayne has shown, Greg argued in T&P that God’s definitional disposition was the actual enjoyment of God’s triune self, Father, Son and Spirit in continual unbroken enjoyment of their own perceived beauty.

    We’re going to argue that in saying the Son is essentially, experientially, and relationally rejected by the Father, Greg has abandoned what he once held to be God’s essential, definitional disposition. Now he’s arguing God’s disposition to be in conversation with himself triunely, is only exercised contingently. So our question is, what disposition must God exercise (which cannot be broken or suspended or sacrificed) in order for God to be God? If the conscious enjoyment of the persons in/with/for each other isn’t God’s definitional disposition, what IS God’s definitional disposition, Greg?

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    • Alan Rhoda says:

      Tom,

      The distinction (of Greg’s from T&P) that you introduce here is a good one, though the “definitional” and “constitutive” terminology is, I think, misleading and needlessly opaque.

      Better terms for the former would be “essential disposition” or “natural disposition” because they are powers and/or liabilities that something has in virtue of its nature, i.e., in virtue of its being the kind of being that it is. The problem with “definitional” is that terms is most naturally applied to words or concepts, not concrete entities. Concrete entities don’t have definitions, but they do have essences or natures.

      A better term for the latter would be “acquired disposition”. The problem with “constitutive” is that the term is too broad since it would be semantically appropriate to say that a being is “constituted” (in part) by its essential (or “definitional”) dispositions.

      Since a big part of your purpose here is to dialogue with Greg, there is much to be said for retaining his terminology. But unclear or misleading terminology can lead to persistent confusions down the road. So there’s something to be said for changing it as well.

      Best,

      Alan

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      • tgbelt says:

        I agree Alan. I didn’t like Greg’s choice of those terms when I first met them. I prefer ‘active’ and ‘latent’. I don’t like ‘essential’ to describe only one kind of disposition because I think God possesses all his dispositions essentially, even if some dispositions are only ‘exercised’ contingently. God ‘essentially’ possesses the disposition to create a world even if he doesn’t ‘exercise’ this disposition necessarily. For the same reason I don’t like ‘acquire’ because God doesn’t ‘acquire’ the disposition (power, capacity) to create contingently. He ‘exercises’ the disposition contingently. So I kinda prefer ‘exercised’ (or ‘active’) and ‘latent’. Dunno if that helps. But I agree Greg’s terms are confusing.

        Tom

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  15. Alan Rhoda says:

    Tom: God possesses all his dispositions essentially, even if some dispositions are only ‘exercised’ contingently.

    Alan: I’m not sure about this. Suppose God makes a contingent promise to Abraham to bless his descendants (in some special manner not entailed by God’s general beneficence). It would seem that God would thereby acquire a contingent disposition to act in such a manner toward Abraham’s descendants, a disposition that He wouldn’t have had had He not made the promise.

    Tom: God ‘essentially’ possesses the disposition to create a world even if he doesn’t ‘exercise’ this disposition necessarily.

    Alan: I would say that God essentially has the “power” to create a world, but not that He has an essential “disposition” to do so. The term “disposition” connotes a positive tendency (however slight) toward actualization, whereas “power” does not. One can have a power to do something without being even slightly disposed to do it, just as I have the power to learn to speak Klingon, but am not even slightly tempted to try to do so.

    In short, powers (or “powers and liabilities”, as Richard Swinburne might put it) seem to be distinct from dispositions. To be disposed to X is to be disposed to exercise a power for X-ing. To have a power for X-ing, however, is not ipso facto to be disposed to X.

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    • tgbelt says:

      My understanding of ‘disposition’ is probably what you’re calling a ‘power’, in which case our differences might disappear. I’m no specialist in dispositions! We still agree, though, that even on your account of dispositions, there are dispositions we need not ‘exercise’ (‘actualize’) to be said to possess them, while other dispositions can only be said to be possessed in their actual exercise. All actualities (God included) are characterized by both: the possession and necessary exercise of some dispositions and the possession and contingent exercise of others.

      ——————-

      Does Greg’s statement that the Father and Son suspend (sacrifice, freely abandon) their actual enjoyment of each another suggest to you that Greg thinks God’s disposition to ‘enjoy triune love’ is not an essential disposition (a disposition that must invariantly be exercised)? It sure sounds that way to me. If God can suspend the exercise of the disposition to enjoy love triunely, then that disposition isn’t what Greg calls a definitional disposition. What WOULD God’s definitional disposition then be? Maybe Greg could tell us what DOES constitute the abiding, moment-be-moment (definitional) disposition to be the TRIUNE God (even while the Son is rejected by the Father). It’s not the conscious enjoyment of having the others constitute the identity of each. What then? Perhaps polytheism?

      I think Greg’s analogy of the husband and wife entirely misses the point too. I know Greg’s fondness for Edwards and the psychological model. He knows that the Son is constituted (‘begotten’ if we go with biblical terminology) by the Father’s very act of self-perception, an act constitutive of the Father as a person. As ‘Image’, the Son is the content of the Father’s own self-perception. To say the Father and Son can be separated or alienated is like saying the Father can purge his own subjectivity of its self-defining content. But that would suggest that when Father disfellowships the Son on the Cross, the Father becomes a person with no ‘identity’, a consciousness void of subjective content (since the Son IS that content). Perichoresis (mutual indwelling) doesn’t mean there are three persons who reeeeally love each other so much they just don’t like to do anything without the other even though they can do so (which seems to be Greg’s view now). It means each is constitutive of the others. An absolute alienation of one in the divine nature (which is where Greg insists this all transpire) would mean the alienation of all.

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      • Alan Rhoda says:

        Tom: Does Greg’s statement that the Father and Son suspend (sacrifice, freely abandon) their actual enjoyment of each another suggest to you that Greg thinks God’s disposition to ‘enjoy triune love’ is not an essential disposition (a disposition that must invariantly be exercised)?

        Alan: Greg’s statement not only suggests as much, it entails as much.

        Tom: If God can suspend the exercise of the disposition to enjoy love triunely, then that disposition isn’t what Greg calls a definitional disposition.

        Alan: That follows.

        Tom: I know Greg’s fondness for Edwards and the psychological model. He knows that the Son is constituted (‘begotten’ if we go with biblical terminology) by the Father’s very act of self-perception, an act constitutive of the Father as a person. As ‘Image’, the Son is the content of the Father’s own self-perception. To say the Father and Son can be separated or alienated is like saying the Father can purge his own subjectivity of its self-defining content. But that would suggest that when Father disfellowships the Son on the Cross, the Father becomes a person with no ‘identity’, a consciousness void of subjective content (since the Son IS that content).

        Alan: While I don’t buy the psycholological model (It seems to me too weak to ground a real distinction of persons.), I agree with your reasoning that, given such a model, Greg’s thesis has the bizarre consequence that the Father would, during the moment of Christ’s abandonment, become “a person with no ‘identity’, a consciousness void of subjective content.” Indeed, it seems like it might be even worse: Not only would a “consciousness void of subjective content” have no recollection whatsoever of that relational sundering, but it’s very hard to see how such an empty consciousness could reconstitute the relationship once sundered.

        Tom: Perichoresis (mutual indwelling) doesn’t mean there are three persons who reeeeally love each other so much they just don’t like to do anything without the other even though they can do so (which seems to be Greg’s view now). It means each is constitutive of the others. An absolute alienation of one in the divine nature (which is where Greg insists this all transpire) would mean the alienation of all.

        Alan: Spot on, as far as I can see.

        Like

      • tgbelt says:

        Alan: While I don’t buy the psycholological model (It seems to me too weak to ground a real distinction of persons)…

        Tom: I know exactly what you mean. That’s the danger of the psychological model too. Have you read J. Edwards’ essay on the Trinity? I’ve run into psychological models that were extremely week, but when coupled with other metaphysical commitments, it becomes more plausible.

        Alan: …it seems like it might be even worse: Not only would a “consciousness void of subjective content” have no recollection whatsoever of that relational sundering, but it’s very hard to see how such an empty consciousness could reconstitute the relationship once sundered.

        Tom: That’s why I expressed concern that Greg will not have to settle into some kind of ‘substance’ metaphysic to keep the Three in existence and unified. I didn’t mean by that some substance that wasn’t related. Substances would have to be related if in this case they’re ‘three and yet one’. I meant that for Greg’s view something other than ‘experienced relations’ (or even ‘experience’ itself) is what accounts for the existence and unity of the three.

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  16. This is very a interesting conversation! ) t
    The one that stratches your mind. What books on Trinity cn you recommend?

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    • yieldedone says:

      For me, Millard Erickson had always been a favorite I liked in school. His “God in Three Persons: A Contemporary Interpretation of the Trinity” was good for me. Then there’s Torrence’s “Christian Doctrine of God, One Being Three Persons.” Tom will probably mention David Bentley Hart’s “The Beauty of the Infinite: The Aesthetics of Christian Truth”

      Like

      • Thank you!) maybe some orthodox authors? Or is Hart orthodox?

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      • tgbelt says:

        David Hart is definitely Orthodox!

        Like

      • tgbelt says:

        Aristotle Papanikolaou has article that appears as a chapter (“Contemporary Orthodox Currents on the Trinity”) that appears in The Oxford Handbook of the Trinity (2011) edited by Gilles Emery and Matthew Levering. A good chapter that summarizes Orthodox views. Papanikolaou is Orthodox too. But the book costs $137.00 on amazon. Pretty ridiculous.

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    • tgbelt says:

      If you want an Orthodox author and a simpler introduction, try Dumitru Staniloae’s The Holy Trinity: In the Beginning There Was Love.

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  17. JoeG says:

    ^The Bible? 😛

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  18. tgbelt says:

    Basically Greg is now saying that the fundamental relationality that constitutes the necessary existence of God is not an “experienced” relationality. In THAT sense he’s no longer takes an essentially relational approach to God.

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  19. John J. Lieb says:

    Human beings FEEL abandoned often when they suffer even as believers. They are in fact never abandoned by God because He is faithful in His love for them. Paul told us himself he was pushed to the extreme in despair of life itself. If fact God was with him the whole time which he acknowledged. Jesus’s feeling where quintessential human feelings on the cross and in the Garden. That’s the awesome beauty of His humanness. He totally understands what its like to be human. That why we can go to Him in confidence of His compassion. He’s been there. Separation of the Father from Jesus violates universality and eternality. It gives credibility to the muslim’s belief that God has an associate and Christians are polytheistic.

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