God’s triune actuality the only metaphysical necessity

16_Dorrien_FIG1It’s no secret here that Dwayne and I are big fans of Greg Boyd’s early work on the Trinity (Trinity & Process | TP) and that we think positions he presently holds essentially abandon that work. I thought of a series of posts boiling down the arguments of TP, but this week I was thumbing through Trinity in Process (Bracken/Suchoki, 1997) in which Greg contributes a chapter summarizing TP quite nicely. I may just upload that chapter, but for now let me share a passage from that chapter that express well that earlier view of God which Greg held and which we’ve argued his kenoticism essentially denies. Greg’s chapter is “The Self-Sufficient Sociality of God: A Trinitarian Revision of Hartshorne’s Metaphysics.” Nearing the end of his essay he writes (p. 86f):

God’s Actuality as the Only Metaphysical Necessity. We might point out that Hartshorne faces this very same problem in relationship to God’s abstract nature, because, in his view, it is only the abstract nature of God that is necessary. On a concrete level (God’s Consequent Nature), God is wholly contingent. But how is the abstract necessity of God to be rendered intelligible if everything concrete about God is contingent, while abstractions are held to be derivative from concreteness? How can an abstraction from the concrete possess a quality (viz., necessity) which the concrete it abstracts from altogether lacks? What, in other words, renders intelligible the necessity of God if God’s actuality is altogether contingent?

I certainly agree with Hartshorne’s arguments concerning the necessity of God, but for just this reason, I maintain that God must be essentially constituted by a necessary actuality. The abstract necessity of God, I argue, is not rendered intelligible if God’s actuality is wholly contingent. Once we locate the necessary experiential, social, and aesthetic features of being within the one necessary being, however, this problem is solved. For what is abstractly necessary is, in God, also concretely necessary. [my emphasis]

If my case against Hartshorne’s analysis of the principle of contrast is correct, then there are, again, no longer any grounds for maintaining that the supreme Being must eternally contrast with an actually non-supreme world. Indeed, there are, we have seen, good metaphysical grounds to deny that God must do so. The nature of metaphysical necessity is intelligible only as applied to a necessary actuality and, hence, not as applied to a world of contingencies.

Finally, to bring this essay full circle, what I have been arguing is that the nature of this sole necessary actuality is intelligible only on the supposition that God satisfies within Godself all the a priori conditions of being; namely, as being self-sufficient and unsurpassable in sociality and aesthetic satisfaction. By metaphysical necessity, then, God must exist as a plurality of experiential centers, socially related in an unsurpassably intense aesthetic satisfaction by virtue of the unsurpassable openness and availability each center has toward the others. Among all the available theistic options, I submit, only the classical trinitarian understanding of God articulates this conception unambiguously. [my emphasis]

By ‘sociality’ is simply meant the ‘communion’ of the divine persons, the essentially relational nature of divine triune being. There are other interesting questions to pursue here (What is meant by “centers”?), but the point I want to bring up is Greg’s identifying God’s necessary concrete actuality with God’s triune sociality as such. That’s the material point. God’s essential, necessary concrete actuality just is the experienced sociality/relationality of the Father, Son and Spirit. But it is also this which makes impossible kenotic models (like Greg’s present position) of the Incarnation which posit a real cessation of this experienced actuality. To go kenotic in this sense one has to construe (as Greg explicitly does today) God’s experienced sociality/relationality as contingent and not necessary.

One could maintain that God is essentially triune even in the absence of God’s concrete triune experienced sociality, but one would be affirming a mere abstraction, and this would be open to the same criticism Greg levels against Hartshorne, namely, that what is abstractly necessary is also concretely necessary (in the sense that abstractions are by definition abstractions ‘of’ or ‘upon’ or ‘relative to’ concrete realities). Hence, if one then says that the experienced loving sociality of the divine persons ever fails concretely (say, upon the Cross), it follows that it fails abstractly as well as a necessary feature of God’s existence. To be a kenoticist, then, one has to abandon the necessity of the One God’s essentially triune ‘concrete’ existence.

To explore a bit of Greg’s reasoning along these lines, check out TP (pp. 212-217), a portion of which I present here:

Whitehead thus correctly saw that the intelligibility of God’s relationship to the world (and hence the intelligibility of the world process itself) requires that the necessary self-defining features of God be identified with a “reality,” a reality which is more than an abstraction and which, in fact, is “complete” and “unconditioned” in relation to the contingent temporal process. The categories of his system, however, did not allow him to carry this insight through to its end. Likewise Hartshorne, therefore, the full actuality of God must here be viewed as being constituted as a prehension of antecedent (non-divine) data…[emphasis mine]

The perfection of God, that which defines God’s self apart from all interaction with a non-divine reality (viz., is “unconditioned”) must be identical with a necessary and actually abiding reality. As to God’s necessary existence, God does not have the abstract features of goodness, love, awareness, etc. God is—actually—goodness, love, awareness, etc.

To use traditional terminology, God’s “abstract” essence is God’s necessary concrete existence. The a priori features which “abstractly” identify God as God constitute God’s essential actuality. God’s actuality is not, therefore, simply a contingent exemplification of divine attributes.

The “abstract” attributes of God are, on this account, given an intelligible normative status over all of God’s contingent activity. The “absolutely fixed” and “ungenerated style” of God, the “law” of God’s concrete contingent activity, is simply the aseity of God’s eternal actuality. God’s necessary character is not paradoxically “contained in” God’s contingent actuality: it is, rather, identical with God’s eternal actuality. [emphasis mine]

It is not difficult to see how a kenotic Christology abandons this reasoning, for the necessary divine actuality which must be “complete” and “unconditioned” antecedent to all created contingencies is, as is argued here (in TP) by Greg (with Orthodoxy), the full and unconditioned actuality of the Father, Son and Spirit in their full and reciprocal knowledge of, love for and enjoyment of each other.

(Picture, “Freedom” by Rafael Lopez)

One comment on “God’s triune actuality the only metaphysical necessity

  1. malcolmsnotes says:

    Tom – don’t all the problems you see with Greg’s view per kenoticism rear their heads again when you conceive of God going from his ad intra existence which is independent and unrelated to creation to his ad extra existence which is now dependent and related to it?

    In other words, if God becomes AT ALL, doesn’t this same problem arise insofar as God “takes on” new contingent realities which are somehow OTHER THAN the full necessary reality of the triune relations in themselves?


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