Face to face with Greg

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Many thanks to Greg Boyd for taking time to respond (his Part 1 and Part 2) to my comments (Parts 1-4) reviewing aspects of his new Crucifixion of the Warrior God (CWG). I went on to post some relevant follow-ups as well:

● How Jesus viewed his cross
● My God, My God, how have we misinterpreted you?
● Saved by joy

Our blog here occupies a very quiet place on the edge of the edge of the blogging world, so it’s nice to have Greg engage me over at ReKnew in a response to my review. I know he’s busy and I appreciate the effort. Several of my comments (together with, I suspect, the prolonged nature of our objection to key aspects of Greg’s theology) seem to have gotten under Greg’s skin. Maybe not, but if they have, then I hope I can bring some clarity to our differences. I won’t take up each point in his responses, but there are a few points I should comment on for clarity’s sake.

First–that I attack Greg’s integrity.
Greg senses that I’ve leveled an ad hominem attack on him by questioning his integrity regarding his use of (his) Trinity & Process (T&P) in support of claims he makes in CWG when the supporting arguments in T&P are positions Greg no longer himself holds. I believe I said this seemed to be an issue of academic integrity, and I went on to explain that what I had in mind was what I understood to be a standard of good scholarship, namely, that when a recognized scholar departs significantly from his own published work, some account/defense of the reasons for the change in mind is expected. I haven’t suggested Greg knowingly plotted to deceive readers. I’m just saying that there’s a level of explanation missing from Greg’s ongoing work relative to his earlier work in T&P that I understand to be a part of good scholarship. It is a bit surprising also to hear someone of Greg’s recognition admit that it wouldn’t matter what the philosophical arguments were in support of older positions he no longer holds because utter philosophical nonsense would be “a small price to pay.” Do I criticize this? Well, yes. I don’t mean thereby to attack Greg’s faith, character or sincerity. It’s just my understanding of a canon of scholarship that includes managing one’s intellectual journey a bit differently. If I’m wrong about what makes for good, responsible scholarship, more’s the pity.

I do take it to be a given (well-documented here) that Greg’s present views are incompatible with convictions at the core of T&P – namely, the abiding nature of God’s essential triune ‘experience’. If Greg really thinks there’s no significant change in his thought relative to this core and he’s not interested in arguments to the contrary, well, so be it. But if he is ever interested in batting those questions about, I’d be happy to pitch him a few.

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Second—not defining ‘violence’.
Regarding Greg’s not defining ‘violence’, he decided against it. I get that. My point in bringing it up was that much of the ongoing conversation (pro and con) regarding CWG turns precisely on what one thinks goes into making a thought, intention, or act ‘violent’. It would surely help if Greg (and others) would be explicit. Take Bruxy Cavey, for example. At a recent Woodland Hills Church CWG Q&A session, Greg was somewhat surprised when Bruxy (disagreeing with Greg’s view that Peter used his irrevocable God-given spiritual powers to kill Ananias and Sapphira [Acts 5]) said he thought God took Ananias and Sapphira out of the equation and that this was in God’s perspective a right, wise, and loving thing to do. The interesting point is that Bruxy and Greg are equally committed to ascribing zero violence to God. So the only reason Bruxy can see God’s taking Ananias and Sapphira out of the equation as wise and loving and Greg not see it this way is because the two of them define ‘violence’ differently. The difference won’t show up in genocidal passages (which sort of passage Greg suggests to me was one reason why he chose not to define violence), but it will and does show up in other controversial passages (like Ananias & Sapphira) that are central to Greg’s thesis. As it so happens, in recently attempting to get people to be explicit about what really constitutes ‘violence’, I was surprised to discover little general interest in the question and little agreement over what constitutes an act’s ‘violence’. I think this is pretty significant.

Third—making a certain view of the Cross the ‘exclusive’ center.
Greg points out that I’m wrong about saying he suggests the Cross “exclusively” defines the hermeneutical center. Fair enough. But I didn’t mean to suggest that Greg takes no notice of the incarnation or the resurrection as definitive of the Cross. I was referring to Greg’s positing a choice between taking the Cross over the life of Christ as the defining center. I’m referring, of course, to Greg’s own arguments for why the entire life of Christ (considered as a whole) cannot successfully be considered the center because it’s too broad a center and it involves too many disagreements. The Cross, Greg argues, is a narrower and more agreed upon thematic center. It’s that particular choice I was speaking to. That is – our options are exclusively binary – either Christ-centered (taking the entire Christ-event as the center) or Crucicentric (taking the Cross as the center). I didn’t suggest Greg doesn’t integrate everything outside the Cross, I was only commenting on his reasons for why the Cross, and not the entirety of Christ’s life, be the center.

Fourth—not evaluating the lengthy case Greg makes for his understanding of the Cross.
Greg chides me a bit for not evaluating the lengthy case he makes for his particular understanding of the Cross (as opposed to focusing on the Cry of Dereliction as a tiny aspect of the Cross). I confess I’m baffled by this. I actually have commented on the principles of divine accommodation, spiritual warfare (basically agreeing with the reality of creaturely choice and the nature of created opposition to God, but stopping short of making Satan a functional demiurge), and semi-autonomous power. But most reviewers focus criticism on what they find most objectionable, and that’s what I did.

It seems to me that if one places the Cross at the center of one’s theology, what one believes the Cross to be defines that center. True, Greg says a great many things at length about the implications of the Cross, but it seemed clear to me as I read CWG that the Cross understood as God’s own experience of godforsakenness and self-estrangement was the center of gravity around which the rest of the work revolves. I focused on this aspect because, though Greg didn’t spend hundreds of pages on it, by the very nature of its relevance, ‘divine abandonment’ constitutes the center of the center. Yes, of course the Cross is also an ‘accommodation’ to our fallenness. Yes, it’s also ‘warfare’. But the divine act in/on the Cross which makes its accommodating act an engagement with the fallen powers (which I don’t disagree the Cross is) is precisely the divine abandonment that Greg posits. It’s this reading of the Cross that I focused my objections on because that’s what I find objectionable.

Now, in his response to me Greg seems to be suggesting that viewing the Father’s abandonment of the Son is a minor and negotiable point because it receives only a fragment of CWG’s 1,400 pages. If this is the case then many of us are truly dumbfounded, for we assumed Greg’s view of the divine abandonment “behind the scenes” which defines the Cross was indeed central to his thesis. Now it seems Greg is acknowledging that how he interprets the Cry of Dereliction isn’t definitive of the Cross that defines the center. If that be the case, then – forgive me Greg – this really is a poorly written book, because nobody reading vol. 2 would think that the divine abandonment which Greg defines as the truth of what’s going on “behind the scenes” is for Greg a negotiable, non-essential aspect of the cruciform thesis. It’s not always about volume, i.e., how many pages one spends discussing a question. It’s where you’re standing in relation to the whole when you say what you say, even it’s a fragment of the whole.

If I was the only one who thought any of this, I would never have reviewed CWG to begin with, but it was the overwhelming push back on precisely this aspect of the book that encouraged me to express my own thoughts too.

facetoface2Fifth—on the ‘intrinsic’ nature of the consequences of our choices.
Then there’s the issue of the intrinsic nature of the consequences of our choices. Greg argues that Jesus suffers the death consequences intrinsic to our sinful choices. Now, I question the very notion that Christ can suffer any intrinsic consequences of our sinful choices, especially if, as Greg says, those consequences are ‘organic’ to the choice. If organic to the choice, then – I say – organic to the chooser. Indeed, it’s undeniable that the despair and godforsakenness Greg holds to be intrinsic to our sinful choices are already invariably experienced by those who make those choices.

Greg apparently questions this line of reasoning (if I’m following him) and offers a strange defense of the transferability of the intrinsic consequences of one person’s choices onto another subject. Here’s the analogy: Joe gets drunk and passes out on some train tracks. Bill steps in to pull Joe away from an oncoming train. Joe is saved but Bill gets stuck and is killed by the train. In Greg’s view, Bill experiences the consequences that were ‘intrinsic’ to Joe’s choices. But this seems mistaken. Getting struck by a train is not intrinsic to the choice to get drunk; nor is getting struck by a train intrinsic to passing out drunk on train tracks. But, one might reason, Bill gets struck by a train only because Joe was there drunk and in the way of an oncoming train, so surely Bill suffers ‘what Joe would have suffered’ had Bill left Joe on the tracks. Not exactly, but let’s go with that. Even so, this is not to transfer to Bill what is ‘intrinsic’ to Joe’s choice. On the contrary, Bill experiences the consequences intrinsic to his choice, namely, to risk his safety to saving Joe. But that risk is not intrinsic to Joe’s decision to get drunk.

Sixth—penal-substitution.
This brings up my comments that Greg’s view appears to me to maintain a penal-substitutionary flavor or orientation, a point about which Greg expresses some disappointment in my reading of him. My reasons for reading Greg this way are documented here and elsewhere by others who have reviewed CWG. No need to repeat all the points. I’ll just say a few things to clarify. First, I could of course be reading Greg wrong, but I’m not the only one to see CWG as offering a version of penal-substitutionary atonement. Virtually all those involved in recent online conversations pick up the same penal assumptions at work. Secondly, Greg feels that since God doesn’t transfer our actual guilt onto Jesus and doesn’t emotionally vent rage upon Jesus, and since Greg doesn’t articulate what does go on in the Cross in forensic terms, he’s clear of any penal associations. However, transfer of guilt and feelings of rage are not an essential, defining aspect of a penal model of atonement.

It would be interesting to pursue this more, but I’ll close this point by saying, thirdly, that another reason the force of Greg’s response to me on this point is surprising is that elsewhere online recently, Greg asked those of us in the room to clarify why we were all objecting to his book on the grounds that it offers a non-Girardian, penal view of the Cross. I responded to him in precisely the terms I’ve done on this post, saying:

Of course, as you say, the Father turns Jesus ‘over to the crowds’ (i.e. surrenders Jesus to human violence). Everybody agrees on that much. But that’s not “all [you’re] saying.” You’re saying that in addition to our abandoning Jesus, the Father himself abandons Jesus and the pain of the latter abandonment is what does the saving work. But there’s no logical connect between God’s turning Jesus over to be abandoned by the world and God’s abandoning Jesus. Why must such abandonment occur? The intrinsic death consequences to all sin. But this just is PSA. You have a softer articulation of it because you emphasize the love that motivates it and you also don’t limit it to the elect. But it’s still the same exchange. Why *must* there be satisfaction of the so-called intrinsic consequences of sin? What is forgiveness after all? Why cannot God welcome us home without suffering his own antithetical negation? You already grant that God forgives us entirely apart from such abandonment. So follow the logic of that through – what kind of love is capable of ‘forgiving’ us without suffering self-inflicted self-negation but is not capable of being present with us in transforming ways without such negation?

To which Greg responded (to me and the group):

Oh, okay. For the first time I think I may see how you construe my view as PSA. I have been utterly baffled up to this point. I’ll have to think about this some more and I suspect it will need [a] separate post to address, but I suspect the problem comes from different understandings of “abandonment” and why Jesus had to die.

Ya think? My point exactly, which is why I’m confused over why Greg in his ReKnew response now seems at all surprised or bothered by my describing his position as reducible to penal-substitutionary assumptions. He had already agreed to understanding why I and others were reading him that way.

Seventh—regarding whether God’s experience of himself is “reduced” to godforsakenness.
I expressed my objection to Greg’s view of the Father forsaking the Son, and of the divine persons being “estranged from one another,” in terms of Greg “reducing” God to godforsakenness. Greg objected to the word “reduce” here and insists he doesn’t reduce God to godforsakenness, and he wonders why I would think he holds such a position. To clarify, I didn’t say Greg reduces God simpliciter to godforsakenness. I said Greg reduces God’s triune “experience of himself” to godforsakenness and self-estrangement. We’re only talking about God’s “experience.” Why? Because Greg is the one who makes the distinction (vol. 2, chapter on divine withdrawal) between God’s essential unity of being (or “existence”) as such and God’s “experience” of his own unity. And Greg builds his view of divine abandonment on the premise that God has no experience of his essential triune being that transcends the world. In existential terms (terms Greg introduces to accommodate the compatibility of godforsakenness with God’s essential unity), God is reduced to the pain of godforsakenness, i.e., there is no transcendent experience Father and Son enjoy that is not affected by the Cross. That’s what I mean by “reduced to.”

I appreciate and admire many things about Greg. None of my comments was meant to impugn his character, his love for God, or his passion for people. I’m only interested in the content of his views, particularly his Christology, in relation to his Trinitarian arguments in T&P (Trinity & Process), and I encourage Greg to consider integrating T&P into his present views in a serious, more thoughtful way. That would be an interesting read!

(If there are any worries about the picture opening this post, it’s a picture of two boxers going toe to toe – just in case anyone thought it was Greg and I.)

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34 comments on “Face to face with Greg

  1. Greg’s response to your spelling out of how the view in CWG is PSA is astounding.
    Truly astounding. Who did he talk to about his ideas when writing this book?

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  2. Dan says:

    Seems a bit thin-skinned. He seems hell-bent on responding to every critical review leveled at him.

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    • Matt Wright says:

      While I don’t disagree, I can’t imagine what it must feel like to spend 10 years devoted to something you feel is your “magnum opus” only to release it and get some pretty gaping holes poked in it within weeks.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Matt Wright says:

    Tom, I know this is getting redundant, but thank you for how thoughtfully and critically you’ve engaged with CWG, both here and elsewhere. While I know I still owe you a post (it’s coming, I promise), I must confess I think I finally am starting to see where you’re coming from. That said, I will go ahead and post what I was originally intending to soon, even though I think I can already tell where your points of contention will be…and I think you might be right. Stay tuned, my friend…God bless

    Liked by 1 person

    • Tom says:

      Hi Matt. No rush at all. No need to share at all on that either. I was just suggesting way to think the implications through. But if you wanna share, it’d be great to hear.

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  4. Rob says:

    I think this is a robust defence, Tom.

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  5. formerlyjeff says:

    Greetings, Tom. Hope you’re enjoying your new job and locale.

    I haven’t kept up with all of this. But much of your argument about the “abandonment” verse had to do, to my memory, with the fact that Jesus was claimed to have known that he was going to die and that he had accepted it as part of his earthly mission (and of course all this is derived for most of us on the assumption that those texts are to be interpreted according to the normal “authorial-intent,” inductive method). But that argument proves too much, I think, since it would also prove that he couldn’t have said and meant “If it be possible, let this cup pass from me.”

    Those words indicate that Jesus’ stress caused him to question whether his death was even necessary and that therefore there might be a way to avoid it. IOW, stress can affect humans’ minds in a way that makes them reevaluate things out of a strong desire to avoid some experience. So I can’t rule out that the “abandonment” statement was not similar in nature. For all I know, it could have been a momentary interpretation of a near-death condition that he had never experienced – one that did cause him emotional distress.

    The only way to rule this out that I can see is to say Christ didn’t suffer on the cross at all. And if that’s where you’re willing to go with your interpretation, then it seems you’re so outside the realm of normal textual interpretation of passages (since it’s extremely hard to make sense of the passages on the assumption that he didn’t suffer at all) that hermeneutical debates seem to have no obvious point.

    As for penal substitution, I don’t get the idea from scripture that Christ’s sufferings are substitutionary in any sense. I do think, however, there are verses that indicate that his death is in a loose sense substitutionary. But I think the better word for this is propitiatory. That is, Christ’s death satisfies God’s justice (as Romans 3 says) in that God is in a sense substituting Christ’s death for ours such that we can have eternal life despite the fact that the “wages of” our “sin is death” in accordance with Genesis (hence, the claims about Christ being the 2nd Adam, etc). That’s the only sense of “substitution” that I see clearly in scripture.

    Christ’s sufferings, on the other hand, are said (Hebrews) to have conditioned his experiential learning of obedience and to have rendered him a compassionate high priest (i.e., one who can identify with what humans experience in resisting sin and therefore sympathize with them: compassion and sympathy mean pretty much the same thing).

    I’ve never yet understood how your view can account for Christ suffering at all since I’ve never understood how the 2-mind view of the Logos can be conceived of as consistent with Christ experiencing suffering.

    For it seems to me that a person that is not a self is unintelligible (please help me with the definition if I’m wrong here). Yet, on the other hand, a self that has a stream of bona-fide 1st-person consciousness of “suffering” simply IS suffering. If the suffering is apprehended as being 2nd- or 3rd-person, that suffering is experienced by ANOTHER self. But the latter would seemingly mean that “Jesus” isn’t God in the sense that most Christians want to say he is/was since he would be a 4th “person.”

    Nor does the premise that God doesn’t suffer imply that God is therefore capable of helping us. That proposition by itself implies no such thing. And we know that suffering doesn’t prevent humans from accomplishing all kinds of things. So it’s simply not the case that suffering per se incapacitates one’s ability to simultaneously produce other affects.

    So I’m not seeing why the putative immutable intense satisfaction of the Logos is posited other than to satisfy some particular ontological/Anselmian definition of the divine. But in that case, that positing has nothing to do with the meaning of scripture, necessarily. For scriptural interpretations, in that case, must stand or fall (supposing the validity of the law of non-contradiction of course) with their consistency with one’s ontological definition. So for the Anselmian, the real argument about God’s felt-experience should first be done with no concern about what scripture does or doesn’t mean, shouldn’t it?

    So is Greg an Anselmian with respect to the definition of “God?” If not, there’s no use in trying to argue from mere “trinitarianism” until you can define all the terms in that definition, like “person.” I have yet to see that done in terms of human categories. That would be the place to begin if the definition of “God” is something that doesn’t require extra-human-categorical, supernatural communication.

    On the other hand, if apprehending the proper definition of “God” does require extra-human-categorical, supernatural communication, then at least one party of every disagreement on the definition must be without that communication, right? In which case, we can only wait on God to do that communicating, right?

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    • Tom says:

      Good to hear from ya Jeff. I’m don’t wanna say where Greg is today on these questions. I’d love to see him deal with T&P’s arguments more specifically.

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      • formerlyjeff says:

        I’m guessing his comment in his first reply to you, Tom, probably captures what he still agrees with in T&P:

        “Tom doesn’t make explicit what he’s referring to, but I think he is referring to a footnote in which I refer readers to Trinity and Process if they care to read my metaphysical defense of the classical understanding that the Trinity exists prior to, and apart from, the God-world relationship (in opposition to process theology).”

        If so, it seems that what he thinks is important in T&P is that a necessary god-world relationship is not the only (or even best) way to account for a theistic world-view.

        I’ll give Greg this: He does much better at dealing with the problem of evil in a way that accounts for the validity of inductive reasoning than does Hartshorne. The sheer lack of competence of Hartshorne’s “god” renders that god pretty non-explanatory since it can’t really even account for the validity of induction itself.

        Per Hartshorne’s view of process, I could be at an evolutionary stage where my body is adapted to a real material world while my conscious thoughts are mere effects with no significant correspondence with real-world events and states. Although Hartshorne’s god might desire my evolution to a different stage, he would be incompetent to assure its accomplishment, right?

        A God that intentionally creates the world, on the other hand, can be conceived of such that He can assure that we can sufficiently and voluntarily

        1) discursively apprehend (via deductive and inductive reasoning) the world
        and
        2) regulate mental states and bodily motion

        such that the material reality corresponds with the validity of inductive reasoning and the existence of a moral order.

        It seems to me that any theism must account for this much to be taken seriously at all. I’d say Greg is in that ball-park, though I disagree with his hermeneutics. Since his solution to the problem of seemingly-natural evil seems inductively implausible to me, I cant get on board with his concern over seemingly God-sanctioned “violence” in the texts. For even the most gut-wrenching of those “violences” pale in comparison to the total “violences” caused by seemingly NATURAL (and hence, seemingly unavoidable in many cases) evils. Thus, his whole concern seems groundless, to me.

        So I see how, given his theodicy, he has the concern his new work addresses. But given my theodicy, his new work doesn’t solve anything for me. I’m glad, too. Because I don’t have time to read and digest that many words. 🙂

        On the other hand, if you tell me that he makes very good arguments for his exegetical approach, I’ll be tempted to buy it if only to read some of it. 🙂

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    • Tom says:

      Jeff: I’ve never yet understood how your view can account for Christ suffering at all since I’ve never understood how the 2-mind view of the Logos can be conceived of as consistent with Christ experiencing suffering. For it seems to me that a person that is not a self is unintelligible (please help me with the definition if I’m wrong here). Yet, on the other hand, a self that has a stream of bona-fide 1st-person consciousness of “suffering” simply IS suffering. If the suffering is apprehended as being 2nd- or 3rd-person, that suffering is experienced by ANOTHER self.

      Tom: I take it that the Son has two bona-fide 1st-person streams of consciousness – one constitutive of an uncreated divine experience that is his consubstantiation with the Father, one constitutive of a created experience that is his consubstantiation with us. But we never say God the Son doesn’t suffer. He can and does suffer. He alone is the subject of that created consciousness which suffers. Is this incoherent? I don’t think so (https://anopenorthodoxy.wordpress.com/2013/05/31/god-enters-our-nightmare/), but you already know that. 😀

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      • formerlyjeff says:

        So only the Father and the Spirit don’t suffer, per your view? If so, that’s an important clarification. I’m not sure I understand how the perpetual, maximal satisfaction in the divine persons is to be understood, now.

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      • Tom says:

        Jeff: So only the Father and the Spirit don’t suffer, per your view? If so, that’s an important clarification. I’m not sure I understand how the perpetual, maximal satisfaction in the divine persons is to be understood, now.

        Tom: I first started to come around to a more Orthodox view from reading Trinity & Process. God’s essential, self-constituting disposition – that which defines the necessity of his being as triune; his ‘sociality’ or ‘essential relationality’ – is an existential fullness (an “unsurpassable aesthetic satisfaction” eternally derived from and fulfilled in the triune relations themselves) not improved or diminished by the world. That remains the abiding existential plenitude (call it ‘ontological peace’ if you want) which is the divine nature of the Persons. If you haven’t read our Redux of Trinity & Process, that might help.

        After coming round to this basic insight, Orthodoxy completed and filled in some of the blanks. But basically, Incarnation isn’t an abdication by the Son of this uncreated divine experience. That remains as ever it was. It is through the created capacities of an adopted human nature that the Son personally suffers.

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    • Tom says:

      Marilyn McCord Adams has a helpful (hard to follow) defense of a conciliar (Chalcedonian | two minds\two wills) Christology:

      1) https://anopenorthodoxy.wordpress.com/2014/06/08/christ-horrors-part-7/
      2) https://anopenorthodoxy.wordpress.com/2014/06/08/christ-horrors-part-8/
      3) https://anopenorthodoxy.wordpress.com/2014/06/09/christ-horrors-part-9/
      4) https://anopenorthodoxy.wordpress.com/2014/06/09/christ-horrors-part-10/

      You also might find Timothy Pawl’s In Defense of Conciliar Christology clarifying, even if you’d disagree with it.

      Tom

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    • Tom says:

      Jeff: Much of your argument about the “abandonment” verse had to do, to my memory, with the fact that Jesus was claimed to have known that he was going to die and that he had accepted it as part of his earthly mission…

      Tom: Right. That’s pretty clear from Jesus’ statements en route to Jerusalem.

      Jeff: But that argument proves too much, I think, since it would also prove that he couldn’t have said and meant “If it be possible, let this cup pass from me.”

      Tom: I don’t think so. His believing death to lie in his future is consistent with a very natural, human aversion to suffering. I’m not suggesting Jesus is omniscient such that no human doubt with respect to whether his death is necessary to fulfilling his mission. Jesus is fulfilling human nature by offering it obediently to God in the very circumstances we face. In any event, those doubts are faced and settled upon in the Garden. Jesus goes to the Cross resolved upon death as ‘the way’ and has already integrated that into his self-understanding.

      My earlier point was that this process doesn’t reduce Jesus’ sense of identity and mission to the despairing dereliction Greg supposes. Struggle? Yes. Deliberation? Yes. Facing death within the finite capacities of his human nature? Yes. Having his deepest sense of self, identity, and mission deconstructed – essentially his mind blow – by the belief that his Father abandons/forsakes him? Not even a plausible reading of the texts.

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      • formerlyjeff says:

        Tom: I’m not suggesting Jesus is omniscient such that no human doubt with respect to whether his death is necessary to fulfilling his mission.

        Jeff: But he didn’t just doubt it’s necessity at that point; he prayed that he could “get out of” that suffering because of his lack of certainty about its necessity. That’s what contrasts with his previous seeming certainty as to whether he WAS to suffer and die. In that sense, it seems like a true change of emphasis due to stress; one that seems quite consistent with what we know about human stress. And yet Christ never doubted the Father, even then.

        It wouldn’t be problematic on any mere philosophical or hermeneutical grounds that Jesus changed his emphasis to praying for understanding as to why God seemed, to Jesus, to have changed “posture?” unto him at that point, because his “forsaken” statement doesn’t per se indicate a loss of his peace or his trust in God’s fidelity; just a perplexity as to how that fidelity was seemingly being fulfilled.

        I can’t imagine what Jesus’ question meant that doesn’t include some kind of lack of understanding or knowledge. That’s the typical import of “why?” And that lack of understanding or knowledge seemingly had to do with a perceived “leaving” of Jesus by the Father. In what sense did Jesus perceive that the Father “left” him? I don’t know. But we have good reason to believe that Jesus never doubted the Father, and therefore we have no good reason to believe he lost divine peace. And we have good reason to believe that the Father was indeed faithful.

        Practically, I’d think this is what matters. If any other sectarian concerns are at stake, I don’t know how this verse per se is going to resolve that disagreement. Greg can claim to be trinitarian (I’ve yet to be able to define the term consistent with my categories of thought) and agree with what I’m saying, best I can tell. Because your claim…

        “God’s essential, self-constituting disposition – that which defines the necessity of his being as triune; his ‘sociality’ or ‘essential relationality’ – is an existential fullness (an “unsurpassable aesthetic satisfaction” eternally derived from and fulfilled in the triune relations themselves) not improved or diminished by the world.”

        … is not self-evidently crucial to what is attempted to be conveyed by “trinity” by most Christians, to my knowledge. Co-substantial “persons” seems to be the main idea, and I don’t know how to define what it means to be such a “person.” Because I have no idea what a person that is not a substance IS.

        To me, a substance is simply a being that is disinguishable from other beings. And a being is a real entity – an existing entity. An entity can be a location or a substance. What a non-existing entity is, other than an imaginary one, I know not. What a non-entity is other than a particular time or particular relation, I know not. So I can’t relate to either you or Greg on the issue of whether there is “something” that is communicated by “trinity.”

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      • Tom says:

        Jeff: But he didn’t just doubt it’s necessity at that point; he prayed that he could “get out of” that suffering because of his lack of certainty about its necessity. That’s what contrasts with his previous seeming certainty as to whether he WAS to suffer and die. In that sense, it seems like a true change of emphasis due to stress.

        Tom: Sure. What else would it be due to? My point about is that once Jesus resolves on the certainty of his death in the Garden, (a) this isn’t a brand new vision of his mission, it’s a confirmation of what he had previously taught his disciples, and (b) it doesn’t involve an existential crisis precipitated by a deconstruction of his sense of identity or mission. We’re not saying Jesus wasn’t pressed to the limit. We’re saying his mind (self-perceived identity as beloved of his Father and as the personal presence of God’s redeeming agency for creation) wasn’t blown.

        Jeff: It wouldn’t be problematic on any mere philosophical or hermeneutical grounds that Jesus changed his emphasis to praying for understanding as to why God seemed, to Jesus, to have changed “posture?” unto him at that point, because his “forsaken” statement doesn’t per se indicate a loss of his peace or his trust in God’s fidelity; just a perplexity as to how that fidelity was seemingly being fulfilled.

        Tom: Right. Jesus’ prayer in the Garden assumes some less than settled conviction in Jesus with respect to how the mission should best unfold, yes. I’m engaging readings of his Cry “My God, My God, why…?” that view that cry as representing an existential crisis of identity and mission.

        Jeff: I can’t imagine what Jesus’ question meant that doesn’t include some kind of lack of understanding or knowledge.

        Tom: Yes, a lack of certainty about the Father’s will for the way forward.

        Jeff: We have good reason to believe that Jesus never doubted the Father, and therefore we have no good reason to believe he lost divine peace.

        Tom: Here in the Garden, no. But on the Cross some take the view that Jesus died a derelict with respect to his identity and mission; i.e., the Cry of Dereliction is interpreted to mean Jesus expired in the belief that God had forsaken him and he had failed in his mission, forsaken by God (or perhaps this dereliction was short lived on the cross – those who go this route disagree how long it lasted).

        Jeff: And we have good reason to believe that the Father was indeed faithful.

        Tom: We have every reason to believe that. Greg doesn’t. That’s what I’ve been addressing.

        Like

  6. formerlyjeff says:

    Tom: We have every reason to believe that. Greg doesn’t. That’s what I’ve been addressing.

    Jeff: Yeah, I’m just thinking that for those who take “trinity” to mean mere co-substantiality of multiple “persons,” whether they take the interpretation that I’m defending or the one you’re arguing against, I’m guessing they won’t be inferring one over the other in terms of what you’re arguing about the meaning of “trinity.” Because I doubt most people have even heard of it. Was it advocated in the most well-known councils? Or was it pretty much an EO idea, or what?

    But back to an earlier point: If the Son suffers, how is that fact integrated into the idea that the Son’s essential ecstasy is never diminished? Alternatively, if the Son’s suffering doesn’t diminish his essential ecstasy, why would it diminish the Father’s? I’m lost as to why the Father can’t suffer at this point.

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    • formerlyjeff says:

      Oh yeah, and we know Greg explicitly rejects your claim about what properly defines the trinity. He seems (from what I read in his response) to reject it because he, like me and others, have no idea how an impassible being can be intelligibly said to “love” or “care for” us per definitions we normally use for that language. So for Greg, in particular, that would be the place to start. I’m with him on that.

      The minute I strip passibility away from the Father, the Father’s actions with respect to creation seem to be as unexpected as uncaused events. Because there are no multiple necessary conditions for those actions, seemingly. Just sufficient conditions that have the import of “The Father is the kind of being that does ‘x’ at time ‘t’.” And there are no attributes that would preclude the Father from doing something other than ‘x’ at time ‘t,’ for the same reason.

      But we normally explain such actions with multiple necessary conditions. Like:

      1) The Father is compassionate (compassion “moves” one to act for its object).
      2) The Father is aware that one He has sympathetic interest in is suffering.
      3) Nothing about the Father’s long-term purpose (which are consistent with the greatest good of all) are in conflict with the Father acting to relieve the suffering of the suffering one.

      But those kinds of conditions seem to have no existence, and therefore explanatory power, if God is impassible. This is why Greg, in T&P, spoke of Gods acts as spontaneous. I think he’s keenly aware, now, of just how UN-like love that really seems.

      Like

    • Tom says:

      I’ll have to leave it there Jeff, having done my best on these questions in many posts mentioned in our convos. Wish I had more for ya.

      Like

      • formerlyjeff says:

        Yeah, I was really talking about where I think the debate with Greg.would need to focus, if I’m understanding what’s bottom-line for him. He seems to be all about getting people to be convinced that God loves and cares for them. This is why these new volumes were important for him, I think. They’re just another step in building his theodicy

        For the record, I agree that we don’t always have to feel sympathy to act to their betterment. But it seems to me that’s because such acting is a well-established habit that is previously formed and valued because of our natural sympathy that we’ve felt theretofore. The minute I try to imagine how a human could be predicted to act golden-rule-ish if he/she had been impassible (and therefore utterly unsympathetic in both positive and negatives senses) from birth, I have no idea how I could predict it or expect it with any probability.

        So I CAN get the individual cases that you mention. I just can’t see how to account for those individual cases apart from a passible history.

        Like

      • Tom says:

        Jeff: Yeah, I was really talking about where I think the debate with Greg would need to focus, if I’m understanding what’s bottom-line for him. He seems to be all about getting people to be convinced that God loves and cares for them. This is why these new volumes were important for him, I think. They’re just another step in building his theodicy.

        Tom: For sure. Greg is all about theodicy.

        Jeff: For the record, I agree that we don’t always have to feel sympathy to act to their betterment. But it seems to me that’s because such acting is a well-established habit that is previously formed and valued because of our natural sympathy that we’ve felt theretofore. The minute I try to imagine how a human could be predicted to act golden-rule-ish if he/she had been impassible (and therefore utterly unsympathetic in both positive and negatives senses) from birth, I have no idea how I could predict it or expect it with any probability. So I CAN get the individual cases that you mention. I just can’t see how to account for those individual cases apart from a passible history.

        Tom: But Jeff, there are other things we hold God, as uncreated, to “be” (predictably existing, predictably loving, predictably good) which we cannot imagine him having “become” over time through a process of historical development.

        I can’t imagine an individual human being as existing forever or being born with a predictably loving character already formed, yet we meaningfully predicate unfailing existence and goodness of God without his having to become these. We simply reason that the sort of goodness, life, character, and beatitude which we as created must achieve through the proper use of our wills, God simply is as uncreated. I don’t have any more problem imagining God to be undiminished/unimprovable aesthetic satisfaction (essentially happy) than I do imagining him to be uncreated. What I *cannot* imagine is God being *uncreated being* without being the categorical fullness of being (truth/knowledge, beauty/aesthetic value, goodness, relatedness, etc.).

        Like

  7. Tom says:

    Another thought, Jeff.

    As I understand you, you’ve suggested that if God creates ‘spontaneously’ that nothing of the predictable nature of God’s essential character or intentions could be discerned from the nature of created existence as we know it. But that doesn’t follow. Spontaneity with respect to the causing of some effect by a cause doesn’t negate the sense in which the effect resembles its cause or the sense in which truth about the cause can be rationally discerned from contemplating the effect. All ‘spontaneity’ would reflect is the free and gratuitous nature of the effect – i.e., a certain plenitude of being in the cause with respect to the contingency of the act by which effects are brought into being. It wouldn’t follow that no effect thus brought into being would bear the image of its cause. Spontaneity doesn’t bring induction crashing down around our heads. I do some things spontaneously which, contemplated after the fact, nevertheless reveal me and bear my image.

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    • formerlyjeff says:

      Tom: Spontaneity doesn’t bring induction crashing down around our heads. I do some things spontaneously which, contemplated after the fact, nevertheless reveal me and bear my image.

      Jeff: Whether your bodily actions are caused teleologically or by mere association, your actions are explicable at some level in terms of your passibility. The minute we deny that fact, those actions are not explicable in any inductive sense. Because what possible antecedent conditions would have been recognizable as necessary to the action? And therefore, how could we have predicted the action, even probabilistically?

      Associations that impel unto bodily movement are what they are because of our passible, sentient experience. I can’t think of any bodily action of mine that is associatively or teleologically caused that isn’t predictable precisely because we’re sentient per a passible mode of existence. It is our sentient experience that causes bodily associations to form. That’s why they can be modified via experiences.

      In that sense, what you’re meaning by spontaneous is not what I think Greg was meaning. He was meaning that since God (as he then tried to describe him) is impassible, there is nothing about God’s other attributes that can be used to predict what God would do or probably do. If there was, we could articulate what those attributes are and then articulate the events we remember that demonstrate that correlation (even if only probabilistically).

      Is it something that God is thinking (but not feeling) that causes some effect? If so, how would we know since we don’t know what he’s thinking at any given moment? So we’re left like the atheist who tries to account for morality without a teleological world-view. They’ll say things like morally good actions are actions that result in states that are beneficial to some sentient being or human (substitute loving acts here, if you prefer).

      But that’s too narrow in premises. Because that means if I’m about to be harmed by a snake and a limb falls and causes the snake to slither off just in time, the limb performed a morally good act. But who actually thinks limbs or the fundamental particles they consist of actually love us? Or care about us? Or are moral in any sense? This approach proves entirely too much.

      Likewise, if humans just accidentally act to my advantage even though they may have intended my harm, I’d have to call that a morally good act by that approach. But who actually uses moral language that way? Or language about love?

      The fact that a sentient state affected by some cause is satisfactory does not mean that the cause was loving the affected one thereby. It doesn’t even mean that the cause was conscious of the existence of the affected one. Nor is the assumption that a satisfactory sentient state is an effect of God equivalent to having predicted it theretofore in terms of previously posited divine attributes.

      Like

      • Tom says:

        Jeff: Whether your bodily actions are caused teleologically or by mere association, your actions are explicable at some level in terms of your passibility. The minute we deny that fact, those actions are not explicable in any inductive sense. Because what possible antecedent conditions would have been recognizable as necessary to the action?

        Tom: You’re confusing motivation relative to WHETHER one acts (or not) with how the character and purposes that define a person without exception embrace whatever a person does, even if they act randomly or spontaneously. A couple could decide, say, on whether or not to have a child at all with the flip of a coin or the spin of a bottle. But this wouldn’t expunge from the parent-child relationship all the natural affinities and teleology that define cause and effect as a matter of course. In other words, it doesn’t follow that since the effects of one’s action are invariably embraced by a certain teleology that the doing of the action is entailed in the teleology. Teleology may embrace A and ~A equally. The ‘telos’ of God’s being and existence may be fulfilled whether or not God creates such that absolutely nothing about God makes God’s creating (as opposed to not creating) ‘predictable’ and this would not sever creation from fully reflecting the character of its creator.

        My point is, if the sense in which God’s choice to create doesn’t fall neatly into our established categories of choice (determined vs libertarian) and we’re left with something like ‘spontaneous’ or ‘random’, so be it. Personally I think none of these categories captures the nature of the divine determination to create, since God is not just another causal agent conforming to the causal laws of the created universe. And I don’t mind admitting some contribution to our understanding of God’s choice from all three categories. But I suppose I’m most inclined – if I ‘had’ to choose a category to prefer – to go with ‘spontaneous’. But that wouldn’t at all severe what God does from deriving its teleology meaningfully (as effect from cause) from God.

        Tom

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  8. formerlyjeff says:

    Tom: Teleology may embrace A and ~A equally.

    Jeff: Well, I think what you’re saying there is that a person can act teleologically by flipping a coin. Yes, I think so. Why might a couple do something like that? Because they choose to do this rather than have one “lose” to the other in such a decision, etc., because this keeps the relationship in a more satisfying or less dis-satisfying state for some reason. Maybe they see positives and negatives in having a child that seem equally compelling. There could be other reasons I can’t think of.

    The point is, it’s hard to imagine why a couple would do this apart from a “felt experience” they’re trying to attain or prolong. It’s easy to see what the “felt experiences” might be in each case. But if both parties are totally on-board with either having or not having a baby, it’s hard to explain the coin-tossing teleologically.

    None of this applies to an impassible being.

    And I’m not so much even talking about creation as I am events beyond creation. Humans can’t do infinite regresses in explanation. There is always finality of explanation for humans. Currently, there are two atheistic approaches to accounting for the universe. One is the something-from-absolute-nothing approach. This approach denies that the proposition “events are caused” is a principle. As such, it renders induction worthless since there is no conceivable test to determine WHETHER an event is caused or not.

    The second is the multi-verse view that tries to avoid the above problem. But it equally renders induction invalid since it renders the existence of extra-ego entities as probably or more probably illusory (Boltzmann brain problem, etc) as non-illusory.

    One could posit a recurring cycle throughout time, but this would mean no events seem truly free since they’re all predictable by the cyclical pattern.

    But when it comes to events beyond creation, it seems impossible to account for the occurrence or probable occurrence of any divinely-caused event in terms of the attributes of an impassible creator (unless you assume all events are totally caused by God; this means we aren’t the cause of anything). This doesn’t mean that God wouldn’t do good things. We just couldn’t deduce that from any propositions using any divine attributes

    I think this is what Greg can’t abide. I think for him (and definitely for me), it amounts to a God with whom there can be no personal relationship, using the meaning of “personal relationship” that I think most people have for the phrase. And I think it’s that sense of a personal relationship with God that gives Greg the satisfaction that makes his version of Christianity wonderful to him. That’s just how he strikes me when I listen to him. Could be wrong, of course.

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    • Tom says:

      Jeff: But if both parties are totally on-board with either having or not having a baby, it’s hard to explain the coin-tossing teleologically.

      Tom: I completely disagree. It’s easy to explain the determination via coin toss teleologically. Both options are equally teleologically consistent. Both equally fulfill/instantiate fundamental dispositional ends.

      Anyhow, we’re settling back into fundamental differences we’ve discussed many times and our respective views are on record, so I’ll leave it there.

      Like

  9. formerlyjeff says:

    Jeff: But if both parties are totally on-board with either having or not having a baby, it’s hard to explain the coin-tossing teleologically.

    Tom: I completely disagree.

    Jeff: I can see how what I wrote may be equivocal. So I want to be unequivocal, now, to make sure you’re disagreeing with what I was trying to convey.

    Let the couple in question be named John and Jane Doe. Let “totally on-board” with “having a baby” mean that John and Jane see having a baby as soon as possible as the most obvious way to secure their greatest short- and long-term satisfaction, such that not having a baby ASAP would seem to them to render their future, both short- and long-term, LESS satisfying.

    Now, it is with that meaning for “totally on-board” with “having a baby” that I say that if John and Jane Doe is totally on-board with having a baby that it’s hard to explain the coin-tossing teleologically. When I say it’s hard, I mean it’s hard on the assumption that John and Jane are satisfaction-oriented, dissatisfaction-averse and without significant cognitive disability, like the vast majority of humans seem to be.

    If with this clarification you find it easy to infer a teleological motive in John and Jane to choose to impose on themselves a 50% chance of precluding the attainment of what they deem to be their greatest short- and long-term satisfaction, what would one such teleological motive be?

    Like

    • Tom says:

      Jeff: I can see how what I wrote may be equivocal. So I want to be unequivocal, now, to make sure you’re disagreeing with what I was trying to convey. Let the couple in question be named John and Jane Doe. Let “totally on-board” with “having a baby” mean that John and Jane see having a baby as soon as possible as the most obvious way to secure their greatest short- and long-term satisfaction, such that not having a baby ASAP would seem to them to render their future, both short- and long-term, LESS satisfying.

      Tom: Ah, that’s different. You first said “if both parties are totally on-board with either having or not having a baby, it’s hard to explain the coin-tossing teleologically.” But in clarifying you make it clear that they’re not totally on-board with “either having or not having.” So in that case, a coin toss wouldn’t make sense. Why would they both agree their happiness is best achieved through having a baby but then toss a coin to decide whether to do what was in the interest of their happiness? Dudn’t make sense.

      Jeff: If with this clarification you find it easy to infer a teleological motive in John and Jane to choose to impose on themselves a 50% chance of precluding the attainment of what they deem to be their greatest short- and long-term satisfaction, what would one such teleological motive be?

      Tom: You’re asking me about a scenario completely unrelated to our question, which was whether an action about which one is as content to take as not to take, can, if taken, be subject to a teleology derived from the one performing the act. I say yes.

      Like

      • formerlyjeff says:

        Tom: You’re asking me about a scenario completely unrelated to our question, which was whether an action about which one is as content to take as not to take, can, if taken, be subject to a teleology derived from the one performing the act. I say yes.

        Jeff: What is meant by “subject to a teleology?” This is where an example would be helpful. If you’re saying that mutually exclusive actions can be consistent with A specific teleological purpose, I’d obviously agree.

        E.g., the purposes I have don’t depend on what, specifically, I eat each day. Because the specific foods I eat, when I’m not dieting, are neither conducive to nor frustrating to my purposes, to my knowledge. If that’s what you mean by “subject to,” then I agree. I would say such mutually exclusive acts are “consistent with” my teleological purposes.For though I need nutrition to attain some of my purposes, I don’t need a detailed meal plan to get that nutrition.

        But I don’t see what that has to do with passibilism vs. impassibilism in terms of predicting one’s actions. Maybe I’m still missing what you’re meaning by “subject to.”

        Like

      • Tom says:

        Jeff: What is meant by “subject to a teleology?”

        Tom: I mean ‘subject to teleology’.

        Jeff: If that’s what you mean by “subject to,” then I agree. I would say such mutually exclusive acts are “consistent with” my teleological purposes. For though I need nutrition to attain some of my purposes, I don’t need a detailed meal plan to get that nutrition. But I don’t see what that has to do with passibilism vs. impassibilism in terms of predicting one’s actions. Maybe I’m still missing what you’re meaning by “subject to.”

        Tom: I just mean that the act or behavior is purposeful, i.e., it’s embraced, defined and fulfilled by the end(s) it derives from its author. My example of the couple proposes something a bit different than your eating, since as you say you “need nutrition to attain some of your purposes.” I’m suggesting there is no equivalent “need” in the couple to have a child. I’m saying some purposes can be expressed (they can define and fulfill the actions they embrace) in an absolutely gratuitous manner (i.e., without implying the choice to act needs to express a ‘preference’ that ‘moved’ the will to act as it did and so ‘explains’ why the subject chose A over ~A), as is the case with why you eat ‘at all’ over not eating at all.

        There is an explanation as to ‘why’ creation exists (it exists to be one with God and reflect his beauty) but not in terms convertible with some ‘emotional preference’ that inclines God to create over not creating at all. God doesn’t (I don’t think) create to resolve, or in response to, a passible movement of his will.

        Like

      • formerlyjeff says:

        Tom: (i.e., without implying the choice to act needs to express a ‘preference’ that ‘moved’ the will to act as it did and so ‘explains’ why the subject chose A over ~A)

        Jeff: Well, if by “moved” you mean determined, I agree. To be moved is to have a desire. It doesn’t determine the act when the act is freely-caused, by definition.

        But here’s what I hear you saying: John and Jane Doe are absolutely sentiently indifferent to whether or not they have a baby or whether or not they flip a coin “to determine” whether or not they’ll try to have a baby. So say they perform the coin-toss in question. What other attributes of John and Jane that you know of could you have used to deduce that the coin-toss would, or most probably would, occur?

        And that reminds me of another question I had about something you said above that surprised me. If you think the Son can suffer, is it in your opinion because he’s passible?

        Like

      • Tom says:

        Jeff: But here’s what I hear you saying: John and Jane Doe are absolutely sentiently indifferent to whether or not they have a baby or whether or not they flip a coin “to determine” whether or not they’ll try to have a baby.

        Tom: No. All I said was they’re as happy to have a baby as not to have a baby (so they’re indifferent on that score). Then I likened the choice between whether to have a baby or not to a coin toss. I wasn’t saying they were indifferent to deciding whether or not to decide things via coin toss. They’re indifferent to the outcome, in which case the way of deciding isn’t to deliberate longer and harder on the pro’s and con’s, nor can the choice be based on competing passibilist effects which contemplating one over the other has within them. What to do? Essentially you toss a coin.

        It was just an alternative way of describing a mode of free self-expression that’s meaningful and teleological without being ‘libertarian’ or ‘compatibilist’ in the philosophical sense. If ‘random’ works, that’s fine with me. But it’s not random that destroys teleology. It’s random WITHIN the character and goodness of God. God, being perfectly good, can do equally good things (not evil things) randomly. So – God may be conceivably indifferent about whether or not creation comes to be, but he’s not indifferent to creation’s END should he create. That creation (randomly decided upon) would still derive its teleology, rationality, aesthetic orientation, etc., from God – which is the only reason I brought this up, viz., your having stated that if God creates in this random sense (without being passibly motivated to create over not creating) then all the structures of inductive and rational thought come crashing down.

        Jeff: And that reminds me of another question I had about something you said above that surprised me. If you think the Son can suffer, is it in your opinion because he’s passible?

        Tom: Passibility and impassibility describe ‘nature’ or ‘capacities of nature’. So if the Son has two natures, the divine nature and a human nature, then the Son (the Person) can have whatever experiences are appropriate to those natures – even contrary experiences (like being omniscient and not omniscient). No single/individual nature could exercise its capacity for knowing in both omniscient and non-omniscient ways, or be both physically circumscribed/limited and omnipresent. But we’re not talking about a single nature. We’re talking two natures.

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