Boyd steps off the edge — Part 1

We posted previously our thoughts on Greg Boyd’s recent articulations (here and here and here) regarding the nature of the separation between the Father and the Son that occurs on the Cross. There are two separate issues here. The lesser issue is whether Greg’s present position is compatible with his view of God argued in Trinity and Process (hereafter ‘TP’). Greg feels his present view is a “deepening” of beliefs he held in TP. We know it might come across as a bit bizarre for us to disagree with Greg about what’s in his PhD dissertation, but demonstrating that Greg’s present views are in fact an abandonment of TP is pretty easy to do.

The greater issue of concern for us, however, is whether his recent views are remotely orthodox and whether they avoid an inherent tritheism and err as well regarding just how it is that Christ’s sufferings accomplish our salvation. Greg is a brilliant guy whose head and heart are always fully engaged. He keeps us all on our toes. We want to make sure, however, that people don’t uncritically embrace what Greg says and that we keep him on his toes too, and we know Greg appreciates this.

Strap yourself in for a bumpy road.

Check this out. Greg wants us to believe that on the Cross the divine persons of the Father and Son temporarily sacrificed their mutually defining experience of each other. Now, stop right there and read that again, slowly and carefully: the Father and his own eternal image, the Logos (John 1:1), severed their eternal and unbroken enjoyment of each other as the Son/Logos was rejected and forsaken by the Father. It’s important to emphasize the real, actual “experienced” nature of this dissolution between the Father and the Son, Greg argues, because our salvation depends upon it. God had to suffer the actual consequence of our sin (in the divine nature and not just in embodied humanity), and that consequence is spiritual death and rejection by God. So the Son, the Father’s very Logos, had to become this, experience this, had to in fact be forsaken by the Father. But this dissolution of experienced personal union between the Father and the Son is possible, Greg argues — and here we reach the heart the matter — because such mutually enjoyed love is not necessary to God. Stop and read that again carefully: the conscious, experienced love which the Father, Son and Spirit enjoy as God, Greg argues, is not essential or necessary to God’s existence. That experience is contingent. It can come and go. And on the Cross, Greg says, it went.

The question we’re asking is, What happens to God as Trinity if the triune relations cease in the way Greg claims? If God is essentially and necessarily triune (something Greg presumably wants to say), then how can the persons who constitute this trinity cease to experience one another? Greg offers an analogy to illustrate an important distinction that explains how this is possible. This distinction is the defining center of Greg’s abandonment both of his views in TP and of orthodox Christianity. In his most recent blog he asks us to:

“…distinguish between the love and unity that the three divine persons experience, on the one hand, and the love and unity that defines God’s eternal essence, on the other. We could say that on the cross, the former was momentarily sacrificed as an expression of the latter. That is, the three divine Person’s sacrificed their previously uninterrupted experience of perfect love and union in order to express the perfect love and union that defines them as God.” (emphasis ours)

So, there is a love and unity that defines God’s existence necessarily but does not define God’s experience necessarily. If Greg thinks this is a “deepening” of his views in TP, then he’s forgotten what’s in TP. The muddled thinking is entirely his, not ours. We’ve been begging him for five years to pull TP off the shelf and get back into it.

So what’s in TP? Well, its central and often repeated claim is in fact the denial of the very distinction Greg is now making between God’s ‘experience’ and God’s ‘existence’. In TP, Greg argues that a certain kind of experience constitutes God’s necessary existence; that is, God’s experience of Godself as triune and God’s very existence are one and the same. What kind of experience? The experience of the unsurpassable enjoyment of his own beauty perceived in and as fully given and received love definitive of the divine persons (Father, Son and Spirit). In other words, this One’s triune essential ‘experience’ is this One’s essential triune ‘existence’. Don’t take our word for it. Here’s Greg circa 1992 in TP:

“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….” (p. 386, emphasis ours)

Or this:

“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.” (p. 331, emphasis ours)

slsq_woman_stepping_off_red_cliffIf, however, it’s possible for God’s experience to be other than triune when Christ is on the Cross (i.e., if “the event of this eternal, divine, self-sufficient knowledge and love” can cease, as Greg is now claiming) and God remain triune, then there has to be for Greg something other than experienced relationality that defines God’s necessary existence. If the three divine persons continue to be God when they are not experiencing each other in loving, mutually constituting relationship, then Greg is committed to the proposition that something other than God’s experience of Godself accounts for God’s being three persons. And just what that something is Greg hasn’t said. But two things are certain about whatever he might suggest it is. First, it is not the view he championed in TP, and second, whatever it is it’s something more fundamental to God than God’s own experience of Godself.

To get the kind of severed or cessation of relationship between the divine persons that Greg is arguing for, you have to treat the persons as sufficiently discrete individuals the way the husband and wife are in his analogy, and that entails tritheism. Again, here’s Greg in TP:

“The unity of God is precisely the social relationality which constitutes this One’s being. And the multiplicity of God is precisely the divine Persons who are knowingly and lovingly encompassed and mutually defined by this unity. The “Persons,” in this view, are not first distinct and only secondly related, for in this case the relationality would be contingent. Rather, the Persons and the relation are both necessary, and hence the Persons are inconceivable apart from the relationality. The ‘I’ and the ‘Thou’ which define the reciprocal eternal loving event of the Trinity is inseparable from the relationality which unites and defines them. (p. 339f, emphasis ours)

There are dozens of such clear statements by Greg in TP, a work that argues (successfully we believe) that God’s necessary existence is defined by the necessary event of the relating of the divine ‘I’ and the divine ‘Thou’. But in now positing the separation in God between the divine persons as he does, he imagines the cessation of the very God-defining event of the relating of the divine ‘I’ and the divine ‘Thou’, a relating which is the love that is God’s existence. And thus Greg abandons his previous belief that this One’s triune existence is constituted as this One’s triune experience.

If in fact Greg thinks the three persons continue to exist as divine apart from their mutually defining enjoyment of each other, like the husband and wife who agree to a cessation of experienced union, then let it be known that he has stepped off the ledge into tritheism.

(Pictures from here and here.)