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McCall, Thomas H.
Which Trinity? Whose Monotheism? Philosophical and Systematic Theologians on the Metaphysics of Trinitarian Theology.
Grand Rapids/Cambridge: Eerdmans 2010. VII, 256 S. 22,8 x 15,5 cm. Kart. US$ 30,00. ISBN 978-0-8028-6270-9.
Anselm K. Min
Thomas H. McCall, Associate Professor of Biblical and Systematic Theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (Illinois, USA), has written a book that promises to be fascinating. He seeks to provide an interaction between contemporary systematic theology and analytic philosophical theology on the metaphysics of how there can be three divine persons yet only one God.
The book is divided into three sections. Section one is devoted to recent analytic discussions of Trinitarian theology and constitutes (for me) the main interest of the book. Chapter 1 focuses on the attempts to conceptualize the threeness of divine persons, fea-turing the social trinitarianism of Cornelius Plantinga and Richard Swinburne along with its criticisms (Leftow) and defenses (Davis, Wierenga, Moreland and Craig, Howard-Snyder, and Yandell), the relative trinitarianism of Peter van Inwagen and its criticisms (Moreland and Craig, Swinburne, Hughes, and Rea), a hylomorphic theory of identity (Brower and Rea), and Latin trinitarianism (Leftow). McC. supports social trinitarianism that regards the divine persons as »distinct centers of consciousness and will«, but also recognizes its vulnerability to tritheism. He rejects relative trinitarianism as incoherent and Latin trinitarianism as modalist.
After focusing on the threeness of God in chapter 1, McC. moves on to focus on the oneness of God in chapter 2. He argues that the conceptualization of the one God of Christianity must involve both continuity with the strict monotheism of the Second Temple Judaism and the Christian difference that includes the worship of Jesus in the worship of JHWH with a distinction and a relationship between Jesus and his Father as two distinct centers of consciousness, will, and agency. The Christian God is neither Arian nor tritheistic (Joachim of Fiore) nor modalist (Noetus of Smyrna), but leaves room for a plu-rality of distinct centers of consciousness and will in his composition.
Chapter 3 shows McC.’s support of social trinitarianism against the claims of Barth and Rahner that there is only one will and one consciousness in God. McC. endorses Yandell’s idea of a complex being with internal differentiation but with no parts as a way of protecting social trinitarianism from the danger of tritheism.
Section two is largely a critique of several contemporary sys-tematic theologies. On the basis of David Bentley Hart’s critique, McC. rejects Robert Jenson’s identification of God with revelatory acts in history: such identification turns the Christian God into a Hegelian panentheistic absolute, makes evil internal to God, and renders Christology Arian. God’s historical action, including the cross, does not »constitute« but only »manifests« God’s being (Hart) (chapter 4). McC. is also critical of Moltmann’s use of perichoresis as the ground of the unity of the persons and of the relation between God and the world. Perichoresis presupposes and cannot ground that unity; by itself it only leads to tritheism. To apply perichoresis to the relation between God and the world is to court panentheism (chapter 5). McC. likewise rejects the idea of »the eternal functional subor dination of the Son« advocated by some evangelical theologians (Grudem, Ware, Kovach, Schemm, Jr.) because it is subordinationism. To make the Son eternally subordinate to the Father is to attribute a different kind of essence to the Son from the essence of the Father and to deny the homoousios (chapter 6). Lastly, McC. takes issue with John Zizioulas’s thesis of the radical priority of the will, freedom, and person of the Father, that the Father is so radically free as to even choose his own essence and existence, making contingent the divine essence itself as well as the divinity of the Son and the Holy Spirit, who become dependent on the Father’s will as their cause and ground. This conception makes the Father a different kind of being from the other persons, incurs subordinationism, and contradicts the idea of the person as constituted by relation (chapter 7).
In section three consisting of one chapter McC. ends with a nice systematic summary of the conclusions of the preceding discussions in the form of fifteen annotated theses grouped into three areas dealing respectively with methodological issues, the composition of the trinity, and the God-world relationship.
For those systematic theologians who have been ignoring the contributions of analytic theology, this would be an excellent in-troduction, very readable, comprehensive, fair, and well organized. They will have a taste of the concerns and procedures of the analytic tradition, and will be struck by the analytic search for images as sensible analogues of what is one in three and three in one.
I find McC.’s critiques of Jenson, Moltmann, and Zizioulas largely persuasive and to the point. I find especially apropos his caution in Thesis 3 (224) about not conflating Trinitarian doctrine with sociopolitical agendas. Social Trinitarians (Boff, Moltmann, others) are well known for reconstructing the trinity by projecting a model of certain contemporary human ideals and then deriving political conclusions (about gender equality, socialism, subordination of women, others) from the Trinitarian doctrine thus re-constructed. This is sheer projectionism and a circular argument. However, if such a projection is dangerous, how, then, do we still make the Trinitarian doctrine relevant to contemporary life as McC. insists it should be? McC. does not provide an answer.
The book promised to be an interaction between contemporary systematic theology and analytic philosophical theology. McC. does offer many analytic advices to the systematic theologians, but I do not see much reverse traffic from systematic to analytic theologians. What is perhaps more important is whether the many analytic procedures and suggestions will appear persuasive enough to the systematic theologians or simply confirm the latter’s suspicions about the analytic tradition, especially what appears to be its uncritical descriptive empiricism. I for one do not find them per-suasive. Let me just mention some of my reservations.
Analytic Trinitarians seem so desperate to find purely formal, almost mechanical empirical analogies that will show the non-impossibility and coherence of threeness-in-oneness and ignore the question of their content. Even if, e.g., the analogy of material constitution on the model of Aritotelian hylomorphism (the distinctness of matter and form in their reference to the numerically identical substance, 45–49) succeeds in showing the coherence of threeness-in-oneness, what about the content of that triunity? Is the Trinitarian relation merely the formal one of threeness-in-oneness? What does the analogy of material constitution suggest for the content of the Trinitarian relations themselves? The clas-sical tradition always spoke of »generation« and »procession« and of the relations of paternity, filiation, and procession. The analogy of generation had the twin virtue of showing both the possibility of plurality in unity and suggesting the content of the relation so originated: to generate is to share one’s essence with someone other than oneself, and thus to preserve the identity of essence with a distinctness of persons. The analogy of generation is not a purely formal or mechanical one but one that protects both the form of identity in difference and the content of shared essence and shared love. The analytic approach does not deal with the content at all and is concerned only to show – often through rather bizarre images – that it is not incoherent to speak of threeness-in-oneness.
A systematic theologian familiar with the classical tradition of Athanasius, Cappadocians, Augustine, and Aquinas can find a number of claims McC. makes either historically inaccurate or systematically inadequate. These include his simple denial of the monarchy of the Father so universal to the classical tradition on the ground of subordinationism, his acceptance of the constitutive understanding of relation without an awareness of the event of the origination of such relations (generation, procession), his uncritical appeal to the »individual« essence of each person and the »generic« essence of divinity (Plantinga) without an analysis of the relation between the two »essences«, his naïve interpretation of the »eternal generation« of the Son as simple »interdependence« among »incomplete« persons on the model of contemporary theories of constitutive relations, and many other issues over which the classical tradition spilled so much sweat and ink.