Friday, May 27, 2011

Spit it out!

N.T. Wright’s answer in a question and answer session to a question about hell is an object lesson in evasion. Trevin Wax and Carl Trueman have had interesting and appropriate things to say about it, but neither has noted publicly how Dr Wright conducts himself in giving the interview.

This is how it goes. When asked about the reality of hell, Wright says that his usual counter question is why Americans are fixated on hell.

My usual counter question is: “Why are Americans so fixated on hell?”

But why should there be a counter – question of that kind to what is a perfectly straightforward question, though a difficult one? And why should one usually have that counter-question ready to hand? Politicians routinely use this ploy. Divert one question by asking another. When for whatever reason you do not wish to answer the question, ask another. There was a famous occasion when Jesus did this, but that was when evil men were straining to entangle him. No one is trying to trip Wright up, as far as I can see. Why should a noted church leader duck and weave? Why not answer the question about hell? To use the language of a past Leader of the House of Commons, why not ‘Spit it out!’?

Whatever the reason he has, here is Wright using a question to change the subject. He goes on

why is it that the most prosperous affluent nation on earth is really determined to be sure that they know precisely who is going to be frying in hell and what the temperature will be and so on. There’s something quite disturbing about that, especially when your nation and mine has done quite a lot in the last decade or two to drop bombs on people elsewhere and to make a lot of other people’s lives hell.

A question about hell becomes a question about the American national psyche, even a question about the morality of the policy of the US and the UK governments. The question is one that America is asking! No doubt we all have views on the bombing, and there is a time and place for discussion of that. But the place to do that is hardly when one is asked about a question about hell.

For what has a government’s policy to do with questions about hell? Not much, even from Dr Wright’s standpoint. For while both governments drop bombs, according to Dr Wright only the Americans (by the working of some subterranean transatlantic mechanism, perhaps) are prompted by their government’s policy to ask questions about hell. The British drop bombs but, according to Dr Wright, don’t show much interest in the reality of hell. The idea seems to be that so long as America and the UK drop bombs, questions abut the reality of hell ought not be asked. Or at least, maybe they can be asked, but please don’t expect Dr Wright to offer a straightforward answer to them.

Now note the exaggeration, and the non sequiturs. It is of course diverting to use the language of ‘frying’ and ‘what the temperature will be’, and to speak of making people’s lives hell. We smile at Wright’s language, shuffling our feet rather awkwardly, or perhaps protest. But whether we smile or or protest, and whether Wright intends such reactions to occur, by this stage in the answer we’ve lost the thread. (It wouldn’t be quite kosher, would it, to ask in turn what it is about Wright’s personal psyche that promotes this tendency to evade questions. For we all understand, don’t we, that why a person asks a question may be one thing, the question itself, another.)

Having got that off his chest, Dr Wright tells us that he is not a universalist and never has been.

the New Testament is very clear that there are people who do reject God and reject what would have been His best will for them, and God honors that decision.

But this, again, is hardly to the point of the question, as Dr Wright must realize.

Then, with respect to Rob Bell’s recent book

I do think it’s good to stir things up because so many people, as I say, particularly in American culture, really want to know the last fine-tuned details of hell.

You see the tendency of this? It’s good to stir things up by advocating universalism, but not good to ask a straight question about the reality of hell. (If Dr Wright is weary of being asked this question, then he should say so, and refer us instead to which of his books provides his views.)

And then there’s some more exaggeration.

And it seems to be part of their faith, often a central part of their faith that a certain number of people are simply going to go to hell and we know who these people are.

Yes, of course. But note the vagueness, the lack of specificity of such a charge. ‘It seems….often’. Another smoke bomb. Maybe there are the people whom Dr Wright surmises to exist, people who think that they know who is going to hell, and who spend their time gloating over this rather than worshipping at the foot of the Cross and helping the helpless. Maybe there are those who forget that there are many that are first that shall be last, and the last first. Maybe they routinely flout Paul’s rule to judge nothing before the time when the Lord will bring to light the hidden things of darkness. But why should the fact that there are such people, if in fact there are, prevent any one pressing a Christian leader for a straight answer to a straight question about the reality of hell, or prevent him answering it?

God is not a horrible ogre who is just determined to fry as many people as He can forever. God is actually incredibly generous and gracious and wonderful and loving and caring. And if you paint a picture of God which is other than that, then you’re producing a monster and that has long-lasting effects in Christian lives and in the church.

Of course. But the New Testament does not offer us the choice between God’s justice and his generous and gracious love in quite this way, does it? For someone who takes seriously what the New Testament teaches about the goodness and severity of God, as Dr Wright does, that’s not an answer to the question about the reality of hell, either. It simply asks that question all over again; indeed it makes the question even more pressing.

The Bible - the Book of Proverbs and the New Testament in particular - has much to say about the ‘ethics of speech’. Those who currently stress the performative, speech-act character of language, should understand this. To speak is to act and so like all our actions, our speech has a moral texture.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Can This Be True?

Polycarp 69-155 AD

I’ve read more than once the claim that most early Christians were universalists. And this is occasionally supported by the further opinion that several early (first six centuries) theological schools were universalist in their teaching. This seems implausible to me. However, I’m certainly not someone who is a student of the history of the early church. So what am I to do? I’m to look for evidence.

What is clear is that there is a steep, sharp decline from the theological writing of the New Testament and what one finds among early Christian writings. ‘Rabbi’ Duncan once amusingly said ‘It is a mistake to look to the Fathers as our seniors. They were our juniors. The Church has advanced wonderfully since its foundation was laid. Polycarp would have stood a bad chance in an examination by John Owen. I think I could have posed him myself.’

Still, this belief in a decline in theological quality in the immediate post-Apostolic church is rather different from the claim about universalism, which seems much more dubious.

To start with, it would seem that the opinion that most early Christians were universalists is impossible to test. Who are these Christians? Where have most of them left any traces of holding such beliefs? Is this evidence written? Do these Christians themselves make the claim? In making the claim, do they explcitly controvert the non-universalist sentiments of the NT? Is there evidence in the liturgies of the early church that they embodied or gave expression or tacit assent to universalism?

Here is some readily available evidence that points in the opposite direction, of clear particularism.

Clement of Rome

‘Let us fix our thoughts on the Blood of Christ; and reflect how precious that Blood is in God’s eyes, inasmuch as its outpouring for our salvation has opened the race of repentance to all mankind. 25-6
38 Again, God says to Him, Sit down at my right hand, until I make your enemies a cushion for your feet. Who are these enemies? Why, wicked persons who set themselves against His will. 38


‘Regarding the rest of mankind, you should pray for them unceasingly, for we can always hope that repentance may enable them to find their way to God’. 64

’… much more when a man’s subversive doctrines defile the God-given Faith for which Jesus Christ was crucified. Such a wretch in his uncleanness is bound for the unquenchable fire, and so is anyone else who gives him a hearing.’ 65

‘….the Cross which so greatly offends the unbelievers, but is salvation and eternal life to us’ 65-6
‘To profess any other name than that is to be lost to God….’72

‘Flee for your very life from these men; they are poisonous growths with a deadly fruit, and one taste of it is speedily fatal.’ 81

‘His passion was no unreal illusion, as some sceptics aver who are all unreality themselves. The fate of those wretches will match their unbelief, for one day they will similarly become phantoms without substance themselves.’101

‘For let nobody be under any delusion; there is judgement in store even for the hosts of heaven, the very angels in glory, the visible and invisible powers themselves, if they have no faith in the blood of Christ’.102


‘All things in heaven and earth have been made subject to Him; everything that breathes mays Him homage; He comes to judge the living and the dead, and God will require His blood at the hands of any who refuse him allegiance’ 119

The Martydom of Polycarp

‘The other said again, “If you do not recant, I will have your burnt to death, since you think so lightly of wild beasts”. Polycarp rejoined, “The fire you threaten me with cannot go on burning for very long; after a while it goes out. But what you are unaware of are the flames of future judgement and everlasting torment which are in store for the ungodly. Why do you go on wasting time? Bring out whatever you have a mind to” ’.128


‘For when the Lord judges the world there is going to be no partiality; everyone will be recompensed in proportion to what he has done. If he is a good man, his righteousness will make the way smooth before him; but if he is a bad man, the wages of his wickedness will be waiting to confront him.’163
‘For the man who does this, there will be glory in the kingdom of God; but one who prefers the other Way will perish together with his works. 181-2

The Didache

‘After that, all humankind will come up for their fiery trial; multitudes of thgenm wukk stumble and perish, but such as remain steadfast in the faith will be saved by the Curse’ 198

[These extracts are from Early Christian Writings, trans. Maxwell Staniforth, revised and provided with Introductions and new editorial material by Andrew Louth. (Penguin Books, 1987)]

This looks reasonable evidence regarding the general outlook of the Apostolic Fathers. No doubt some of the expressions, taken in isolation, are consistent with universalism by way of a speculation about purgatiorial cleansing, and none of them has been formed within debates about particularism and universalism which at that time does not see m to have been an issue at all. Was this general outlook overturned in the first centuries to follow? Is there evidence for this?

The same questions can be raised about the alleged positions of the theological schools of the Patristic period. How do they treat those New Testament routinely appealed to by universalists? Isn’t it extremely odd that a controversially-minded writer such as Augustine, writing in the fifth century, did not spot any such deviancy of the theological schools of his day or of the past from what he, at least, regarded as Christian orthodoxy, particularism and a clear teaching regarding heaven and hell?

Origen’s widely-noted universalism appears to have been the thought of one individual with a few followers, and (in the words of N.T. Wright) ‘seems to have been more Platonic than biblical.’ But one swallow does not make a summer. The view was condemned by the Second Council of Constantinople in 553.

Of course none of this evidence provides a powerful argument against universalism. But it does carry a presumption about the early church, not only its writers, but also, presumably, its rank and file. In the face of such data it cannot plausibly be argued that what we may now regard as traditionalist teaching on particularism, and on heaven and hell, flies in the face of the universalist teaching or attitude of the early church. For it clearly does not.

The trouble with these claims that we have been examining, vague and insubstantial as they appear, is that once they get into print that fact alone provides credibility to the view, at least to some minds. But printer’s ink is no substitute for evidence. Another reminder of the importance of primary sources, and the danger that what may count as ‘scholarship’ may in fact be nothing other than the retailing of opinions that no-one ever takes the trouble to check.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Edwards and John Locke on Emotion

John Locke (1632-1704)

I said at the end of’, 'Edwards on True Religion’ two posts ago, ‘Thank you and good night to Edwards for the time being’. But then Dr Lucas offered his correction, to which I replied, and this got me thinking a bit more about Edwards and affection. The result is, or will, be a couple more posts, at least.

Modestly, I wish to highlight things that, as far as I can see, have never been noticed before! I do this neither to praise nor to bury Edwards. The exercise is purely factual, but what it will show is that the man was much more heavily indebted to Locke in Religious Affections than (I believe) has been previously thought, or than anyone has noticed, even though the evidence for this has been available ever since his book was published.

Locke and Edwards on the self

Take the editor of the Yale Edition of Religious Affections, the late John E Smith. In his lengthy Introduction to the work, he briefly (52) mentions Locke once, taking two lines, in connection with the new spiritual sense, the ‘new simple idea’. Others have embellished this connection, myself included. Regeneration is the imparting of a new spiritual or supernatural sense, and the terminology is clearly Locke’s, though very similar language can be found in many a Puritan, in John Owen for example. So is the influence of Locke on Edwards (as regards the Religious Affections) terminological and nothing more? I once thought so. But the answer is ‘not exactly’.

To begin with, in Part I there are references to the human self which are decidedly Lockean, particularly Edwards’s stress on the unity of the self, which indicates his dismissal of the faculty psychology of his mediaeval and Reformed Orthodox antecedents. According to this revised view, there are two ‘faculties’, understanding and will, and the affections are not essentially distinct from the will, and so are not a distinct third faculty. This follows Locke in his chapter ‘Of Power’: ‘the ordinary way of speaking is that the understanding and will are two faculties of the mind: a word proper enough, it is be used, as all words should be, so as not to breed any confusion in men’s thoughts, by being supposed (as I suspect it has been) to stand for some real beings in the soul that performed those actions of understanding and volition’. (196) (All page references to Locke in this post are to volume 1 of the two-volume Everyman Library edition of Locke’s Essay, ed. John W. Yolton (1961))

Edwards makes similar remarks in Part I of the Affections: ‘God has indued the soul with two faculties: one is that by which it is capable to perception and speculation, or by which it discerns views and judges of things, which is called the understanding. The other faculty by which the soul….but is some way inclined with respect to the things in views or considers…This faculty….is sometimes called the inclination….’ (96). ‘The will, and the affections of the soul, are not two faculties; the affections are not essentially distinct from the will….’ (97) What Locke and Edwards now call faculties refer to modes of the self rather than essential divisions within the self.

Edwards does not quote Locke at this point, or anywhere else in the Affections. I suppose that it would hardly have done to let on to his New England audience that he was endorsing the words and ideas of a Broad Church English Arminian Anglican in defence of his take on the Revivals.

As we noted in an earlier post, Edwards is explicit in his references to and borrowings from Locke in work intended for a wider readership, one that he hoped would include the ‘enlightened’ thinkers of America and Europe. For instance in The Freedom of the Will Edwards makes explicit use of Locke’s great chapter ‘Of Power’, Book II Chapter XXI of his Essay, again in defence of the unity of the self, modifying the Lockean doctrine as he saw fit.

Locke and Edwards on emotion

Now as it happens, before Locke’s long chapter ‘Of Power’, which is concerned with the human will and freedom, there is a shorter chapter, ‘Of Modes of Pleasure and Pain’. This is a brief discussion of affection, or emotion as Locke calls it. If anything, Edwards here follows the contours of Locke’s thought even more exactly.

To make this clear, here are four or so direct similarities between what Locke says in four pages and what Edwards says in thirty or so. Some of these are substantive, others are matters of detail. I don’t think that they are exhaustive.


Locke: ‘Pleasure and pain and that which causes them, good and evil, are the hinges on which our passions turn’. (190)

Edwards: ‘And in every degree of the act of the will, wherein the soul approves of something present, there is a degree of pleasedness; and that pleasedness, if it be in a considerable degree, is the very same with the affection of joy or delight. And if the will disapproves of what is present, the soul is in some degree displeased, and if that displeasedness be great, ‘tis the very same with the affection of grief and sorrow.’ (97)

So Locke and Edwards agree on what we might call, crudely, the mechanisms of the will and of the affections. The will, and the affections which are generated, is determined by beliefs we have about pleasure and pain, and Edwards pretty much uses Lockean terminology. There are some differences: ‘emotion’ (Locke) becomes ‘affection’ (Edwards), and Edwards is emphatic (as part of the overall thesis of the book), that in ordinary speech we reserve (and he will reserve) the term ‘affection’ for the ‘raised’ or ‘higher’ exercises of the will. ‘In every act of the will for, or towards something not present, the soul is in some degree inclined to that thing; and that inclination, if in a considerable degree, is the very same with the affection of desire….and that pleasedness, if it be in a considerable degree, is the very same with affection of desire.’(97)


‘For whatever good is proposed, if its absence carries no displeasure nor pain with it, if a man be easy and content without it, there is no desire of it nor endeavour after it;’ (Locke, 190-1)

Edwards: ‘These affections we see to be the springs that set men agoing, in all the affairs of life, and engage them in all their pursuits: these are the things that put men forward, and carry ‘em along, all their worldly business; and especially are men excited and animated by these, in all affairs, wherein they are earnestly engaged, and which they pursue with vigor’. (101)

So both agree that it is the recognition of something as a good, together with its absence, that generates human activity. Locke puts the point negatively and tersely. Edwards is more sermonic; after all, the Affections started life as sermons preached to Edwards’s congregation.


Locke: ‘The passions too have most of them, in most persons, operations on the body, and cause various changes in it; which, not being always sensible, do not make a necessary part of the idea of each passion.’ (192)

Edwards: ‘Such seems to be our nature, and such the laws of the union of soul and body, that there never is any case whatsoever, any lively and vigorous exercise of the will or inclination of the soul, without some effect upon the body, in some alteration of the motion of its fluids, and especially of the animal spirits’. (98)

Each sees a connection between the bodily effects of the passion. Locke, an English gentleman, is more reserved on this than Edwards, excited as he was by the phenomena of the revivals. Locke: emotions usually have bodily effects which we don’t notice most of the time. Edwards: affections do have noticeable (‘sensible’) bodily effects.

And fourthly, an interesting incidental correspondence:

‘there is no more but a bare velleity, the term used to signify the lowest degree of desire and that which is next to none at all, when there is so little uneasiness in the absence of anything that it carries a man no further than some faint wish for it, without any more effectual or vigorous use of the means to attain it.’ (Locke, 191)

And Edwards: ‘That religion which God requires, and will accept, does not consist in weak, dull and lifeless wouldings, raising us but a little above a state of indifference’.

So Locke’s ‘velleity’ becomes Edwards’s ‘woulding’, each marking a degree or so above the absolute indifference of the mind. As the editor of the Yale edition notes, ‘woulding’ is a made up word. (99) But Edwards need not have gone to this trouble. He could have used Locke’s ‘velleity’, which Locke did not make up. But using that term might have foxed some of his congregation, and some visitor from Yale or Boston might have rumbled the Locke connection.

Finally, in the case of the emotions or affections themselves, each has a similar list, including joy, hope among those that are emotions or approving or liking, and fear, anger, the emotions of disliking. And as Locke points out that envy and anger have to do not with pain or pleasure along, but ‘some mixed considerations of ourselves and others’, (191) so Edwards refers to ‘mixed affections’: ‘there are some affections wherein there is a composition of each of the aforementioned kinds of actings of the will [viz. positive or negative] as in the affection of pity…..And so in zeal’. (99)

So what?

So what are we to make of this? Briefly, I draw two morals. Edwards was a thorough-going Lockean when it came to the will and the affections. He took John Locke with him when he climbed the steps of the Northampton pulpit to preach about the affections in the context of the revivals. His enthusiasm for Locke was not a mere adolescent infatuation. Edwards made a big point of the fact that the term ‘affection’ was reserved for strong exercises of the will, something that Locke did not stress. In doing this in Part I he was preparing the ground for the development of the major theme of the Affections, that true religion consists much ‘in the more vigorous and sensible exercises of the inclinations and will of the soul’.(96) He preferred ‘affection’ to ‘emotion’, and ‘woulding’ to ‘velleity’. But otherwise the two were singing from the same hymn-sheet.

The second point is: there is no substitute for consulting primary sources.

In the next post on Locke and Edwards I shall offer more results of such consultings.

[For those interested in even more of Locke and Edwards, see Paul Helm. 'The Human Self and the Divine Trinity', in Jonathan Edwards as Contemporary, Essays in Honor of Sang Hyun Lee, ed. Don Schweitzer (New York, Peter Lang, 2010)]

Distinctions and Divisions

The story so far

Our question is, what do distinctions do in respect of the doctrine of God? Let us briefly recap. God is free, the creation is contingent – at least the Christian church has, in the main, taught.

There are notable exceptions, notably Jonathan Edwards, who boldly, in the characteristically Edwardsean manner, claimed that the created universe was a free, self-determined act of God who in view of his nature, sought a theatre for the display of his glory, the full panoply of the divine nature, his love, but also his justice, the entire beautiful spectrum. But even Edwards, as I understand him, did not argue that the created universe is a part of the divine nature, a natural extension of it. So even for him there remains a distinction between God and the creation.

One way that theologians – though perhaps not Edwards – have moved in characterising the distinction between God and the creation that he freely brought to pass is to say, as noted, that the creation is contingent. It is contingent in the sense that it is dependent on God – Edwards would not demur from this – but also that it is logically contingent in that the universe might not have been, or at least that this universe might not have been. Another way - currently favoured by some who reflect on these matters – is to invoke the idea of synchronic contingency, the idea, that is, that at the very moment, an eternal ‘moment’ – at which God creates the universe, he might not have created it. I argued that this idea appears to do nothing to advance our understanding of divine freedom, and it may in fact amount to nothing more than a somewhat baroque way of characterizing divine freedom in terms of logical contingency.

The moral I drew from this is that those who attempt to think clearly about the divine nature and its operations, as opposed to those who are happy to articulate these matters in more rhetorical terms, need to be careful to note that a distinction that we are able to draw in thought may not correspond to a feature of the divine nature, and that we need to be aware of this fact lest we are bewitched by the illusion that we can explain more than in fact we can, and are (therefore) cleverer than in fact we are.

Another illustration

I should like to illustrate the point further by means of another example, drawn from the doctrine of the Trinity. Christian theologians have routinely stated that the threefoldness of the Trinity, that God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, refer to distinctions in the godhead, not to divisions in it. All divisions involve distinctions, but not vice versa.

What is behind this difference? Something like this: to suppose that there were a division between say the Father and the Son, is to suppose that the terms ‘Father’ and ‘Son’ denote different parts in God. So that the divisible Godhead would be made up of three parts – Father, Son and Spirit – who together comprise it. The problem with such a proposal is that it violates another essential property of God, that he is simple, without parts. Another is that Father, Son and Spirit would each be part of God, and so not the whole God, and so not wholly divine, but divine in a much lesser sense, that each had a divine ‘flavour’. Not quite what we want. The eternal God is not to be thought of as built up out of or composed by metaphysical states that are more basic than he.

So there is a threefold distinction in God, but not a three-fold or any-fold division in God. But what then, is a distinction that is not, or does not involve, a division? Here I think the theologians begin to walk something of a tightrope. Are the distinctions simply in human minds as they contemplate and reflect on the nature of the divine nature. That is, are they merely nominal, a matter of human classification, made for our own convenience? Or are they real; that is, do the distinctions correspond to something in the nature of God, and so are warranted by that? When thinking of distinctions in God are we merely saying, ‘Let us think of God in this way, as having the following distinctions’ while not insisting that the distinctions actually are distinctions in God?

And the answer to this question is somewhat fence-sitting – the distinctions uphold features of the divine nature, that the Son is not the Father, nor the Father the Spirit, and so on, but the distinctions do not mark divisions. What warrants avoiding the language of division nevertheless warrants the language of distinction. And what is it that warrants this language? Why, nothing other than the Scriptural testimony, according to which, while the Father is not the Son, the Father and the Son (and the Spirit) are one God.

There is something about the nature of God as revealed that prompts or warrants or corresponds to the distinctions that are drawn about him. But in the same way there is something about the nature of God that checks our application of the idea of distinctions, that does not warrant us in understanding these distinctions as divisions. What is this? Why, data about the divine unity. So those distinct persons are each God, wholly God, not each a part of God, and they are perichoretically related to each other, circumincessionally, if you prefer latinized English. (This idea too, whether from the Latin or from the Greek, is a bit of place-holder registering our incomprehsenion of the triune-divine unity.) The persons are somehow ‘in’ each other, without their loss of identity.

We are familiar with this idea of a distinction which is not a division from thought about other matters. The circle has a radius, a diameter, and a circumference. These are also interrelated mathematically, as school children know. Is the radius a part of the circle? Hardly. Nevertheless, the example is not wholly clear, as the circle itself can be bisected and so on. The bird’s wing has a leading edge and a trailing edge. Are these separable features? Can we remove the leading edge? Only to replace it by another leading edge. We can divide the wing, though, take it to pieces. So these geometrical and physical examples are not entirely to the point.

If we bring a magnifying glass or a microscope to the petal of a flower, we see more detail than otherwise. If the magnification is increased, so may the detail be. With the magnification, we learn more and more about the flower, its detail, and this may lead to more and more explanation, or it may confirm explanations already offered. But in the case of theology, there is no equivalent of the magnifying glass, and the nature of God cannot be explained and categorized like a flower-petal. Instead it is necessary - often prompted by erroneous teaching – for theologians to make distinctions. But it is important to note that those who use such distinctions do not know more about God than those who do not. Because the distinctions are not items of knowledge so much as directions for thought about God, and if the distinctions are good and sound then they will help the church, when under pressure, to respect the contours of the biblical revelation about God.

The tightrope

Reformed orthodox and others were thoroughly familiar with the issues here. There was a variety of ways of offered in response to them, as is illustrated by this passage from Turretin:

About the nature of this distinction theologians are not agreed. Some maintain that it is real; others formal; others virtual and eminent (of reasoned ratiocination, which although it may not be on the part of the thing, still may have a foundation in the thing); others personal; others, finally, modal. We think that these various notions ought not to be troubled and cut to the quick since, being drawn from human and finite things, they can but very imperfectly adumbrate this mystery. It s better to be satisfied with this general notion that there is a distinction, although what and how great it is cannot be comprehended and expressed by us. (Institutes III.27.II (Vol.1 278 of the Giger/Dennison edition.))

A balancing act, you see. Various proposals made (Turretin discusses them all, and himself prefers the modal way of forming the distinction), and yet Turretin advises: Don’t press any of them, and don’t imagine that they help us to travel farther in our understanding than they do, which is not much. All the distinctions he cites are after the same thing. They each affirm that there are three persons, - three-personhood is not an anthropomorphism or a mere figure of speech or whatever - but they also affirm that we cannot capture that threeness-in-unity by a conceptuality ‘drawn from human and finite things’, because if we attempt that we imperil the essential unity and divinity of the three.

So what all the proposals are after is the safeguarding of a certain way of thinking, distinguishing but not dividing the persons in the godhead, and provided that they secure this, they ought not to be squabbled over.

So it is, I believe, in the case of divine freedom in creation. How are we to secure the recognition of this freedom? By asserting the logical contingency of the relation between God and creation. Even, if you wish, by invoking synchronic contingency. But ‘these various notions ought not to be troubled and cut to the quick’ since neither comes near to explaining divine freedom. It merely safeguards it in our thinking. No mean achievement.