This brings the total of R’s to 6.
Wish I could say there weren’t more coming!
We’ve looked so far at two ways Christians may respond to apparently contradictory doctrines: Redirection and Restraint. We now move on to a third strategy: Resolution. In brief, the Resolver holds that the apparent contradiction can be banished, made to disappear. She doesn’t change the subject (as the Redirector), or claim ignorance of the doctrine’s meaning (as with Restraint).
But how is the seeming contradiction smoothed away? Take the Incarnation doctrine: Jesus is both God and man, which seems to imply being God and not, and being a man and not. The Revising Resolver just denies part of the Doctrine in question – here, either that Jesus is God, or that he’s a human. Problem solved – apparent contradiction resolved! But, many believers will consider this change way too radical – a cure worse than the disease. I’ll come back to Revising Resolvers later in the series. Here I want to focus on Resolution through Rational Reinterpretation.
This way of responding to apparently contradictory doctrines ought to have the official SCP seal of approval, for many prominent Christian philosophers have employed it liberally. Interestingly, I see little awareness of, appreciation for, or sympathy for their considerable efforts among theologians. I believe this is because the theology crowd is in the habit of Redirection and Resistance, and still suffers from the crippling 19th century denigration of the place of reason in the spiritual and theological life, as well as from the many bad habits of modern German philosophy. But I digress. In the rest of this post, I’ll just cite some famous examples – well known to Christian philosophers, but not to theologians or to wider Christian public.
Basically all the recent Trinity theories we’ve covered here – Leftow, Swinburne, Brower and Rea, Moreland and Craig, fall into this camp. (New readers – to find these previous posts, just use the Search box on the right hand side of this page.) Another example would be Peter van Inwagen’s exploration of relative identity trinitarianism, briefly discussed in my Unfinished Business paper, p. 14-5. The basic pattern goes like this: yes, at first glance, the Doctrine looks inconsistent. But, why not understand the Doctrine as X? X seems consistent, and moreover pretty defensible.
Philosophers believe in the power of reason, and these are attempts to solve theological problems by the application of metaphysical and logical ingenuity.
Another famous example we haven’t discussed would be the “two minds” approach to the Incarnation doctrine. Jesus has the divine nature, as well as a complete human nature, body, and soul. But, there is one person there – not two or three. And this one person is the Son, the second member of the Trinity. This bristles with problems, of course, and Morris gamely takes them on one by one in his deservedly famous book, The Logic of God Incarnate. The central move, is to say that Jesus’s having two natures amounts to (1) his having two minds, a divine and a human one, where the first has complete access to the second, whereas the second has limited access to the contents of the first, (2) and his having one set of causal and cognitive powers. This version of the Incarnation doctrine, whatever its final merits, seems consistent. (Or, at least it doesn’t seem inconsistent.) So, problem solved, right?