William Lane Craig is a respected and extremely prolific Christian philosopher. I’d give you his c.v., but it might bring the internet to a standstill. He’s sometimes a bit pugnacious in print, but is very amiable in person. And he’s extremely sharp. His trinitarian co-theorizer, J.P. Moreland, is also influential and inhumanly prolific, and is one of the clearest, best organized writers around. He’s been called a “scrappy” arguer, which is apt, and he’s also a swell guy (I took classes from him at Biola in the early 90s, and I’m grateful for how he influenced me). A Willardite, he also writes books about Christian spirituality, such as this good one. Both Craig and Moreland are well known for their many forays into the popular area, in the form of books on apologetics, public debates and such.
Nice doggie… nice doggie… What’s Cerberus here got to do with the Trinity? Keep reading.
In a big, unique book of theirs Moreland and Craig offer a theory of the Trinity, in a chapter on that subject. They call it “Trinity Monotheism”. I’d call it a theory that sort of straddles the social/Latin divide. That is, it doesn’t fit to well with the medieval Latin tradition – but being conservative, Bible-oriented evangelicals, they’re more concerned to concoct a view consonant with the Bible and reason, than they are to come up with one that fits the medieval traditions.
So what is the theory? The best summary of it is given by Bill Craig in a piece in Philosophia Christi (8:1, 2006) which responds to a long and ruthless critique by Daniel Howard-Snyder in a previous issue. I’ll quote Craig’s summary below, but immediately before that passage Craig makes a very important point:
The strength of our proposal lies in the fact that it does not rest content with a merely formulaic understanding of the Trinity. Rather, we try to offer a model that actually shows how the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit can be three persons in one substance. (101, my emphasis)
This kind of courage needs to be applauded, and more importantly, emulated. What they’re saying is that they’re not resting content with inconsistent analogies, or affirming various traditionally required sentences about the Trinity. They’re actually trying to come up with a (literal) model. Put another way, they’re trying to present an intelligible doctrine, that is, one that can be understood. One such that one can’t say – “I don’t know what it means, but whatever it means, I sure hope it’s true!” No – you’ll know what it means (if you pay close attention), whether you agree with it or not. In doing this, they’re declining to hide behind hand-waving appeals to mystery, or to perversely turn the tables by claiming that unintelligibility is a virtue of their theory. By being so clear, they open themselves up to be refuted; they don’t have the easy out of simply accepting apparently inconsistent claims when it is convenient. No, of course they don’t think they completely understand God, or understand everything about him. It’s just that when it comes to the Trinity, they can tell you what they understand that doctrine to mean. This, ladies and gentlemen, is intellectual virtue on display: courage, honesty, and clarity. All the more so given that they’re aware of a certain type of shark who prowls the waters of conservative evangelicalism: the self-appointed heresy hunter. Should Trinity theories ever be widely discussed (currently they are not, beyond a few philosophers and theologians), these sharks will smell blood in the water – simply because of the fact that they’re offering a model at all.
Here is Craig’s summary (which immediately follows the above quote):
Here is the model: God is an immaterial substance or soul endowed with three sets of cognitive faculties each of which is sufficient for personhood, so that God has three centers of self-consciousness, intentionality, and will. … the persons are [each] divine… since the model describes a God who is tri-personal. The persons are the minds of God. (101)
… just as [the mythological three-headed dog] Cerberus is a single dog with three consciousnesses, so God is a single spiritual substance or soul with three self-consciousnesses. (104)
Next time: so, what’s not to like?