Dale Tuggy

Dale Tuggy is Professor of Philosophy at the State University of New York at Fredonia, where he teaches courses in analytic theology, philosophy of religion, religious studies, and the history of philosophy.

26 Comments

  1. Sean Garrigan
    July 6, 2014 @ 1:51 am

    ” Even more rare, I would think, would be a ‘Reformed Unitarian’ because the Biblical Unitarians tend to reject Calvinism and many of them also reject eternal hell in favor of annihilationism among a few other doctrines.”

    That reminds me, there’s a new book called “Rethinking Hell” written by proponents of conditional immortality, which can be purchased here:

    https://wipfandstock.com/store/Rethinking_Hell_Readings_in_Evangelical_Conditionalism

    It’s an excellent book, despite the unfortunate subtitle. The chapter entitled “The Case for Conditional Immortality”, by John Wenham — which appears to be a reprint of a chapter by the same name found in “Universalim and the Doctrine of Hell” — may be the best brief apology for this view available, though there others of comparable quality (e.g. Life and Immortality, by Basil Atkinson).

    Endorsements by folks like Richard Bauckham, Ben Witherington III, John Stott, Roger Olsen, E. Earle Ellis, Michael Green, Stephen Travis, Philip Hughes, David Powys, etc, demonstrate that it is gaining ground as a reputable position.

  2. Aaron
    July 6, 2014 @ 12:53 am

    Nathan,

    I would say it is definitely possible. In my personal experience, though, it is not usually the case. When most people nowadays hear the word “Unitarian” they usually automatically assume “Unitarian Universalist.” Explaining that there is a such thing as a “Biblical Unitarian” or a “Humanitarian Unitarian” (as Dale calls it I believe) is usually news to them. A nontrinitarian view of scripture is literally inconceivable for many Christians. Even more rare, I would think, would be a “Reformed Unitarian” because the Biblical Unitarians tend to reject Calvinism and many of them also reject eternal hell in favor of annihilationism among a few other doctrines. They are attempting to use the Bible as their sole source of authority, they just usually tend to interpret it quite differently. Of course, all of this is my personal experience. Dale, for one, seems to be largely conservative in his reading of the Bible with the exception of his Christology. I’ve looked around but haven’t seen what his views are about other doctrines though because this blog is dedicated to theories about how the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit relate to one another.

    I’m also mulling over the Trinity right now and considering what the most Biblical and logical position is right now. Although I can say I’ve not moved from a Classical Trinitarian (Mysterian) position yet my mind is much more open and I at least understand what all the views are and I can see how one might hold to a differing view (I consider that a good thing regardless of my final stance). But I can say that I simply find the Humanitarian Christology brance of the Unitarian position untenable as I don’t see it lining up with what God has revealed to us in the pages of scripture.

    In any event, I hope I was of some help. God bless you and lead you to the truth.

  3. Jaco
    July 2, 2014 @ 2:25 am

    Hi Nathan,

    The great Dutch Reformed scholar, Hendrikus Berkhof, was Unitarian in his theology proper. Interestingly enough, here in South Africa students doing theological studies read a lot of Berkhof, including his non-Trinitarian theology, yet never really “come out” as Unitarians. I am attending a Dutch Reformed Church with 3 ministers, 2 of whom are firmly non-Trinitarian. One of them is anti-Trinitarian! They are also Open Theists, and passionately so. So yes, I think it is possible.

  4. Nathan
    July 1, 2014 @ 3:08 pm

    I know this sounds weird, but I’ve always wondered if it was possible to be Reformed, and Unitarian? Like believing what the Reformers teach about predestination, elections, etc. I guess you could say TULIP to summarize, but also hold to a Non-Trinitarian viewpoint. Just some thoughts, cause it’s definitely something I’ve been wrestling with.

  5. Aaron
    June 15, 2014 @ 3:48 pm

    Thank you for the links, Dale. I’ll be sure to check them out.

    Care to leave a numbered list of all the different kinds of Trinitarianism you have encountered to help me in my studies?

    Thanks again.

  6. Dale
    June 15, 2014 @ 3:23 pm

    That there are borderline cases of a concept doesn’t show that the concept is unimportant, or that we do not have it.

    You have the concept of a self, and you think you’re one. It isn’t something one has, but rather something one is. You’re identical to a certain self. Part of this is the concept of a thing that exists at and through times – you don’t happen, rather, you exist, and you survive through qualitative change. If you know, by memory, “I was sore yesterday, but not today” – that implies that you exist now, that you (numerically the same thing) existed yesterday, and that qualitatively you were somewhat different yesterday than today (experiencing pain vs. not). This is consistent with any number of views about human selves – dualism, physicalism, animalism (if you know what that is).

    ” Do animals have selves? Jellyfish? Countries? Starfish? trees? A.I.?”
    Because part of being a self is being able to engage in the kind of friendships human adults are capable of, it depends on the animal. Dogs, chimps could be borderline cases. No to all the others. About A.I. – it would seem that computers can only be simulations of thinking, conscious beings, and that they are not such themselves, so to speak. So, they can’t be selves.

    A god is, all people think, a self. (Confusingly, people also use words like “God” for impersonal ultimates, e.g. the Dao, Brahman.) Every NT readers grasps that God, aka the Father, is supposed to be a god, indeed, the unique God of monotheism, with no possible rival or equal.

    “Do selves, egos and consciousness come in degrees”
    Sure – many things in this equation come in degrees – consciousness, knowledge, freedom, the capacity to love… But beware of Dennett’s philosophy of mind!

    “when it speaks of the Word in both “selfy” and “non-selfy” terms, rather than force it into a pre-determined philosophical framework, whether that framework involves an artificially defined “ousia” or “self”.”

    Sorry – this strikes me as just attributing confusion to the NT authors. It is uncharitable, in my view. I guess you think you’re avoiding philosophizing, theorizing here, but I don’t think you are. You’re taking a view that what the Word is, is such that no concept we have is adequate to it. Thus, we go ahead and apply both self-implying and not-self-implying concepts to it – that’s the best we can do. This is a common move in non-Christian theologies, and in some catholic ones – though I don’t know where you got it. This is much like what I call “negative mysterianism” in the church fathers. For my part, I just don’t see that sort of view propounded anywhere in the Bible.

  7. Dale
    June 15, 2014 @ 3:02 pm

    Hi Aaron – sorry if I misinterpreted you. But I do see people refusing to think through the issues, with only a gesture at the historical crackup of early modern unitarianism.

    “haphazardly reject the Trinity, I see that they tend to be less serious about their faith in general”

    I suppose that people reject the Trinity for different sorts of reasons. Its unclarity, its suspect metaphysics is one thing. If one is just suspicious of “organized religion” or of theology in general – well, the Trinity would just be an obvious target to reject. And then all the rest has to go. But in the main,serious, committed Christians reject it because the Bible teaches that the one God is the Father, and that the Son of God is someone else. They tend to take theology, and the NT more seriously than others.

    I recommend that no one should “haphazardly reject the Trinity” – e.g. on the charge that it is a Greek import. No way. So what if it is – the Greeks were right about some things. See if it makes sense – take YEARS to decide, if you need to. Distinguish the many different theories that trinitarians have in mind, and see if any of them makes the best sense of the NT. That’s what I did. Trying out all the clear interpretations of the catholic formulas that Christian analytic theologians have come up with recently (and historically), as well as thinking through the tar pit of appeals to “mystery” drove me back to the NT, and to examining the old catholic arguments for “the deity of Christ” and “the deity of the Holy Spirit.” http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/trinity/trinity-history.html#NewTes Those arguments are surprisingly weak when one compares them with their alleged basis in the NT. Also, the NT authors know nothing of the traditional mystery obfuscation.

    This is just Reformed thinking; back to the sources.

  8. Dominic
    June 15, 2014 @ 3:04 am

    Dale,

    To be honest, I see no difference between your assertion of that the concept of the “self” is part of common sense and that of Trinitarians who assert that the concept of “substance” or “ousia” is also part of common sense and a “built-in” part of our language or thought frameworks. Unlike the Buddhist, I do not think that selves do not exist, however, while the concept of selves do permit of a tolerable fuzzy “common sense” or everyday usage, but the problem sets in when one attempts to rigidly define it and split the universe into selves and non-selves. Do animals have selves? Jellyfish? Countries? Starfish? trees? A.I.?

    When one attempts towards a rigorous application of selves, that is where we start entering into “some speculative, philosophical theory.” Do selves, egos and consciousness come in degrees as argued by Daniel Dennett and his adoption of the “intentional stance” towards any sufficiently complex cognitive system? Or is there a sharp qualitative line whereby we may split the universe into selves and non-selves?

    If we have trouble figuring out where does the self and non-self divide exists for empirical earthly entities, how much more circumspect and wary we should be to believe that we may be able to confidently apply these ill-defined categories to spiritual and divine realities! Thus I don’t think much of the humanitarian Unitarian attempts to force a divide between “notional” pre-existence and “literal pre-existence” as when it comes to spiritual realities, we aren’t exactly sure where does the “notional” and “literal” line lies for spiritual entities and realities.

    Thus, I am as wary of attempting to force any ill-defined humanly formulated concept unto the Scriptures, whether that be of ousia or selfhood, I prefer the engage the Scriptures in its own terms and as it speaks and uses its own terms, when it speaks of the Word in both “selfy” and “non-selfy” terms, rather than force it into a pre-determined philosophical framework, whether that framework involves an artificially defined “ousia” or “self”.

  9. Aaron
    June 15, 2014 @ 12:27 am

    Hi Dale, thanks for responding.

    If you read some of my other comments, I said, ” (perhaps I should have been more clear). I was simply saying that there tends to be a strong correlation between these 2 things the majority of the time (being a Humanitarian Unitarian and using reason as the exclusive or primary source of authority), which can and does lead many times to deism/atheism.”

    I was not claiming that X and Y *necessarily* lead to Z but that historically it has happened that way one time (and even that one time was not directly only caused by X and Y alone, and did not happen across the board with all Unitarians or groups of Unitarians). I am also simply making a general observation based on my experiences. Having known several people who haphazardly reject the Trinity, I see that they tend to be less serious about their faith in general, and thus, more apt to deny it all together or give up on it. But these things are correlations, not always direct causes. I also stated that there is nothing inherent in Unitarianism which causes people to abandon their faith and patted Sean on the back for some of his points. Please be a little bit more fair?

  10. Dale
    June 14, 2014 @ 11:15 pm

    About Mr. Amelung – I’m sure there’s a lot more to his deconversion story than “I stopped believing in the Trinity.” Most often, people cite problems relating to the Bible, as Sean G. observes above, and, sadly, crappy behavior by Christians.

  11. Dale
    June 14, 2014 @ 11:13 pm

    “(Western some might say) rationalistic concepts of selfhood, personhood and ego guide their reading of the Biblical text ”

    Dominic, I think it is a mistake to take this line. The reason is that the concept of a self is a built-in one. It’s part of the common sense, as it were, that God gave to the human race. Even in cultures that explicitly deny there is any such thing, e.g. Theravada Buddhism, arguably, the people go right on believing in lasting, real selves.

    Because the concept of a self is part of common sense, it is something we’re expected to bring to any text, and use to interpret any text. It’s more like the truth that 1+1=2 than it is like the claim that there are universals, or immaterial souls, or inviolable laws of nature.

    So I would argue that the concept of a self is not an “extra-biblical philosophical concept” – because it’s not “philosophical” in the sense of being part of some speculative, philosophical theory. Like the concepts of, say, perception or causation, it’s one that any biblical writer (and God) just expects the reader to have.

    Beware the easy accusation of “rationalistic” – the Bible doesn’t denigrate “human reason” like Protestant tradition does. To the contrary, it sings the praises of wisdom – human and divine.

  12. Dale
    June 14, 2014 @ 11:02 pm

    “I am simply talking about the historic trend and results of Unitarianism. What began in the radical reformation is today most widely represented by Unitarian Universalists”

    No, read the old guys. You’ll see that they hardly bear any resemblance at all to UU people today, in their beliefs, practice, and piety. Biddle for instance, or Socinus – he comes across as far more Christ-like than many of his haters.

    This is a fallacy: X and Y were followed by Z in history. Therefore, it was inevitable that, given that X and Y happened, Z way going to happen.

    Honestly, this sort of amateur historical reasoning is a distraction from and substitute for real wrestling with the theological issues.

    Having said all that, I agree that something went terribly wrong with American and British unitarianism, which were thriving in the first half of the 19th c, and went downhill after that. I found that there’s a lot of insight into the reasons in this book, though the author himself is not concerned with the question, being a UU’er (but an excellent historian). http://www.amazon.com/American-Heretic-Theodore-Parker-Transcendentalism/dp/080782710X/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1402801301&sr=8-2&keywords=theodore+parker

    There’s a lot to say… but all I can say in a combox at 11pm is that junk philosophy had a lot to do with it.

  13. Aaron
    June 14, 2014 @ 4:50 pm

    Excuse me, I forgot I had read and commented with Dominic in another post. (Still feel free to add anything you feel is relavant Dominic). Sean?

  14. Aaron
    June 14, 2014 @ 4:43 pm

    Yes I agree. You all make some good points. I have only just starting visiting this blog, do you all care to share your views of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as well as how they relate to one another? (Note: You can just give historical titles for your view (“Adoptionism” or “Arianism” or “Athanasian Trinitarianism” and then give me the nuances). Thanks!

  15. Sean Garrigan
    June 14, 2014 @ 10:24 am

    …the driving force of final authority began to be outside the Bible…

    I’m sure that’s part of the problem, though it would seem more likely to lead to fuzzy theism, deism, or even agnosticism, than to atheism. However, as you recognized, what you describe is not a feature of all Unitarians. It certainly seems to be a feature of much of modern liberal and “progressive” Christianity.

    For such individuals, the modern social consensus is often more important in determining what sorts of things are appropriate for a Christian than the Bible’s clear teachings. I’ve heard that liberal Christianity is loosing members, and maybe that’s why, as they also seem to be having trouble defining themselves beyond the self-proclaimed virtue of embracing “love” and “science”. An amorphous temple whose foundation is no more secure than popular opinion may be attractive to some in the short term (we all live in the here-and-now), but the heart of man longs for the temple founded on a rock mass.

  16. Dominic
    June 14, 2014 @ 3:17 am

    Aaron, you’re right about Socinian/Humanitarian Unitarianism tendency towards rationalisation and away from the Bible. I see the same fixation towards systematic rationalisation and rigidity of conceptualisation away from the primary biblical text, in all its fuzziness and fluidity of use of terms, that I do in Athanasian Trinitarianism.

    Reading through the Biblical Unitarian website on its explanation of the Logos in John 1 and the cosmic existent Christ verses in the New Testament, one gets the sense that there are trying to force a rigid qualitative divide between “self” or “non-self” or personhood and non-personhood on the text when the Bible has no strict concept of consciousness, ego or self or personhood. But they are letting their (Western some might say) rationalistic concepts of selfhood, personhood and ego guide their reading of the Biblical text while I would simply be more comfortable not imposing such extra-biblical philosophical concepts unto the text and let its exists in all its fluidity and complexity of usage, etc.

  17. Aaron
    June 14, 2014 @ 3:03 am

    Some good points Sean. There is truth in its failure to define itself. Mostly, especially in regard to Socinian Unitarianism (I would be careful to distinguish between this and Humanitarian Unitarianism because while the Christiologies are all but identical, other aspects of doctrine differ) the driving force of final authority began to be outside the Bible (reason/rationality alone, or at least primarily) which meant as trending enlightenment ideas came alone, it was forced to change and become something it definitely did not start out as. But to a certain point, it was this foundation that led it to what it currently is, not something inherent in the belief of Unitarianism (perhaps I should have been more clear). I was simply saying that there tends to be a strong correlation between these 2 things the majority of the time (being a Humanitarian Unitarian and using reason as the exclusive or primary source of authority), which can and does lead many times to deism/atheism.

    Dominic, I looked everywhere for Christopher Amelung but only found him on Twitter. His description of himself there is “former evangelical, current atheist.”

  18. John
    June 14, 2014 @ 1:20 am

    Hi Dominic
    You can find Christopher Amelung on Facebook.
    Blessings
    John

  19. Sean Garrigan
    June 13, 2014 @ 8:41 pm

    “Just an interesting tidbit of information: The young man from the link who explained how he became a Biblical Unitarian is now an atheist. Unitarianism has always served as a bridge to deism/atheism…..answers enough questions for me.”

    I have another explanation of the road to atheism: It often begins when people choose to delve deeply into biblical studies in general, and learn that reality doesn’t coincide with what they were taught by those who often bluster with more confidence than the data supports. Bart Ehrman is a classic example of one who journeyed down this road to atheism.

    In my experience, Unitarians are more biblically savvy than most Christians in general, and so they may be more likely to come in contact with the sorts of data that can undermine a faith built on the wrong foundation (e.g. the sorts of crash courses that might be given at a Moody Bible camp, figuratively speaking).

    I briefly studied Unitarian history in my youth, and if my recollection is primarily accurate, the demise of the movement had nothing to do with doctrine; it had to do with the movement’s failure to define itself, and with its unwise marriage to a bride (Universalism) that would leave it bereft of firm footing.

    ~Sean

  20. Dominic
    June 12, 2014 @ 9:54 pm

    Hi Aaron, I wonder if you could direct to Christopher Amelung’s blog, if he has any?

  21. Aaron
    June 12, 2014 @ 12:36 pm

    Of course it is not necessarily true that everyone who denies the Trinity ends up a literal atheist. I am simply talking about the historic trend and results of Unitarianism. What began in the radical reformation is today most widely represented by Unitarian Universalists, atheists, deists, etc. The article is somewhat interesting, but doesn’t really invalidate the simple point. This young man, is now an atheist. Not an atheist of sorts (denying an “established god” as the article calls it) but denying any and all gods.

  22. Jaco
    June 12, 2014 @ 7:34 am

    No, not necessarily. This article by Brian McLaren is truly insightful: http://rachelheldevans.com/blog/ask-brian-mclaren-response.

    Save yourself by de-stigmatising critical thinking.

  23. Aaron
    June 12, 2014 @ 3:23 am

    Just an interesting tidbit of information: The young man from the link who explained how he became a Biblical Unitarian is now an atheist. Unitarianism has always served as a bridge to deism/atheism…..answers enough questions for me.

  24. Dale
    July 5, 2013 @ 9:02 am

    And it “matches their experience” because their experience is deeply informed by the New Testament!

    Sometimes a trinitarian intellectual will demand, with some heat, to know how I can possibly think that God allowed the mainstream to go wrong on this issue for so long. One response is to point out other such bits of traditional theology that this demander agrees are wrong. But this, I think, is one reason why God, for now, tolerates the confusions – because for the faithful, the confusions, even when committed to, largely leave intact how they think about God and Jesus. They can salute the Athanasian creed in an apologetic context, but when they read the NT, they think a god is a great self, and see that Jesus is not the same god as the Father, but someone who prays to and serves the one God.

    Still, clarity is better than confusion – much better!

    Anyway, mainstream theologians take what I think is your line – that we need to double down on the Athanasian creed etc, really pound it in, till they *really* believe it – or, if that’s not really possible (because these truths are inconceivable) till they agree to loudly insist upon the traditional creedal language. I think we’ve seen the fruits of that though… and they don’t reflect well on the tree.

  25. Chad McIntosh
    July 4, 2013 @ 11:34 pm

    Testimonies like these do not surprise me. I think most Christians are functionally unitarian and dissonantly trinitarian. This is because historic Christianity, as represented by creedal traditions at least, is not really preached, or is preached in such a watered-down form that it doesn’t grip. So for those who don’t do the spadework to discover a richer, more substantive orthodoxy, it is easy to identify with unitarianism because it “matches their experience”.

  26. Mark
    July 4, 2013 @ 10:56 pm

    When I read Dr. Clarke’s Scriptural doctrine, and re-examined prominent reformed theologian like Turretin, Owen, Bavinck, Shedd and many others. I rejected the reformed doctrine, it bought some chaos to my life for I now believe God is only one person the Father, but I enjoyed knowing the simple truth that Jesus taught about the one God.