In his sixth and final installment of the debate, Bowman turns in his finest performance, making a number of interesting moves, and getting some glove on Burke.
First, he tweaks his formula (here’s the previous version):
The doctrine of the Trinity is biblical if and only if all of the following propositions are biblical teachings:
- One eternal uncreated being, the LORD God, alone created all things.
- The Father is the LORD God.
- The Son, who became the man Jesus Christ, is the LORD God.
- The Holy Spirit is the LORD God.
- The Father and the Son stand in personal relation with each other.
- The Father and the Holy Spirit stand in personal relation with each other.
- The Son and the Holy Spirit stand in personal relation with each other.
The only theological position that affirms all seven of the above propositions is the Trinity. However, each of these propositions finds affirmation in at least one or more non-Trinitarian doctrines.
I think the changes are verbal, not substantial. But he’s doing a couple of things here. First, he wants to show that he’s not presupposing any Trinity doctrine, but just inferring it from what the Bible clearly teaches. Thus, he makes the point that each of 1-7 is affirmed by at least one non-trinitarian theory. Second, he wants to show that his theory is most faithful to the Bible, of the available theories.
When I first saw this, I thought he was re-formulating to get around the problem that this theory is apparently contradictory. But I don’t think this is his aim, as at best, the contradiction is slightly papered over. If 5-7 are true, then f, s, and h must each be selves (capable of being in personal relations) and since by “personal relation” we assume Bowman means friendship with another (not with oneself), then f, s, and h must be three – none can be numerically identical to either of the others. And yet, 2-4 seem to say that each is numerically identical to one thing, the self who created (1). And things identical to the same thing, are identical to each other – ’cause they’re just one thing, after all. So, each of the three is and isn’t God; in my view, the battleship remains sunk.
BUT, to his credit Bowman puts up a manly and forthright defense of positive mysterianism (comment #3 here). He smacks down a misinterpretation of John 4:22, and makes the excellent point that it is irrational to dismiss a theory at the first sight of an apparent contradiction. One must be patient enough to work through things – oftentimes those contradictions turn out to be merely apparent.
Mind you, I don’t agree with positive mysterianism, and I’ve explained in gruesome detail what I think is wrong with it. Moreover, I think Bowman is mistaken in saying that catholic Christians have always held paradoxical views about God (e.g. in the NT “mysteries” have nothing to do with apparent contradictions), and he doesn’t seem to recognize the crucial difference between a belief which merely strikes one as implausible, and one which appears to be contradictory. Moreover, he attacks a straw men (that believable theological claims must be proven consistent, and that to believe that something is so one must understand how it is so). But he here expresses a view popular with a good many Christians, and with evangelicals in particular. And IF this defense is reasonable, then it is not enough to merely point out the apparent inconsistency of Bowman’s views. Point, Bowman.
In the rest of his closing statement, Bowman
- Gives a pretty fair summary of Burke’s biblical points.
- Insists that he’s shown his interpretations of the passages to be better, including some surprising ones, e.g. 1 Cor 8:6, which he reads to assert Jesus and the Father to be one self.
- Denounces as “slanderously false” Burke’s claim that trinitarianism somehow compromises the genuine humanity of Jesus. Although I think Bowman lost the debate about temptability, I think not enough in this debate has been said about the consistency or inconsistency of incarnation theories. Burke would need to show that on Bowman’s view of the incarnation (whatever that is), Jesus can’t be a man, or the right sort of man. Bowman points out in a comment (#7) that Burke hasn’t done enough to definitively show this.
- Objects to Burke’s claim that Jesus is the “literal” Son of God.
- Asserts that he creamed Burke re: Philippians 2.
- Ditto on John 1. I agree that Bowman points out some apparent inconsistencies in Burke’s position, but he seems blind to the difficulties of his own reading. (To wit: Isn’t Pr. 8 the background here, as well as some statements in the apocrypha about the non-literal incarnation God’s law? And what would it mean to say that the logos both is God and is with God? Burke has a natural answer here – Pr. 8:27, 30 And strangely, Bowman’s reading has “God” being applied, confusingly, in short order to the Father (“with God”) and to the Son (“was God”) and then quickly (v.2) back to the Father.)
- And the NT obviously teaches Christ’s existence before his conception. Plus, Bowman accuses Burke of quoting out of context “Mowinckel, who “shows that the Jewish ‘Son of Man’ was really (not ideally) pre-existent.” It seems that Dave was mistaken about Mowinckel’s overall position; but this sort of “gotcha” doesn’t advance the discussion, in my view, though it may delight partisans. On a close look, though, Burke didn’t say or imply that Mowinckel agreed with his overall view. It’s fair to point this out, but Burke has no obligation whatever to draw attention to the fact.
- Finally, Christ in various places receives “divine honors” and “divine names” – and not just in any old way, but in “religious contexts” (whatever those are!) which show that the disciples etc. took Jesus to be God himself. Religion scholar James McGrath shows up in the comments are pertinently asks what “religious” worship consists in, and what Bowman makes of an interesting OT text. (Comments 1, 10, 19, 67, 69)
- In a long, labored comment (#4) Bowman accuses Burke of deliberately distorting the “Athanasian” creed, when Burke says that it does and doesn’t teach three Lords. Bowman confidently pounces because the creed explicitly denies there are three Lords. Well, sure. But Burke wasn’t saying that the creed has an explicit contradiction (asserting “P” and asserting “not-P”) but rather that it is implicitly contradictory – explicitly saying there aren’t three, and yet implying that there are. I got Burke’s point. (More here.) Bowman should be slower to accuse his opponent of bad faith. Clear implicit contradictions are just as obviously false as explicit ones. Bowman also objects that Burke is begging the question, but Burke is only assuming self-evident truths, which one may reasonably assume in any context. Bowman needs to state and defend his controversial assumption of relative identity relations. Point Burke.
- In the rest of that long comment, Bowman tries to deduce the Trinity doctrine (understood paradoxically as above) from the Bible without using the word “person”. He asserts that the concept of a person is just the concept of “someone other than” one or more selves. (That can’t be right – the notion a solitary person/self isn’t contradictory.) In any case, as he reformulates “the” doctrine, he comes up with “There is one God, i.e. one divine Being, existing in three Persons… But now I notice that the word “Person” in the above statement cannot be identical in meaning to the word “Being” without resulting in a contradiction. Thus…” (he none too clearly asserts that in this context two things can be different “persons” but the same being). But why the sudden dislike for apparent contradictions? Embrace the mystery, my friend – don’t go rationalist on us at this late date. 🙂
- The comments on Bowman’s post are cantankerous and interesting. Bizarrely, at one point (#65) a Bowman partisan assures him that he should quit, that further discussion would be a waste of time (too many unitarians involved!) To his credit, Bowman discusses historical matters (#14-15, 63) and the objection about why the NT weren’t more up front with their views on the Trinity (#66 – to me, his answer is unsatisfying ). Points to Bowman for patient and thorough follow-through.
On the negative side, here’s Bowman’s final reply to McGrath re: worshiping Jesus as an agent of God:
…I agree that in a limited sense, the Israelite king (David or Solomon especially) functioned as God’s “agent” in that they ruled Israel on his behalf. I even agree that this motif establishes some precedent for the NT teaching that Christ rules from God’s throne. In the NT, however, what was a very limited, circumscribed agency with regard to the Israelite king is expanded to include Jesus Christ in the very identity of God.
In the last sentence Bowman repeats a confused trope from contemporary theology. But that’s not essential to his case; if Jesus just is (is numerically identical to) God, then we don’t need any talk of his being “in God’s identity”, whatever that might mean.
Though not every punch lands, Bowman fights hard and on many fronts in this round, and I’m awarding the round to him.
Score through all six rounds:
Next time: some concluding reflections on the debate.