An Arminian brother and friend has recently posted on his blog regarding how Calvinists (like me) are out to lunch when it comes to divine aseity and divine knowledge. He’s responding to an old post of mine (along with a Facebook discussion). I want to respond to J.C.’s post in order to bring some clarity to my actual argument, which he honestly seems to dismiss by a change of topic. Fasten yer seat belts and pull up yer socks and hose… let’s go!
My first issues is J.C.’s definition of divine aseity. Right off the bat, J.C. draws his definition of aseity from an unfortunate place, a standard online dictionary. Aseity is a technical theological term with hundreds and hundreds of years of history. The flatness of his stated definition can easily be seen when it’s compared to more fulsome theological definitions.
J.C.’s definition drawn from an online dictionary: God’s aseity means that his “existence derived from itself, having no other source.”
According to theism.info, “The doctrine of divine aseity holds that God is entirely self-sufficient, that he is not dependent upon any other thing either for his existence or for his nature.”
According to the Roman Catholic theological encyclopedia, “It is to this very property of absolute independence, or self-existence by nature that we give the name of aseity. This notion of aseity includes, therefore, according to our conception, a negative and a positive aspect; absolute independence and self-existence, which complement each other and form one single objective property.”
According to John Frame, a Reformed theologian, “The terms self-contained, self-existent, self-sufficient, and independent are often used as synonyms for a se.”
Having a more robust definition of aseity will prove to be important, as, in the classical Christian understanding of it, it involves far more than God’s existence having no source outside God himself. Not only is God’s existence in view, but so are his nature (as self-contained, self-existent, and self-sufficient) and his absolute independence (both negatively and positively considered). It should be clear that the definition of aseity offered by J.C. is quite anemic, which helps him in his attempted demonstration that my critiques “lack coherence.”
The robust articulation of divine aseity draws heavily on the classical Christian doctrine of divine simplicity, which states that God is absolutely and radically one. God cannot be divided or separated in any way. What’s more, he is identical with his attributes. Simply stated, God IS what he has. This wonderful doctrine doesn’t get much air time, now-a-days, but that’s to the church’s detriment. Now, since, in God, the self-existent One, essence and attributes are identical, his knowledge is of necessity tied in with his essence – his being. God IS his knowledge. So, if God is dependent upon creation for knowledge, then we have a serious theological problem. We have subjected the being of God to dependence upon his creation, which is absurd. Now, against this J.C. argues that God didn’t have to create, but chose to do so. But the fact that God might not have created, or that he (supposedly) created knowing that he wouldn’t of himself know the choices of his self-determining creations, doesn’t help. It doesn’t help because it doesn’t actually touch the issue at hand. The issue isn’t what God knew before creating. Nor is the issue God’s freedom to create or not to create. The issue is that, according to J.C.’s theory, God’s knowledge isn’t a se – it’s not from himself; it’s from another source. To say that God willed his own ignorance, and that he willed to remedy that ignorance by gleaning knowledge from his own creation is still asserting that God’s knowledge is from another source, that is, his “self-determining” creations. Obviously, these creations are more than merely self-determining: they’re divine-knowledge determining, and thus determining of the divine essence. Does that work for you?
Of course, we could thumb our noses at centuries of Christian theology and throw out the doctrine of divine simplicity (a thing which I suspect that J.C.’s, unfortunately, readily willing to do… indeed, already has done). Suppose that God’s essence is not identical with his attributes. Suppose that we can say God exists a se, but that his attributes can be gleaned or strengthened (or whatever) externally. On this theory (which I think is J.C.’s), God gains part of his knowledge from an external source: creation. If that paradigm works with God’s attribute of knowledge, why not all his other attributes? Would we be opposed to the notion that, in certain areas, God’s not all-powerful, but actual gains power from his creation? What if God, in a certain area, were not completely truthful, but gained truth from his creation? How about if God, in a specific relation to his creation, lacked goodness, but gained it from that relation? All of these options are, of course, quite unthinkable.
So, J.C. needs to justify his position at least insofar as providing a biblical basis for why God can be less than perfect in one attribute and not in others. Why can God’s knowledge not be completely a se, but his, say, being, wisdom, power, justice, holiness, goodness, and truth are. That said, J.C.’s surprised me before. Maybe he thinks that all God’s attributes are, to some extent, actually gleaned from his creation.
The semi-thoughtful reader will already know that, in J.C.’s thought, the classic doctrine of divine immutability was tossed out the window a long time ago. For, manifestly, if God doesn’t change, his knowledge cannot increase. His knowledge would (like all his other attributes) be infinite, eternal and unchangeable. Learning is growth. Growth is change. The Bible says that God doesn’t change.
Change is to immutability what ignorance is to omniscience. Both are a far cry from the immutability and omniscience of God in the Bible.
What say you? Has J.C. nailed this issue, or is he creating a massive theological mess? My original post on the Armianian view of God addressed this issue. The Arminian is, all too often, willing to modify and downgrade classical Christian theology to hang onto what I think is an unbiblical view of the freedom of humanity. I hope the readers see that classical doctrines like aseity and simplicity act as guards against just such theological perversions. Finally, the reader will note that J.C.’s not attacking “Calvinism” at all. He’s actually attacking classic Christian doctrines. Notice that my defense has not been an appeal to “determinism” (as J.C. consistently calls it), nor have I mentioned TULIP. This, again, demonstrates that Arminian anthropology ofttimes does significant theological damage. The best defense against this theological damage is not necessarily “Calvinism,” but simply historic Christianity.