I have been taking some time to teach (two courses–one at Lipscomb and the other at Harding University Graduate School of Religion) early in June and to rest in the rest of June. Consequently, I have not been blogging with regularity over the past two months. I make no apologies for that. But I will probably return with more regularity–at least by the middle of August. Summer beckons me to spend some time in self-care, family life, house work (especially after the flooding of my basement during Nashville’s May adventure), etc. Blogging will have to wait.
I did, however, want to post my contribution to the 2010 Christian Scholar’s Conference the first week of June. Tom Olbricht asked me to respond to Ron Highfield’s new book on the theology of God entitled Great is the Lord: Theology for the Praise of God. My paper is entitled “The Simplicity of the Divine Nature: A Response to Ron Highfield’s Great is the Lord“.
Specifically, I was asked to review Highfield’s reflections on the traditional doctrine of divine simplicity, that is, that God’s being or essence does not belong to the same metaphysical categories as created reality. Simplicity denies that God has parts or is like a completed Lego set because this would imply that God participates in realities–as part of God’s essential Being–outside of the divine nature. God is not one being among others, but is the ground of being itself. God is Creator–the ground and origin of all other reality–rather than a participant in some greater or other reality.
For example, we do not say love is God or that God participates in holiness or even possesses holiness. God does not possess attributes as if those properities have independent reality. Rather, it is more biblical to say that God is love. God–whatever God is–is the reality of love, holiness, justice, etc. God is what God is. In other words, God is simple–one integrated, undivided essence. Simplicity, then, protects the aseity, uniqueness and independence of God.
Since I generally regard myself as a narrative theogian, I do not usually entertain such classic metaphysical discussions. At the same time, I see the point that links the narrative with the systematic theological point of simplicity. For example, simplicity reminds us that while we may use the language of different attributes or even assert that one attribute is central to God (whether it is glory, love or holiness), our fragmented picture of God is discursive rather than absolutely or essentially true. Simplicity, Highfield observes, “warns us not to take literally our affirmations about God” (p. 269). We understand that “God is love” through the self-emptying act of God in Jesus, but we do not thereby have a univocal grasp of what God’s own self-undestanding of love is. We understand only by analogy. Simplicity, thus, recognizes that God’s nature is an integrated whole rather than conflicted or fragmented. Simplicity reminds us that when we speak in fragmented terms about God (e.g., God is just and God is mercy, even to the point of placing those in opposition to each other), that fragmentation is part of our finitude rather than part of the divine essence.
God is what God is. That is the meaning of divine simplicity. I think Ron summarized and defended it well though I don’t think it entails the kind of immutability that he defends elsewhere in his book. But I will leave that for those who wish to read the paper itself.