Paradox in Christian Theology: An Analysis of Its Presence, Character, and Epistemic Status
Milton Keynes: Paternoster, 2007. Pp. xv + 328. Paper. $33.99.
With thanks to James Spinti at Eisenbrauns for this review copy!
My interest in this book lies mainly in its treatment of the doctrine of Trinity so I don’t plan on doing a full book review, but rather I’ll offer various (even if random) thoughts on the relevant portions in a series of posts as I work through it.
I want to begin by commenting on an editorial oversight that I found amusing because it has an ironic connection to the organization I received this book from. On the abbreviations page [p. xv] it lists “ANF” as the abbreviation for “Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson (eds), The Ante-Nicene Fathers (10 vols; Edinburgh, 1867).” This of course is the standard abbreviation for that set, but when it came time to put it to use, the footnotes read “ANE” instead of “ANF” [p. 15, n. 11, 12]. As most people know, “ANE” is the standard abbreviation for “Ancient Near East” which happens to be the type of literature that Eisenbrauns specializes in. I chuckled to myself thinking it was an Eisenbraunsian conspiracy to get readers more interested in the ANE than the ANF.
Anyway, on to my thoughts… Last year I had written a post in response to a Unitarian’s definition and attempted refutation of the doctrine of the Trinity. In his assessment he described the doctrine of the Trinity as a paradox and I objected with a quote from the Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics. It was Jeff Downs’ comment on this post that first brought my attention to Anderson’s work. My response to Jeff was:
After having read the abstract I’m interested to see how Anderson defines ‘paradox’ — From my reading of this unitarian article (and Geisler as well) it appears as if it is being used as synonymous with ‘contradiction’. I do however realize that it can be defined as something that appears contradictory but is nevertheless true (to this I would have no objection).
Now having the book in my hands I can say that I have no objection to the way in which Anderson defines paradox. He defines it as something that is an apparent contradiction but not necessarily an actual contradiction. In his own words a paradox, “amounts to a set of claims which taken in conjunction appear to be logically inconsistent.” [p. 5-6] Anderson’s thesis is that Christians may be justified in believing in some paradoxical doctrines, and that the doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation are two such doctrines.
He asserts that this actually accounts for the early controversies over the Christian doctrine of God. In his view (à la J. N. D. Kelly & Philip Schaff), the Modalists and Arians were guilty of trying to make too much sense of God in their doctrinal formulations. He says:
In short, the overriding concern of the Fathers was not so much to develop a scrupulously coherent theology (that was arguably the principle motivation of their opponents) but to be faithful to Scripture and tradition. [p. 18]
In his survey of the early trinitarian controversies Anderson made a common error in claiming that Arius believed the Logos to be a creature “having a beginning in time.” [p. 16] Jarislov Pelikan (whom Anderson uses as a secondary source) rightly noted:
[T]he creaturely status of the Logos (and of the Son of God) was a cardinal doctrine. . . . In the ontological distinction between Creator and creature, the Logos definitely belonged on the side of the creature–yet with an important qualification. Other creatures of God had their beginning within time, but the Logos began “before times.” . . . According to Proverbs and according to the Arian exegesis of it, the Logos had been established “before the age”. . .1
Why is such a seemingly insignificant error worth noting? Because Arian thought was not as seemingly rational as one might think from Anderson’s description. It could be argued that to “begin” or “be established” or be “created” (even if in a sense different than all other creation) necessitates time. But if Arius and the Arians believed the Logos to have had a “beginning” before time or before the ages then is not paradoxicality inherent in their belief as well?
To be continued…
1 Jarislov Pelikan. The Christian Tradition, Vol. 1: The Emergence of Catholic Tradition (100-600), (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1971), 196. Cf. R. P. C. Hanson’s The Search for the Christian Doctrine of God: The Arian Controversy, 318-381, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006), 6-8; Rowan Williams’ Arius: Heresy and Tradition, 2nd ed., (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002), 96ff.; Lewis Ayres’ Nicaea and Its Legacy: An Approach to Fourth Century Trinitarian Theology, (Oxford: Oxford University, 2006), 54-55; and Franz Dünzel’s A Brief History of the Doctrine of the Trinity in the Early Church, Trans. John Bowden, (New York: T&T Clark, 2007), 43-44.