When I wrote my “God is Not Odin …” it quickly became one of Eclectic Orthodoxy’s most frequently viewed articles, and I’m delighted that the reblog has also generated interest, presumably among those who missed it the first go-around. For those who have just discovered the piece, please note that it is one of a series, beginning with “The Christian Distinction.”
At this point I do not have much to add to the topic, except to reiterate that I believe that Christian theology needs to recover a classical Christian vision of divinity. I am increasingly persuaded that the analytic construal of divinity cannot sustain the central doctrines and practices of the faith. It’s unclear to me whether theology should move in the direction of St Thomas Aquinas or St Maximus the Confessor—probably both directions at once. I certainly do not mean to suggest that all we need to do is repristinate the theologies of yesteryear. That would be a stultifying traditionalism—think, rather, of a creative retrieval and ressourcement.
If you are new to the topic, you may find the following books and essays helpful:
Robert Sokolowski, The God of Faith and Reason. This is the book with which to begin. Sokolowski believes that a properly Christian apprehension of divinity came to expression through the gospel’s encounter with pagan philosophy and religion. He calls it the Christian distinction: “In the Christian distinction God is understood as ‘being’ God entirely apart from any relation of otherness to the world or to the whole. God could and would be God even if there were no world.”
David B. Hart, The Experience of God. The first chapters of this book may be read as a vigorous critique of a biblicist construal of divinity, which pretty much presents God as the most powerful being on the block. It is against this God the new atheists have directed their attacks. As Hart points out, the analytic construal of divinity, with its denial of divine simplicity and impassibility, reinforces the idea that God is just one being among many beings, what Hart calls monopolytheism. Analytic philosophers object to the characterization, and they no doubt have a point—but Hart’s point is more compelling, I think. If we think of God as simply a spiritual Person, however metaphysically necessary and however impressive his properties, the atheists will win every day of the week. For a glimpse into Hart’s understanding of God, see his article “God, Gods, and Fairies.”
Brian Davies, “Concepts of God.” This is a chapter from Davies’s book An Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion. In this work he coined the term “theistic personalism,” which has become a standard descriptive term for the Deity of analytic philosophy. Davies helpfully contrasts classical theism and theistic personalism.
Denys Turner, “On Denying the Right God.” This essay is a good example of a contemporary interpretation of Aquinas, in response to contemporary atheist and deconstructionist critique. If God is ipsum esse subsistens, he is a very special being, if indeed it is even proper to speak of him as a being at all. This certainly does not imply that God is the impersonal Absolute, but he is most definitely more mysterious than we know.
David Burrell, Faith and Freedom. This collection of essays represent a sophisticated philosophical engagement with theistic personalism. I think I have understood maybe 20% of it (and that may be overly generous). I need to go back and reread (and probably re-reread) these essays. Burrell has read deeply not only in Aquinas but also the Jewish philosopher Maimonides and Islamic medieval philosophers. He addresses a host of topics in these essays—divine simplicity, eternity, creatio ex nihilo, divine foreknowledge, Molinism, existence, freedom, Scotism—but one discerns a common thread: How do we properly distinguish the transcendent God and the world he has made? If you find these essays helpful, then you will probably want to dip into Burrell’s Knowing the Unknowable God and Freedom and Creation in Three Traditions.
I wish I could have included in the above list something written by a contemporary Eastern Christian philosopher or theologian, but quite honestly, I can’t think of anything particularly germane. Few Orthodox theologians today do dogmatic theology, much less philosophical theology. The closest book that comes to mind is David Bradshaw’s Aristotle East and West. Bradshaw wields a pretty heavy anti-Western ax and would probably tell us that both the Thomists and analytic theologians get God wrong. Also see Bradshaw’s paper “The Concept of the Divine Energies.” Along similar lines, see Christos Yannaras, “The Distinction Between Essence and Energies and Its Importance for Theology.”
A helpful and accessible resource on all of this is Edward Feser’s blog. It contains several articles defending classical theism and critiquing theistic personalism. See, for example, his just-published article “Craig on divine simplicity and theistic personalism.”
What books and articles have you found helpful on this topic? What do you recommend to our readers?