James White, William Craig, and Divine Simplicity

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Puritan Board Freshman

This is an excerpt from today's "Dividing Line" from Dr. James White in response to this from Dr. William Lane Craig's "Reasonable Faith" podcast. The key points are as follows:
  • White endorses Craig's rebuttal to two brothers' discussion of White sees as a Thomistic understanding of divine simplicity
  • White defines simplicity as follows: "God is not composed of parts ... that are more basic than the being of God"; "God's being is not made up of lesser parts"
  • White affirms this, thinks that Craig would also affirm this, and thinks that "historic theologians" would too
  • White goes on to claim that on Thomism, "you cannot discuss the attributes of God in a way that would make them different from one another" as if making distinctions between different attributes/perfections such as omniscience and omnipresence would constitute parts such that simplicity is violated
  • White proceeds to link this definition of Thomistic simplicity to the resurgence of "classical theism" among some Reformed students and thinkers such that he sees an imbalanced emphasis on Aquinas by some
  • White thinks some "Reformed guys" are "overwhelmed" by Aquinas' brilliance such that they forget about foundational problems within Aquinas (e.g., epistemology, anthropology, and the gospel in that order)
  • White then postulates that it does not follow from absolute monotheism that any attribution or predication of God necessarily divides the divine essence such that simplicity is violated
I would briefly comment that in my admittedly layman-level understanding of the topic of divine simplicity, writers such as Dr. James Dolezal and Dr. Steven Duby have not said that attributes are parts. Rather, I take the recent literature as stressing that distinctions between different divine perfections exist in our minds as creatures who receive divine revelation through general/natural and special/scriptural means but that the essence of God is indivisible such that "all that is in God is God" and "God is His attributes." Hence essays like this treatment by Matthew Barrett whose "Simply Trinity" and "None Greater" contain further helpful emphases on related topics. And therefore, it seems to me that Dr. White might be misunderstanding the shape of the discussion in recent years, the surge of interest in Aquinas, and in particular, why some Reformed Baptists are looking back to Aquinas to avoid social trinitarianism, EFS, and the imbalances we have seen from men such as Dr. Bruce Ware and Dr. Wayne Grudem.

Would anyone else care to comment?


Puritanboard Clerk
Dolezal > White. It is not enough to say that God isn’t made of parts. If God’s attributes aren’t God, then God is made of something outside of God. White can’t escape that


Puritan Board Junior
White's one comment about reformed guys being overwhelmed by Aquinas might be right on though about other things. There are problems with Aquinas, some big. I agree that White is wrong on simplicity.


Puritan Board Freshman
I'm not aware of anyone within the Reformed community that is prepared to act like Aquinas is infallible or to sidestep how he is ultimately a papist who, while making some useful contributions at a minimum within the "Great Tradition," had big problems in key areas. That is to say, I thought many guys were clearly spitting out the bones before chewing on what they perceive to be food in terms of his apologetics, metaphysics, and so on consistent with how some Reformers, Puritans, etc have used Aquinas to bolster their understandings. Indeed, in my time spent in the Reformed world, it's been a point of emphasis to note that Calvin, Luther, et al did not substantially challenge the late medieval doctrine of God, Trinity, etc in their polemics against papist corruption and departures from scriptural truth, and to this day, there is a conspicuous pattern of Protestant scholarship such as Dolezal's works heartily endorsing the theology proper or trinitarian discourse found in papist and Eastern orthodox sources precisely because guys like Edward Feser, David Bentley Hart, et al know the "Great Tradition" better than Protestant theistic personalists such as the aforementioned Ware and Grudem. Would anyone be kind to confirm or deny whether they have observed a similar impression in their readings and travels?

Edit: I just saw this thread with some helpful quotes from Berkhof, Shedd, etc. that further clarify this.
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Puritan Board Freshman
To follow up on this, this video has been posted as a helpful summary of various sources ranging from the Fathers to someone as recent as Beeke anticipating what Craig said and what White was trying to agree with. Kudos to the Reformed Brotherhood podcast for this one.

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