Oxford Handbook of Philosophical Theology

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Puritanboard Amanuensis
Flint, Thomas, ed. The Oxford Handbook of Philosophical Theology. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.

Philosophy of Religion has come into its own under the guise of Philosophical Theology and Analytical Theology. Philosophy of Religion had traditionally focused on issues like the existence of God, miracles, religious experience, and evil. Philosophical and analytical theology also covers those areas, but they do it with a level of clarity and precision not usually achieved in classroom contexts.

I don’t see this text replacing a college text on philosophy of religion such as William Rowe’s or Wainwright’s. The argumentation is a bit complex for sophomore level students. It is accessible for someone who has had some reading in medieval or analytic philosophy.

Revelation (Stephen T. Davis)

Fairly standard traditional account of God’s revelation, though Davis makes the important but sometimes ignored observation that God’s special revelation isn’t always linguistic. Sometimes God reveals himself through mighty deeds. This means that revelation does not equal canon.

He does raise the issue of “appropriated revelation,” which is “simply recorded revelation speaking to the reader,” such as God’s voice (37). There is no reason to believe that such a claim automatically bears divine authority for all Christians.


This chapter contains a number of good rebuttals to methodological naturalism without committing itself to specific biblical claims. Del Ratzch places the adherent of naturalism in a dilemma: whence does religious belief arise? The old Freudian and Marxian challenges have long since been exposed as absurd. If it is explained as simply a by-product of evolution that helps man survive, then why would it be irrational and other by-products, like reason, be rational? The claim isn’t that reason is okay because it is rational, but that anything from evolution is irrational.

We can say it another way: there is no necessary connection between a belief (either in God or reason) and behaviors that lead to survival.

Divine Simplicity (Jeffrey Brower)

Classical theism has always said God is identical to his attributes (or properties). The difficulty with this claim is that if God is identical to his properties (see Anselm, Monologion 16), and his properties aren’t different, then God is a property, which seems absurd. Brower gets around this by his account of “truthmakers,” or that which makes an entity true.

If I say “a is F” is true, there must be something that makes it true.

(TA) If an intrinsic predication of the form “a is F” is true, then a’s F-ness exists, where this entity is to be understood as the truthmaker for “a is F” (Brower 112).

Let’s take the following array of properties:

(G1) God is good.
(G2) God is wise
(G3) God is just, and so on.

Classical theism has always said God is identical with these properties, but this always raised new problems. Brower’s account, by contrast, says God is identical with the truthmakers for these properties. Whatever it is that makes these properties true, God is identical with that.

It’s a very promising move that avoids most of the problems associated with divine simplicity. God is no longer reduced to a property, which is usually where strict accounts of simplicity lead. This does raise the odd question that God might now be identical to a Truthmaker. That seems strange, but calling God a “truthmaker” does fit his character. The only difficulty is that “truthmaker” theory is notoriously difficult to pin down.

Omniscience (Edward Wierenga)

The problem: if God is omniscient, can he know first-person indexicals? In other words, can God know the following proposition:

(P1) I, Jacob, am sitting at my computer.

We aren’t asking if God knows that I am at my computer. We are asking can he know it from my perspective. This is similar to our claim that God doesn’t have experiential knowledge of sin. Wierenga proposes the following solution: indexicals express haecceity. God can “grasp” the propositions without necessarily needing to have de se knowledge of it (Wierenga 136).

Omnipotence (Brian Leftow)

Classical theism has always said that God is omnipotent in the sense that he can do all that is consistent with his nature. Leftow clarifies this to mean both range and power. Two beings can have the same range of activity, but if one can do it with more power, then that one is omnipotent. From there, Leftow takes the reader to dizzying heights.

There is a neat discussion regarding contingency and logical conjunctions. If p is contingent, and q obtains, then the conjunction p ^ q is also contingent.

Moral Perfection

Laura Garcia has a fine Anselmian essay on a morally perfect being, including some problems with the claim that God is morally excellent. If moral perfection is analyzed along the lines of duty, then we seem to be saying that God is praiseworthy only because he fulfills his duties, and that doesn’t seem quite right. Moral excellence, on some glosses, only obtains when a being acts excellently between alternatives, and it doesn’t seem to square with the classical theist claim that God’s choosing evil was a live alternative.

I think the better claim is just to jettison deontological ethics altogether.

Divine Action and Evolution (Robin Collins)

I reject Collins’ underlying premise that “evolution” is a given. That isn’t even argued. Notwithstanding, there are a number of important claims. Those who hold to a theistic evolutionary position have the tendency to speak of “nature” in anthropomorphic terms.

There is a quite interesting speculation that the “universe being subject to decay” is analogous (or maybe an effect of) the law of entropy. Perhaps. I don’t see why not, though that is beginning to like the feared “God of the gaps” argument (Collins 251).

Divine Providence (Thomas Flint)

We don’t have to agree with Flint’s Molinism, but his discussion is quite helpful. The main philosophical problem with Molinism is the “grounding objection.” Molinists claim that the counterfactuals of creaturely freedom are true prior to any action or existence. Therefore, what “causes” or “grounds” their truths (Flint 278)? It seems like Molinists are saying that these counterfactuals are true before their truthmakers even obtain. Molinists have responses, of course, but that is where the issue is.

The Trinity (Michael Rea)

Rea examines the numerous “Latin” and “Greek/Social Trinitarian” proposals. His own position is that the divine nature-persons relationship functions similar to the distinction between the “stuff” of an object and its actual form (Rea 418). A statue and a pillar have the same substance (stone) but different properties (e.g., being a statue and being a pillar). This is similar to what the Cappadocians said, but as Rea correctly highlights, Gregory of Nyssa did not hold to a Social Trinitarian view. The Greek fathers did use social analogies, but those analogies fall short precisely at the point that STs need them to obtain.

Original Sin and the Atonement (Oliver Crisp)

Crisp argues for his “realist penal substitution” theory. He wants to circumvent the traditional charge that both “original sin” and to a lesser degree, penal substitution, involve legal fictions.

The Incarnation (Richard Cross)

Cross begins with a difficulty from Constantinople III: if Christ has both divine causal powers (energy and will) and human causal powers (energy and will), then it seems we cannot associate causal power (or mind) with personal identity (Cross 453). That’s the problem that needs to be solved.

Following Thomas Morris, we say that a mind is (but maybe not exhausted by) a “range of consciousness.” Next we posit an asymmetrical accessing relationship between the two ranges of consciousness. The divine mind has access to all the experiences and knowledge in the human mind, but not the other way around (Cross 466).

Resurrection (Trenton Merricks)

Merricks gives a physicalist account of the Resurrection, meaning among other things that he believes we are identical with our body. He claims such a view removes the problems that plagued traditional accounts of dualism and the Resurrection. These include a body decomposing or being eaten by cannibals. Further, what grounds our identity through time if our bodies are changing?

His essay is rigorous and well-written. It’s also funny at times. I completely reject it, though. It’s not clear how physicalism can account for identity through time (which is the standard criticism of physicalism). Secondly, I don’t see how physicalism escapes the difficulties imposed by cannibalism et al. Further, to update our examples, let’s suppose a person is vaporized in a nuclear explosion. The physicalist would probably respond that God could reconstitute the body at the Resurrection. The dualist says the same thing. Finally, Merricks rejects passages that speak of life-after-death as metaphorical, but this begs the very question.


This book doesn't give you the answers to the questions. It gives you the tools and frameworks to work through them.


Puritanboard Amanuensis
Can you expand more on the 'realist' penal substitution notion?

It's taking Augustine (and Shedd's) view of traducianism. Strictly speaking, a realist substitution doesn't work, since we aren't saved by genetics. A realist imputation of sin, however does. If we are somehow "in" Adam (like, literally), then our getting punished for Adam's sin is totally just. We were literally there. Creationist models suffer on that point.

But as Shedd notes, traducianism only works with original sin. It doesn't work with the cross. Crisp really didn't spell that out. He does have his own view on substitution that he has expanded elsewhere (Retrieving Doctrine).


Puritanboard Amanuensis
I expanded on it here
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