God… With Us

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Dr. K. Scott Oliphint speaks about the doctrine of God and his book God with Us: Divine Condescension and the Attributes of God. Dr. Oliphint is Professor of Apologetics and Systematic Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary in Glenside, PA. In this episode, he entertains several general questions about the doctrine of God before moving to a more pointed discussion of how an infinite, eternal, and immutable God can create and then relate to that creation.

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80 Responses to “God… With Us”

  1. Scott says:

    Camden,

    Man! This guy’s incredible. Why don’t you have him on every week? This is the best I’ve ever heard!! Five stars for this interview!

    OK, just kidding. I just wanted to say, thanks for getting the title right!

  2. Chris Cullnane II says:

    Dr. Oliphant said in responding to a question about whether or not to use the phrase “God loves you” to a non-
    Christian “God cares for you even under His wrath”. How would you engage a person in conversation using that concept?

  3. Avicenna/Scotus/Suarez says:

    Do “covenantal properties” exist?

  4. Scott says:

    Chris,

    Perhaps Paul’s address in Acts 17 would be a good place to start. There Paul tells the philosophers that God has given them life and breath and all things, and he also tells them that God has commanded them to repent because a day is coming when Christ will judge them. Both God’s care and wrath made clear.

    Avicenna,

    Does God’s wrath exist? Does his faithfulness exist? Does his patience exist?

  5. Reading the book now and finding it very helpful. His last book was great even though I only understood about sixty percent of it.

  6. Dale Olzer says:

    Concerning covenantal properties, as I understand this volume of work, is that God in his desire, and free will to create, is taking on covenantal properties. So everything God does as he relates to creation, even creating itself is covenantal. So while God remains a se (simple, good, perfect, immutable, omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent …) dependent on nothing else, he takes on properties that he did not have before, to relate to his creation. Man cannot know God as God. Man only knows God as God reveals himself in a condescending covenantal way to man

    So when we read of God walking in the garden (Gen 3) or God now knowing (Gen 22), or God relenting (Ex 32), or even God becoming man (John 1), we can understand the vast distance God must cross in order to be with his people. (God … with us)

    Perhaps I’m naïve or under educated in the theology, but it seems Dr. Oliphint is clearly and powerfully articulating what divine condescension looks like and what its implications are, in way that has not been fully or as maturely done before.

    This is a great doctrine for the Church. The divine condescension of God is a mystery that should lead us to a doxology of adoration as it did for Paul in Romans 11:33-36

  7. Bob says:

    Is Scott actually Dr. Oliphint? If so, then Avicenna is actually Bob LaRocca. I posed as Avicenna/Scotus/Suarez to be funny. The joke is that they each believe in some form of unactualized possibility distinct from the nature of God. (hilarious!) I finished your book this past weekend and the question I have is whether the covenantal properties exist. From your answer above in the form of rhetorical questions, I assume that you would say, yes, they do exist. Even further, you write that the properties are distinct from the Divine Essence. If these properties exist and are distinct from the divine essence, doesn’t that entail that the properties themselves are creatures? I read you say as much, multiple times, in your book.

    (I assume you wouldn’t say that the properties are distinct from the divine essence in the way His triune personal modes of subsistence are distinct but still divine).

    • Scott says:

      I think you’ll need another category or two here, Bob. The covenantal properties are God’s, but they come to be by virtue of condescension. They are, therefore, relational properties, some of which accrue to God according to his essential character, and some of which accrue to him according to creation.

  8. Bob says:

    Thank you for responding, Dr. Oliphint. When you write that the covenantal properties “come to be,” you seem to be confirming their existence. My problem is that I have no categories of existence other than God and creature. Now if the property’s existence is a divine existence, then wouldn’t we have to hold that there are multiple DIVINE existants, that is, multiple distinct divine existants that are essentially existant? But at the same time we would then be saying that divine existence is a “coming to be” kind of existence. I think our monotheism bars us from positing multiple distinct divine existants and our doctrine of divine transcendence bars us from speaking about divine existence as “coming to be.” Yet you also seem hesitant to confirm the property’s creaturely existence. Could you introduce to us a third category of existence that is neither divine nor creaturely?

    • Scott says:

      Sure, happy to introduce another category. It’s called covenantal properties. If your present categories can’t make way for biblical truth, time to get some more categories. There’s more to reality and to what God does, relative to who he is, than simply “existence.”

      What do you think God’s wrath is? Is it divine or created? Is it essential to who God is? That’s why I said it’s time for more categories. By the way, for those stuck in medieval-land (not you, necessarily), this is akin to Scotus’ notion of contingency with respect to God.

  9. Paul says:

    Bob,

    I’m wondering, if for you, God retains the property of creator in the ontological trinity (you have told me as much), must he not also require the property of non-creator? If you respond that he does not retain the property of non-creator, which is why he creates, then wouldn’t that make God’s very being require that he create? If he does retain the property of non-creator, then would not that allow for contradicting properties?

    If you say that you do not want to use “property” language with reference to the essence of God (although you have used it, and indeed must as a creature), then does not the fact that, for you, God’s retaining of the property of creator and non-creator make impossible creaturely descriptions of God (albeit formal, not actual)?

  10. Bob says:

    Dr. Oliphint,

    I believe that all that is not God is creation. Those are my categories. To me this is Biblical truth. I also affirm that God truly and really relates to creation – because the Bible tells me so. The Bible does not say that such a relation necessarily entails God accruing to himself properties that are distinct from the Divine Being. That is your doctrine, proposed to help the church to understand how God relates to creation.

    All I am asking is whether the “covenantal properties” exist. If they don’t exist, then what we say about them is inconsequential. Perhaps I’m not smart enough to understand how that which does not exist could be part of reality. If they do exist, then, as I said earlier, I have no other categories of existence besides God and creatures. It seems to me, that unless this question is answered, we will allow ourselves to talk about properties that are said to be uncreated and not God.

    Both you and Paul ask me to account for how I think about the issue of God’s relation to creation. I’m happy to relate my uninspiring Sunday school answer, but I think it would be helpful at the moment to keep talking about the “covenantal properties.” Would it be accurate to say that the covenantal properties are both uncreated and not God? Should anything be qualified as such in a Christian worldview?

    • Scott says:

      Thanks, Bob. These are good questions and should probably be continued in my office.

      What you’ll need to do is account for God’s wrath, his righeousness, his jealousy, his mercy, his eternal decree, his grace, is faithfulness, etc. If your categories don’t do that, then you’ll need some others. If they do, then you should probably stick with yours and not worry yourself with mine. I suspect they’ll never fit into your philosophy.

      • Bob says:

        Ok. Thank you for this exchange, Dr. Oliphint. By the grace of God I hope I never let my metaphysics rule over my theology to the point that I deny God’s interaction with the world. I believe in, confess, and worship an absolute God who relates to me, even as a merciful redeemer. My metaphysics, as a ministerial aid, doesn’t really help me explain that relation and I think that is perfectly fine, perhaps even to be expected.

  11. MikeD says:

    Dr. Oliphant,

    Thanks for participating and your new book is on the way to my doorstep… I look forward to it. I’ve listened to the series on iTunes U, The Doctrine of God. Much of which I found encouraging and thoughtful, all of which I found stimulating. There is a small section, though, in Pt. 9 (at about the 14-20 min mark) that I found really quite disturbing. Two short verbatim quotes are:

    You said, “… but when dealing with Scripture you can’t just move deductively. You can’t take a general principle and then deduce whatever logically follows because whatever logically follows because sometimes what logically follows is not a good consequence of what Scripture gives us.”

    Also you said, “If we say that there are three person in the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. If we say that these three persons are not parts of God, but each one is fully God. The Father is wholly God, the Son is wholly God, the Holy Spirit is wholly God and that each is distinct. The Father is not the Son is not the Holy Spirit. The logical conclusion, therefore, is that there’s three gods. Unfortunately, it’s not a biblical conclusion.”

    In my very limited understanding of the thoughts of the men who penned the WCF, I can’t imagine they have the same definition of “good and necessary consequence” as you. Regardless, though, I find it most problematic to say that the Bible logically implies tri-theism, but we should reject is as bad. Why not reject the implication of monotheism as bad, and stick with the necessary logical implication of tri-theism? What, for example, would make a determination between a “good” necessary logical inference and a “bad” necessary logical inference of not systematization (logic) according to the proportion of the faith? Further, are we prepared to say that the bible necessarily and logically implies false doctrine?

    Further, as pertaining to your comment about Paul Helm’s view of wrath and grace, you said, “Now that just can’t be. Because that would mean that Scripture was encouraging you to think something that is not the case.” I agree with you on that, but isn’t Scripture, by necessarily and logically (your words) implying tri-theism encouraging us to believe something that is not the case?

    Thanks for your time and as always, your work is appreciated.

  12. Scott says:

    Thanks Mike for the good questions. I’ll have to think about this. The Bible teaches both that God is One, and that each of the Persons are fully God, so my emphasis on just one side of that equation may not have been helpful.

    I wonder if what Paul explains in Rom 1:19 is an example. Does Paul think that a necessary consequence of God’s sovereignty over salvation is that we are not at fault?

    Thanks again.

    • Scott says:

      Sorry, that should be Rom 9:19…

      • MikeD says:

        Dr. Oliphant,

        I do not think that Paul believes it a necessary inference of God’s sovereignty that man is not at fault. He is anticipating an understandable (given a sinful man’s disposition where we all once were), yet invalid, conclusion from the premise that God does as he pleases (some he love and some he hates) and that he is almighty (Nobody can resist his will). These true premises do not imply that man is not responsible. We know this because the Bible is riddled with the teaching that man is accountable to God and that he is absolutely sovereign. Thus these are two propositions that are logically compatible. The person who thinks otherwise has the burden of proof to show and argument entailing inconsistency. What the bible necessarily and logically implies is good… it is the very word of God.

        Paul’s answer to the scoffer, over and over, is that what God does is good and right, for He is goodness himself and can do no other, and we are his subjects. The sinner is to blame for the goal of their deeds is not his glory, which is what it should be, but rather selfish ambition (“Why hast Thou made me such?” and from the beginning, “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate”) and inordinate pleasure among many other things. Joseph intimated this long ago in Gen 50. God is not at fault, for he is accountable to nobody. Indeed, it is logically impossible that he should be.

        There’s much more that I’d love to say about Paul’s solution in this very passage to the supposed dilemma, but in the interest of your understandably busy schedule it should suffice to say that the proposition, “Man is not at fault,” is no more logically deduced from God’s sovereignty (Rom 9:18-219), than the proposition “God is unrighteous,” is implied by him giving grace to some and not others. (See Rom 9:13-14).

        Thanks again for your studies, in Christ.

    • MikeD says:

      My apologies for spelling your name wrong. It seems that it’s about almost 50/50 on the internet. Oliphant va. Oliphint.

      • Jared Oliphint says:

        I’m not sure if this adds clarification or confusion, but if I remember those lectures correctly the term “logic” is, I don’t think, used to mean “the orderly, non-contradictory system reflective of the way God has created and properly arranged things based on his own character.” I believe what is referred to is “the found artifact of human logic”, which may or may not conform to the first definition. So I doubt what was meant was that those seeming contradictions you brought up are actual contradictions, but that, using logic, some have managed to make “logical” arguments that see those tensions as contradictory.

        Even if this was not meant in the lectures, I take your point that we don’t want to affirm that what is actually the case, e.g. the truth of human agency and the truth of God’s complete sovereignty, is also an actual contradiction.

  13. Jonathan Brack says:

    We must remember that any philosophical categories are limited and unable to exhaust the Person who is Three and One. But philosophical principles can serve in a ministerial role. Thus far, I can’t help but notice that every critical question asked of Dr. Oliphint could equally be asked of WCF 7.1. When God condescends, how can that happen? Does he abandon his ontological post? How can he condescend if he is everywhere? Is God existing in his condescension? Or is it just a creature that condescends becasue God can’t condescend? Does the confession actually mean, “it appears that God condescends but He doesn’t really do anything.” ? Can we say with Scripture, like Dr. Oliphint is asking us to, that God has wrath, and patience? I understand that these things are ultimately mysterious, yet we must ask what attributes are more mysterious than the others. God’s acts in history are namely that, God’s acts.

    The communicable attributes are more clearly communicated yet they are God’s attributes. It is the incommunicable attributes that are even more mysterious and difficult for us to grasp, becasue they are, well … incommunicable. We can not switch these two categories and pretend that the incommunicable attributes are more easily grasped than the communicable ones. Dr. Oliphint is simply expressing how this is the case. So that when we say God searches or God comes down, we can say YES! and it is God who does these things. We can’t say that God only appears to come down because we all know that God can’t do such things becasue his ontological status (most of which I have derived from good and necessary consequence) bars me from saying so.

    If Thomas places God outside the chain of being he still has the problem of relating God to the World. But the incommunicable aspect of the above assertion is not the fact the God relates to the world more so than the simple fact that HE IS above and outside the chain of being (I mean come on, HE IS above IS-NESS? wrap your head around that one, just kidding… you can’t). It is the fact that God is above and outside the chain that is incommunicable and thus the most difficult to grasp or even predicate philosophically. The Fact that God (as existing, for God came into the World) does relate to the world is clearly and abundantly communicated throughout Scripture. Hence it seems as if philosophical predication can be even more helpful in this mystery than the previous one.

    Our philosophical predication, although not exhaustive, can be helpful in this category of condescension. If we just slap the word mystery onto condescension without trying to work out the philosophical categories rooted and guided by exegesis, then we must also to the same for God in his incommunicable attributes. This false approach would amount to us saying that God doesn’t exist outside the chain of being becasue .. guess what it is a mystery, and thus I don’t predicate of things I can’t understand.

    Dr. Oliphint, I am on point or totally unhelpful here? Remember, I have no emotions, so speak as critical as you’d like.

    • Scott says:

      I think you’re basically right, Jonashun.

      I hadn’t planned to join a thread of discussions; should’ve known better. I’m happy to discuss this in person at some point.

    • Bob says:

      Brack,

      WCF 7.1 doesn’t propose that God assumes properties like the assumed human nature in the incarnation. I don’t know this for sure, but I would imagine most of the divines held to a “substantial union” view like John Owen did, which Oliphint rejects. Dr. Oliphint’s view is NOT good ol’ reformed thinking. It’s quite novel, as far as I know.

      Second, in regards to the priority you give to the communicable attributes, Dr.Oliphint actually says the opposite in his book. On page 18-19 he says that God’s essential character must be foundational for anything else he’ll talk about.

      Also, its not an issue about which attributes are more mysterious, its only a question of when philosophy is helpful and when it isn’t as helpful. I agree with Dr. Oliphint, no Christian should deny, on the basis of their philosophical categories, that God relates to creation. We should robustly affirm it! My claim is that Dr. Oliphint has gone a step further and has used philosophy to explain that relation, and that the explanation is bad and ultimately compromises the Creator/creature distinction. He wants to stay with Scotus, I will push him to Suarez.

      Fourth, read Bavinck vol. 2 p. 120 and 135. It’s always nice to have company.

      Fifth and most importantly, after all you said, Do the covenantal properties exist? If so, do they exist as God or as creatures. This question is not going away with a wave of the hand.

  14. Warren says:

    Could it be considered that the mention of “covenantal properties” be a matter of analogically (creaturely) considering the relational outworkings of God that are ectypally manifested in the creature but which are archetypal in God? Wrath, patience, mercy exist in man because these are universally “abstracted” in God. I hearken back to Van Til’s “One-and-the-Many.”

  15. Nestor Antonio Tomas Enriquez, S.J. says:

    Buenos Dias Hermanos,

    Lo siento mucho hermanos en la fe, por la falta de abilidad en ingles de qual estoy culpable. Mi intencion, aceptando esa limitacion es ser entendido lo mejor posible.

    Roberto, o sea – “Bob” – como dicen los Norte Americanos, que importa si los “covenantal properties” son creados o no-creados (eternos)?

    O en ingles – what matters it when properties of covenant created o no-created (eternals) are?

    Entendi de lo que escribo Ust. que si son eternos esos “properties,” hemos introducido el platonismo (que declaramos heterodoxo). Pero si son creados – o si tienen su existencia principalmente con respeto a la creacion – que exista en el primer caso por la decision libre, y el poder de Dios – no entiendo que sucede algo teologicamente inadmisible.

    Si son creados, Dios no tiene que perder nada, ni un aspeto a ser divino, a ser si mismo; no se limita en adoptar esos “covenantal properties.”

    Senor Roberto, espero su respuesta, para que entienda yo mejor. Lo que me interesa es que no quiere nadie negar su pregunta “with wave of hand,” pero lo que suspecho es que presenta Ust. un dilema sin mucho significado. O sea – question You Senor Roberto asks has meaning very little.

    Con respeto, Hermanos en la fe

    Abrazos

  16. Nestor Antonio Tomas Enriquez, S.J. says:

    Asi es, Hermano, bien dicho!

  17. Nestor Antonio Tomas Enriquez, S.J. says:

    Asi pues, Hermano, bien dicho!

    • Nate says:

      Hey Nestor,

      This isn’t Taco Bell, sir, this is a serious theological discussion. Nosotros no tenemos tacos.

      • Nestor Antonio Tomas Enriquez, S.J. says:

        Senor Nate,

        Perdona me hermano si mis contribuaciones no son bienvenidos. Yo solo quise hacer le una pregunta al Senor Roberto (Bob) – con todo respeto, y limitado por lo tanto he entendido la discusion – despre su pregunta directado al profesor Olifint.

        Bob, si se permite, queso calentado, con frijoles, carne, cebolla, y todo lo bueno, asi conbinados, pueden ser ‘un burrito Mexicano’. Es exactamente igual con los “covenant properties” de Dios.

        Hay un hermano en la fe por alli quien puede traducir lo que he dicho, para que entienda Bob?

        Gracias, con mucho amor y respeto

  18. Nate says:

    Guys,

    This dude is little off his rocker, but he’s asked if anyone can translate what he’s said so that he can get an answer from Bob.

    In the first, this guy – who apparently is a Jesuit – asked why Bob thought his question was significant, something like that. He said he understands that we don’t want to say those properties are uncreated, because then they would be platonic, and apparently he doesn’t like Platonism (he is a Jesuit, afterall).
    Then he asks something like “who cares if the properties are created?” He says it isn’t a big deal if the properties are basically a function of creation. He wants Bob to explain, because he thinks the dilemma Bob poses isn’t terribly interesting/significant/important.

    The second post is a little weirder. I tried to get him to go away, but he persists.. and gets weirder. He’s trying to draw an analogy between burritos and covenantal properties… don’t ask me. He says if you combine all the ingredients you get a burrito, a “Mexican burrito,” then he says that it’s no different with covenantal properties.

    I’m not sure I have time to try to translate a response.. But I’m not sure it would matter if the translation were coherent. This dude is weird. But hey Bob- he definitely is interested in hearing from.
    Nestor, esto es mejor puedo traducir. No es bueno, lo siento.

    • Dale Olzer says:

      Nate,

      First of all, Nestor isn’t the only weird dude here.

      Second, I’m with him on Plato.

      Third, I about busted a gut, when you a co-host of PfT, said this was a serious discussion. (The Greeks are going MAD!) Content is serious, but lets not take ourselves to seriously.

      Fourth, I think you are smart enough, more than smart enough, to read between the lines of what Nestor is saying. And I don’t think Nestor is a Jesuit.

      Fifth: you can use google tanslate http://translate.google.com/

      • Dale Olzer says:

        Just thinking outside the bun here :)

        I believe the point Nestor is making, is that if the covenantal properties of God are eternal, then we are heading to the world of eternal forms, ala Plato. But if these covenantal properties of God are created properties, this does not harm the essential properties of God. God taking on covenantal properties is still simple, a se, and necessary.

        Just like a burrito is still a burrito even if you add additional ingredients.

        You can’t always “have it your way” but you do “deserve a break today”

  19. Nate says:

    Dale,

    Thanks, brother. I have to come clean: Nestor’s initials are N-A-T-E. That spells NATE, which bears an uncanny resemblance to Nate. It’s no coincidence.

    I feel guilty for deceiving you, but I did it because this entire discussion seemed like a farce, so I played along. Bob is a very smart guy, but he’s got tunnel vision. More importantly, I’m afraid he’s got the fever for the flavor of catching big fish – catching big fish for the sake of catching big fish. He’s after Oliphint for the sake of going after Oliphint. In other words, I think that the fervor of his writing here is in large part ad hominem. He has fallen silent since Dr. Oliphint signed off, even though there are other dudes – you, me, Nestor, many more – who would be happy to try to work through these issues with him.

    Again, Bob is a brilliant dude, but I think on this issue he’s got tunnel vision. He’s missing the forest – Yosemite – for a single tree (Charlie Brown’s meager Christmas tree). The thesis of God With Us is not that “I’ve invented some properties which I say God adds to himself,” but that Christology should serve as a template for theology proper. I’ll be reviewing the text in the near future (on my blog or elsewhere), and I hope to give a good explanation of that thesis, of how covenantal properties serve the bigger insight, and of its theological and apologetic significance (biblical, hermeneutic, and so on). I hope you’ll read it and let me know what you think.

    Bob is fixated on a dilemma which (1) he’s invented, (2) should be subordinate to Scripture (and then disappear), and which (3) doesn’t matter (its beside the point of Oliphint’s book). It matters, I should say, in an especially medieval Roman Catholic way: it’s fascinating sophistry but not constructive.

    (2) is, I gather, what Oliphint was getting at when he said something about “it’s time to get some new categories,” whenever your categories are a tough fit for biblical data.

    Anyway, great recovery of the burrito illustration! Do I deserve a break today? Goodness knows, but I wouldn’t mind one.

    Thanks

  20. Dale Olzer says:

    That is hilarious Nate! You, got me.
    But I’m glad it was you making the Taco Bell comment at yourself. I thought it was a little insensitive, although it cracked me up.

    One point I didn’t get is that Bob said
    “I would imagine most of the divines held to a “substantial union” view like John Owen did, which Oliphint rejects. Dr. Oliphint’s view is NOT good ol’ reformed thinking. It’s quite novel, as far as I know.”

    What was he getting, the substantial union of the Godhead or of the hypostatic union of Christ.
    I take it is the Godhead that is he is referring to because, some seem to have a problem with the Triune God taking on covenantal properties in way that is similar to the Son of God taking on a human nature.

    It’s 9:00am and time for some breakfast burritos. :)

  21. Jonathan Brack says:

    Oh my goodness Nate, I can’t stop laughing ….

  22. Nate says:

    Dale,

    Thanks for being a good sport!

  23. Bob says:

    Fellows,

    I have not fallen silent. I’ve been in the Poconos sitting in front of a wood-burning stove studying for the GRE. Nate, all I did is ask whether or not what Dr. Oliphint is talking about actually exists. How is that going “after Oliphint for the sake of going after Oliphint.” I’ve read the book, and that was my major question before, during, and after reading it. I don’t think that question is ad hominem.

    One piece that I regret is saying that Oliphint’s theory compromises the creator creature distinction. Off the top of my head, I think it’s page 183 in Reasons for Faith at the bottom where Oliphint affirms the distinction. Now, I really do think the doctrine of covenantal properties has major problems, especially in view of a Creator/creature distinction. I still believe this. But I also believe Dr. Oliphint is a disciple of Christ, a Christian warrior who I truly respect.

    I think I should stop contributing to this webpage in regards to this issue. Nate, and I hope this isn’t the Nate I know, I think you have assumed the worst. You make me out to be a very petty person. Perhaps in my sin, I am.

    After 38 comments, the question still stands, Do the covenantal properties exist, and if they do, do they exist as God or as creatures? Despite what Nate says, I still think this is a legitimate question to bring to Dr. Oliphint’s text.

  24. Hermonta says:

    Even though I have not read the book, it seems that Dr. Oliphint is making similar moves to Dr. Clouser as found in his article “Is God Eternal” http://www.allofliferedeemed.co.uk/Clouser/RC-IGE.pdf. In the interview, he says that he was the only person that he knew of that is speaking of God taking on non essential characteristics in order to answer the question of how a transcendent God can relate to us. I was really hoping that he would interact with Clouser in the book.

  25. Jim Cassidy says:

    I know it seems this thread has died out here, but I’d like to get a shot at this anyway (perhaps foolishly).

    That covenantal properties exist, does not necessarily entail that they are beings (i.e., things which have a kind of ontological existence). As Dr. Oliphint has been saying, it is a category other than creator or creature to account for the revelatory data.

    I think of God’s covenantal properties – i.e., the properties God has by virtue of the creation and his relation to it – in terms of act rather than substance. And NO, I am not thinking of Barth or Hegel here, in terms of their actualism. Rather, God’s covenantal properties are properties of God relative to his interaction with creation in the course of history. God’s wrath, his grace, his creatorship, his Lordship, etc, are all modes of relation relative to the created order. In this way, they are non-substantial in an ontological sense, and yet really do existence by virtue of the divine act of condescension. I don’t know if Dr. Oliphint is comfortable stating it that way, but that is how I am thinking of it anyway. Correct me if I have gotten the good doctor wrong here.

    An as aside, I am not sure why, Bob, you are getting all wrapped around the axle here, other than the fact that you are trying to squeeze all the data into your narrow categories. Seems like you’re becoming unnecessarily conceptually constipated at this point.

  26. Nate says:

    Friends,

    A couple of posts back I accused Bob of ad hominem. This was a mistake, and I have spoken to Bob about it. He was more patient with me than he had reason to be.

    Bob’s question as to the ontological status of the covenantal properties appears to some of us to come out of left field, but I think the question can be helpful for a couple of reasons. For one thing, it gives us an opportunity to more fully and critically understand what Dr. Oliphint has in mind, and to try to put it into words. Another thing – Bob’s question will likely resonate in the minds of philosophers, philosophical theologians, analytic types, and who knows who else. For that reason it might be worth giving it some thought, and being ready, thereby, to give and answer for the … you know how it goes.

    Basically, Bob’s has been asking whether the covenantal properties are created (creaturely) or uncreated (eternal). My feeling is that, from the perspective of revelation – divine revelation in its richness – the dichotomy or dilemma is a false one. Ultimately, I think – I’m still looking for the right way to say this – the dilemma is false because God, in condescending, remains God – he remains a se, who he was before creation. Indeed even in the incarnation Jesus Christ calls himself the I AM.

    The reason I put it this way is because an open or process theist, or any metaphysical univocist, might also say “it’s a false dichotomy.” The distinction we want to maintain from these folks is rich and complex, and I am a simple dude, and certainly not ‘rich’, but essential to it – the distinction – is that God remains God when he creates and enters a relationship with creatures and creation.

    Oddly I think we, we Reformed types, share some important initial steps with open theists and others who deny aseity (a LOT of contemporary philosophers and philosophical theologians). Both we and open theists, and all those other folks, want to affirm that what we’re calling “covenantal” properties are real. Some writers will not even go that far with us, and refusing to do so is docetic theology. Personally I think many a Barthian could go this way without making too much of a mess of Barth’s imaginative “theology.”

    So we need to maintain aseity – God’s being God – while also affirming the ‘realness’ of divine covenantal activity, beginning even with creation itself, and culminating with the incarnation. This is what, to my understanding, Oliphint is trying to communicate.

    Bob’s question is helpful to us in so far as it drives us back to the non-negotiables of Scripture and confession in a continuing effort to articulate these accurately within the contemporary context.

    Again, the ad hominem accusation was cheap on my part, cheaply provocative and unfair to Bob, and maybe even lazy. I think this discussion stands to be much more productive than that.

  27. a Christian says:

    It seems that the common rebuff to Bob’s questions is that they are overly philosophical and his required categories too narrow. But Bob seems to be asking two very simple questions: (1) do “covenantal properties” exist; and (2) are they God or something created/caused by God? Surely, these questions are not primarily philosophical – they make sense to the most unphilosophical Christian layman. Bob seems to have in mind something that a noteworthy theologian wrote a couple years back. “[W]e cannot simply posit existence without at the same time saying whether it is God’s existence that we are positing or something that exists because created by God.” The same writer also wrote, “If everything is created except God, then God must be of an entirely different order than anything else.” Are these the categories – God and things caused/created by God – that we must now transcend?

  28. Jim Cassidy says:

    He is a problem with Bob’s proposal. If we make God’s covenantal properties divine (i.e., understood as his essential properties), then we can run into two problems:

    1) Contradiction in God. Let us take the covenantal property of merciful. And now, let’s make that an essential property. God is, then, essentially and eternally – quite prior to and independent of creation – merciful. But then we also say that he is – in the same way and in the same respect – just. Here God would BE two things which are mutually exclusive within a being who is not acting toward someone or something outside of himself. That is why theologians have traditionally understood God’s being merciful only relative to his acts in history. He is not essentially merciful (because mercy presupposes sin), he must be merciful only in the mode of his redemptive deeds toward his creatures. Therefore, mercy – like grace – is not a substance or property. Mercy – like grace – is an act of God. And acts are not properly categorized as either a part of the creator or creatures. They are acts, which are real but neither uncreated nor created. In other words, there are categories we can use other than created or uncreated.

    2) Confusing his acts ad extra with his being ad intra. OK, let’s take God’s Lordship as an example here. Is God Lord? Essentially and eternally, prior to creation, we MUST say NO. If you say he is eternally Lord I would have to ask “Lord of what?” The concept of Lord presupposes some form of subordination. God is not Lord until something exists outside of him (i.e., creation) over which he might be Lord. In this sense he becomes Lord, he has not always been Lord. But if we – as Bob wants us to do – place God’s covenantal properties (here Lordship) into God and make it one of his essential properties, then we must conclude either some form of subordination in the Godhead OR that God is somehow eternally a creator (which in turn must presuppose an eternal creation – sounds like Aquinas and Barth, now!). So, in this way, God’s acts ad extra are made to be his being ad intra. And now the entire creator/creature distinction has been obliterated.

    I still think that Bob is absorbing too much Thomas.

  29. THEOparadox says:

    I enjoyed the show and appreciated many of Dr. Oliphint’s thoughts. He strikes me as a balanced thinker, especially in his critique of Helm. However, I’m a little troubled at his hesitation to tell people God loves them, and his advising students to be careful about doing so. It seems to me that D.A. Carson’s perspective in his book, “The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God,” is more balanced and Biblical. Carson says yes, by all means tell them God loves them. Not to be contentious, but I am firmly convinced that a Calvinist should ever be even slightly hesitant about proclaiming the amazing love of God to the whole world of lost sinners. The fact that God loves the elect in a special way does not negate His general love for all, anymore than an effectual call would negate the reality of a general one.

    Besides this one significant point of difference I have found Dr. Oliphint’s thoughts very helpful. Nevertheless, I think there is a need for correction on this point.

    Blessings,
    Derek Ashton

  30. THEOparadox says:

    Oops! Typo. Should read: “… a Calvinist should never be even slightly hesitant about proclaiming the amazing love of God to the whole world of lost sinners.”

  31. Bob says:

    Jim,

    1) Beings cannot be contradictory unless they are composite. You are treating God as though He was a composite being. I am a composite being and so my status as student isn’t my status as husband. I can drop out of WTS and still be a husband. God’s being is not composite, eso all his attributes are his Divine Existence – even though those attributes seem to our finite minds, in your words, “mutually exclusive.”

    2) You also are treating God as though his relations with creatures are like how creatures relate to other creatures. In 2006 I was neither a husband nor a student. I was not essentially a student nor a husband, only potentially. That potency was actualized in 2007 (I’m not sure I have much potency left!). It required matriculating in school and wedding vows for me to become what I am. God’s being isn’t like mine. God is essentially a Lord, essentially merciful and graceful. None of these attributes, like they would for creatures, depends on any other being for their existence. God’s being is not dependent. Instead, God REVEALS himself as a merciful and gracious Lord throughout redemptive history. It is a revelation of who He is.

    Here is the difference between you and me, Jim. You say that God BECOMES Lord, I say that God REVEALS Himself as Lord – a Lordship that is not dependent on other beings, but is revealed through other beings. All God’s attributes, in this way, from our finite view, are absolute and relative.

    I have absorbed a lot of Thomas – I’ve tried to be especially sponge-like regarding his view that all existence is either God’s absolute existence or creaturely finite existence (esse commune).

    I do appreciate your post earlier and its real attempt to help me with my question. You proposed a category that is neither creature nor God.

    Bob

    P.S. This is the second time in less than a year that I’ve been identified with Aquinas AND Barth at the same time. We all might save time if you just start calling me “von Balthasar.”

    • Dale Olzer says:

      Did God become a man, or did God just reveal himself only as a man in the person of Jesus Christ?

      • Bob says:

        Dale,

        Great question. I’ve tried to avoid talking about my personal views on God’s attributes in this context. I talked about it personally with Jim and Paul, but I think my own views are distracted them from what I think we should be talking about – Dr. Oliphint’s “covenantal properties.” We have made some progress with Jim saying that he is following Dr. Oliphint by positing another category besides Creator and creature. It’s an answer, at least. How about this, my email is BobLaRocca@gmail.com. Email me and I give the answer to your question that I already wrote out. If you think it is worth sharing, then maybe I will share it.

        Bob

  32. Jim Cassidy says:

    Hi Bob,

    God is simple, yet his various essential properties are him. Furthermore, his attributes have some kind of a real relation to who he is essentially If you attribute two mutually exclusive properties to God you are now treading in nominalistic waters. Why not attribute both goodness and evil to God? What we say about God has to make some logical sense. Not because human logic is autonomous. Rather, we must think with right reason (i.e., reason which is sanctified by grace and informed by revelation). To attribute two properties to God which are mutually exclusive was a move shunned by the Reformed scholastics, particularly those who defended the doctrine of divine simplicity.

    Far as I understand God his potency and actuality are not ontologically distinct. We cannot say that God is in anyway essentially Lord as he exists prior to creation. After all, over what/whom is he Lording? You also seem to make creation a necessary act of God and thus a necessary – as opposed to contingent – being.

    What you are doing Bob is confusing God’s essential properties with the properties he attains by virtue of his acts. That is precisely what open theism does.

    • a Christian says:

      So God has to wait around until the moment of creation in order to become Creator and Lord? Am I reading this correctly? Is there a before and after in the divine life? Before creation there’s just God and after creation there’s God now augmented by a series of newly acquired covenantal properties? Herman Bavinck wrote in his Reformed Dogmatics (vol. 2, p. 429), “For God did not become Creator, so that first for a long time he did not create and then afterward he did create. Rather, he is the eternal Creator, and as Creator he was the Eternal One, and as the Eternal One he created. The creation therefore brought about no change in God; it did not emanate from him and is no part of his being. He is unchangeably the same eternal God.”

  33. Jim Cassidy says:

    Hi Bob, I could also throw Kant in there as well. What do Thomas, Kant, and Barth all have in common? Rationalism. Your so-called creator-creature distinction is really nothing more than a noumena/phenomena dichotomy.

  34. Jim Cassidy says:

    Hi Christian,

    What Bavinck is saying is that there is no time when God was not creator, such that when he created there was no change in his essential properties. That is absolutely correct. When God creates he creates as the creator. But the creation is not necessary, it is contingent upon the eternal will of God to choose to create. And in that way he is not essentially a creator in the way he is essentially infinite, eternal, and unchangeable. So when I say he becomes a creator I am not referring to his essential properties, but his covenantal properties – none of which he has necessarily.

    • Dale Olzer says:

      Jim,
      Good points but I think you can go deeper.

      You seem to be hesitant to insist on 2 things, the covenantal properties are created and God takes on covenantal properties. If I understand Van Til correctly, and more importantly Holy Scripture, creation is the covenant. God didn’t just create and say to himself from a far, “Creation is good”. Rather when God created, he involved himself in his creation in a covenantal way. Meaning God created man in such a way that God would initiate and maintain an intimate relationship with man. God knows man and reveals himself to man so that He (God) can be known. So, how does God reveal himself to man? God doesn’t make himself known to man as God is known to himself. In other words man doesn’t know God as God, but only as God who has condescended and revealed himself by taking on created/covenantal properties, such as involving himself personally, intimately, knowingly in creation and on a created level with his people. And God does this all the while retaining his essential properties such as aseity, goodness, holiness, perfection etc…

      So Jim, when you say God is Lord only if there is a creation to be Lord over, I think we can even go even further and say, God is Lord only if there is a creation to BECOME intimately and covenantally involved with. And God does BECOME intimately and covenantally involved with creation by taking on covenantal properties.

      God can do this as you said above Jim, because when the will of God is directed to something other than God (i.e creation) then God is free to do whatever is best. Even taking on created properties, which I think is the crux of how God’s will relates to creation. And as I understand Dr. Oliphint‘s work, this is foundational for how he talks about created properties of God.

      Perhaps I’m missing a crucial element here.

      • Jim Cassidy says:

        Hi Dale,

        I am not quite comfortable saying that God’s covenantal properties are created. Again, they are not substances as we traditionally conceive of substances. God’s media of revelation is always created. But not his covenantal properties. His CP are his modes of being ad extra. Modes are realities, but they are not substances. If you can explain to me how his Lordship is created, I am all ears. I just don’t think that is possible. And, by the way, why do his CP have to fall into only one of two categories?

        For Van Til, creation and the covenant are co-terminus. Further, creation is covenantal. And God reveals himself to man by way of covenant in creation, and when he does that he used created things as his media. But when we speak of revelation we are not speaking exactly in the same way as when we speak of his CP. His CP are not something other than himself. They are himself in his relatedness ad extra, though to be distinguished from his essential properties. His CP are contingent (though uncreated), and his EP are necessary. That is the crux of the issue.

  35. Dale Olzer says:

    Thanks Jim for the gracious response,

    You asked if I could explain how God’s Lordship is created. I thought I did, but perhaps I didn’t explain it clearly or I’m just out in left field at Wrigley, which is a dangerous place just ask Steve Bartman :)

    God is Lord, as I think we agree upon by creating a creation to be Lord over. But in doing so, God by his free will is free to chose to relate himself to creation in an intimate way. And God does this by taking on created properties as he relates and involves himself in creation. The most ultimate example of this is the incarnation.

    I could be wrong and I most gently and graciously ask, are you giving a priority to philosophy by saying God’s covenantal properties are modes of reality and these properties are not substance as philosophy understands substances. If I misstated that please forgive me.

  36. Jim Cassidy says:

    Dale, I forgive you, good brother! :)

    I appreciate the continual interaction as this does afford us opportunity for refinement.

    What you have demonstrated is that God reveals himself with a created media. In the instance of the incarnation, the second person of the Trinity unites himself to human flesh (it is more than a mere taking on created properties). And this is the consummate revelation of God.

    But what you have not shown is how God’s Lordship is a created property. He reveals his Lordship in the person and work of the God-Man, Jesus Christ. But Jesus Christ is not himself the attribute: Lordship. I’m asking you how the property Lordship is a created property (for the record, Bob has been arguing the opposite: i.e., Lordship is a divine, uncreated property).

    We can also name other covenantal properties. Such as change. God changes his mind, he relents, he moves from ignorance to knowledge in Scripture. These are covenantal properties, not essential ones. And they are God’s modes of existing ad extra. They cannot be essential properties, then we would have to conclude that God is not necessarily immutable or omniscient. They cannot be created, because they are acts of God. Therefore, they must be something else. Hence, Dr. Oliphints new category of covenantal properties. This all seems to make much sense to me, I guess I am bewildered as to why it doesn’t to others.

    • a Christian says:

      Saying that “covenantal properties” exist and that they are neither God nor things caused/created by God doesn’t set well with most Christians because it seems to require that we now posit something like a threefold Creator/creature/things-that-are-neither-Creator-nor-creature distinction. Historically, it is only Platonism that admits such a threefold existential distinction. Christians are overwhelmingly committed to affirming something like: “[W]e cannot simply posit existence without at the same time saying whether it is God’s existence that we are positing or something that exists because created by God.” Anyhow, it’s not clear to me that Dr. Oliphint is calling for such a third category of being. He is fairly clear that the “covenantal properties” exist because they are created by God.

    • Dale Olzer says:

      Jim, thanks for your continuing correspondence
      I’m only trying to articulate what I understand is Dr. Oliphints teaching in this volume and as well as in Reasons for Faith. And as I understand it, the covenantal properties are created properties God takes on as he reveals himself to his people. And God does this without harming, damaging, or modifying any of his essential attributes, such as his aseity.

      I guess our point of disagreement is I want to say that God’s covenantal properties are created properties which God in a sense takes on. You seem to not like it being said that way and would rather say God’s covenantal properties are God’s modes of existing ad extra.
      Am I correct with that assessment? And could you explain to me in simple terms (I’m not well educated) what you mean by “modes of existing ad extra”. That would be helpful to me.
      And thanks for the blogalogue thus far.

  37. Lane says:

    When Dr. Oliphint says “a se” I can’t help but picture Foghorn Leghorn. “Boy, a se, boy!”

  38. Bob says:

    I thought it might be helpful to make a theological sketch of myself through Jim’s posts. Thus far I am:

    1) a Thomist, because I am absorbing too much Thomas.
    2) a Barthian, because I say that God is eternally a creator.
    3) a Nominalist, because I am treading in nominalisitc waters.
    4) an Open Theist, because I confuse God’s essential and contingent properties.
    5) a Rationalist.
    6) a Kantian, because my so-called creator-creature distinction is really nothing more than a noumena/phenomena dichotomy.

    If I post again, I hope to be truly recognized as:

    1) a neo-evangelical.
    2) a feminist critic.
    3) a snake-handler.
    4) a never-nude.

    I’m surprised I havn’t been labeled a smelly Aristotelian in view of my strong Act/potency talk. I guess I can’t win ‘em all. Or maybe being called a Thomist covers it.

    Jim, I have my tongue in my cheek! I appreciate your posts, actually more than most! I just thought it was funny to be associated with so many disparate systems of thought.

    Bob

  39. Bob says:

    Dale,

    I noticed you also have come to a conclusion in regards to the question. Nate says that the created/uncreated dichotomy is a false one. Jim says the covenantal properties are a third category between God and creatures. You say that the covenantal properties are creatures. I think your interpretation has some weight for two big reasons:

    1) Because Dr. Oliphint SEEMS to say they are created multiple times in his book (I put the word created/creaturely in caps to make it obvious):

    Page 13 n8 – “As we shall see, once God (the Son) takes on covenantal, CREATED properties, discussing the relationship of creation to who he is… requires taking into account the assumption of those properties.”

    Page 131 – “We will see in the next chapter what it means for God to condescend and adopt CREATURELY properties.”

    Page 182 – “This one who passes by Moses is Yahweh himself, and he has taken on certain CREATED properties in order that Moses might meet with him, see him, and worship him there.”

    Page 198 – “The point is not that it includes the permanent assumption of a human nature, as is the case in the incarnation, but that it includes the fact of God’s taking to himself CREATED, human properties, all the while maintaining, as he must, his essential divinity.”

    2) Also, it would make sense that if the incarnation is paradigmatic for Dr. Oliphint that the covenantal properties would be created like the human nature of our Lord Jesus is created.

    Now, I have four questions to the proposal that the covenantal properties are created. Here are two of them:

    First, on page 188 Dr. Oliphint writes, “Once he determined to relate to us, that relation entails that he take on properties that he otherwise would not have had.” So if God’s relation to creation ENTAILS taking on covenant properties, and if those properties are created, then does the relation to the covenantal properties, which are also created, ENTAIL taking on more properties to relate to the first properties? If God takes on properties to relate to creation, but the properties themselves are creation, wouldn’t God have to take on properties to take on properties? This could go on to infinity. Or not. One can just say, “God mysteriously relates to creation.” At that point, though, there would be no entailment in regards to taking on covenantal properties.

    Second, if being a “creator” means taking on a created “covenantal property,” then the distinction between Creator and creature only indicates the fact that we know of no creature who takes on that same property. If the property of creatorhood is created, then there is no reason a creature couldn’t be a creator in the same sense God is. If creatorhood is like the humanity of Christ (created), and if Christ’s humanity is the same humanity of other humans, could there be other creators who are creators like God is?

    Anyways, these questions might be really off topic and irrelevant. I asked myself them when reading the book and trying to figure out if the properties are creatures.

  40. Dale Olzer says:

    Bob thank you for your interaction.

    Those are great quotes you pulled from “God with Us”. Dr. Oliphint states that “God takes on created properties” numerous times in this volume as well as in “Reasons for Faith”. So I thought it was odd that the participants of this blog struggle with understanding Oliphint’s position. Also CTC 97 on Christian Essentialism, Dr. Oliphint describes the covenantal properties as created.

    Concerning your questions 1st the following question

    So if God’s relation to creation ENTAILS taking on covenant properties, and if those properties are created, then does the relation to the covenantal properties, which are also created, ENTAIL taking on more properties to relate to the first properties? If God takes on properties to relate to creation, but the properties themselves are creation, wouldn’t God have to take on properties to take on properties?

    I think Dr. Oliphint explains this as he shows the implications of his Eimi/eikon distinction. Using that distinction as the foundation we understand that when God created, that which he created first resided in the mind of the Triune God. Then once God brings into existence creation, there is a divine translation of what was in the mind of God as he creates. This is all very well stated on pages 144-146. I have pre-published copy of “God With Us” so my page numbers may be a little different than yours. It’s in Chapter 2 several pages into the section Adopting or Adapting.

    In your second set of questions Bob, I think you’re letting the contingent/covenantal swallow up the essential/necessary. God doesn’t only reveal himself as creator, he reveals himself as God who is essentially independent and divine. God says “I AM”, which reveals something essential about himself which no other creature has. And by saying “I AM” God is using created means to reveal this to man such as a voice that produces sound waves moving through the air. So even as God reveals himself as divine, he is doing so through the boundary of creation which God crosses by taking on covenantal properties such as communicating to his people who he essentially is.

    • James says:

      Dale,
      Your overall read of Oliphint’s work seems basically correct to me. Thanks for speaking plainly. That said, I’m not sure your answers here have actually met Bob’s two questions.
      First, you say that God created according to what first resided in his mind. Sounds good. You also say that “once God brings into existence creation” there is a “divine translation” of what is in his mind as he creates. Is this a purely revelational “translation”? What exactly do you mean by translation and who is being affected by it? I’m not quite clear what this means or how it relates the proposal that in order to relate to creation God must necessarily assume “covenantal properties” that are themselves created. Bob’s question seem to be that if God requires “covenantal properties” in order to relate to creation, and yet those covenantal properties are themselves created (thus, of a piece with creation), then why doesn’t God need yet another set of properties in order to mediate his relationship to the created covenantal properties?
      Second, you seem to say that no creature could be a Creator in the way that God is because God also happens to be the divine I AM. So does God divinize the creaturely property of “creatorhood” in order to enable it to perform tasks that no creature could perform, such as creation ex nihilo? And if he does, in what sense is “Creator” still a genuinely “creaturely” property? Shouldn’t creaturely properties be potentially open to multiple instances? After all, if the incarnation is the paradigm, and the Son shares a common creaturely nature with the rest of us, why can’t God also share with others the creaturely property of “creatorhood”? We would never say that the relationship of humanity and divinity in the hypostatic union prevents the Son from sharing a genuine common human nature with others. So why should we say that God’s union of divine I AM and creaturely “creatorhood” prevents him from sharing that creatorhood in an unqualified manner with other creatures? So Bob’s question still stands. Why, if creatorhood is a created property, could not some other creature instantiate creatorhood in the same way God has? Saying that the subject possessing this creatorhood is also God does not, upon the incarnational analogy, seem to be an available explanation.
      Lastly, you use an intriguing phrase: “the boundary of creation which God crosses.” In what sense is creation, AS CREATION, a boundary that God needs to cross? Does not the very fact that it is creation already establish the absolute immanence of God? Why does God need to create intermediating properties for himself in order to relate to his own creation? Now, I certainly agree that SIN is a boundary between God and creatures and thus the incarnation is necessary in order for God to heal the breach between himself and his creatures, to relate to them in covenantal peace. But in the incarnation he is healing the breach with creatures AS SINNERS, not with creatures AS CREATURES. So, again, in what sense is creation AS CREATION as boundary which God needs to overcome or penetrate in order to genuinely relate to it. And how does yet another set of created properties actually enable this without just pushing the creational “boundary” back a step?
      Anyhow, thanks for your patience in bearing with this rambling response.

      • Bob says:

        James,

        Thanks for clearing up and expanding my muddled and terse questions.

        Dale,

        I appreciate your response, but I have to agree with James that the problems indicated by the questions still obtain.

        Bob

      • Dale Olzer says:

        Thanks James,

        I think you are right. I did not answer Bob’s question very well, and you brought to my attention additional points that need further explanation. What I’m trying to do, and perhaps not so well, is communicate the Eimi/eikon distinction Dr. Oliphint makes, which simply is a progression of the Creator/creature and Archetype/Ectype relationship. Here is a very basic and perhaps crass model of what I’m trying to say. And please be aware of anything good or helpful I offer comes from Dr. Oliphint, and anything bad or not helpful is of my own failure and misunderstandings.

        1) God enjoys an Inter-Trinitarian relationship, where the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, are experiencing and engaging in an intimate and exhaustive knowing of each other. God is knowing and knows himself as God. God’s thinking, relating, fellowshipping as archetypal or Eimi, the original.

        2) As the pactum salutis comes into existence, God has the perfect idea of creation in His mind. (What is meant by perfect idea, God knows this idea perfectly, fully exhaustively.) This idea of creation is in a sense a creation itself. Not the total sum of creation but rather something now new exists in the mind of God that didn’t exist before. I’m not saying God’s thoughts are created, but the object of his thoughts are. God’s free will as it relates to something outside of himself, something other than God is now the object of his thought, and that object is creation. This object is the ectypal or eikonic object. It’s not the original it is not God, it is a copy of the original, it reflects, or resembles God on a created level in the mind of God. And God knows this created idea in his mind as only God can know it. Also this “idea” of creation includes all the eternal decrees. Here God has taken on covenantal/created attributes. But remember creation only exists in the mind of God at this point.

        3) God instantiates creation, he brings about creation that which is in his mind. As God does this he crosses over into the actual created reality as he creates. But how does God cross over into the boundary of creation. He does through His covenantal/created attributes, such as Speaking, Hovering, Creating etc.. . So as God crosses the created boundary by taking on covenantal properties, a translation takes place of what was in the mind of God to what is revealed in creation. God reveals the copy/ectype/eikonic of what is in his mind to creation, namely man. So the creature doesn’t know creation as God but only as a creature as creation is revealed.

        Given the model above, at what point do you insert the problem of God taking created properties in an infinite digression to reveal creation?

        In your second question about God taking on the covenant/created property as Creator? I think you are concerned with a false dilemma. If I understand correctly you want to say that if God takes on the created property of creator, God must necessarily share that property with creation. My answer to that is, “Who says?” Are angels created or uncreated? I hope you would agree that they are created, but yet have created properties you and I don’t share. Furthermore, Michael the archangel has property no other creature in all of creation has. Therefore I don’t understand how it is an issue for God to take on a created property which no other creature in creation has.

        Finally, your last question about “the boundary of creation which God crossed”, I apologize I was not very clear. Perhaps the model above improved the clarity I was hoping for. But if not, here is addition explanation.
        In creation God has created something that he is essentially not. That is the boundary. So how does God cross over into creation, by taking on covenantal properties, such as speaking and working in and to creation.

  41. James says:

    Hi Dale,
    I am sincerely grateful for the time you have taken to respond. Here is yet another rambling reply, just to prove your patience ;-).

    I will briefly mention some problems I perceive in the points you make and then reiterate the whole difficulty with saying that God’s “creatorhood” is a created property that he acquires.

    (1) You say that God’s “idea of creation is in a sense a creation itself.” You then hasten to say that God’s thoughts are not created, but only the objects of his thoughts are. So are his ideas of created things themselves creations, or not? If they are, and if his knowledge of creation falls within his omniscience, then is not God effectually causing his own essential omniscience?

    (2) I’m not sure why God’s eternal and perfect knowledge of his free creative purposes should entail that he “has taken on covenantal/created attributes.” I readily confess that the modality of God’s IMMUTABLE and ETERNAL free knowledge and will is entirely a mystery to me. God – as simple, immutable, eternal, pure act – never begins to think or will something that he has not always thought and willed. Moreover, his act of knowledge and will is not in him as some additional actuality that augments or supplements the actuality of his divine nature – rather it is identical with that actuality (per the doctrine of divine simplicity). As Cornelius Van Til states: “In him, ideas and being are one.” Saying God TAKES ON new properties (even accidental or covenantal ones) in a real ontological sense, seems to undermine the strong Reformed accounts of divine immutability, atemporal eternity, simplicity, and pure actuality. Please correct me if I’m wrong. All in all, I’d prefer to say that the modality of God’s freedom is a mystery, rather than construct an account of how he ontologically BECOMES, accidentally or covenantally, what he has not always been.

    (3) You say that God “crosses over into the actual created reality” in virtue of his covenantal/created attributes. I would hold that he is immanently present to his creation in virtue of his absolute transcendence, as the sufficient cause and sustainer of its very existence. God’s transcendence is not something that has to be overcome or augmented in order for him to relate to his creation. Rather, it is only BECAUSE he is so absolutely transcendent that he can create and relate to the world as intimately as he does. Only a God whose transcendence was less than absolute would need to acquire additional actuality (i.e., accidental properties) in order to relate to creation. But then, it is doubtful that a God who was less than absolutely transcendent and wholly other than creation could possibly be its sufficient reason for existing. In short, creation would only be a “boundary” for a creative agent who inhabited the same ontological order with it – that is, for a univocal causal agent.

    Now, it is true that God reveals himself to humans under the form of creation – both in the things created (which testify to his invisible attributes, eternal power, and divine nature) and through the words he uses in the Bible. Human knowledge of God is always through some created media or divine effect. It is in this sense that I would say God accommodates the knowledge of himself to the ontological and epistemological capacities and modalities of his creatures. But this accommodation is revelational/epistemological in nature, not ontological in the sense that God acquires new modes or properties of actual existence.

    Finally, to follow up on Bob’s point about created creatorhood – If “creatorhood” is a creaturely property that only God could possess and that functions only in virtue of its relationship to God as divine, then why is it even necessary? Put differently, why can’t God just create in virtue of his divinity? Why does he need the created property of “creatorhood” in order to create if all the real power of creation is derived from his divinity anyway? Maybe we could approach this whole matter by asking the question this way: Does God create in virtue of his divinity or in virtue of his created property of “creatorhood”? Does he create AS DIVINE or AS CREATURELY? In keeping with the incarnational model, it would seem that you would have to say that God creates in virtue of his newly acquired creatureliness (i.e., his creatorhood) and not in virtue of his divinity, just as Jesus was born, ate, slept, and died all in virtue of his creatureliness, not his divinity. Jesus’ birth and death were experienced ONLY according his creaturely nature. Are we to understand that God’s creation of the world is, likewise, ONLY according to his creaturely property of creatorhood? After all, if we are to proceed upon an orthodox incarnational analogy, we cannot allow God’s “essential properties” and “covenantal properties” to modify each other, just as we can’t allow the divine and human natures of Christ to modify each other (assuming, as I do, the correctness of Chalcedonian Christology). So, again, does God create in virtue of his divinity or in virtue of his creatureliness? If we say that it is the former, then in what sense can we say that “creatorhood” is a created property? If we say that it is the latter, then it is still not clear why some other creature could not be a creator in the same way God is. Modifying the created property of “creatorhood” by infusing it with divinity is simply not an option if we are to keep with an orthodox incarnational model.

    Again, thanks for your great patience. I’m sure that we both agree that these are not inconsequential matters.
    Warmly,

  42. Dale Olzer says:

    James I appreciate your cordial and respectful interaction.

    Concerning the 1st point you raised, what I want to do is on the one hand maintain God’s aseity and simplicity, and on the other be careful not to affirm that creation or the pactum salutis are an essential attribute or act of God. God did not have to create, nor was creation in the mind of God throughout eternity past. The pactum salutis and God deciding to create came to be in eternity past, but did not exist throughout all of eternity past. Do you agree with this delineation between God’s aseity/simplicity and the pactum salutis/creation? If you do, then the issue is how do we talk about creation and the pactum salutis as a decision God makes? How do you negotiate God’s thoughts which are coterminous to his being (God thinks what he is and is what he thinks). I believe the answer is found in the God knowing himself which entails God knowing his power. By God knowing his power exhaustively, he knows what he can do by his own free will. As Dr. Oliphint says, “God’s knowledge of things possible must be included in his natural knowledge, given that such knowledge includes exhaustive knowledge of his power, and included in that power is what God could possibly do”. God With Us (p232).

    Concerning the 2nd point, you stated ,“ I’m not sure why God’s eternal and perfect knowledge of his free creative purposes should entail that he “has taken on covenantal/created attributes.””.

    I reply that his perfect knowledge does not necessarily entail that God create or even take on covenantal properties. This was by his own free will which God has the power to do. As Dr. Oliphint demonstrates in his work is that you have the necessary/essential attributes of God, such as divine immutability, simplicity, perfection etc… and you have the contingent or covenantal attributes of God. I’m using contingent to reinforce the fact that creation was not necessary only a possibility that has been actualized. So when God takes on the contingent/covenantal he does so in a way that does not change, modify or alter the essential. The problem I have with some uses of modality or modes of existence (perhaps you could delineate this for me a little) is that it doesn’t seem to capture the Person or Personality of God. As Van Til would say God is an absolute person. Everything that God thinks, says, and does is personal. God personally relates to creation by condescending, humbling, by taking on properties that are not essential to his character in way that does not alter his essential character.

    3rd point concerning boundaries:
    What I think Dr. Oliphint is communicating is that between God and creation in general and God and man in particular, there such an ontological difference between the two that it can be thought of as a boundary.
    “As God creates, he establishes the boundary between creation and himself, and (this is the point so often missed) he crosses that boundary. (Just what this means for our understanding of God we’ll look at later.) He establishes that boundary by creating something that essentially is not, and could not be, what he essentially is. He crosses that boundary by communicating into creation. He communicates into creation in his word, in his works, and supremely in himself. This communication is God’s revelation both to and in his creation. “. God With Us (p. 130).

    Concerning accommodation:
    You said, “God accommodates the knowledge of himself to the ontological and epistemological capacities and modalities of his creatures. But this accommodation is revelational/epistemological in nature, not ontological in the sense that God acquires new modes or properties of actual existence.” If God thinks what he is and is what he thinks, then isn’t God’s “being” also accommodated if his knowledge is accommodated?

    Concerning Created Creaturehood:
    I will restate your questions, and then follow with a few comments
    Q: “Why can’t God just create in virtue of his divinity? Why does he need the created property of “creatorhood” in order to create if all the real power of creation is derived from his divinity anyway?”
    A: As God creates he condescends and takes on the covenant property of Creator.
    Q. Does God create in virtue of his divinity or in virtue of his created property of “creatorhood”?
    He creates in virtue of his divine power. The divine power of God is perhaps is the missing element in this discussion.
    Question for you, was the conception of Jesus in the womb of Mary creaturely or a divine act? How does God begin to exist as a zygote? Is that just a mode of being?
    Also you stated “if we are to proceed upon an orthodox incarnational analogy, we cannot allow God’s “essential properties” and “covenantal properties” to modify each other. I agree, but the covenantal properties are grounded in the essential. Meaning the essential provides the basis for the covenantal. The covenantal are contingent the essential are necessary. So I think the point of the incarnational analogy for Dr. Oliphint is just as Jesus took on a created nature, a real nature, not just a “mode of existence” without changing or modifying his divinity, so in a similar manner God takes on a created nature as he relates and reveals himself to us. I think Dr. Oliphint’s treatment of Philippians 2 passage is very helpful here. See pages 136 – 138 in God With Us for that discussion.
    If you would like to continue the discussion via email, my address is dale.olzer@gmail.com.
    Otherwise I’m happy to continue in this forum.

    Thanks for your comments and thoughts. I hope all of our thinking is grounded and based upon God’s holy word as we navigate these deep waters.

  43. James says:

    Hi Dale,
    Thanks for sticking with this and for bearing with my questions. Here are a few remarks in response to your latest offering.

    (1) You have not plainly answered my question of whether or not God’s ideas of creation are themselves created or not. But, your explanation that God’s ideas of creation “begin” to be at some point and that they were not in God’s mind from all eternity may be your way of saying that God does in fact create his own knowledge of creation and thus is the effectual cause of his own omniscience. Anyhow, it seems that you do not agree that “God wills himself and his creatures with one and the same simple act” (Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, II: 233) and that “[e]very hint of arbitrariness, contingency, or uncertainty is alien to his will, which is eternally determinate and unchanging” (Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, II: 240). You are free to disagree with Bavinck, of course. But what you offer instead is somewhat troubling: “God did not have to create, nor was creation in the mind of God throughout eternity past.” If by your first statement you mean that creation qua creation is not naturally or absolutely necessary, I agree (though, I do hold that it is suppositionally necessary from all eternity). What seems to be troubling you is how it is that God can eternally and immutably will something that is itself contingent without his act of will for that contingent thing sharing in the contingency. I readily accept this as a mystery. You, on the other hand, seem to treat it as a “problem” and offer as a resolution that God does not in fact will creation from all eternity. You write, “The pactum salutis and God deciding to create came to be in eternity past, but did not exist throughout all of eternity past.”

    Your explanation seems to indicate that you conceive of “eternity past” as a succession of moments in which genuinely new acts of will appear in God’s volition. You are possibly perplexed by the question: How can God exercise free will without some movement from a state of “could will” to “does will”? In order to answer this question (the premise of which I don’t accept, i.e., that God possesses passive volitional potency) you assume a temporalist view of God’s eternality, rather than an atemporalist view. Again, correct me if I’m missing something here. This divine temporalism allows you to posit real change and becoming in God’s knowledge and will. It seems that you are willing to pay this price in order to resolve the “problem” of how it is that a non-contingent God wills and brings about contingent things. But I must ask: In what sense is God’s knowledge and will coterminous with his own being if certain aspects of his knowledge and will BEGIN TO EXIST at some determinate point in “eternity past”? Does some aspect of God own being, then, also begin to EXIST at the point in which new ideas and acts of volition enter his mind? And what’s to stop us from saying that there are not yet more ideas and acts of will that God will possess in the future, but of which at present he is entirely unaware?

    As for HOW God “makes decisions,” I simply don’t know. Indeed, I would not presume to say HOW an eternal, immutable, and simple God wills this contingent world while not himself descending into that contingency. On this matter I agree with Bavinck: “We can almost never tell why God willed one thing rather than another, and are therefore compelled to believe that he could just as well have willed one thing as another. But in God there is actually no such thing as choice inasmuch as it always presupposes uncertainty, doubt, and deliberation. He, however, knows what he wills—eternally, firmly, and immutably” (Reformed Dogmatics, II: 239-40). I have no idea how to characterize or explain the modal status of the volitional “could have” in view of that fact this very same will is eternal, firm, and immutable. I am not privy to the modality of divine freedom. But I’m pretty sure that saying that God begins to will things that he has not always willed is not an available option for one broadly committed to classical Reformed orthodoxy.

    (2) Your discussion of God’s perfect knowledge and “idea” of creation relative to his acquisition of covenantal properties is a bit difficult to parse. In your earlier post you wrote: “And God knows this created idea in his mind as only God can know it. Also this ‘idea’ of creation includes all the eternal decrees. Here God has taken on covenantal/created attributes.” So, simply in knowing his will for creation (i.e., his “idea” of creation) God has “taken on” new attributes (or “covenantal properties”)? On your account, it seems that God now knows something that he didn’t know before, namely, his will to create. And, he actually becomes something (accidentally/covenantally) that he has not always been in actuality. I asked why this perfect knowledge or idea of his creative purposes should entail that he acquire covenantal/created attributes. Why does God need to ONTOLOGICALLY augment himself in order to create? You responded that “his perfect knowledge does not necessarily entail that God create or even take on covenantal properties.” Maybe we are to conclude that God’s “perfect knowledge” does not necessarily include the “idea” of his creative purposes (otherwise it would seem to entail that God create). If so, then why are we even talking about God’s PERFECT knowledge? You seem to place God’s knowledge of his creative purposes outside his perfect eternal knowledge, which may make sense if you are indeed working within the assumption of divine temporalism (i.e., a divine life characterized by successive moments of before and after).

    (3) As far as your insistence that creation AS CREATION is an ontological “boundary” that God erects and can only cross by taking on created properties, I simply cannot follow your reasoning nor do I see anywhere in Scripture that creation AS SUCH is a “boundary” God needs to cross in order to relate to it. Isn’t God immanently present to his creation by virtue of the very fact that he spoke it into existence and sustains it by the word of his power? I just can’t see how creation can be an ontological “boundary” given that God creates it by the activity of his own intellect and will. Since it is an absolute divine creation God cannot but be absolutely immanent in it and intimately and personally related to it. If he were not, it would not be creation. Now, the fact that creation is ontologically OTHER than God (we’re not pantheists, after all) should not be thought of as a “boundary.” Otherwise, when God “crosses it” we would have to assume that he is somehow overcoming creation’s ontological otherness. As orthodox Christians we don’t want to say that! The ontological DIFFERENCE and OTHERNESS between God and creation cannot be crossed without either divinizing the world (per impossibile) or transforming God’s divinity (also, per impossibile) into a creature.

    And as far as the triune God assuming created properties, those properties would have to participate in the exact same ontological otherness as all the rest of creation (just as the humanity of Jesus does); otherwise they would not really be creaturely. You have not answered why God’s created “covenantal properties” don’t suffer from the same “boundary” problem as the rest of creation. Anyhow, depicting creation’s ontological difference from God as a “boundary” God crosses seems to fail to appreciate that creation AS CREATION could not possibly be otherwise than ontologically different from God. The Creator/creature distinction is precisely what ACCOUNTS for the existence and character of the Creator/creature relation. Why should we conceive of it as a “boundary” that needs to be crossed and what would such crossing entail or accomplish? If you point to the incarnation of the Son as an instance of such “boundary” crossing, I would simply point out that the Son’s incarnation does not reduce, modify, or alter the Creator/creature distinction one bit. The divinity of Christ is just as ontologically “wholly other” from his humanity as God the Creator is from his creation.

    (4) A clarification – You seem to think that by “the knowledge of himself” I am speaking of God’s own act of self-knowledge (i.e., in a verbal sense). I’m not. What I mean is that body of knowledge about himself that God conveys to creatures as, for instance, when we speak of the doctrine of the knowledge of God (that is, the manner, conditions, and content of the knowledge of God as possessed by humans). God accommodates this knowledge (but not his own act of self-knowledge or his being ontologically) to the creaturely manner and conditions of understanding.

    (5) As for your final paragraph, I am still a bit confused on some points. You say that “as God creates he condescends and takes on the covenant property of Creator.” But my question was simply: Does he create in virtue of this “created creatorhood” or in virtue of his uncreated divinity? When you say that he “creates in virtue of his divine power” (which sounds right to me), have you not concluded that God creates AS DIVINE and not as creature? So in what sense should we be talking about God’s creatorhood as a creaturely property?

    Finally, and most strikingly, you state that “just as Jesus took on a created nature . . . without changing or modifying his divinity, so in a similar manner God takes on a created nature as he relates and reveals himself to us.” Surely, the notion that the triune God, as Creator and self-revealer, takes on a created nature is something new and novel in theology! How shall we talk about this? Is the union in God of his divine nature and created nature a hypostatic (i.e., substantial) union? Should we now speak of the triune God as three persons in two natures? Wouldn’t this mean that Jesus’ acquisition of a human nature constitutes yet a third nature in the Son so that he is one person in three natures (divine, covenantal creator, and human)? Or perhaps you would prefer to say that the acquisition of the human nature is simply an intensification of the hypostatic union that has characterized the triune God from the time of creation. This is just the tip of the iceberg.

    Stepping back for a moment, it may be that the deeper difficulty here is the assumption you seem to make that the Son’s incarnation is a paradigm for understanding how God works to relate to creation qua creation. As I mentioned in an earlier post, the incarnation of the Son is for the purpose of relating to creatures AS SINNERS, not AS CREATURES. Its purpose is to address a crisis and boundary brought on by sin, not a crisis and boundary that supposedly exists on account of creation’s ontological otherness. God’s relation to creatures as creatures is established by the very act of creation itself. His reconciled relation to creatures as sinners is established in the work of the incarnate Son. The Son’s acquisition of a created nature is solely for the purpose of redemption, not to overcome some creational “boundary” between God and the world. So long as we are not agreed on this, I suspect that our exchange about particular differences could go on indefinitely.

    Again, thanks for your patience with my probing. We may have some deep differences, but I trust that we both are seeking give an accurate and faithfully Christian expression to God’s wonderful condescension to us, both in creation and redemption.
    Warmly,

  44. Bob L. says:

    Dale (and other fellows),

    Three weeks ago I posed as Avicenna/Scotus/Suarez and asked if the “covenantal properties” exist. Here are some of the answers so far:

    Scott (Dr. Oliphint), on December 6th and 7th, said that I need another category besides God’s existence/essence and creatures and he is introducing “covenantal properties” as another category.

    Jim, on December 12th, said that with covenantal properties, Dr. Oliphint presents us with a category other than creator or creature to account for the revelatory data. On the 15th he said, “I am not quite comfortable saying that God’s covenantal properties are created.”

    Nate, on December 15th, said that the created/uncreated dichotomy is a false one.

    Dale, on December 15th, you reminded Jim that in Dr. Oliphint’s text seems to account for the covenantal properties as created. This is one of my favorite quotes from this whole chain: “Dr. Oliphint states that ‘God takes on created properties’ numerous times in this volume as well as in ‘Reasons for Faith’. So I thought it was odd that the participants of this blog struggle with understanding Oliphint’s position. Also CTC 97 on Christian Essentialism, Dr. Oliphint describes the covenantal properties as created.” Amen.

    You mentioned that you found it odd that so many of the participants of this blog struggled with Oliphint’s repeated claim that the properties are created. Even when I asked if they were created, Dr Oliphint responded “I think you’ll need another category or two here, Bob.” The reason for avoiding their creatureliness, I think, is demonstrated in James’s six point lengthy treatise above. As far as I know these guys (Jim and Nate and others), none of them would be comfortable with saying that God’s creatorhood is a creature. None of them would want to affirm that in the person of Christ, the human nature is united to the Son along with other created properties distinct from that human nature. At least I hope they wouldn’t.

    Instead, Nate and Jim propose a third category of existence between God and creatures. But in 2006, in Reasons for Faith p. 110, Dr. Oliphint wrote “[W]e cannot simply posit existence without at the same time saying whether it is God’s existence that we are positing or something that exists because created by God.” (An anonymous “Christian,” not myself, quoted that earlier). As far as I can tell, Jim and Nate’s view dissents from Oliphint’s maxim quoted above. (I will allow you to determine if Dr. Oliphint’s statements on the 6th and 7th comport with this quote). If the properties exist, then they must be God’s existence, which is singular, or exist as creatures. Dr. Oliphint says so himself, in this earlier text. Dale, your interpretation alone fits within this very Christian God/creature scheme.

    But only to that point. After that, positing the properties as creatures leads to as unorthodox conclusions as positing them as uncreated yet distinct from God’s existence (which many here have rightly dubbed Platonism).

    I think you and James are on the right track in your discussion. Keep it up. But please, both of you, keep the posts shorter!

    I probably wont contribute again unless I am called a Hegelian Neo-Bogomil Zoroastrian Pragmatist, or something like that.

    Thanks all,

    Bob

  45. Jeff Downs says:

    Here is an interesting and related sentence from William Plumer:

    “All God’s attributes are perfections; and all God’s perfections are immutable, without bound,
    eternal, consistent with each other, and essential to his glorious character. Without any one of
    them he would not be God, nor could we adore him.” Plain Truths for the People

  46. Dale Olzer says:

    Hi James,

    Thanks for your probing, especially in your first point, which I will only address in an effort to keep the posts a little shorter.

    You have certainly presented to me problems in how I was articulating God’s necessary/essential knowledge, and God’s covenantal/contingent knowledge. I was trying to give a logical priority of the necessary over the contingent, by using temporal categories. Perhaps that is not a good way to delineate the two or I just don’t have the intellectual capacity to do so. So following closer to what Dr. Oliphint is describing in GWU and RFF, perhaps the following would be better, I’m quoting Dr. Oliphint here:

    “God knows all things immutably and exhaustively. There is nothing that he “comes to know,” essentially. God does not BEGIN to know anything, essentially. However, the tradition has made a distinction between God’s natural knowledge/will and his free knowledge/will. We do that by “good and necessary consequence.” If we did not, then creation would be necessary in the same way that God is and thus God would not be a se. With respect to his natural knowledge/will, all things necessary are included; with respect to his free knowledge/will, things contingent are included, including creation itself. This DOES NOT mean that God “comes to know” essentially. He knows all things. But his “mode” of knowing has to be distinguished as either necessary or free.”

    How is it that God can know all things exhaustively and immutably, yet some of those things are contingent knowledge? That is where I believe the mystery is.

    So everything that flows from God’s free knowledge/will did not have to exist. But as the contingent comes into existence by God’s free knowledge and will, God relates to it, condescends to it by way of covenant(WCF 7.1) . In this condescending covenantal relationship to creation God takes on created properties such as speaking (Gen 1), walking in the garden(Gen 3), relenting in his anger (Exd 32), and leading the fight for Israel (Jos 5).

    When Bavinck says there is no hint of contingency in God’s will, I don’t know how that can be. Perhaps Bavinck is referring only to the natural necessary knowledge/will of God; otherwise you would have to have some mysterious way of maintaining God’s aseity given creation is a contingency.

    Again James, I am thankful for your interaction, you are helping me immensely to clarify and understand these things better.

  47. James says:

    Hi Dale,
    Thanks for the reply. Here are a few thoughts in response (with my apologies to Bob if I’m still too verbose).

    (1) Saying that God doesn’t “come to know” things “essentially” is fine as far as it goes. But in expressing yourself this way do you mean to suggest that he “comes to know” things in some accidental/non-essential sense? What would such a “coming to know” entail for God? The distinction made by “the tradition” between God’s natural and free knowledge/will was never meant to be understood as identifying two distinct acts of divine knowledge/will – one necessary and one contingent. The act by which God knows and wills all absolute necessities AND contingencies is identical with the very act by which he exists. If this were not so, then God would not be pure act and his knowledge of all non-divine things would have to be accounted for by some actuality other than his essence. This conclusion, which you seem to advance, is just as devastating to God’s aseity as the pantheist/panentheist claim that the world is absolutely necessary to God’s being God. Anyhow, you seem to regard the act of God’s free knowledge and will as distinct from the divine essence itself. If this is correct, then you cannot maintain God’s aseity, simplicity, or even his immutability as these have been historically understood by the Reformed tradition. Again, the problem may be in your assumption that the distinction we make from the creaturely perspective between God’s absolutely necessary knowledge/will and his free knowledge/will must correspond to some real distinction in the Godhead itself (between essential and covenantal acts of knowledge and will, perhaps?).

    (2) I think you are right to affirm that the notion of God’s immutable free knowledge is a mystery. Still, though, I wonder how you can properly characterize God’s free knowledge as immutable if you also conceive of it as efficiently created or caused to be. It is, after all, a created “covenantal property,” right? Can God make it so that something non-identical with his essence – such as his act of free knowledge (upon your explanation) – can exhibit the same strength of immutability as his essence? Or perhaps his free knowledge is immutable in a weaker sense. If that is the case, then the “mystery” is effectually removed since the (weaker) immutability of God’s free knowledge is no longer the identical with his essential immutability.

    (3) Your continued insistence that God “takes on created properties” in order to relate to creation seems to suggest that you have not truly broken free of your commitment to divine temporalism and divine accidental becoming. Your assumption that the “voluntary condescension on God’s part” expressed “by way of covenant” (from WCF 7.1) entails that he “takes on created properties” seems entirely gratuitous. WCF 7.1 says nothing about an ONTOLOGICAL condescension (or acquisition of properties) on God’s part. Indeed, the Reformed tradition is abundantly clear that this covenantal condescension is of an epistemological and revelational nature, not an ontological one in which God assumes to himself new accidental actualities (i.e., new properties). Divine accommodation to creatures would only require correspondence to some new (accidental) actuality in God if God were a univocal agent correlative to the world. I wonder if maybe you are making some assumptions about the function of language relative to properties that simply is not present in the Reformed tradition.

    You seem to assume that the manner of God’s revelation of himself under the forms and modalities of creatureliness (e.g., employing discursive speech, walking in the Garden, relenting in his anger, fighting for Israel, etc.) could only be a meaningful revelation if God had in fact assumed such accidental ontological actualities in addition to his essence. In other words, you apparently do not accept analogical predication. On your account, God must BE or EXIST (accidentally, or “covenantally”) according to the very manner or mode by which he is revealed in Scripture. The words of Scripture are thus adequate to the manner or modality of God’s (accidental, or non-essential) existence, and are not themselves accommodations to our manner of knowing. If God is said to become angry or to discover something or to do something in time not previously done you assume that some new ontological actuality (a “covenantal property”) must accrue to God in order to make it so. If this is an accurate portrayal of what you are doing, then where does analogical predication enter into your account, if at all?

    Perhaps I can illustrate what I perceive to be the implication of your position for our God-talk. If God takes on the created property of “walking in the garden,” then the revelation of God as walking is the garden is not itself an accommodated revelation. The accommodation, rather, is IN GOD (ontologically) inasmuch as he has assumed to himself a new accidental mode of being; the revelation of him as walking in the garden is, thus, simply an univocal statement about God’s newly acquired (accidental) manner of existing. You locate God’s accommodation in his very being and manner of existence while I prefer to locate it in his manner of analogical self-disclosure in an accommodated revelation.

    I do hope these thoughts help somewhat to clarify our differences. If I have misread you or misrepresented the gist of your thought, please tell me. Thanks again for the forthright interaction.
    Warmly,

  48. Dale Olzer says:

    James, I think your last two paragraphs prior to your warm ending is the crux of the discussion. And you sum it up well when you said

    “You(Dale) locate God’s accommodation in his very being and manner of existence while I(James) prefer to locate it in his manner of analogical self-disclosure in an accommodated revelation.”

    So concerning Gen 3, God walking in the garden, if I understand you correctly, you are saying God was not really metaphysically walking in the garden. God was only revealing epistemologically to Adam and Eve that he was walking in the Garden. Adam didn’t really hear the sounds of footsteps, it was a kind of mind trick that God was playing. It seems such proposal leads to an inconsistent metaphysical/epistemological Christian philosophical dilemma.

    Also and most importantly, how do you preach, or would expect a pastor to preach to the church, passages such as Genesis 22:12, when God says, “now I know”. What is God revealing to Abraham, and what is God revealing to the Church in this passage. God is revealing something about himself and something about his covenantal knowing.

    I think the grid that Dr. Oliphint provides for the church in this work (God with Us) is monumentally helpful and edifying.

    Please forgive me if I mischaracterized your position, or over exaggerated it. You seem to have a great deal of knowledge on this subject and I appreciate your time and conversation.

  49. RazorsKiss says:

    I’m curious as to how this is reconciled with the doctrine of Simplicity. If these attributes are non-essential to God, are they also non-Simple? The two seem inextricable.

  50. Dale Olzer says:

    The way the question is phrase perhaps needs a paradigm shift.

    Simplicity does not trump scripture. Scripture should be the source and foundation for a doctrine of simplicity. The Church cannot ignore and exchange the way in which God has freely chosen and willed to create and relate with creation as revealed in Holy Scripture, for an abstract philosophical musing on simplicity that holds the bible hostage.

    Dr. Oliphint’s work in Reasons for Faith and God With Us provides a proper biblical exegetical hermetical approach to navigate this issue. By looking at the Son as the 2nd person of the trinity, who became man, while never giving up any of his divine attributes is the key which Dr. Oliphint gives us.

  51. William says:

    I create my own thought I think so why is it God’s thoughts cannot be created? I don’t get the problem with this concept but Oliphint takes it for granted that it is true. Why?

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I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naïve. (Romans 16:17-18)

 
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