The Untamed God

Jared Oliphint and Nate Shannon lead a discussion on Jay Wesley Richards’ book The Untamed God: A Philosophical Exploration of Divine Perfection, Simplicity, and Immutability.

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Philosophy for Theologians aims to look critically at the problems of philosophy by considering everything in light of God's revelation. The program not only wants to address philosophical questions but also to equip you with a way to think about these questions. Browse more episodes from this program or subscribe to the podcast feed.

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9 years ago

I pledge to donate 50 cents to Reformed Forum for every “um” I utter on the next recording.


9 years ago

I think it is commendable that the RF crew is taking the effort to distill academic, esoteric work in philosophy of religion down to a layperson’s level. In fact it warms my philosophical heart to know works like Richards’ are being read by more than the few directly involved in the debates in philosophy. I have a slight critique of the show, though. The methodology of the show seems backwards to me. It is hard not to slide from possible world semantics (as a tool for incorporating modality into propositional logic) into the implications of possible worlds in metaphysics (much less the ontology of possible worlds themselves!). Nate, I think, got hung-up on some of the common confusions, although many of his points were on track (IMO, I guess). I think it would be more fruitful to start with the debates at the theological level. What does Richards’ want to propose about the nature of God? What views does he critique? What’s at stake, theologically? Then introduce the tools Richards uses along the way, as well as the peripheral debates in metaphysics that are raised. I say this because, as I am sure the RF crew knows, every comment in the show opened a can of worms in philosophy that lead to deep, dark rabbit holes. Some spend a lifetime in those holes. Also, I don’t like the sentiment that seems common, even on the show—if Plantinga’s doing it, it must be worth pursuing. I think more skepticism should be healthy about the implications or usefulness of possible worlds for theological debates. Finally, a little thing that irked me: Plantinga’s Nature of Necessity is not as important (outside philosophy of religion) as other works. Kripke’s Naming and Necessity and the work of Stalnaker and Lewis on possible worlds, modals, counterfactuals, etc., are much more influential works that a philosophically-minded theologian would want to be familiar with. Just an irk, sorry. I really look forward to future installments.

Nate Shannon

9 years ago


Thank you for your thoughts here, I think you make some helpful points. I continue to wrestle (in my mind) with the relation of possible worlds to the doctrine of creation. I think that way of talking certainly provides easy clarity from many angles, and is not intrinsically problematic for theology – possible worlds proves fruitful for K. S. Oliphint in “Reasons for Faith,” for example. I still feel uncomfortable however with where possible worlds often leads us when those categories encroach on the divine act of creation. Those conversations invariably – thus far, anyway – leave us with less than satisfying theological ideas or cute but useless philosophical enigmas (e.g. what is the relative moral value of two worlds that differ only by one neutrino?). One day I hope to get my disagreement into clearer language, but, unfortunately, it’ll have to be clear in my head first.

Thanks for your recommendations too – I’d be very happy to get into Kripke and/or Stalnaker.


9 years ago


Thanks for the comments, they’re really helpful, and I sincerely mean that. I did struggle with how to present enormous topics like modal logic, simplicity, immutability, etc. and still maintain the big theological picture, so your approach may have succeeded more in that. And I can see how my interest in Plantinga could be annoying to those who don’t share the same interest, but at the same time I do defend his influence and his philosophical ability as worth discussing, in my humble opinion, even over guys like Kripke. I think Plantinga has developed the topic beyond both Lewis and Kripke (and Putnam and Donnellan), and is at least attempting to do so with Christian theism and (a poor conception of) Reformed theology in the background. Hence the intrigue.

I’m not able to give a full scale defense of use of possible world semantics, but I would do so with a ton of qualifications and certainly don’t see it as remotely mandatory for theology or philosophy. But at this time I’m convinced it has the potential to speak in clear ways when proper theology informs its use. Either way, I’m glad you’re enjoying it. Up next in a couple weeks is Does God Have a Nature and would love any comments on that as well!


9 years ago

PS Thanks to Nate, I came across this video of Wolterstorff giving a great history of Plantinga’s contribution and influence. Particularly relevant to your comment is this section, but the whole lecture is worth watching http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iF_jSuFsKgQ.

David Houston

9 years ago

Guys, you’re all brothers in Christ so I don’t want to completely discourage you or anything… but this was painful to listen to. Jared seems to be the only guy who was prepared to speak on the topic. When certain contributors gave their thoughts it was clear that they did not grasp the concepts under discussion. Only by the end of episode do you guys manage to clarify what is meant by a ‘possible world’ to one of the contributors on the forum. Maybe it would be best if you spoke about the book before doing the show and were thus able to avoid common misunderstandings? The frequent playing of audio-clips when Jared was giving important explanation was also less than helpful. Lastly, when the participants are making jokes about how boring this stuff is how do you expect to motivate theologians to engage philosophy? If shows like this are supposed to help the Reformed community become more philosophically aware then we’re in trouble.

I struggled with whether or not to say any of this but I really do think it needed to be said. Hopefully you won’t be cursing my name for this.

God bless.

Tim H.

9 years ago

Since y’all are going video, you may as well adopt these: http://blog.davidad.net/post/310420114/philosophy-referee-hand-signals


9 years ago

I may be too late for anybody to reply but a question or two. When Jared was clearing up the notion of a possible world to the gentleman that took issue with it (I believe it was Nate) Jared said that other worlds were not possible the “second God decided to create this one.” So are you saying, Jared, that there was a moment in time when God decided to create? That is, at point A in time God was not necessarily going to create, then He decided to create, then He created? The reason I ask is that I’m under the impression that there never was a time that the proposition, “God may not create this world,” was true. This is just another way of saying that His decrees are eternal and time itself began at creation. If you agree with this, perhaps there are no other possible worlds?

I’m fascinated with the discussion, and perhaps Jared meant that the moment God created this world (that is, at the beginning) there were from then on no other possible worlds, but this is almost tautological I would think… and therefore certainly true.

Maybe this is not quite related, but isn’t there a sense in which this world is the only logically possible one? It seems plausible that this is the only logically possible world given certain premises, biblical ones I think, such as (P1) God necessarily does all things for His glory, (P2) He does all things necessarily perfectly, (P3) God created this world, therefore, (C) the creation of this world is necessary and perfect. I realize that this is not strict syllogistic form and so bear with me on that. Perhaps one could deny the necessity of the premises, but not a Christian who holds to sola Scriptura, right? Maybe I’m way off! I anticipate one may say, “Well there’s no contradiction in thinking that you may have worn a different shirt yesterday, right?” I don’t know. If Christ is the Logos and Wisdom of God and He has eternally thought, “MikeD will wear or wore a Reformed Forum t-shirt on such and such a date,” then isn’t impossible, with respect to the Logos, that MikeD could wear a White Horse Inn t-shirt at that very same time? The more I type the more I know I just really need to read some of the books mentioned, but I really like a comment above that noted we should perhaps begin with a more theological construct and then go to her handmaiden.

Where the rubber meets the road for me is when my 7 year old is asking me why did God decree evil to be in the world, as is the teaching of Scripture. My answer is, often in many other words, that God knows that the way things are (including the evil) to be the plan that glorifies Him most and we shold ultimately praise Him for His wisdom in making it as such. As one of my favorite author’s has said about a very-much-related topic… this teaching is not hard to understand, but hard to believe.



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