Paradox in Christian Theology: A Brief Overview

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In Paradox in Christian Theology: An Analysis of its Presence, Character, and Epistemic Status, James Anderson contributes to the project of reformed epistemology by applying Plantinga’s proper functionalism to the coherence of Christian doctrine, specifically to the doctrines of the trinity and the incarnation. Anderson does this by first articulating and then engaging contemporary philosophical models of the trinity (e.g. Social Trinitarianism) and the incarnation (e.g. Two-Mind View), and in doing so, he argues that such contemporary models lead to unacceptable heresies as defined by the ancient creeds. After establishing that there aren’t any workable models of the trinity or the incarnation (as defined by the creeds), Anderson entertains if a subject could be warranted in believing p, if p was a belief that at least initially, seemed to entail a contradiction. Anderson argues that such a belief could be warranted. For Anderson, in order for a seemingly contradictory belief to be warranted, the subject needs to have properly functioning faculties, successfully aimed at producing true beliefs (and the rest of Plantinga’s conditions). Anderson fleshes out how such faculties could produce belief in certain Christian doctrine (doctrine that initially seems incoherent) by summarizing the following scenarios:

WD1: S’s belief in doctrine D is warranted via personal scholarly study of the biblical texts, coupled with warranted belief in biblical inspiration.

WD2: S’s belief in doctrine D is warranted via understanding and agreement with a scholarly exposition and systematization of biblical teaching, coupled with warranted belief in biblical inspiration.

WD3: S’s belief in doctrine D is warranted via reliable testimony that Scripture teaches D, coupled with warranted belief in biblical inspiration.

WD4: S’s belief in doctrine D is warranted via reliable testimony that D is true. (208)

But as any good Plantingian knows, reflecting for defeaters is apart of the design plan of our cognitive system and if this is the case, wouldn’t the belief that entails an apparent contradiction, inherently predict its own unwarrantedness? Minimally, if subject reflects on the belief produced and the subject lacks a way to clarify why she isn’t affirming a contradiction, wouldn’t the subject at least no longer be in her epistemic right in continuing to believe that the belief doesn’t entail a contradiction? Not necessarily, and for this reason Anderson asks us to consider the case of the Harry, the lay theologian:

Harry is a lay theologian who has been invited by a friend to attend a lecture given by an eminent theologian. Due to a combination of unfavorable conditions (e.g. lack of sleep), Harry drifts in and out of the lecture. At one point, while Harry is listening, Harry hears

(B1) God’s kingdom has arrived.

After listening to this he dozes off and as soon as he awakens again, he hears the following claim:

(B2) God’s kingdom has not arrived.

Harry’s immediate thought is that the lecturer has contradicted himself. But upon being a charitable chap and working off the assumption that the lecturer is a really brilliant guy and thus, wouldn’t likely contradict himself in this way, Harry concludes that the kingdom must be here in one sense but not in another sense. Harry in this circumstance, lacks the tools to be able to articulate why this isn’t a contradiction. He nonetheless, seems to be in his epistemic right in holding to both (B1) and (B2). (223) Similarly, it seems that as long as one willing to grant that there are some aspects of the creeds that are more approximate in language, that is that there is non-univocal language in at least some parts of the creed, it appears that the subject who comes to believe in certain theological propositions (such as the propositions contained in the creeds) in the way described above, could be warranted in believing such propositions, even if it was beyond the subject’s kin to articulate why such propositions actually do not necessarily entail certain contradictions. (235)

Overall, I think this approach is promising. It seems that even if there are good models (which is a very controversial claim) that demonstrate the coherency of the trinity (e.g. Constitutional model) or the incarnation, what Anderson’s book does is help show how it is that most people who affirm the trinity or incarnation could be warranted in believing in such doctrines, even if they weren’t aware of such complicated and technical models. It is for this reason that I think Anderson’s work should be recommended.

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One response to “Paradox in Christian Theology: A Brief Overview

  1. Pingback: Can Catholics Believe that God is Dynamic? | Tyler Dalton McNabb

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