According to nominalism, “being” – that which is common or universal in any given category – is no more than a “name,” a concept or term. Accordingly, the doctrine of the Trinity in this philosophy leads to tritheism. Excessive realism, on the other hand, associates the word “essence” with some subsistent thing that stands behind or above the person and so leads to tetratheism or Seballianism. – Herman Bavinck (God and Creation 2004, 299)
Last time, we talked about how Dr. Craig’s position of anti-realism undermines the fundamental unity of the Godhead. It does this by functionally denying that such natures exist are a thing considered differently than persons. Where classic orthodox trinitarianism relies on the idea that natures, or ousiai, exist and that persons, or hypostases, are more-or-less instances of a given category of ousiai… Craig denies this to be the case. This denial of realism (he hesitates to call it nominalism, but I do not see a substantive difference) ends up in a position which renders the Trinity to be a subsistent thing, and each person to be a discrete component part of that subsistent thing. We called this error Partialism but in point of fact, it is simply a unique species of tritheism which denies the fundamental unity of the divine persons (or in this case, replaces the fundamental unity with something insufficient to render the persons united).
However, as I mentioned, Dr. Craig seems to recognize that this is a potential problem, and in order to avoid falling into that ditch, he pushes back to the other side and falls into the ditch of unitarianism.
While it may seem like an unlikely course of events that Dr. Craig unwittingly affirms both tritheism and Unitarianism, in my experience, this is often the case. There is a kind of schizophrenic quality to heresy that often results in a person affirming ostensibly opposite positions.
In the case of Dr. Craig here, what we see is an erroneous consideration of the Trinity as a subsistent thing… as a hypostasis.
Remember, in our discussion of Dr. Craig’s anti-realism, Dr. Craig denies that there is such a thing as a nature. Although the language is inconsistent in my opinion, this pushes him to consider the Trinity to be “the only instance of the divine nature.” (Moreland and Craig 2003)
Now, in order to understand why this is a problem, we have to go back to what the definition of a hypostasis is. Fundamentally, a hypostasis is an instance of the divine nature.
[H]ypostasis (an individual subsistence with its own characteristics) was the right word for distinguishing the three persons from the one essence. Although a bearer of a shared essence, a hypostasis is a distinct entity with its own attributes as well.” (Horton 2011, 97)
Dr. Craig himself seems to recognize that this is the classic definition as well.
Even if we think of the universal as the primary reality, still it is undeniable that there are three exemplifications of that reality who, in the one case, are three distinct men, as is obvious from the fact that one man can cease to exist without the others’ ceasing to do so. Similarly, even if the one divine nature is the primary reality, still it is undeniably exemplified by three hypostaseis, who should each be an instance of deity. (Moreland and Craig 2003)
Explaining a passage out of Gregory of Nyssa, he recognizes that the Cappadocian is articulating that each hypostasis is an instance of the divine nature. So, when he argues that the Trinity is not only an instance of the divine nature… but is in fact “the sole instance of the divine nature.” (Moreland and Craig 2003, emphasis mine) he is actually saying, whether he intends to or not, that the Trinity is not only a hypostasis/person… but is the only hypostasis/person. The other three are simply component parts of that single person… analogous to how a cat’s skeleton is a component part of that single cat.
I won’t belabor the point. This is not orthodox trinitarianism. Dr. Craig has argued that each person is not the fullness of deity explicitly, and now by way of implication he has argued that each person is not in fact actually a distinct person. Rather than maintain that we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in unity… he has instead articulated that we worship one God in unity, and unity in disunity. While he asserts a single God (the Trinity) he renders each person to be less than the one God. While he argues that each is a part of the one God, he undermines and denies the way that God is actually one.
More could be said regarding Dr. Craig’s trinitarian theology, and perhaps we will return at a future point. However, enough time has been spent for now. In the coming posts, we will turn our attention to Dr. Craig’s Christology, and how the mistakes he has made in this area of Systematic Theology spiral out to Christological heresy as well.
- Bavinck, Herman. God and Creation. Edited by John Bolt. Translated by John Vriend. Vol. 2. 4 vols. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004.
- Horton, Michael. Pilgrim Theology. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011.
- Chap. 29 in Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, by JP Moreland, & William Lane Craig. Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2003.