Chapters 17 and 18 cover technical language, expanding on one of three styles of speech in Scripture used to describe God and his attributes.
- Anthropomorphic language (speaks, loves, sees)
- Language of creaturely comparison (light, rock, fortress)
- Technical language (infinite, immense, immutable)
As I’ve noted several times, for both Frame and Poythress, the ordering of their triads is not important, except in relationship to other triads via their system.
Building on the earlier idea of analogical language, Poythress helpfully notes that “superficially, because we are immediately aware not of a particular analogy,” in regard to words like absoluteness and infinity, “but instead disanalogy, we might think that the key terms are not analogical in any way. It might seem as thought, using a few special terms that have no analogy, we could finally be free from the limits of having to use creaturely comparisons.” However, we cannot understand infinity, without recourse to creaturely understanding and their inherent limits, like picturing a series of natural numbers without end (p166). We never truly escape the gift of language or our creatureliness in its use.And so Poythress concludes that in each of his three styles, God’s gift of language is adapted to us (p167).
This whole section (going back a couple chapters as well) is valuable to combat some flat-trinitarian thinking that I sometimes encounter among classical theists (and I would consider myself a classical theist). I have sometimes heard, as I did again recently over Twitter, that we cannot work backwards from the creature to the Triune Creator in our understanding of Him. As an example (and often stemming from this recent historical debate) they say one cannot read gender relations back into the Trinity–for instance, that a wife submits to her husband in a way that reflects the submission of the Son to the Father. But here’s the problem with such thinking: we cannot but think about God except in analogical terms. Even if we say “the Son does not submit to the Father except in His humanity,” we still have a problem, which is that we are presuming upon a definition of submission that we use among creatures. As an aside, I think one of three or four helpful questions that would bring unity on this divisive debate were they to be asked and answered is: what does a perfect authority or submission look like? (And I don’t just mean non-sinful, I mean pre-fall). But I digress.
Chapter 18 is very short but extremely helpful. The value of technical language is in:
- A Summary of Doctrine
- Interacting with the History of Doctrine
- Warning Against Heresy
Although this is extremely helpful, I am less sure that this is a comprehensive (Trinitarian) triad, as one of them is a negative statement, while the other two are positive, as Poythress himself points out (p188). Perhaps the solution is merely to state the “heresy” aspect positively: makes distinctions in doctrine, or something of that sort.
I have mentioned before that at the end of each chapter Poythress relates his point to the resurrection of Christ. In some chapters these reflections and connections are genius, and sometimes in surprising ways. At other times, as here, I feel like Poythress is grasping at straws to make connections. For the sake of coherency, in a book that otherwise stresses co-inherence, I would have leaved out these sections, even though at times they have been very good.