Van Til Tool

Using the Van Til Perspective as the tool to discover what life means and how it ought to be lived.

Saturday, December 13, 2008


by Forrest Wayne Schultz
If you think that the only contribution made by Athanasius was defeating the Arian heresy, think again! I just learned by reading a very interesting scholarly work that Athanasius taught two very important truths which somehow have been since overlooked in spite of the fact that they are extremely vital for our understanding of God, namely that God is social and that God is creative.
Athanasius discusses how both of these divine attributes are derived from the interrelationship between God The Father and God The Son, which is designated by theologians as the eternal generation of the Son -- a doctrine which today is usually regarded as irrelevant, if it is even known at all.
Athanasius maintained that the very being of God consisted in the personal relationship between the Father and the Son. This (plus the personal interrelations between the Father and the Holy Spirit and between the Son and the Holy Spirit) means the very nature of God is inherently interpersonal or social. This, of course, is the basis for the teachings of Schaeffer and Van Til that the meaning of the Trinity is that God is characterized by the equal ultimacy of the unity and the diversity and that the very meaning of personhood itself (since God’s personhood is the supreme personhood) is that of the equal ultimacy of the personal unity and the personal diversity -- in short that societies as well as individuals are personal (or should be!). In short, God is One Personal Society consisting of Three Individual Persons. Now I do not know if Athanasius himself drew -- or fully drew -- this conclusion because my source does not discuss that. In fact, surprisingly he does not even use the word social!
Athanasius also rightly saw that God the Father’s eternal generation of God the Son meant that generativity and creativity are inherent divine qualities. Therefore the creation of the world is to be EXPECTED because a creative person can be expected to create. This principle too has been lost because our systematic theologies, while teaching that God created the world, fail to mention that He has a creative nature. Now isn’t that weird?!! So, here again -- and this really ticks me off -- in the 4th century AD Athanasius discovered two extremely important truths about God which since became lost. Plus I just now found out about it.
If you remember my previous posts about Irenaeus you remember that I showed how I learned from Pagels’ excellent scholarship that Irenaeus was the one who correctly defined the terms orthodoxy and canon and how since then these original and true definitions had been lost. Now I find out that the same thing happened with Athanasius -- we lost his discovery that God is social and that God is creative. Folks, those DARK ages really were dark to have lost such great beams of light as these!

OK, now here is my source for the Athanasius discoveries. Frankly, unless you are a rare person like me who actually likes wading through this kind of scholarly book I don’t recommend reading it -- it is not an easy read like Pagels -- it is written for professional theologians. The author is Peter Widdicombe. It is one of the Oxford Theological Monographs. (That ought to scare you off if nothing else does!) The title is The Fatherhood of God From Origen To Athanasius. The publisher is the Oxford University Press and I read the revised paperback edition published in 2000. By the way, this is not to be considered as a book review -- I really do not want to do that -- all I want to do is note the two discoveries I made about Athanasius I discussed briefly here.



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