March 23, 2019

Reflections on the Hypostatic Union: How Can a Single Person Have Two Intellects and Wills?

Filed under: Theology — William Witt @ 9:39 pm

Christ EnthronedOne of the most difficult concepts for students of theology to get their heads around is the orthodox doctrine of the incarnation. Students generally are willing to affirm that Jesus Christ is a single person (against Nestorianism), that he is “God become a human being” and not a human being in whom God was especially present (against adoptionism), that he is fully God and fully human (Chalcedon); however, I have found that concerns arise when some of the affirmations of the later Councils are discussed. Affirmations of ditheletism (that Christ has two intellect and wills, one human and one divine) and anhypostasia (that because Christ is a single divine person, he has no distinct human person) create puzzlement. In an email conversation with a well-known contemporary Evangelical theologian, I was once told that the notion that Jesus had both a divine intellect and will and a human intellect and will sounded like “Nestorianism.” More recently, a student complained that saying that Jesus was not a human person sounded like Apollinarianism. A student sent me an email awhile back, raising some of these questions, and I have belatedly responded:

I’m still stuck on the single personhood of Christ in the face of two natures. I understand the distinction (the who vs. the what) and the necessity to keep either from being diminished/replaced by the other. But I’m struggling with how to understand someone with two wills, two knowledges, two ontologies, as a single anything. I know at some point we plead mystery, but I want to get as close as I can before I do.

Concerning personhood, I think the following is necessary:

a) A person is absolutely unique. There are many human beings, but there is only one unique Bill Witt or D___ S___ (name omitted).

b) A person is consciously aware, and the source of his or her own actions.

c) A person knows and wills and, on that basis, is able to act in a responsible manner.

d) A person is relational – specifically a person is in relation to other persons as I and you.

e) For all of the above reasons, a person is a “some one” rather than a “some thing.”

Where things get confusing for us is that in the only cases of personhood of which we have immediate experience (that of fellow human beings), every person is an embodied individual with a single intellect and will. If there is more than one intellect and will, there is more than one person. (more…)

March 7, 2019

I Get Mail: A Response to a Catholic Reader

Filed under: Ecumenism,Theology — William Witt @ 1:13 am

I got an email awhile ago from a young Roman Catholic gentleman who expressed appreciation for some of what I’ve written on my blog, following a growing frustration with online rationalist Roman Catholic apologetics.

I first came across your blog ten years ago when I was fifteen and beginning to seriously study the Reformation and Roman Catholicism from a Baptist background, and read it intermittently for a couple of years. I did eventually become a Catholic, at twenty four, but recently began reading your blog again. . . . The reason I’ve returned to reading your blog is largely because of a burnout with modern Catholic discourse [especially rationalist Catholic apologetics] . . . I’ve found that reading solid devotional writing like yours, whether from Catholics, Protestants, or Orthodox, does far more for my faith than the old polemical reading I used to do.

Crucifix IconDear xxxxx,

I’ve been meaning to reply to your kind email. It is Ash Wednesday, and I have a little time. Your email was quite encouraging to me. Around six months ago, I began receiving repeated emails from a Roman Catholic gentleman who would ask one-line questions such as “Who founded your church?,” while including links to conservative Catholic apologetics sites. I sent several replies that I hoped would be charitable, but he ignored what I actually wrote, and just kept bombarding me. Finally, I had to block his email address. So imagine how encouraging it was to receive a positive email from a Catholic reader of my blog. I often wonder whether what I write is helpful to anyone except myself, and I am always happy to hear when it is.

Concerning what you write about rationalist apologetics: I find conservative online apologetics to be generally toxic; it does not matter what brand is being sold. The biggest problem with these people seems to be a peculiarly modern obsession with epistemological certitude coupled with an obsessive Cartesian anxiety about doubt. These folks spend way too much time focusing on arguments as to why their side is the only correct one, and far too little time exploring the substance of their Christian faith, whether they be Catholic, Orthodox, some kind of Protestant, or Anglican (like myself).

One of the most helpful books I have read in recent years was D. Stephen Long’s Saving Karl Barth: Hans Urs von Balthasar’s Preoccupation (Fortress Press, 2014). In this book, Long (a Methodist) writes about how Balthasar (a Roman Catholic) rediscovered the heart of Christian faith through reading Karl Barth (Reformed). Barth’s theology focused on the Nicene-Chalcedonian center of Christian faith: the Trinity and the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ. Balthasar believed that if Catholicism were going to be renewed in the 20th century, it needed to return to this Nicene-Chalcedonian center, and abandon the unfruitful manualist Apologetics of the late 19th and early 20th century that focused on Catholic quarrels with Protestantism and modernity. It is this creedal center that I have found most fruitful for my own theology and spiritual life. (more…)

March 3, 2019

Concerning Women’s Ordination: Aquinas and the “Tradition Challenge”

Filed under: Women's Ordination — William Witt @ 5:43 am

Of all of the essays I have written on the topic of women’s ordination, the one that has received the most negative feedback has been the one entitled “Concerning Women’s Ordination: The Argument ‘From Tradition’ is not the ‘Traditional’ Argument.” In this essay, I argue that despite claims simply to be upholding the church’s historic tradition, both versions of the current arguments against women’s ordination used respectively by Roman Catholics and by Protestants are not traditional at all, but actually represent departures from the historical reasons that women were not ordained.

In that essay, I made the case (citing numerous historical examples) that historical opposition to women’s ordination is rooted in an ontology of inequality: women could not be ordained because they were less intelligent, emotionally unstable, and more subject to temptation than men. Moreover, the traditional argument was not simply an argument against the ordination of women, but against any leadership of men over women.

It seems fairly obvious why so many have reacted negatively to this essay. If I am correct, historical opposition to women’s ordination is not only based in a questionable major assumption, but is also directly contrary to a key claim of both the new Catholic and the new Protestant positions, that opposition to women’s ordination is not based on any kind or intellectual or moral inequality. Resistance to this essay led me to post something I called the “Tradition Challenge.” In that essay, I laid out the traditional position in three premises:

(A) Women are less intelligent, more emotionally unstable, and more subject to temptation than men.
(B) Ordination necessitates exercising authority over others, particularly teaching and speaking in an authoritative manner. Women cannot be ordained because they are necessarily subordinate to men, and therefore cannot execise authority in this manner. This is primarily an exclusion from women exercising any authority whatsoever over men, and only secondarily a specific exclusion from ordination.
(C) Proposition (B) is a direct corollary or consequence of Proposition (A). Women are necessarily subordinate to men, and cannot exercise authority over them because of an ontological incapacity located in a deficiency in reason, emotional instability, and susceptibility to temptation. Because of this ontological deficiency, they cannot exercise authority over or teach men, and so cannot be ordained.


February 11, 2019

American Evangelicalism and Anglicanism

Filed under: Anglicanism,Ecumenism,Theology,Trinity School for Ministry — William Witt @ 11:20 pm

(The following is based on a talk I gave as part of a TSM panel, addressing the question “What is Evangelicalism?)

River Baptism

I teach at “Trinity School for Ministry: An evangelical seminary in the Anglican tradition.” What does that word “Evangelical” mean? In what sense am I an Evangelical Anglican? There are at least three ways in which the word “Evangelical” could function in relationship to Anglicanism. First, it could simply be pointing to the Reformation heritage of Anglicanism. Like Lutheranism or the Reformed tradition, Anglicanism traces its roots to the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century, including such definitive markers as the three (or five) solas: sola scriptura, sola gratia, sola fide, solus Christus, soli Deo gloria. The term could also refer to a particular movement within Anglicanism that focuses on Anglicanism’s Reformation identity. An extreme version of this kind of Evangelical Anglicanism would understand pristine Anglicanism to have existed for the short number of years during the reign of Edward VI between Cranmer’s second Prayer Book of 1552 (definitely not the 1549), and the beginning of the reign of Queen Mary. Definitive identity markers would include the 1552 BCP, the 39 Articles (1563) and the Book of Homilies (1547, 1562, and 1571). Much later Anglicanism (beginning with the Caroline Divines and perhaps Richard Hooker) would be interpreted as a “falling away” from these original pristine touchstones. I intend rather to use the term to refer to a more recent distinctly American phenomenona – North American Evangelicalism of the mid-20th and early 21st centuries. This is the context of my own upbringing, but also the church background of the majority of TSM’s faculty and students. What might an orthodox 21st century North American Anglicanism have to offer this American version of Evangelicalism?

I will begin with a bit of autobiography. I was raised a Southern Baptist. During my high school years, I got involved for a short period of time in what was then called the “Jesus Movement,” and attended a Friday night service every week where people raised their hands and sang in tongues. I was also involved in the youth group of a Southern Baptist megachurch. At the same time, I discovered the writings of C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien, and in a two-year period read all of Lewis’s major published writings.

I attended an Evangelical liberal arts college in Denver where I majored in philosophy. Evangelicals were not writing theology at this time, but they were interested in apologetics, and I thought that philosophy would be a handy tool for apologetics. I discovered Thomas Aquinas, but Aquinas at this time was being read primarily as a philosopher. During my senior year in college, I discovered the writing of Wolfhart Pannenberg, but I was interested in Pannenberg because of his value for apologetics. Pannenberg defended the historical verifiability of the resurrection of Jesus. Pannenberg was the first “real theologian” I ever read, and I called myself a “Pannenbergian” for awhile. I used terms like “proleptic anticipation of the eschaton.”

Toward the end of my time in college, a number of theologians produced a document called The Hartford Appeal, a criticism primarily of trends in liberal Protestant theology. In the collection of essays that the participants entitled Against the World For the World: The Hartford Appeal and the Future of American Religion, Peter L. Berger and Richard John Neuhaus, eds. (NY: Seabury, 1976), Richard Mouw of Fuller Seminary contributed the essay, “New Alignments: Hartford and the Future of Evangelicalism.”

In that essay, Mouw identified three groups of American Evangelicals existing at the time.

1) Fundamentalism was a group that came into existence in the early twentieth century in opposition to and as a rejection of Liberal Protestantism in the mainline churches.

2) NeoEvangelicalism was identified with successors of Fundamentalism who broke with its narrowness in the mid-twentieth century: Billy Graham and the journal Christianity Today were two of its cultural identifiers.

3) In contradistinction from both Fundamentalism and NeoEvangelicalism was “Confessionalism,” identified with members of historic Reformation denominations who did not trace their roots to American sources: Lutheran, Reformed, Episcopal, Mennonite. These groups sometimes formed an uneasy alliance with Evangelicalism although they did not share its historic roots, and each had its own distinctive confessional identity. (more…)

July 17, 2018

I Get Mail: What About Hell?

Filed under: Theology — William Witt @ 10:16 pm

I received the following email:

Can you please recommend a few good books on heaven and hell? A friend is confused about why good people who do not believe Jesus is the only way don’t make it to heaven.

Bosch There are actually several different questions being asked here:

1) Is there a hell, and why do some people go there? (I’ve never heard anyone complain about the possibility of people “going to heaven.”)

2) Do “good people” who are not believing Christians all go to hell?

3) What about the “good Buddhist”? Is it fair for God to send good people who are not Christians through no fault of their own to hell? You do not actually mention this question, but it often lurks in the background.

I would answer briefly as follows:

The Good News

Christianity is not primarily about hell, but about God’s love for humanity despite the mess we have made of the world, and the way in which God has become a human being in Christ to “set things right” (N.T. Wright’s expression). The gospel (good news) is not “God is angry with you and wants to send you to hell,” but “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son. . .”

Why “Stuff Happens”

What’s wrong with the world? Is suffering, evil, and death on ontological problem (“just the way things are”) or a moral problem (the consequence of wrong human choices)? The Christian explanation for suffering, evil, and death is “sin.” It is not that “bad things happen to good people,” but that even so-called “good people” do bad things. A moral explanation for what’s wrong with the world is the only one that takes evil seriously or that offers any hope for a solution. If suffering, death, and evil are “just the way things are,” then there can be no ultimate solution.

The current culture supposedly does not believe in sin, but this is not really true. What has happened instead is that we have shifted from a “sin” culture to a “shame” culture. People do not want to believe in their own sin, but they have no problem in placing blame on other people, and “shaming them” when they cross some current cultural boundary. “Shaming” escalates, however, and simply leads to people “shouting each other down.” “Shaming” offers no room for forgiveness, change, or reconciliation.

Former TSM faculty member and my good friend Leander Harding says that “Sin is what other people do that I disapprove of. There are lots of things that I do that other people disapprove of, but I don’t call them sin.” (more…)

April 2, 2018

Thomas Aquinas for Evangelicals (Part 1) Introduction

Filed under: Theology,Thomas Aquinas — William Witt @ 8:53 pm

AquinasI first became acquainted with the writings of Thomas Aquinas when I was an undergraduate philosophy major. I became interested in Aquinas because I was interested in apologetics, and I thought that Aquinas would be helpful for doing things like providing arguments for the existence of God. I later shifted my academic focus from philosophy to theology, and have found Aquinas to be a lifelong companion on my theological journey. I am not a Roman Catholic but an Anglican, and I have often encountered a kind of discomfort when other Christians who stand on this side of the Reformation hear about my interest in Aquinas. Aquinas is considered to be the quintessential Roman Catholic theologian, and, accordingly, is regarded with suspicion by many non-Roman Catholic Christians – especially Evangelicals. My ad hoc response would be much like that of Christian Ethicist Stanley Hauerwas who, when he was first teaching at the University of Notre Dame, had to respond to concerns that a Methodist theologian was teaching about Thomas Aquinas. Hauerwas countered that Aquinas lived three hundred years before the Protestant Reformation, before there were any distinctions between Roman Catholics and Protestants. Aquinas was not therefore a Roman Catholic theologian, but a church theologian, and so a Methodist had just as much right to claim him as would a Roman Catholic. Recently D. Stephen Long, another Methodist theologian, has argued persuasively that Protestants should recognize that Aquinas actually played a significant role in the history of Reformation theology, and needs to be reclaimed by Protestants. If Aquinas can be claimed by two Methodist theologians, I would argue that he certainly can be claimed by Anglicans. In what follows, I hope to provide an introduction to Aquinas’s thought in a way that might be helpful for Reformation Christians, especially Evangelicals.

Who was Thomas Aquinas?

Thomas Aquinas was born sometime around 1224 or 1225 as the youngest son of lesser nobility, related to the Counts of Aquino, in the family castle of Roccasecca (in southern Italy, halfway between Rome and Naples). His family had hopes that young Thomas would enter the Benedictine order and would perhaps eventually become an abbot, but he had other ideas. There was a new kind of religious order at the time, the friars, who differed from traditional monks in that they were not cloistered – that is, they did not live in monasteries – but lived among the laity and engaged in mission in the everyday world. Friars came in two varieties, the Friars Minor (O.F.M.) or Franciscans (founded by St. Francis of Assisi) and the Order of Preachers (O.P.) or Dominicans (founded by St. Dominic). As their name suggests, the Order of Preachers focused on preaching, but also on study and teaching, so they had a more academic focus than did the Franciscans. Against his family’s wishes, the young Aquinas joined the Dominicans in 1244. His family responded by having Thomas kidnapped and held him captive for a year or so. He eventually escaped, and in 1245 the Dominicans sent him to the newly founded University of Paris, a budding intellectual center, where he studied under Albertus Magnus (Albert the Great). In Paris, Thomas studied Aristotle’s ethics – Aristotle’s major works were now being translated into Latin for the first time – and the writings of the Eastern Christian mystical theologian Pseudo-Dionysius.

October 10, 2017

My Response to the Response of Six Anglican Leaders to the ACNA Statement on Holy Orders

Filed under: Women's Ordination — William Witt @ 12:43 am

The following is my response to the Response to Holy Orders Task Force Report — Six Anglican Leaders Reflect on ACNA Statement, which I will refer to in what follows as the Response.

christ_in_the_house_of_martha_and_maryI begin by noting that there is nothing new introduced in the Response, but also that the Response contains a significant anomaly. The Response consists of arguments that have been used against women’s ordinations for the last several decades. However, the Response also combines (without acknowledgment or clarification) the two very different arguments against women’s ordination used by Protestant Evangelicals (Complementarians) and Sacramental Catholics (Liturgical symbolism). The Response presumes that the arguments can be combined, but it is questionable whether they are even compatible. (If one takes seriously Complementarian disinterest in sacramental concerns and Catholic rejections of Complementarian positions, the two approaches cancel each other out.)

The first half of the Response assumes the position defended by Evangelical opponents of women’s ordinations known as “Complementarians,” a group whose beginnings are no earlier than the 1970s and 1980s. Complementarianism is a view associated primarily with Baptist Calvinists Wayne Grudem and John Piper. Throughout, the Response simply repeats arguments used over and over again by Grudem and Piper. Unfortunately, the writers of the Response seem either unaware of or choose not to address the serious weaknesses in Complementarian arguments that have been pointed out repeatedly. The Response does not acknowledge that Complementarianism represents a uniquely Protestant approach. Complementarianism is primarily concerned with masculine authority: women cannot be ordained because they cannot speak publicly in a worship setting, cannot teach men, and cannot exercise authority over men. The Catholic argument against women’s ordination is a completely different argument connected to sacramental symbolism, and both modern Roman Catholics and the Orthodox have rejected complementarian arguments concerning authority. For Catholics, women can do all of the things complementarianism forbids: they can preach, they can teach, they can exercise authority over men; they just cannot celebrate the Eucharist. This point is crucial because it makes clear that the first half of the Response represents a one-sided Protestant approach that is at odds with the Catholic position.

On Complementarianism, see my essay “Concerning Women’s Ordination: Hierarchy and Hermeneutics.”

If the first half of the Response one-sidedly echoes Complementarianism, it is also unfortunate that throughout the Response quotes only from the ESV translation of the Bible, an intentionally Complementarian translation that at times misleadingly translates passages to force complementarian readings. That the authors do not acknowledge the differences between the ESV and other translations is unfortunate.

The Response presents what it calls “clear biblical testimonies to a male-only presbyterate.” Unfortunately, the passages to which it refers are anything but “clear” on that issue. (more…)

September 27, 2017

Concerning Women’s Ordination: A Response to the “Ordination Challenge”

Filed under: Theology,Women's Ordination — William Witt @ 5:56 am

The following presupposes some familiarity with two earlier essays: Concerning Women’s Ordination: The Argument “From Tradition” is not the “Traditional” Argument and Concerning Women’s Ordination: The “Tradition” Challenge

Melancholy A gentleman named Michael Joseph has responded to my “ordination” challenge.

1) C. S. Lewis once responded to an unsympathetic critic who had clearly gotten his views wrong: “[W]e all know too well how difficult it is to grasp or retain the substance of a book one finds antipathetic.” I suppose I should not be surprised if a response to my essay seems rather seriously to miss much of the point of my argument. A key point in the misreading seems to be the presumption that I assume that the Church Fathers were simply irremediable sexists and had nothing good to say about women. Accordingly, the author presumes it sufficient to point out that if Tertullian says some good things about women or that Chrysostom speaks positively about women in marriage, or if Augustine does not believe that “Eve is by nature more a sinner” that this somehow invalidates my argument.

A single paragraph in my earlier essay should set straight that misunderstanding:

In making this point, it is not my intention to embrace the kind of diatribe that one occasionally encounters in revisionist feminist scholarship that portrays the entire history of the church as nothing but an unmitigated practice of oppressive subjugation and patriarchal abuse of women. Such one-sided readings can find their counterparts in equally one-sided accounts of how Christianity remarkably improved the status of women in the pagan world, and was, on the whole, a remarkably good thing for women. Nonetheless, it is not difficult to trace a consistent pattern in the history of the church that explains why the church has not ordained women. Some selective examples follow. (These are typical, but not exhaustive.)

So no, I do not at all believe that pre-modern church tradition is simply uniformly negative toward women. (more…)

September 22, 2017

Concerning Women’s Ordination: The “Tradition” Challenge

Filed under: Theology,Women's Ordination — William Witt @ 6:12 am

Joan of ArcRecently, I posted the following on Facebook in response to the recent ACNA College of Bishops Statement on Women’s Ordinaton:

As a member of the ACNA, I was a consultant to the ACNA Women’s Orders Task Force. When the ACNA was founded, it was decided that we would be a “large tent” representative of orthodox Anglicanism, extending hospitality to those Anglicans who could not affirm women’s orders, even though they held a minority opinion within worldwide Anglicanism. I am happy that the ACNA has continued to recognize that there is room for disagreement on this issue.

However, I am unhappy with this statement in particular, which does not tell the whole story: “However, we also acknowledge that this practice is a recent innovation to Apostolic Tradition and Catholic Order.”

Yes, the practice is recent, but so is the recognition that women are of equal moral, intellectual, and spiritual status with men. The historic argument against women’s ordination was that women lacked intelligence, were emotionally unstable, and were more subject to temptation than men. Given that the current arguments against WO are NOT this argument, the continuing opponents of WO are as much endorsing a “recent innovation” as those of us who favor it.

I accompanied the post with a link to this page:

Concerning Women’s Ordination: The Argument “From Tradition” is not the “Traditional” Argument.

I quickly discovered that posting this was a mistake, as I received responses like the following that made clear that people read my statement, but had not actually read my essay:

Who has made this “historic argument”?

To make matters worse, my statement was shared elsewhere without the link to my accompanying essay, where it received responses such as the following:

I would truly love for someone to post even one demonstration of the Early Church arguing specifically that women cannot be ordained due to their inferior intellectual, moral, or spiritual state, or even an inferior ontology. Just a quote from them that speaks for itself.

The substance would be giving a quote from the Early Church that shows – rather than assumes – that they argued from a view that women are inferior:
– not merely subordinate, but inferior, for assuming that subordinate implies inferior merely assumes what Witt needs to demonstrate,
– not merely that a writer or several made an observation or rebuke or rhetorical flourish against the female sex (for they did that against men, too)
Basically, just someone, provide something from the early church that clearly shows that they said, basically, “the mind of the Church is that women can’t be priests because women are without exception intellectually incapable/wanton/etc.”

Lots of words, lots of assertions, lots of analogies, lots of debate over whether the analogies are valid…. but no early church quotes, viz, no actual evidence.

I am tempted to respond by again referring back to my earlier essay, but that would be too easy. I’m more than willing to accept a challenge, and will raise the challenge with one of my own.

So first a response to the above challenge.

My argument consists of the following two assertions:


The historic argument against women’s ordination was that women lacked intelligence, were emotionally unstable, and were more subject to temptation than men.

This can be broken down as follows.

July 6, 2017

Robert Jenson on Revisionary Metaphysics

Filed under: Metaphysics,Theology — William Witt @ 7:31 am

Recently, I wrote a book review of a collection of Robert Jenson essays entitled Theology as Revisionary Metaphysics for The International Journal of Systematic Theology.1 Unfortunately, IJST considered the first version of the review to be too long; they wanted a short review, not a review essay. The following contains the bulk of what I omitted, focusing on Jenson’s understanding of “revisionary metaphysics,” and, particularly, on questions of divine immutability and impassibility. I affirm the traditional position, and some might find helpful my interaction with Jenson’s challenge.

TrinityThere is a dominant sub-theme that pervades Robert Jenson’s book, Theology as Revisionary Metaphysics and provides its title: revisionary metaphysics.2 What does Jenson mean by “revisionary metaphysics”? In the preface, Jenson affirms that insofar as the question “What is it to be?” continues to be asked, Christian theology necessarily has to do with metaphysics; classical Christian theology necessarily interacted with and revised pagan Greek metaphysics to “fit the gospel.” The resulting Christian metaphysics is above all trinitarian and Christological. Jenson’s acknowledged conversation partners include the Cappadocian fathers, Cyril of Alexandria, Thomas Aquinas, “certain Lutherans,” Karl Barth, and Jonathan Edwards (pp. vii-viii).

However, Jenson is also convinced that traditional Christian metaphysics has been influenced too much by Greek metaphysics; in particular, he rejects notions that God is impassible and timeless, doctrines of God that he considers implicitly unitarian or binitarian rather than trinitarian, and Christologies that are adoptionist or Nestorian.3 Several of the essays in this book emphasize these themes. In “Ipse pater non est impassibilis (The Father Himself Is Not Impassible),” Jenson points to the Hellenistic roots of impassibility: Parmenides, Plato, Aristotle, and the Stoics did not know about the incarnation or the biblical distinction between Creator and creature; for them, the fundamental distinction was between the temporal world and a timeless divine realm (p. 94); Jenson insists that if the christological notion that one of the Trinity suffered in the flesh is true, “then the God here referred to by ‘the Trinity’ is not impassible . . . in any sense of impassibility perceptible in the face of the world, it will not do as an attribute of the God of Scripture and dogma.” (pp. 95, 96).


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