Faith Freedom and the Spirit

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Book Review: “Faith, Freedom, and the Spirit” by Paul Molnar

ffs-molnarPaul Molnar’s Faith, Freedom and the Spirit is an extremely ambitious project. Its main thrust is the exploration of Trinitarian theology–particularly a distinction between the economic and immanent Trinity–in light of Torrance, Barth, and others.

The book is packed with insights into numerous topics, whether readers are interested in learning more about Barth and Torrance (and Rahner) or the relations within the Trinity, Molnar sweeps broadly but takes the time to dissect many topics in helpful ways.

A primary topic is how we relate to God, and through Barth (though alongside other theologians), Molnar argues that God is perfectly free in relation to us and frees us through grace. It is not our work that saves us but rather God entirely and miraculously revealing Himself to us through Christ by the power of the Spirit.

Throughout the entire book, the aforementioned theologians are highlighted, often providing readers with lengthy quotes and expositions of their positions in order to lend more detail and analysis to topics related to the Trinity.

There seems to be a bit bit too much discussion of various other scholars’ dissent from Molnar’s position or misunderstanding it. At times it reads as though there are journal articles put into the book rather than developing as a book itself. Responses to specific authors seem to often be esoteric rather than helpful, though I’m sure in the broader project Molnar is tracing, it makes sense.

Another downside is that it seems that at a few points the “low hanging fruit” is that which is engaged. For example, Molnar’s discussion of eternal subordination was interesting–in particular his insight from Barth and Torrance about how such a position confuses the immanent and economic Trinity–but then he went on to focus on specific views of select scholars which were blatantly subordinationist in the Arian sense rather than on some of the more nuanced approaches of others. Another example is his discussion of natural theology, which did not seem to take into account the various ways in which Barth’s attack on the notion are undermined by other considerations.

Overall, Faith, Freedom and the Spirit is worthy of careful consideration. Readers may not always find it helpful in its discussion of specific scholars, but the broader theme of the economic Trinity and the channeling and condensing of the thought of several important theologians makes it well worth the time and effort to read it.

The Good

+Insight into many aspects of the economic and immanent Trinity
+Deeply thought-provoking
+Solid critique of some views of the Trinity which (potentially or actually) stray from orthodoxy

The Bad

-A few too many rabbit trails make it feel like pieced-together journal articles at times
-Fails to distinguish adequately between types of apologetics
-At times feels repetitious

I received a review copy of the book from InterVarsity. I was not required to give any kind of review whatsoever. My thanks to the publisher for the book.

Links

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Source

Paul D. Molnar, Faith, Freedom and the Spirit (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2015). 

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Is Natural Theology Excluded for Apologetics? – Sunday Quote!+

ffs-molnarHere’s a special edition Sunday Quote which features a more extended discussion. Let me know what you think in the comments.

Is Natural Theology Excluded for Apologetics?

Paul Molnar’s Faith, Freedom and the Spirit is a massive study on the Trinity–specifically the economic Trinity–with much insight from contemporary theology. Early on, Molnar makes a statement which, as a trained Christian apologist, seemed a bit like “fightin’ words”:

If contemporary theologians were to make explicit the role of the Holy Spirit in enabling our knowledge of the triune God, then there could be wide agreement that natural theology of whatever stripe is not only unhelpful but is directly excluded from any serious understanding of theological epistemology. (82)

Now, “natural theology” is, according to Justo Gonzalez’s Essential Theological Terms, “A theology that claims to be based on the natural gifts of the human mind, and on the ‘general revelation’ granted to all… rather than on a ‘special revelation’ in Scripture or Jesus Christ” (118). Natural theology, that is, is the attempt to show that God exists and certain other truths through looking at the world. From this quote, it seems that Molnar is arguing that if we had a better notion of the role of the Holy Spirit, we would basically think that natural theology is worthless related to knowledge of God.

Molnar develops this notion further throughout the next 50 pages or so. His argument basically is that if we acknowledge that it is the Holy Spirit who enables faith and knowledge of God, then any “knowledge” of God which is not directly through faith (i.e. through something like a cosmological argument) is not objective knowledge of God.

Although some of what Molnar argues resonates with me–particularly the notion that the Holy Spirit is the one who imparts faith rather than it being some kind of choice we make–I think that his dismissal of natural theology is unnecessary and mistaken. First, the most obvious question to be asked is whether the Spirit can use natural theology to create faith. If it is the case that the Holy Spirit can work through natural theology–something which seems to be clearly correct to me–then the objection that natural theology ignores the role of the Spirit is mistaken.

Second, Molnar’s argument seems to rely on a concept of natural theology which is entirely about trying to impart knowledge of God to those who do not have faith. This, however, ignores the use of apologetics in strengthening the faith of believers. Natural theology can be a valuable tool for those who have faith to pursue the call of 1 Peter 3:15 and have a reason for the hope within them. Whatever one’s view of whether natural theology can bring people to the true God, it seems that it can and should be used for believers to explore the natural world and bolster their faith.

Third and finally, it seems to me that Romans 1 in particular demonstrates that natural theology is not a worthless project. If God’s invisible attributes are capable of being discovered in the things God has made, then surely natural theology has some value in tracing God’s handiwork.

Should we think that natural theology is a failed project? Can it have other uses like those I listed? Is it possible to go from God to Christ? What of the role of the Spirit in apologetics?

Faith, Freedom and the Spirit is a thoroughly thought-provoking read which I recommend to those interested in the doctrine of the Trinity. It has certainly gotten my wheels turning!

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Sunday Quote– If you want to read more Sunday Quotes and join the discussion, check them out! (Scroll down for more)

Source

Paul D. Molnar, Faith, Freedom and the Spirit (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2015). 

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

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