Article ID: DB002 | By: Gregory A. Boyd
Dr. Gregory A. Boyd
To whom it concerns:
I am the author of Oneness Pentecostals and the Trinity as well as Trinity and Process: A Critical Evaluation and Reconstruction of Hartshorne’s Thought: Towards a Trinitarian Metaphysics. I’m writing you because it’s come to my attention that you, and a number of other people and Christian organizations, have recently received a letter from Dr. Robert Morey about my theology — and my character — and I am writing to clarify whatever confusion Morey’ s very mistaken letter has caused. To be perfectly honest, I regard Morey’s letter to be so misrepresentative of me and my theology that I don’t feel it deserves a response. But because Dr. Morey is a respected Christian spokesperson, his letter, however misguided, could hinder the ministry of my book Oneness Pentecostals and the Trinity as well as threaten my reputation as a Baptist professor and pastor. Hence I must offer you a reply. If you read his letter, I’d like to ask you to carefully read the entirety of this response.
In his 12-page letter to you, Morey portrays me as a radical liberal who denies all the major tenets of the orthodox faith. He says, “Everything the Christian church has believed and confessed for two thousand years about God. Christ and the Trinity is maligned, denied, and ridiculed by Boyd” (2). He says I am a “disciple of Charles Hartshorne”, a process philosopher, and that I would call Hartshorne and Whitehead “Christian.” He says I believe “in Process philosophy instead of the traditional view of the church” (2). He says that I believe God can lie (3), can sin (6), can become non-god, can cease to be triune (10), and even can become the devil (6). He says I deny all the “omni-attributes of God” (4), and believe that God is a “contingent happening in which there is no enduring ‘Being’ behind the becoming” (4). He holds that I deny the absolute perfection of God (2, 6) He implies that I hold to a form of atheism (5, 8). He says that I am nor a trinitarian (I’m even anti-trinitarian (11)) and that I believe that God’s triunity “has arisen through pure chance for the moment” (10). He says that I hold to an adoptionistic view of Jesus Christ (5, 11) and deny that he is fully God and fully man (11, 12). And, to round out the nice picture, he accuses me of Barthian neo-universalism.” (9)
I will not bore you with a detailed refutation of each of these accusations. But as the author of the book Morey is unsuccessfully struggling to interpret, Trinity and Process, I will simply set the record straight. None of this is true! Not only is this not true, but everything Morey says I hold to in the above paragraph represents everything my two books are written against! The central thrust of Trinity and Process as well as Oneness Pentecostals and the Trinity is to defend “what the Church has believed and confessed for two thousand years” against philosophical movements (such as Process thought) and religious movements (Oneness Pentecostalism) that deny orthodoxy. Everyone else who has ever read these works has understood this. How Morey came to the opposite conclusion is a mystery to me.
I have in the last five months received 134 calls and/or letters from people who have been greatly helped by my book on Oneness Pentecostalism, many of these being people who were delivered from this group’s teaching by this book! Yet Morey claims I really deny the deity of Christ and the doctrine of the Trinity and he wants Christian organizations to stop selling my book on Oneness Pentecostalism because of it (12)! He goes so far as to claim that I was dishonest and didn’t want “to let the cat out of the bag” about my process liberalism so I could get my Oneness book published (3-4). I have trouble understanding the thinking of a person who could project such deceitful motives onto another.
Now I have no intention of embarrassing Dr. Morey, but insofar as I have to clarify the confusion he’s created, I have to state clearly some of the areas where he has misrepresented my thought. In his 12-page attack he offers 57 quotes from my book Trinity and Process so “the reader may judge for himself if my [Morey’s] understanding of Boyd is correct.” With very few exceptions, each of these quotes is completely taken out of context. In fact, in a number of instances Morey supplies quotes representing the positions I’m arguing against as though this was a position I was arguing for! Again, I will not take the time to refute each of Morey’s accusations, but please allow me to illustrate the sort of misrepresentation that his letter embodies through several examples.
1. Morey’s longest quote of mine comes from my thesis in which I note that “the philosophy of Charles Hartshorne is arguably the most comprehensive and persuasive metaphysical system worked out in the twentieth century (3).” In this quote I then go on to note that this system “represents what must be regarded as the most significant challenge to the orthodox Christian faith in modem times.” I then state that this philosophy undermines everything that is central to the Christian faith, including the deity of Christ and the Trinity.
In his letter, Morey portrays me as though I accepted this conclusion. The central tenants of the Christian faith must go. If you read the quote in it’s original context, however, you’d see that the point of the passage is to stare that because Process thought has been so influential, and because it is so damaging to orthodox Christianity, it must be given a serious critical response! That’s what my whole work is about! How Morey missed this is beyond me.
For example, in Trinity in Process, in a section entitled “The Central Thesis of This Work,” I begin by saying:
It is the central thesis of this work that Hartshorne, as well as others who argue that the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity is philosophically useless or even inherently “irrational,” is fundamentally mistaken (2).
Could I have said it any clearer? But Morey accuses me of being anti-trinitarian!
2. In a similar fashion, in his attempt to prove my heretical orientation, Morey quotes me as saying:
Norris Clarke has argued, quite rightly, that Process thought is not only one of the most compelling contemporary metaphysical systems of our time. It also represents one of the “principle challenges to traditional theism” at the present time.
What Morey doesn’t offer the reader is what I said IN THE VERY NEXT SENTENCE.
…there are other crucial elements of the traditional Christian proclamation which, we shall argue, should not and must not be rejected, but which are necessarily precluded by this school of thought [Process philosophy]. Chief among these is the doctrine of the Trinity which, we believe, alone grounds the Christian understanding of creation and salvation as gracious, hence unnecessary, acts of God (10, emphasis added).
The reason I note that Process thought is so compelling is not to say I agree with it, but to state why it must be taken seriously and responded to in a convincing fashion. As I say several sentences after the above quote:
Hartshore may be disagreed with. From the perspective we are taking in this work, he must to a significant extent be disagreed with (emphasis is in the original text).
Does that sound like I am a “disciple of Charles Hartshorne” and that I would call him “Christian” as Morey states? Does this sound like I “believe Process philosophy instead of the traditional view of the Church” as Morey contends?
3. As further evidence of my being “a processian”, Morey offers the reader this quote “so the reader can judge for himself”:
The correct metaphysical procedure, according to Harshorne, is to say about God only what can be said and what needs to be said on the basis of an analysis of the universal features of our experience. God and the world, then, can and must be encompassed by one set of terms, “one language.”
Morey than adds a note saying:
Notice that in the above quote from Harshorne [It’s NOT from Hartshorne! — my note], man’s experience limits what can be said about God. In effect, he reduces God to a mere man (6).
Morey offers this as a piece of the evidence that “Boyd has made a god in his own image” (7). What he doesn’t offer the reader is what I say IN THE VERY NEXT SENTENCE.
But surely Christianity is not bound by this methodological requirement…divine revelation is not a reaffirmation or extension of what we already know or could know; it is, rather, an unexpected ‘invasion’ by God’s Word into our fallen world…from a Christian perspective…it is illegitimate to limit one’s view of God to what can be known on an a priori basis. Indeed, it is, in our estimation, positively disastrous for Christian theology to do this (99) (emphasis in the original text).
Could I have stated in any clearer terms that I am writing to oppose precisely the sort of methodology Morey is representing me as endorsing? Why Morey ripped such quotes out of their original contexts and gave them a meaning that was opposite their original meaning baffles me.
4. Again, Morey exposes this dishonest radical liberal (me) by offering the reader this quote:
What is the price tag to be paid for the advantages of the neoclassical definition of God?…The traditional concepts of God as unsurpassably self-sufficient within Godself, apart from the world, and thus the traditional concepts of the creation and salvation of the world as acts of grace, not necessity, must be jettisoned (7).
Morey presents me as willing to pay this price. I am, after all, “a disciple of Hartshorne.” But what he didn’t offer the reader is what I said IN THE VERY PRECEDING SENTENCE;
In the remainder of this chapter we shall examine what this price tag is… and inquire into the possibility of achieving the advantages of the neo-classical view, but without paying the high price it exacts…(209, emphasis added).
The remainder of the book argues for just this “possibility.” The central thesis of my book is that only a world view based on an understanding of God as being eternally social (triune) and independent of the world has the metaphysical explanatory power many wrongly think process metaphysics has! I’m NOT willing to pay the price Morey attributes to me, and I show in my book that there’s no need to pay this price to accomplish what Process metaphysics is trying to accomplish. The only cogent metaphysical system, I argue, is a trinitarian one.
How Morey missed this, and why he went public — without first seeing if he understood me correctly — with his serious charges against me is utterly beyond me.
5. Morey says that I “downgrade the historic Christian God from a capital ‘G’ to a little ‘g’ when he takes a slap at the ‘omnipotent god’ of classical theism.” And then he adds, “Everything the Christian church has believed and confessed for two thousand years about God. Christ and the Trinity is maligned, denied, and ridiculed by Boyd” (2). He again notes that I reduce “the God of orthodoxy” down to “a small ‘g’ god” on page 8 of his letter.
What he fails to tell the reader is that I’m quoting someone else (Dr. Migliori) with this phrase! The quotation is found two sentences prior to the sentence Morey quotes, and the phrase is placed in quotation marks in the original text. Why Morey didn’t mention this I leave for your consideration. I for one don’t think it’s the kind of Christian, fair, objective scholarship we should expect from our Christian leaders and authors.
6. Morey correctly notes that I argue against the view of God as actus purus (6). It is my opinion that this comes out of Aristotle, not the Bible. But Morey then explains to the reader that “the Latin term acrus purus simply refers to God as ‘absolutely perfect’ in all respects” (6). And, perhaps for this reason, Morey insists that I “openly deny God’s perfection” (2, cf. 10, 12).
I’m afraid that Morey needs to brush up on his Latin. The phrase actus purus does not mean “perfect in all respects,” and thus the force of my denying it has nothing to do with denying God’s perfection, something I argue for throughout my book Trinity and Process. The phrase actus purus means “pure actuality,” and, as any objective reader can discern from reading my book, the thrust of my denying it is to affirm that God’s perfection includes potentiality (e.g. the potential to create the world, or not create the world. The world is not a necessary thing to God!). It is a technical philosophical point, perhaps. But this is all the more reason why Morey should have been more careful in his public critique of it.
7. Morey quotes me as saying “the church’s traditional theology, is fast becoming a piece of history” (5). And he then adds, “Notice that Boyd… says that orthodoxy will soon be a relic of history.”
He left out several important words IN THE VERY SENTENCE he is here quoting, however. The full quote reads. “The traditional Aristotelian world view, supported by Newtonian physics and embraced by the [here Morey’s quote BEGINS!] Church’s traditional theology, is fast becoming a piece of history.”
This obviously changes the meaning of the sentence drastically, and if you put the whole quote in the context of the paragraphs that follow, the meaning is changed more dramatically still. It’s not biblical orthodoxy I’m arguing against and saying is going to become history: It’s biblical orthodoxy I’m defending in the face of our culture’s paradigmatic shift away from a world view based on Aristotelian metaphysics and Newtonian physics. Aristotle and Newton may become history: the Bible, and the orthodox Church, NEVER. I’m nonplussed as to why Morey so distorted what I was saying.
8. To show that I am not an orthodox trinitarian. Morey offers the reader the following quote:
The contingent act of being Creator, Saviour, and Sanctifier is the way God has now creatively chosen to delight in Godself as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
And Morey attaches this note:
Notice the words “contingent act” and “has now creatively chosen.” This means that Boyd’s triad is something that has arisen through pure chance for the moment. This triad is hardly worthy of the word “trinity.” But Boyd’s god could “creatively choose” not to be a trinity tomorrow! He could decide on the “roll of the dice” to become a quandinity!).
As incredible as the previous accusations against me are, this one is the most incredible. A mere FOUR SENTENCES PRIOR TO THE QUOTE I say, “That God is God, that God is unsurpassably related to Godself as Father, Son and Spirit is necessary: but how God in detail enjoys this triune sociality is not” (392, emphasis in original text). It is not the Trinity that is “contingent”: it is the fact that God chooses to be Creator. Saviour and Sanctifier. In other words, in diametrical opposition to what Process thought says, I’m simply saying that there was no necessity upon God to Create the world, to seek to save the world, and to sanctify believers. This was the triune God’s free choice, hence it is a matter of sheer grace! (Does Morey believe that God had to create and seek to save the world? Doesn’t he believe the creation, salvation, and sanctification are “contingent” acts of God, matters of grace not necessity?)
The central thesis of my work Trinity and Process is that a metaphysics that denies that God is eternally social (triune) and independent of the world in this triunity cannot succeed. And this thesis is explicitly stated literally hundreds of times throughout my work! In fact, throughout this work (and my Oneness Pentecostals and the Trinity) I argue against all forms of modalism. On page 2 of Trinity in Process, for example, I critique Process theologians who have tried to hold to a form of the Trinity by saying:
At best they articulate in Process terms a type of economic (modalistic) trinity…This is because, with Hartshorne, they share a metaphysical system which precludes, at a most fundamental level, the concert of a reality which could be internally social, and unsurpassably perfect and self-sufficient in this sociality.
Against this, I argue we must affirm “the inherent, necessary, self-sufficient sociality of God’s essential being” (403). God is eternally triune! And this, I argue, is the foundation for any metaphysics that is going to succeed as a coherent, explanatory, total world view. Process philosophy fails because it systematically rules out the eternal Trinity! Morey again portrays me as espousing the very position I am arguing against.
I honestly don’t know how Morey could read my book and not only miss this, but actually think that I was saying the opposite. In fact, he says in his letter to you that he read my book twice, for he also read my dissertation which is almost reproduced verbatim as Trinity and Process — though Morey seems to think that I “was more openly liberal” in my dissertation! In truth, I didn’t rewrite my dissertation at all. I only corrected typos and grammar as well as updated some of the material.
As an aside, in the Light of Morey’s criticism of me, one must wonder why I would ever write an entire book against modalists (Oneness Pentecostals) if I was myself a modalist! One must wonder how I could teach at an Evangelical Baptist college, and be an Evangelical Baptist pastor, if I denied the Trinity (as well as denying the deity of Christ, salvation by grace, being a universalist, and the other things Morey accuses me of). The very idea of it is, I suggest, ludicrous.
In the light of my book against modalism and my standing in the Evangelical community, one must also wonder why Morey didn’t at least entertain the possibility that he had misinterpreted me — at least to the point of first calling me or writing me to see if he “got it right.” Instead, he just assumed I was lying about my theology in Oneness Pentecostals and the Trinity (3-4) and sought to discredit my ministry with this book.
As a professor of theology I have no trouble with someone disagreeing with me on any point. I invite that. And I completely understand how Morey, a Calvinist, would have major disagreements with my theology which is in most areas heavily Arminian, even if he understood what my theology was (which he doesn’t). Some of his over-zealous animosity perhaps comes from the fact that throughout my work I agree with Hartshorne’s refutation of theological determinism. Fine, let’s dialogue, but let’s first know what we’re dialoguing about! In any event, the gross misrepresentation and all out slam contained in Morey’s letter was uncalled for. Christian ethics, and just common decency, should have us treat one another more courteously. And ordinary standards of scholarship would certainly have us treat each other’s work more objectively, fairly, and carefully than what Morey’s “review” of my book exhibits.
Please know that I hold no personal animosity towards Dr. Morey, though I’m very disappointed, puzzled, and aggravated by his behavior. And I didn’t mean to embarrass him by exposing his misquotes, misrepresentations and distortions. But he put me in a position where I had to. I only hope this letter goes a long way towards clarifying whatever confusion his behavior caused.
Thank you for taking the time to read this letter.
Sincerely, in Christ,
Dr. Gregory A. Boyd