Book Review: Good God

Ethics Philosophy of Religion reviews


David Baggett and Jerry L. Walls, Good God: The Theistic Foundations of Morality

(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011)

Others have offered their thoughts on this book online (John Hare being an example), and in reading those thoughts I have found a lot of common ground between myself and those reviewers. I take some heart from this, as it reduces the probability that I have unique misunderstandings about what the authors have said. Still, I thought I would offer my thoughts. The larger the number of reviews out there, the better a picture is painted for readers of reviews (and perhaps the authors) of what – if anything – the consensus among friendly reviewers is.

And in spite of my disagreements, I really am a friendly reviewer. By this, I mean that I am motivated to speak well of this book. I share broad agreement with the main thesis of the book. But there are a number of criticisms to make as well, and they do dominate my impression of this book. Not having written a lot of book reviews, certain traits in my approach became apparent to me. There is a certain aspect of “unfairness” in my comments in the sense that I am not an impartial reader. I have developed my own thoughts about God and morality (not that they are really new), and at times those thoughts differ from those of the authors. I found myself especially sensitive, therefore, to the ways in which they expressed disagreement with views that I hold, and I was probably more scrutinising at those junctures than a detached referee might be. You might even say that I was looking for mistakes when I disagreed with the writers. And you might be right. Tough. I am what I am. I am also someone – and this is something that I have known for quite some time – who is especially irritated when people exude over-confidence when I do not think they have earned it. I start to suspect that they don’t take enough time to examine other points of view, or that they don’t do it fairly (in other words, that they are careless because they are partisan). It makes me think that what I am reading is far too touched by arrogance. I get impatient with that, and, rightly or otherwise, it colours the rest of what I read, because I hear it in the voice of somebody who is prone to over-confidence and perhaps carelessness. That happened while I was reading this book, my broad agreement with the authors notwithstanding. Is this fair on the authors? Maybe! I’d like to think that my tendencies are at least partially driven by the right sorts of intuitions about what’s acceptable and what’s not in good, fair and distinctively Christian writing.

Enough with the preamble. What did I think of the book? Think of a car trip to Disneyland where you get motion sickness for about half of the journey. You love where you’re going, you love some of the sights you see on the way, but the journey isn’t always something you’re terribly fond of (and sometimes it is). So it is here. I have some broad agreement with the authors’ overall point, and there are many good discussions of a whole host of the related issues here, but there are features of the book that made it feel at times like I just wanted it to be over.

At times the authors treat those with whom they disagree as irritants on the path to their conclusions, and dismiss them far too quickly. Take for instance their treatment of Brian Davies, a particularly noteworthy scholar in the exposition of Thomas Aquinas’ thought. In his book The Reality of God and the Problem of Evil, Davies spells out a view that I have also come to (and it was encouraging, after reaching this view, to find Davies saying the same thing). That view is that even if God is the basis of morality (which Davies and I construe in terms of ethics, right and wrong), it is not right to say that God is morally good. Indeed, God has no duties and is the instigator of moral duty. God is perfectly good, to be sure, in that he is the perfect being, and he exemplifies and models those characteristics that are (aesthetically, we might say) good; love, kindness, justice, beauty and so on. Something is good to the extent that it has those features, like God does. But this leaves open the fact that morality (duty) is a matter of obeying God’s commands rather than simply being like God, and as such moral goodness simply doesn’t apply to God. But our authors will have none of this, saying that Davies’ conception of moral goodness is overly “narrow,” and “lacks sufficient motivation.” I think this is very wide of the mark. Stressing the difference between goodness per se and morality in particular is in my (and Davies’) view is crucial for explaining the sorts of issues raised by the so-called Euthyphro dilemma. We can coherently explain that the morally good thing to do is what God commands, and that God commands a thing (at least in part) because it is good, with no hint of circularity, and we fully avoid the problem of independence, the problem of God commanding as he does in order to comply with the demands of morality. The authors seem to think that they have an edge over Davies because there are some commands that would really be “beyond the pale” and which we just can’t imagine God issuing, and there really must be “some such identifiable commands,” or else our position is vulnerable to the charge of “arbitrariness and vacuity.” But it is never explained why Davies position cannot allow for there to be such situations. Of course there are! Davies and I can happily explain that since God is loving, just, fair etc, we can indeed assess commands as to whether or not they are compatible with what we know about God, all the while maintaining that none of these characteristics of God make him morally good (which we take to mean that he is disposed to be ethically well-behaved). I think Davies would be justified in finding the authors to be somewhat curt in dismissing what is actually a deeply thought out point of view as being little more than a “semantic manoeuvre.” It involves semantics of course, but it is a substantive point of view to be reckoned with, and I do not think the authors effectively do so. This is an example of the kind of unwarranted confidence that I referred to earlier, and at this point in the book I did start to worry about what would follow.

In fact Davies’ insight could have made this book stronger at numerous junctures. For example (page 93) the authors approvingly describe a Thomist view of divine goodness, saying that “since it is God’s very nature and no arbitrary decision of his that thus constitutes the standard of morality, only things consonant with God’s nature could be morally good.” In truth, nothing is added to the strength of the authors’ position by positing that God’s nature is the standard of moral goodness. They would lose nothing by simply saying that God is the paradigm of goodness, and as such his decisions are not arbitrary, but accord with goodness, and for that reason only things that are good are candidates for things that God commands or approves of, and hence God does not command anything that is not good. Introducing the concept of arbitrariness here to describe (apparently) any divine will based theory of ethics really casts aspersion – aspersion that could have been responded to with ease, if only the voluntarists had been allowed to speak (again highlighting that frustrating tendency to not give decent coverage to the responses that have been made in the literature by those whom the authors are criticising). The quality of such interaction with other views may be a casualty of the authors’ conscious choice to write a work simply enough for people who are not theologians or philosophers. As the distinction between Davies’ view and that of the authors is something that has occupied my attention in some detail, any attempt to simplistically end the dispute for the sake of readability (if that is what has happened here) is going to stand out more than it would to those who care less about the difference.

The authors devote an entire chapter to raising a whole series of philosophical objections to Calvinism. Yes, I’m sympathetic to Calvinism. But I don’t think badly of the chapter simply for that reason. A lot of very good thinkers are not Calvinists. The chapter is a mere sixteen pages and yet presumes to deal five considerable philosophical blows to Calvinism, which tells us that the treatment being offered is extremely brief. In some cases this can be suggestive of haste and even dismissiveness, and the reader whose views are in the firing line would justifiably think that this is the case here. Probably due to space constraints, the arguments are presented very briefly, none of the responses in the literature are considered (as far as I can tell), and then a new argument is raised, and so on, until the end of the chapter, where the authors tell us that the Reformed view of God is sure to “leave a bad taste” in one’s mouth. Well, a bad taste had certainly been left. Not by the Reformed view of God’s sovereignty in salvation – which is largely shared by Augustine and Aquinas (whom the authors show frequent high regard for, interestingly) – but by this unnecessary partisanship. It was, in my view, a fly in the ointment. In the space used, no really satisfactory critique could have been offered (not even a mention of the treatises on free will by Augustine or Jonathan Edwards, both of whom have written significant works on behalf of the view the authors reject), and the result was to diminish the pool of people who would appreciate and potentially use this book (as well as to further the impression that the authors were enjoying a confidence that they really haven’t earned). I think one of the great virtues of a good apologist (and I do see this book as largely serving an apologetic role) is that they are able – and perhaps more importantly, willing – to focus on the most important divides, and not needlessly alienate those who really are, at the fundamental level, on the same side of this issue. The chapter should really have been left out, and the space used to flesh out some of the finer points in other sections, points that were intentionally omitted for the sake of simplicity.

Wait, was there anything good in this book?

Up to chapter four (on the Reformed view), things sound pretty negative in this review, and there six more chapters and two appendices to go! I didn’t want to write a review that was too negative, but only to give an idea of the sort of hesitations I have about recommending the book. The truth is, however, there is material in the book that I do recommend to the reader.

In spite of my misgivings with the authors’ view on the moral nature of God, their actual chapter called “God and goodness” is a good read. It provides a very informative survey in terms of the options when it comes to what God can and can’t just make true, some digestible discussion on God’s role as “the Good,” along with some illuminating discussion of the possibility of objective moral truths if God did not exist, supposing that God, if God exists, is a necessary being.

The chapter on “Divine Command Theory” is also an excellent overview of how divine command ethics have been developed in recent times, including some prudent corrections of the popular version propounded by William Lane Craig, along with some comforting reassurance that the authors have no problem with voluntarism per se, recognising (as I commented in “Brief Thoughts about God’s Freedom to Command“) that God’s nature does not need to be seen as making all of God’s actual commands necessary; God does actually have some freedom in the way that he commands. Similarly, the chapters on Abhorrent Commands and the Problem of Evil, although covering familiar ground that receives much coverage elsewhere, provide good treatments of issues that really do need to be covered given the scope of the book’s subject. Appendix A extends the discussion initiated in the chapter on abhorrent/arbitrary commands in a manner that is sure to be more satisfying to readers of a philosophical bent than the main chapter.

Chapter 9, “Knowing God’s Will,” resonated with me particularly well, in particular because it stressed the compatibility of the dependence of morality on God with the fact that people may epistemically grasp morality with no knowledge of God (something I have published on in the past), as well as the compatibility of the best elements of a natural law theory with divine command ethics (something I plan to publish on in the future). Still, in spite of my agreement with what I saw in this chapter, I was at the same time struck by how much of a stock repertoire it was: The order of being vs the order of knowing, the varieties of natural law theories, the relationship between rationality and morality, divine hiddenness – and only a couple of pages spent on each. There is clearly a trade-off going on. Wanting to present something for the everyday reader who might not know the field of study at all, the authors clearly felt that these subjects needed to be included. But someone who does know the subject matter will be frustrated that little of substance, given the brevity, is offered. But as with other parts of the book, given the drive to appeal to the uninitiated reader, the chapter serves its purpose well. Given the more complex treatments of subjects that appear elsewhere in the book, however, it does reveal a rather awkward attempt to be “all things to all men.” I for one would have appreciated a chapter like this being substantially longer and more detailed (I would gladly have seen the chapter on Reformed theology jettisoned to make room for this).

The same is true of chapter 10. To someone looking for deep discussion, it will seem brief. However, on the whole it’s a very good survey of the matters it raises – in spite of the reappearance of an important error when the writers bring up the question of whether or not God has duties, and they again talk of God being morally perfect, so that “he couldn’t fail to fulfill any duties he might have.” Setting that aside (I have a tendency to let such remarks irritate me and remind me of what I see as the flaws of earlier chapters, which again, isn’t necessarily fair), the chapter, in my view, brings a more distinctively Christian focus to the work than previous chapters. The chapter, called “Ethics and Eternity,” bring what some may find to be a more “human” touch to a philosophical issue. Here the stresses fall on the importance of virtue, the relational nature of morality (if Christian theism does underpin morality), the contrast between slavery to wrongdoing (sin) and the freedom to be what we were created to be through relationship with God, self-sacrificial love and the hope of eternity. And yet even here, as I found value in every point being made, I felt that I the reader – was being rushed (a mere couple of pages for each topic, which was given an evidently hurried treatment), and I was again nagged with the recurring thought – I like the length of the book, but the authors really should have sacrificed scope for depth.

It’s not good form to comment negatively on those who are on your team, but I just didn’t like the lack of depth that was pervasive in this book. I didn’t like the inadequacy of the interaction with other points of view. I didn’t like the partisanship at times. And the authors’ apparently sincere intentions and evaluations not withstanding (and I am conscious of sounding a bit mean), I don’t really see this book as a presentation of the moral argument for theism – although there were some defences of theistically grounded ethics from some specific objections (but I take that to be quite a different sort of thing). On the plus side, some of the defences of theistic ethics here receive succinct and clear re-statement in an accessible format, and even in the parts of the book I wasn’t wild about for other reasons, the disagreeable moments were couched in what was generally interesting discussion (even while dismissing Davies’ view of divine goodness, the authors were at work making plenty of useful distinctions, giving the reader or student many tools for clearer thinking about the subject). Do I recommend the book? Well, that depends on what you want it for. If you just want a good book to give a history and analysis of the moral argument, interacting well and in some depth with the literature, then no (sorry!). I really want this aspect of Christian philosophy to be better than it is. But if you have a keen interest in the philosophical question of the relationship between theism and morality, you want to keep abreast of the field and you want to see what a particular slice of evangelical philosophy has to say about it (David Baggett hails from Liberty University), then yes, by all means, buy the book. Your reaction might be nothing at all like mine.

And that’s what it’s like to be in my head when I read philosophy books on God and ethics. I’ll tell you what, I’m less inclined to write such reviews in future now. I really do feel mean being this honest. I hope nobody ever reviews any book I write!

Glenn Peoples

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{ 20 comments… add one }
  • Philip June 15, 2012, 9:18 pm

    I liked this review – in spite of you feeling bad about it!

    When you reviewed the debate between William Lane Craig and Sam Harris (also on the subject of God and morality), even though you made it clear that you agreed with Dr Craig and that you thought he won (and you persuaded me that he did), you didn’t let him get away with anything in terms of vulnerable arguments. You offered criticisms of his presentation that were better than those offered by non-believers, even though you were on his “side,” so to speak.

    The same applies here. Don’t feel bad at all. Your negative comments – in spite of basic ideological agreement with the authors – speak very well of you. You appear to offer such comments reluctantly (you’re not being a jerk), but where you feel you must, you offer them. It’s refreshing.

  • Andrew June 15, 2012, 9:44 pm

    Having read your review Glenn, I then read John Hare’s Notre Dame review. Having not read the book myself, I can’t really judge the book, but I can’t help but bridle at the completely irrelevant excursus into Calvinism that these authors allegedly take. The claim that Calvinism requires compatibilism is one of my pet peeves. It’s much like your frustration with the Euthyphro dilemma.

  • Chris June 16, 2012, 12:54 am

    So when can we expect you to be published Glenn? Surely with all that expertise….

  • Joshua F June 16, 2012, 1:42 am

    I am posting here, as you requested. Would you say that much of your criticism here is pretty typical of philosophy of religion in general? That seems to be the general impression from many.

  • Glenn June 16, 2012, 1:49 am

    Joshua, no, not at all. Some of the stuff I’m reading at the moment in philosophy of religion – and specifically on God and morality – is fantastic. There is some really great stuff out there by John Hare, Robert Adams (the late) Philip Quinn, Brian Davies and others.

    Mind you, there’s not a lot written specifically about the moral argument for theism in its historical development and an assessment in terms of modern meta-ethics (not as I envision it anyway). If my life were arranged differently, that’s the book project I would be working on now.

  • Joshua F June 16, 2012, 2:07 am

    Right, I agree. These are common perceptions that some from outside disciplines have much of philosophy of religion.

    So, when we will you be working on that project? It sounds, as if, it is much needed. Could you spend some time over developing the book contents via podcasts over a period of time? Then, once you have enough material developed compile and synthesize it into a book. Possibly?

  • Joshua F June 16, 2012, 2:13 am

    My first post was written in haste. I would certainly not say that of much philosophy of religion literature.

  • Matthew Flannagan June 16, 2012, 1:31 pm

    Glenn two things
    First, I wonder if your siding with Davies over Craig , Baggett et al is mostly a semantic dispute. You accept that God has various excellent character traits such as justice love, and so on, but claim this is not moral goodness because God is not obligated or required to have these traits, that suggests you understood moral goodness in terms of obligation and requirement. Baggett Craig et al however define goodness differently, when they talk about moral goodness they mean it in terms of “excellence of character” and not in terms of moral requirement. I am inclined to think this is what Craig means by goodness for example. So are you just saying the same thing but using different terms to articulate it.
    Second, and here I guess is my worry with this approach, does denying that God is good, create problems for saying God is worthy of worship or praiseworthy. You can say God has various character traits, but seeing these are not morally good it’s not clear he is to be praised for having them.

  • Glenn June 16, 2012, 1:48 pm

    Matt, I think God is still good in spite of not being morally so, and I think goodness (or really, the good) is worship worthy. God is the highest good (I swear I’m becoming more Thomist), and he is what’s really good for us too. Even those who differ with me on divine goodness say that God is worthy of worship on account of his goodness – and if they say that’s moral goodness but not in the sense of doing his duty (a combination I deny), they still can’t say that God is worship worthy because he does what he ought, so they still have to – like me – identify worship worthiness in terms of being good but not for fulfilling something that God should fulfill.

    As for whether is mostly semantic – well yes it’s partly semantic. But I think it’s a bit more than just that. I think there are advantages to having clear separation between moral goodness and other kinds (and the authors probably agree), and I also think that when we defend a divine command theory of ethics (as I do, but the authors are not as keen on), we start muddying things when we say that God is the basis of morality, and God is moral. I guess it strikes me as eminently clearer and more elegant to say that God just has certain descriptive traits quite apart from evaluation, and on this basis God commands, giving rise to ethical facts (and I equate “moral” with “ethical”). It provides fewer opportunities to the critics of theistically grounded ethics to start introducing accusations of circularity etc, and – and here is I think what may have bothered me a little about what the authors here did – it does not harm at all to the thesis that morality is grounded in God, and yet the authors seemed to think it important to reject Davies (and my) position, as though something was to be gained in doing so. I think it would have given them better conceptual clarity, and so it would have helped their project.

  • Kenneth June 16, 2012, 6:27 pm

    Glenn, I get the distinction – You say God is good just in terms of being (in classical theistic terms) the truest being, indeed the ground of all being (you know what I mean, because I heard you talk about this in your podcast on the “Evil God” challenge – Your podcast prompted me to learn about these issues!). So God is the metaphysically pure being, without a hint of non-being (or without any flaw, you might say). And, you say, that is enough! Morality comes into being when God acts in regard to others, bringing about duties. So we can say that morality is grounded in God, and God in turn does not derive moral status from anything, God just is what God is, and is the exemplar of purity and goodness.

    And I agree! It keeps the issues of God’s nature and morality conceptually distinct, while allowing us to explain the nature of one in terms of the other (because one explain’s God’s rationale in commanding). It might not make a difference to some people (Matt – perhaops not to you?), but I really appreciate the clarity and distinctions. You’ve encouraged me to obssess over such little things – not sure if that’s good or bad, Glenn! 🙂

  • Glenn June 16, 2012, 6:44 pm

    Spot on, Kenneth, that’s where I’m coming from.

    If you’re interested in looking into that more, I recommend the book that Baggett and Walls criticised, Brian Davies’ book The Reality of God and the Problem of Evil. After reading Baggett and Walls’ comments I decided to give it a read, and it’s one of the few books in recent times that I just can’t put down.

  • Matthew Flannagan June 16, 2012, 11:03 pm

    Still not sure this is not just semantic, Craig in “ON Guard” for example defines what is good in terms of what is “worth” and right in terms of “moral obligation” So on his use of terms God is good means God has a worthy character, a character its worth having, but does not mean good is obligated or required to have it.It seems to me that you are simply using the word “moral good” to refer to what he calls “right and wrong”, and using the term non moral good for what he calls good.

    I say seems because in the second paragraph you seem to say something different God has certain traits which are merely descriptive quite apart from evaluation. This seems to me a different claim, but if these are purely descriptive and non evaluative, then how do you say God is “worthy” of worship, the phrase “worthy” is surely evaluative.

    You might have some kind of non evaluative idea in mind but then it just seems to me again a semantic dispute where you are using terms differently to those you disagree with.

    I do take your point about clarity, and agree that thinkers like Craig and others often open themselves up to accusations of circularity because these terms are so easily misunderstood and equivocated by others.

  • Glenn June 16, 2012, 11:23 pm

    Matt – When I say that God’s attributes are not evaluative, I only mean to say that they aren’t morally so (my bad). But yes, of course if I’m saying God is good at all, that’s an evaluation, since good and bad – in their non-moral sense – are still terms of evaluation. So God can still be deemed worship worthy apart from a moral evaluation of God.

    And you’re right, I am using moral goodness to speak about ethics, right and wrong. It strikes me as much clearer to say this than to say that God is good in one sense (what Adams I think rightly calls an aesthetic sense, which I realise seems weird at first blush), and he is also morally good. That dividing line between the two is much less transparent than some seem to think. What, really, is the distinction they mean to make there? I think the distinction I draw seems much more motivated and so less arbitrary. There’s an obvious demarcation between (non-moral) goodness and rightness than between goodness and moral goodness (where moral goodness is not at all about doing right or wrong).

    Sure, I’m OK with them holding that view and adding whatever qualifications needed to be tacked on to respond to the predictable objections that critics will keep raising (and here is where I think we likely agree), but I just don’t see why a much starker and (I think) easily described framework isn’t preferable. And I especially don’t see why Baggett and Walls think it’s alright to just dismiss it as a sort of linguistic game when firstly their position is no less a matter of semantics, secondly my view (Davies’ view) removes a foothold for needless confusion, and thirdly their overall theory would suffer no loss at all if they adopt this approach.

  • Matthew Flannagan June 16, 2012, 11:31 pm

    Glenn, I think Adam’s understands goodness in terms of excellence.
    I tend to agree with you about clarity, in the kind of short debates Craig does on this stuff clarifying takes time. Moreover, even if you give a precise statement to the effect “when I say goodness I mean worthiness” analytic types like us will know to then interpret the word good that way from now on but I suspect many laypeople will default to common confusions. I have found explaining stipulative definitions to people and how they often make little substantive difference often frustrating.

    I guess one potential problem is that when you say “God is not good” there is also danger of confusion there in that people will interpret it mean he is not just or loving or does evil or is indifferent and so on.

  • Glenn June 16, 2012, 11:35 pm

    Well I would never say “God is not good.” God is perfectly good. I just think he’s non-morally good, and that would only become a relevant distinction if someone tried to fault me for saying that morality comes from God AND that God is moral (and this is the – possibly only verbal – confusion I see in some apologetics). That’s where I would say (probably to the student trying to poke holes in DCT), “I didn’t say God was moral, I on;y said he’s good” etc.

    And I swear, my thinking on this is becoming very much more classical/scholastic than it used to be.

  • Rob D June 17, 2012, 2:08 am

    I enjoyed the review and the book. I read some of Davies’ book earlier this year and I found the main argument generally convincing (I also enjoyed his detour into his version of the ontological argument). But I think when we move this discussion into a more explicitly Christian framework, some interesting questions arise:

    1) When Jesus commands us to be perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect, what does he mean? Presumably he means to keep moral commands and thus achieve sanctity, though sanctity consists of more than just obeying duties; it certainly must mean transformation of character, and thus of being, But it’s the undeniably moral aspect of our becoming perfect like the Father that causes questions for me. Because much of the scriptural and patristic witness emphasizes that Jesus ‘went about doing good’ and that this shows us who the Father is. If we think this is true (which it is), wouldn’t this raise again the problem of God’s *moral* goodness? Jesus goes around doing the things in the world which the Father ought to be doing around the world, but isn’t. What are your thoughts on this?

    2) When the Son took on flesh, he entered into the world of humanity and thus became entangled in our web of moral duties (or so I think – do you? I think it is because if he took our humanity properly, this would be something that’s inherently involved in being human, namely, being a moral actor). Now that he remains a man in his glorified and heavenly state, does Jesus still have moral duties? Are there now moral duties in the Godhead, due to the communication of properties happening in Christ’s hypostatic union? Or is his functional role right now much more on the ‘divine’ side of things (as the Fathers said he showed his divinity by miracles, but his humanity by suffering) by not having moral duties? I guess I’m asking whether you think Christ’s susceptibility to moral duties has become inactive since he ascended to the Father.

    But perhaps it hasn’t, and part of his fulfilling his human moral duties (as high priest par excellence) is to continually plead for his brethren here on earth? Maybe that’s one way to spell this out.

    What are your thoughts?

  • Glenn June 17, 2012, 11:52 am

    “When Jesus commands us to be perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect, what does he mean? Presumably he means to keep moral commands”

    Hi Rob. I certainly don’t think that God is perfect because he keeps commands. I think of God’s perfection as purity, flawlessness, beauty, maximal excellence in every way. Jesus here I think calls us to cultivate our character to resemble these perfections. And yes I agree, that’s about more than just doing the morally right thing (namely, obeying God’s commands). So I don’t see all that much of a problem. Jesus said that the work he was doing was the Father’s will, so certainly he was following commands, as an example of the obedient servant. I can’t see this telling us anything about whether God who sent Jesus is good int he same way. Given that Jesus did take on the form of a servant and had a righteousness grounded in perfect obedience, I would take Jesus as the exemplar of a morally good human being. But of course God (not referring to “God in Christ, now) is not obedient, or a servant. God follows nobody’s commands, and as such isn’t morally good, but only good in the sense described above.

    The second question is interesting – I’m on record observing the biblical idea that Christ always submits to the Father. So is Jesus morally good in the proper sense (i.e. he follows commands), as you ask? I think Jesus’ will is in perfect harmony with that of his Father, such that even if his Father didn’t exist (absurd, I know…), Jesus would still do as he does. Any question of weakness, frailty or the ability to be tempted was only a question during his time in the world. But does Jesus have duties now? That’s a tough one, because surely we would think that in being in submission to his Father and even though his will is in perfect harmony with his Father, submission does involve duty in principle.

    So what do you think, Rob? (See what I did there?)

  • Craig June 17, 2012, 2:34 pm

    Glenn, you said negative things about the work of a professor at Liberty University.

    Welcome to the American Evangelical blacklist! Seriously, pack mentality now means that you just went down a rung on the ladder.

  • Matthew Flannagan June 17, 2012, 4:57 pm

    Glenn, on the incarnation issue, one option is the line pushed by Kant and also Alston which is that one can only strictly have a duty if its possible to violate them. A community where no one ever killed anyone for example would be a community which had no need for laws against murder. The basic idea is that an obligation is a constraint, if its not possible to violate the duty in some sense then it does not constrain you. If Christ is without sin then perhaps he has not duties. Even though he acts in accord with the will of the father.

  • Nick June 18, 2012, 6:56 pm

    One question about the incarnation. In the Gospels Jesus is recorded as having authority over the Sabbath duties that were to be observed by all Israelites (Mk 3:1-6, Jh 5:16-18, Matt 12:1-8), there are more examples. Now the if I am right the OT law contains Divine Command features. Jesus’ actions appear to portray that he is free from a moral obligation, even as a resident Jew to keep in a strict sense the Torah’s direction with regards to Sabbath regulations. The Gospels give him higher status than the Sabbath precept (see Matt example above). Is this idea compatible with your assertion that God has no moral duties? Also, If Matt’ claim is true that Jesus has no duties, was Jesus in a voluntary way keeping the law even though he is obligated to keep it as the Son? I could be wrong of course. But, it seems to me that Jesus in some manner is separate from the legal jurisdiction that the law had by right, but works with it also. These Sabbath narratives in turn relate his actions got him in hot water because he wasn’t acting as a prophet only, but as one reinterpreting the regulation in a status that belongs to God alone. In this example Jesus as God appears to act as one who has no moral duty to keep the an OT law which in Ex20:6 is a DC. Any thoughts? By the way your point of view is very helpful.

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