Personhood Backwards and Forwards and Monergism’s Essence

Kevin replies to my “Till . . . We Have Faces” in his “Masks and Modes.” As his reply unfolds along two lines of thought, so, too, will my reply.

1. Personhood Backwards and Forwards

Kevin goes to some lengths to defend himself from my charges of modalism. Unfortunately, the way he does so leaves my charges unanswered. Instead of showing how it is that his position does not radically identify person with nature, and thus logically entails modalism, he utilizes the terms I introduced into the issue but reads into them both more and less than I intended. This is, perhaps, not unjustified since the terms hypostasis and prosopos do have a range of meanings that differ somewhat between philosophical and theological contexts. I’ll take on the responsibility for not more carefully clarifying the terminology.

That being said, however, the substance of my charges against Kevin’s position remain and should be clear: he identifies person with nature. To do so in (strictly speaking) theological terms is to propose modalism. While Kevin is right to draw some distinctions between human and divine persons, what is true of both, as I have argued, is that a person is not strictly identifiable with his nature.

While Kevin has asserted that he thinks the same thing–i.e., that persons are not radically identifiable with their natures–nothing in his own arguments provides a basis for that assertion. Indeed, this has been my point. It is the substance of his argument itself that substantiates my charges. He has had ample opportunity to show, by way of argument instead of by mere assertion, how it is that his belief in monergism does not entail such a radical identification of person and nature. But he has yet to do so. Or, if he has, he has been too subtle for my poor thickheaded mind.

But so as to be clear about the mapping of personhood, backwards and forwards, onto God: I take as the fundmental starting point for talk of human personhood, the divine personhood of the Trinity and Christological personhood. In other words the Trinity and Christology are revelational facts that are not derivable from human experience and reason. Apart from revelation we would not know there is a Trinity or Christ is the incarnate God. We cannot argue from human personhood to Trinity or the Incarnation. But if the Trinity and the Incarnation are facts–and Christians take them to be so–then they are the fundamental realities that define human personhood. From these points only is it helpful to derive our concepts of human personhood as made in the image and likeness of this God who is Three-in-One and incarnate as two natures and two wills in one Person.

However, in that human personhood is intimately and inescapably connected to Trinitarian and Christological Personhood, what you say of one you say of the other. Any deviation from the Church’s understanding of the Trinity will affect one’s Christology and this will deform one’s understanding of personhood. Similarly, if one has a deficient understanding of human personhood, this will inescapably affect one’s Christological and Trinitarian understandings. So, it is not per se illegitimate for me to “backwards map” what I take to be Kevin’s understanding of human personhood on to Christological and Trinitarian dogma, because there is a related and necessary consistency that must be upheld among all three. What remains, then, is for Kevin to prove how his understanding of human personhood does not violate the Church’s understanding of Trinitarian and Christological realities.

This has consistently been my point. I believe that monergism is a heresy not because it emphasizes that humans cannot save themselves, not because it emphasizes the priority and sufficiency of God’s grace, but because its understanding of human personhood necessarily results in a deficient Trinitarianism and Christology. Kevin has yet to disprove my contentions.
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