In recent theological discussions, the concepts of classical theism and theistic personalism have gained prominence. Coined by Brian Davies in his book on the philosophy of religion, these terms represent contrasting views on the nature of God within Christian theology. What are some of the distinctions between classical theism and theistic personality? I will briefly sum up and examine their historical roots, key proponents, and the implications of their divergent perspectives. Classical theism traces its origins beyond Christian theology, encompassing traditions such as Islam, Judaism, and even some Eastern monotheistic faiths. At the core of classical theism are three fundamental ideas defended by theologians across traditions:
Definition: God is without parts, transcending physical or attribute-based distinctions. There is a unity in the divine essence without composition. Some prominent Advocates would include thinkers like Edward Feser, Thomas Weinandy, and other Roman Catholic theologians. Here are some features of Divine Simplicity
Immutability: God is unchanging and unchangeable by nature. This denies any alteration or mutability within the divine essence.
Impassibility: God is incapable of suffering in His divine nature. While acknowledging Christ’s suffering in the Incarnation, classical theism asserts the unalterable nature of God’s essence.
Emerging in the 19th century, theistic personalism represents a shift in Christian theology towards a more personalized view of God. This movement sought to overcome what proponents perceived as outdated and impersonal medieval notions. Key features of theistic personalism include:
An Emphasis on God as Ultimate Person: Theistic personalism emphasizes God as the ultimate person and his personal nature. Prominent Advocates include Alvin Plantinga, William Lane Craig, Keith Ward, and Richard Swinburne, along with some within the analytic philosophical tradition. Theistic personalism challenges classical notions of divine simplicity, immutability, and impassibility, advocating for a more dynamic understanding of God’s nature.
The ongoing debates between classical theism and theistic personalism have led to a growing body of literature. Scholars such as James Dalzell and John Frame contribute to this discourse from various theological traditions. Dissertations, including my own work, explore the intricacies of these theological perspectives as a basis to distinguish what could be said about Allah in Islam.
The theological landscape is shaped by the ongoing dialogue between classical theism and theistic personalism. As proponents defend their views, the exploration of divine simplicity, immutability, and impassibility continues to be a rich field of study.