Classical theism

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In modern philosophy, classical theism is a theism in which God is characterized as the absolutely metaphysically ultimate being, in contrast to other conceptions such as Pantheism, Panentheism, Polytheism and Process Theism.

Whereas most theists agree that God is, at a minimum, all-knowing, all-powerful, and completely good,[1] some classical theists go further and conceive of God as completely transcendent (totally independent of all else), simple, and having such attributes as immutability, impassibility, and timelessness.[2]

Classical theism is associated with the tradition of writers like Plato, Aristotle, Plotinus, Augustine, St. Anselm, Maimonides, Averroes and Thomas Aquinas.[2] In opposition to this tradition, there are, today, philosophers like Alvin Plantinga (who rejects divine simplicity), Richard Swinburne (who rejects divine timelessness) and William Lane Craig (who rejects both divine simplicity and timelessness),[3] [4] who can be viewed as theistic personalists. Philosophers like David Bentley Hart have defended classical theism itself in recent times.

Classical Theism was almost universal amongst Christian theologians prior to the twentieth century. However, some of its recent critics argue that it is taken from pre-Christian philosophers and incompatible with the occasions in the Bible that describe God as emotional or changing; in defence of classical Theism's compatibility with the bible, these passages can be read in an analogous or allegorical sense as containing poetic elements, just as many other passages have also long been read. For example, Exodus 31;18[5] describes 'the finger of God', and Genesis 3:8[6] describes God as noisily walking in the garden of Eden. It is inconsistent that most Christian critics of classical theism would read these latter verses in an allegorical sense, but insist that instances which describe change or passion in God are extremely literal in meaning. Moreover, Whereas critics of classical theism charge that it has infiltrated Christian Theology from pre-Christian roots such as Neoplatonism, in fact the term 'classical theism' belies crucial differences between a traditional Christian and Neoplatonic conception of God, for example, whereas Arius followed the neo-Platonist Plotinus in asserting that God could not become a physical man, Athanasius defended the doctrine of God's incarnation as the man Jesus, whilst nevertheless defending the immutability and impassibility of Jesus' divine nature. According to a traditional Christian understanding of the communicatio idiomatum, it can be rightly said that God suffered and died on the cross, but only by virtue of the hypostatic union of the impassible divine word with Jesus' passible human soul and body. [7] Hence, whilst the church fathers made sure to correct the classical theism of pagan sources where it was incompatible with Christianity, it can be argued that many of the modern Christian critics of classical theism are in fact themselves influenced by an overly uncritical adoption of trends within process theology, which itself has non-Christian philosophical roots in the thought of Charles Hartshorne. The critics that allege a pagan infiltration of classical theistic notions into Christian Theology lay open to the charge that it is fact their own critique which is non-Christian in origin and essence. Moreover, these critics often fail to take account of bible verses cited by the church fathers that would seem to support a classical theistic conception, such as Malachi 3:6, "I the Lord, do not change",[8] Numbers 23;19, "God is not human, that he should lie, not a human being, that he should change his mind",[9] or Hebrews 1:12, "You will roll them up like a robe; like a garment they will be changed. But you remain the same, and your years will never end".[10].


  1. ^ Pojman and Rea, 2
  2. ^ a b Craig, 98
  3. ^
  4. ^ "God, Time, and Eternity - Reasonable Faith". 
  5. ^ Exodus 31:18
  6. ^ Genesis 3:8
  7. ^ The Complete Ante-Nicene & Nicene and Post-Nicene Church Fathers Collection. Catholic Way Publishing.
  8. ^ Malachi 3:6
  9. ^ Numbers 23:19
  10. ^ Hebrews 1:12