Metaphysical Pluralism and Confessional Christianity

Metaphysics has ebbed and flowed since its recognition as a field by Aristotle. The turn from the 19th to the 20th century saw a particular waning of recognition of its significance metaphysics was reintroduced both by volleys against its role in theology leveled by Barth and subsequent thinkers under his influence, as well as philosophically by a renewed discussions of the relationship of semantics to questions of reality by individuals such as Kripke, Putnam, and Plantinga. Such discussions have been complicated by the differing concerns represented by these discussions, as the Analytic tradition has been consumed with questions concerning what is real, while the Continental strain of both philosophy and theology has been concerned with how an individual subject relates to that which is external.
The reframing of metaphysics in terms of how one relates to what is real, has led to concern whether metaphysical pluralism is a viable theological option. It is this topic that will be the subject of the present paper. Assuming the main facets of confessional Christianity, as represented in the early ecumenical creeds, this essay will attempt to defend the idea that it is plausible that one could be a metaphysical pluralist and not move in substantively away from orthodox Christianity. The discussion will begin with an examination of the teleology of metaphysics and contended that its central purpose, historically, was as an interpretive aid for dealing with difficult subjects. Thus, the significance of stability that is often been central to metaphysical accounts is parasitic on the hermeneutical function of conceptualizing reality. If such is the case, then Austin Farrer’s account of metaphysics as defined by the manner in which one relates to the world and to God is significant.
With a hermeneutical metaphysics as a proposal, the rest of the paper will attempt to show how the different manners in which one can relate to God, as evidenced in early Creeds, may necessitate more than one metaphysical stance to deal with the diversity of ways in which God is addressed. Thus, substance metaphysics, though useful, is not sufficient to cover all the ways in which Scripture itself depicts the Trinity. Likewise, theological personalism is also limited. For this reason, it appears to be best to reconceptualize the field as a composite of regional metaphysics that correspond to different ways of theologically speaking. Furthermore, statements in one region cannot be given universal application by subordinating one metaphysic to another, nor by sublating substance and personalists views into any hybrid perspective. The movement of theological statements to different manners of discourse will require translation, not the transformation of the contexts. In essence, the doctrine of the Trinity, which is itself multifarious, should lead to a metaphysical pluralism that recognizes the significance and limited applicability of substance and personalist views, while allowing the doctrine itself to guide one into the manner in which statements in both metaphysical accounts can be related to each other.

3 thoughts on “Metaphysical Pluralism and Confessional Christianity”

Leave a Comment