15 December 2023

Book review: Classical Theism: New Essays on the Metaphysics of God

By Revd Dr Thomas Brand

Ministry Director of the Evangelical Fellowship of Congregational Churches and currently serves as the chairman of the Affinity Council.

Edited by Jonathan Fuqua and Robert C. Koons, New York: Routledge, (2023), 344pp.

The last thirty years has seen a renaissance of interest in Trinitarian theology, and with that a renewed concern for historic orthodoxy in understanding the divine nature. Harnack’s Hellenisation thesis[1] has long since been discredited as historically inaccurate, and Patristic usage of Greek philosophy is viewed with decreasing scepticism. The desire to understand what the Scriptures teach us about God is profoundly helped by the great theological minds that the Lord has given to the Church, and the way she has historically, led by the Holy Spirit, understood the doctrine of God in creeds and councils. This book is a welcome addition to that renewal in historic orthodoxy.

That being the case, an ambitious book like this is still more likely to fail than to succeed, because it demands historical erudition and philosophical clarity in equal measure. Good analytic and historical theology rarely coincide, in part because forcing philosophical argument through the twists and turns of the historical development of a theological set of concepts often just doesn’t work. But the authors of this volume are impressively nuanced in setting out the background developments, while maintaining their analytic rigour.

The book is divided into two parts, the first sets the scene. It overviews and describes Classical Theism and offers some preliminary supportive arguments for its various forms in Aquinas and Anselm, and explorations of its influence in Judaism, Islam and Eastern religions. Of the essays in the first part, I particularly benefited from Daniel De Haan’s argument for Aquinas’ triplex via theology. He writes as an ‘unabashed Thomist’[2] and sets out Aquinas’ use of the way of causation to establish God’s existence and independence; the way of negation, to affirm divine aseity and simplicity; and the way of super-eminence to establish that God has all perfection. This is an excellent primer on both Aquinas and the approach of Classical Theism to the doctrine of God.

The second part addresses particular difficulties that are thought to be either entailed or implied by the constellation of doctrines around Classical Theism. The objections are met either by full endorsement of strong Classical Theism or, in some cases, by slight modifications of classical understandings of immutability and impassibility. The modifications, however, do not slip into Barthianism, or more recently, the various degrees of neo-classical theism seen in authors like Cross,[3] McCormack[4] and Craig.[5]

Of particular note in the second section, Christopher Tomaszewski’s defence of Classical Theism against the modal collapse argument is excellent. The standard modal collapse argument runs from the premise that God is a necessary being who is identical to his acts, and that creation is an act of God, to the absurd conclusion of the necessity of creation.

Tomaszewski first expands the modal collapse argument to include in its scope all theists who posit the necessary existence of God. If God necessarily exists and if God is the creator, then the creator necessarily exists. The conclusion seems to imply the non-contingency of creation, which is absurd. But he demonstrates the invalidity of the argument by comparing it to a Quinean invalid syllogism with the following premises: there are eight planets; the number eight is necessarily greater than the number seven. The conclusion in this example would be that the number of planets is necessarily greater than seven. If the two referents of the digit eight are identical, then the conclusion is valid, but as Tomaszewski shows, it commits the ‘formal fallacy of substituting a contingently co-referential term into the scope of a modal operator.’[6] When applied to Tomaszewski’s argument, the fallacy covertly introduces another premise that God is identical to his act of creation. The hidden premise, which is contingently true, is not a commitment to Classical Theism and divine simplicity. Therefore, the modal collapse argument against Classical Theism is invalid.

I have picked out two chapters that particularly impressed me, but the whole book is well worth reading. I also want to highlight the chapters on the doctrine of divine ideas in relation to impassibility and knowledge, along with the cutting-edge development of the truthmaker account of divine simplicity and Platonic property theory.

Throughout, it is technically and philosophically demanding, but the authors are clear and explain most technical terms. As an edited volume, each chapter is valuable and worth reading, but as a resource the book is excellent as a reference work on the current state of the doctrines of Classical Theism.

In addition to the philosophical content, the authors consistently demonstrate that the commitments of Classical Theism to divine simplicity, immutability, impassibility and timelessness are abundantly supported in the history of the New Testament Church. Theologians from the early generations after the apostles from Irenaeus and Hilary of Poitiers, and Church councils from Ephesus (431), Chalcedon (451) and Lateran IV (1215), all uphold Classical Theism as biblical historic orthodoxy.

The elephant in the room is surely the cost of the current hardback at over £100! The online version is quite a bit cheaper. If you are working on any of these topics in an academic context, it is a must read. Otherwise, although the content greatly strengthens the arguments for Classical Theism, many who are interested in these areas may want to wait for the cheaper paperback edition.


[1]  Adolf von Harnack, Ausgewählte Reden Und Aufsätze, eds. Agnes von Zahn-Harnack and Axel von Harnack (Berlin: Walter de Gryter & Co., 1951), 191-192.

[2]  Daniel de Haan, ‘Thomist Classical Theism: Divine Simplicity within Aquinas’ Triplex Via Theology,’ in Classical Theism: New Essays on the Metaphysics of God, eds. Jonathan Fuqua and Robert C. Koons (London: Routledge, 2023), 109.

[3]  Richard Cross, The Metaphysics of the Incarnation (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), 205. 317-318.

[4]  Bruce L. McCormack, The Humility of the Eternal Son: Reformed Kenoticism and the Repair of Chalcedon (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2021).

[5]  J. P. Moreland and William Lane Craig, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview (Illinois: IVP, 2003).

[6]  Tomaszewski, CT, 236-237.