Divine Love Theory

Divine Love Theory: How the Trinity is the Source and Foundation of Morality

By Adam Lloyd Johnson

What if the loving relationships of the Trinity are the ultimate, objective source for living morally?

Adam Lloyd Johnson injects a fresh yet eternal reality into the thriving debate over the basis of moral absolutes. While postmodernism’s moral relativism once temporarily disrupted the footing of classic moral theories like natural law and divine command, many nontheistic philosophers assert that morality must rest on something real and objective. Divine Love Theory proposes a grounding for morality not only in the creator God but as revealed in the Christian Scriptures—Father, Son, and Spirit eternally loving one another.

Adam contends that the Trinity provides a remarkably convincing foundation for making moral judgments. One leading atheistic proposal, godless normative realism, finds many deficiencies in theistic and Christian theories, yet Adam shows how godless normative realism is susceptible to similar errors. He then demonstrates how the loving relationships of the Trinity as outlined in historic Christian theology resolve many of the weakest points in both theistic and atheistic moral theories.


Endorsements for Divine Love Theory

“There can be little doubt that Western culture is mired in moral chaos. The central problems are metaethical and concern the ontological and epistemological foundations for the existence and knowability of objective morality. Adam Lloyd Johnson’s stunning book strikes at the very heart of the matter by presenting a rigorous, well-structured defense of his uniquely trinitarian solution to these problems, along with a deep analysis and evisceration of the leading rival—Erik Wielenberg’s Godless Normative Realism. Johnson leaves no stone unturned, his research is exceptional, and his topic and treatment of it are first-rate. I very strongly recommend this book.”

J. P. Moreland, Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at Talbot School of Theology, Biola University

“Adam’s first section is very well-done and very helpful to the reader; I love the historical overview. Also, his Evolutionary Debunking Argument against Wielenberg’s position is really good. Lastly, I found the part on imaging the obedience in the Trinity as a basis for the obligation to obey God creative and interesting.”

William Lane Craig, Professor of Philosophy at Talbot School of Theology and Houston Baptist University

“Dr. Johnson’s work will be of interest to anyone engaged in philosophy of religion and ethics. He provides a good historical overview and then takes on one of the most formidable contemporary atheistic proposals for grounding objective morality within atheism, the so-called Godless Normative Realism of Erik Wielenberg. Johnson’s own proposal is a refreshing and insightful address that is often missed in the moral debate of mere theism: Trinitarianism. His Divine Love Theory is at once more consistent with the largest theistic population, Christians, but also provides greater explanatory power over competitors, theistic and atheistic alike. Breadth of consideration includes interaction with various positions like Natural Law, Divine Will, and Divine Command Theory. Of other importance is the consideration of other objections to Wielenberg’s bloated ontology and also Johnson’s nice up-to-date discussion of evolutionary debunking arguments relative to moral epistemology. I commend this important and insightful piece in the historical and contemporary debate concerning God and morality.”

Corey Miller, President of Ratio Christi

“I write to support the publication of Adam Lloyd Johnson’s manuscript that develops a theistic trinitarian metaethical theory and engages critically with my own secular metaethical approach. Johnson’s theory builds in innovative and insightful ways on the theistic framework put forward by Robert Adams in his modern classic Finite and Infinite Goods (Oxford University Press 1999). Johnson makes a compelling case that incorporating specific elements of the Christian doctrine of a triune God into an Adams-style framework for ethics yields a stronger view. In making this case, Johnson follows Adams’s lead in drawing connections between work in theology and work in contemporary analytic metaethics. Work that does this successfully is rare, and it is a particular virtue of Johnson’s manuscript that it does so. Johnson also engages extensively and critically with my own work, particularly my book Robust Ethics (Oxford University Press 2014). Indeed, Johnson’s manuscript represents the most careful and extensive critique of my work that I’ve encountered. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I do not agree with all of Adam’s objections to my position, but there is certainly much here with which I (and others attracted to my general approach – an approach shared by, for example, Derek Parfit, Russ Shafer-Landau, Michael Huemer, and David Enoch) must contend. Overall, then, Johnson’s manuscript is an important and original contribution to the on-going contemporary debate between theists and non-theists over the foundations of morality. It is a work that will be of interest to theologians and philosophers alike, and I am happy to write in support of its publication.”

Erik Wielenberg, Professor of Philosophy at DePauw University

“This is no run-of-the-mill or garden-variety manuscript; it is really superlative work and a cut above, in my estimation. It is written beautifully, argued cogently, and researched thoroughly. It is also on cutting-edge topics. He offers a Trinitarian metaethic that sports numerous strong explanatory features, and contrasts it with a leading secular ethical account, namely, that of Erik Wielenberg’s. The manuscript was a joy to read, and I know the book it will become will be as well. For some years I have worked in the area of theistic ethics, but my own work has for the most part been confined to a defense of Anselmian theology. Anselm himself believed both in the God of classical theism and the distinctively Christian God—my own work has been largely delimited to the former. By employing distinctively Christian resources of trinitarian theology, Johnson has extended the work to something beyond generic theism to something specifically Christian. This is vitally important and a fascinating project. Repeatedly this work generates fresh, solid insights that comprise genuine contributions to the literature. The way, for instance, he used trinitarian theology to give a finer grained account of Robert Adams’ theistic adaptation of a model of moral obligations was genuinely perspicacious—and it’s just one of many examples of his innovation that could be adduced. Johnson’s work here is of sufficient quality to merit publication by a major press and bodes very well for his fruitful vocation as a major scholar for many years to come. I am happy to offer my strongest recommendation for the publication of his excellent work.”

David Baggett, Professor of Philosophy at Houston Baptist University

“Adam Lloyd Johnson’s recent manuscript, A Divine Love Theory, is one of the finest works on the subject that I have read. Johnson’s scholarship is comprehensive, from patristic theology to some of the most recent work in analytic philosophy of religion. He invariably defends the best positions, navigating skillfully between implausible extremes, and his arguments are first rate. He skillfully defends Robert Adams’ Christian Platonism and Plantinga’s evolutionary argument against naturalism, and he provides us with a state-of-the-art critique of Erik Wielenberg’s atheistic moral realism, on both metaphysical and epistemological grounds. Johnson demonstrates the relevance of recent debates about the Trinity to the problem of theistic metaethics. A book based on this manuscript would be of broad interest to analytic philosophers of religion, theologians, and apologists. I endorse its publication enthusiastically.”

Robert Koons, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Texas at Austin

“Yes, evangelical churches today affirm their belief in the trinitarian nature of God. It is in our doctrinal statements and occasionally in our language. But so what? In a season of self-help teaching from many of our pulpits the doctrine of the Trinity has been benched for more practical theology. Yet, it is in the wonder and mystery of the trinitarian nature of God that many of our most beloved beliefs are rooted. The trinitarian nature of God is at the center of what defines the love and life our souls long for. For this reason, I was excited to explore Adam Lloyd Johnson’s presentation of the trinitarian nature of God as the basis for morality in this age of moral turmoil.  Adam writes with the mind of a scholar and the heart of a pastor. Put your thinking cap on. It is well worth the effort.”

Bryan Clark, Senior Pastor at Lincoln Berean Church

“Having reviewed Adam Johnson’s manuscript, I wish to add my enthusiastic endorsement. Johnson’s fresh and original version of the moral argument for the existence of God appeals to an essentially Christian concept of God, thus arguing that certain salient features of our moral experience are best explained by appeal to the triune God and the ultimacy of love as shared among the persons of the Trinity. The argument thus goes beyond, say, my own attempt to ground the dignity of persons in the ‘personhood’ of God but leaving open the question of the number of “persons” involved in that grounding. This central feature of the argument, combined with Johnson’s assessment of one of the more promising recent attempts at a secular grounding of morality (i.e., Erik Wielenberg’s Robust Ethics) will likely spur discussion in new directions, provided that the manuscript is published on a press worthy of its merits.”

Mark Linville, Senior Research Fellow at Faulkner University

“This work is a unique contribution to scholarship because it focuses on the specifics of trinitarian theology as a way of responding to an atheist critique of theistic metaethics, while articulating how the central insights of his theory are available to both classical and social trinitarians. More specifically, Johnson argues that his ‘trinitarian moral theory’ is a more plausible explanation for objective morality than atheist Erik Wielenberg’s ‘godless normative realism,’ by (i) defending the former from criticisms by the latter, and by (ii) developing metaphysical and epistemological objections to the latter. In addition, Johnson defends his chosen theory from possible objections which are independent of Wielenberg’s criticisms. The strength of the argument lies in how Johnson adds more theological detail (the Trinity and relations of intratrinitarian love between the persons) to an extant account of moral goodness (Robert Adams’s divine nature theory) and shows how this addition answers questions raised by atheists. In addition, the argument is particularly sensitive to contemporary evangelical debate about ‘eternal functional subordination’ within the trinity, articulating a version of trinitarian metaethical theory which sidesteps this recent controversy. Johnson interacts with quite a few primary sources from both Wielenberg (the atheist he is critiquing) and contemporary Christian scholarship on philosophical ethics (Adams, Baggett, Evans, Hare, MacIntyre, Murphy, Quinn). He also displays awareness of classical Christian thought on both ethics and the Trinity (Anselm, Richard of St. Victor, Aquinas, Scotus), building substantially upon Scotus’s contributions. Johnson also has a clear grasp of sources pertaining to several contemporary debates about the Trinity (Ayres, Barth, Clarke, Erickson, Hasker, McCall, Moltmann, Rahner, Torrance, Ware, Zizioulas).”

Greg Welty, Professor of Philosophy at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary