Does the McCall–Yandell Argument Work? Feinberg Says No

I commented briefly in the second half of this post on why I think that the McCall–Yandell argument fails. (To get up to speed on what that argument is, see my two previous posts here and here.) A couple of days ago I stumbled across a quote in John Feinberg’s No One Like Him that demonstrates nicely why that argument doesn’t succeed.

In the last section of his chapter on the Trinity, “Logic and the Doctrine of the Trinity,” Feinberg is responding to criticisms that challenge the logical coherency of the doctrine.

Timothy Bartel raises an objection that parallels the McCall–Yandell argument very closely, the only difference being which properties are in view. McCall and Yandell attacked the notions of authority and submission, but if their argument is applied consistently, it would have to encompass any properties that the three don’t share in common.

Feinberg summarizes the objection like this:

The church, as we noted, said that the Father is ungenerate and that he begets the Son. The Son’s property is being eternally begotten by the Father, and the Holy Spirit’s property is his procession from the Father (or Father and Son). Given these respective properties, . . . we seem to have a problem, according to Bartel, for we can now write an argument like the following:

God the Son is eternally begotten of the Father qua divine.
God the Father is not eternally begotten of the Father qua divine;
Therefore, God the Son is not the same deity as God the Father. (494)

Those familiar with the McCall–Yandell argument will immediately see the similarities. If one of the persons has a property that at least one of the others lacks, then they don’t have the same divine nature and Arianism is the result. It sounds logical on the surface, but Feinberg explains why it fails:

This may seem to be an insuperable dilemma, but Bartel thinks not, and I agree. . . . The reason is that being eternally begotten and eternally proceeding are not properties the Son and Spirit have in virtue of being divine, but in virtue of being distinct subsistences of that divine essence. Hence, the premises of the above should read “qua subsistence or person,” and the conclusion should say, “Therefore, God the Son is not the same person or subsistence as God the Father.” (494–95)

I think Feinberg’s analysis highlights perfectly why the McCall–Yandell argument just won’t work. It wrongly tries to draw a conclusion about the one shared divine nature when the properties under discussion belong to the persons qua persons, not to the persons qua divine.

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5 Responses to Does the McCall–Yandell Argument Work? Feinberg Says No

  1. Nick Norelli October 21, 2008 at 6:50 am #

    I agree that the Yandell-McCall argument doesn’t work, and I think you have defended your position well both here and abroad. This does seem to be a good example in your favor. I just think it’s a shame that Feinberg wants to jettison eternal generation and eternal procession from trinitarian thought. When I review this book for Crossway I’m going to have some choice words about this section.

  2. Phil Gons October 21, 2008 at 10:05 pm #

    Thanks, Nick.

    I’m not quite sure where I stand on eternal generation and procession. Back in seminary when I first took systematic theology, I landed on the side of the many I was reading who reject them (e.g., Buswell, Reymond).

    My recent trinitarian studies have lead me to reconsider the doctrines. Letham and Frame are two supporters whose writings have influenced me. Frame basically takes the position that eternal generation is true, but all we can really say about it is that it indicates that the Father and the Son were in an eternal father-son relationship. I’m okay with that. He points to Lee Irons’s paper “The Eternal Generation of the Son” as a good defense. I plan to read it soon. Who has been influential in your embracing the doctrines?

  3. Nick Norelli October 22, 2008 at 6:04 pm #


    It’s mainly been the Church Fathers, particularly Athanasius and Origen that have been influential for me embracing the doctrine, but I see it as having a strong biblical basis, plus it makes sense logically. I haven’t read Frame (although I want to) but Letham has also been a major resource in my studies. His is my favorite book on the Trinity.

  4. John December 4, 2008 at 9:47 am #

    Phil, Thanks for the summary of this argument. I’m wondering if Yandell has this same understanding of “begotten”. He made the statement that “begotten” sounds like Bethlehem. Psalm 2 and Acts 13:33 seem to relate the meaning to God anointing Jesus as King at his resurrection – which is also connected to his office of High Priest in Hebrews 5. If Yandell’s argument is true, then Mary could say the same thing, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you,” with the same force, it seems.

  5. Sam March 21, 2011 at 9:08 am #

    I think Feinberg is leaving out something important: that the property of “sovereignty” is a divine property, which presumably includes authority over *all* things. One can pick this up and restate the problem without much further work.

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