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Sunday, December 05, 2010

God, One or Three Persons, or Both?

A well regarded professor at a prominent Reformed seminary has been quoted as saying this:

“This is one of Van Til’s most original contributions to theology proper. As he said at the beginning of the chapter, to speak of God as one is to speak of God as a person. This fits our ordinary experience, as, for instance, when we pray, we pray to one person. It also fits biblical data that constantly refers to God as a person. By this reminder Van Til avoids two errors. The first is the tendency, found mostly in Western theology, of separating God’s essence, which becomes a remote inaccessible being, from the persons. The other is the neoorthodox error of reducing personality to relationship, rather than regarding it as the foundation of ontological consciousness.”
To pray “Our great God in Heaven – Father, Son and Holy Ghost” is to address one God in three persons. It is consistent with oneness and plurality being equally ultimate in the Godhead. It is not a prayer to three Gods let alone a prayer to individuals stripped from their intra-Trinitarian relationship. Most of all, it is not a prayer to a one person trinity.

God’s revelation of himself was progressive, not instantaneous. To Abraham God revealed himself as God Almighty, and to Moses as I Am. In the fullness of time the Second Person of the Trinity revealed God as Father, Son and Holy Ghost. When we worship God according to God’s full revelation, we worship the Trinity – one God in three persons; not one God in one person. To think of one God as one person is at least to blur if not utterly eclipse the doctrine of "God in three persons." We may not strip the one God from the plurality of persons in the Godhead, nor may the distinct persons of the Trinity be stripped from their intra-Trinitarian relationships, which is an all too common occurrence in the evangelical church. When we know any person of the Trinity aright, we know him in relation to the other two divine persons. For each person of the Trinity is to be worshipped and adored in accordance to his intra-Trinitarian relationship, for the Trinity is to be worship as the undivided Trinity. Accordingly, we worship the Father who chose us in Christ and glorified him. We worship the Christ who was obedient to the Father and glorified him. We worship the Sprit who baptizes us into existential union with Christ. (We do not worship a Holy Spirit, as is so common today, that has so little to do with Christ and his cross.) This is not to say that personality equates to relationship, for there is of course an ontological aspect of personality, but notwithstanding that ontological aspect cannot be understood apart from the ontological relationship. It does not exist without it.

If we worship the one true God at all, we do so with at least some understanding of the unity and diversity of divine persons in the Godhead. And if we worship any particular person of the Trinity at all, we do so with at least some understanding of His relationship to the other divine persons in the Godhead for that is how God is revealed because that his how God is God is three in a different sense than he is one, and one in a different sense than he his three. God is not one in the same sense that he is three.

So, when the WCF 1.1 and 1.2 speak of God as “he” I see no problem interpreting the personal pronoun in light of oneness of “God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost” which is consistent with the doctrine found in the very next paragraph, WCF 1.3, which addresses the three distinct persons in the Godhead. At the very least, we need not allow the standards to contradict themselves by allowing God to be one person in the same sense that he is three persons. So for instance, the triune God who is “God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost” is “infinite in being and perfection,” etc. So again, I disagree with this professor. When we address the Trinity as “You” in our prayers we should not be ignoring the other aspects of God’s revelation; we should as best we can, in our finitude, appreciate that we are addressing the triune God as one. By rejecting the notion that God should be perceived as one person we don't deny that God is personal and relational. In fact, by appreciating that God is three persons and one, we can begin to appreciate that God is the ultimate - personal and relational.

We need not at every moment elaborate upon every aspect of orthodox Trinitarian doctrine, but what we say about the Trinity should be consistent with the rest of what we don’t say that is in accordance with Scripture. (Just like there is no need to always mention human responsibility when speaking about divine providence, yet our doctrine of divine providence should look nothing like that of blind fate.) When we address God has “You” – we should be thinking that we are addressing the one single God who eternally exists as Father Son and Holy Ghost (in three distinct persons). By “You” we should not be thinking that we are addressing the triune God as one person in particular – for the triune God is not one person in particular; nor should we think we are addressing three distinct persons separately. Rather, in our finitude we should be striving to address God as Scripture reveals God – as the one true God that eternally exists in relation as three persons all of Whom are harmoniously working to apply the accomplished redemption to the world. It seems to me that by introducing the concept that the Trinity may be perceived as a person, the person we would end up addressing in such a construct would be a fourth person. It would be much better to simply pray to the first person of the Trinity, through the Son by the Holy Spirit.

In sum, we are not denying the divine essence or distinct persons with such a construct but rather through acknowledging the equal ultimacy that God has revealed about the Godhead, we can find a personal God without thinking of him in terms of one person. To err on the matter of equal ultimacy must always be at the expense of something. To err toward the side of one being, at the expense of persons, is a move toward modalism; whereas to err on the side of persons, at the expense of being, is a move toward tri-theism. By thinking in terms of a one person Godhead is not a solution to the problem, as the professor suggests, but rather is to eclipse God's revelation of being three persons, which is to emphasize being at the expense of persons. In this case, that error would seem to stem from the desire to find a single person with which to relate, yet in doing so undermining the ultimate reality found in the unity of a plurality of persons. And I suspect that the need to define God in that way, as one person, stems from the fundamental error of considering personality the "foundation" for "ontological consciousness" without reference to relationship, a sine qua non for God's ontology! That is not to suggest that any person derives his divinity from another, but by downplaying the intra-Trinitarian relationship in favor of abstracting ontological consciousness from that relationship leaves one seeking elsewhere (outside the Trinity - even to a fourth person) for that which was desired in the first place, a personal and relational God who is love.

Added 6/10/11 Finally, to address one person, we may say "you" (singular). When we address three persons at once, we may say "you" (plural). But what if we wanted to address the three not as plural (i.e. not by saying "you" as shorthand for: you-1, you-2 and you-3), but as an organic one comprised of three? We have no such English word to my knowledge, but maybe context dictates the meaning. Or do southerners have a singular-plural word for "you" - that being, "y'all"?

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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Infallibility & The Canon

Certainly Romanists should agree that God is at least capable of bringing to pass his eternal plan and purpose without making his volitional creatures infallible. Judas and the Satan serve as prime examples of fallible beings that always did as God has decreed. However, their actions were not morally right but rather terribly wrong; so not to confuse matters we won’t use them as examples of fallible creatures that always did as God determined. How about when Johnny is ordained from the foundation of the world to get 100% on his fifth grade math final, does he do so infallibly? No, but he does so impeccably.

What is it to be infallible after all? For the Romanist it has to do with immunity to error. The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church defines infallibility as 'Inability to err in teaching revealed truth'. With respect to Johnny, if it was impossible for him to err on his test, then would he have earned 100% infallibly? Now in one sense, given that God decreed that Johnny would earn 100% on his test, there is a sense in which it was impossible for him to err. Notwithstanding, such a description is misleading because it makes infallibility a vacuous term; for even Judas and the Satan would be infallible on such terms. (Certainly they have done some things formally right.) Although Johnny’s choices are never metaphysically free, there are certainly “possible worlds” where Johnny fails to earn 100% given the same state of affairs in which he earns 100%. At the moment of choice, God brings to pass a distraction for instance, causing Johnny to shade in the wrong oval on the exam. All this to say, although Johnny is naturally capable of error (i.e. fallible by nature), God brought to pass according to his predetermination Johnny’s perfect score. So to call Johnny infallible would be a misnomer. (Now of course Charles Hodge was wrong when he said that Jesus could have sinned. Not only had God decreed that the Second Person of the Trinity would not sin – more the point, a divine person cannot sin in any possible world. Johnny could err and still be Johnny - so error is compatible with Johnny’s person. Jesus could not have sinned and remained God; so there is no possible world in which he sins. The impossibility goes beyond a matter of decree. It’s an ontological consideration.)

Now then, is there a possible world in which the church does not receive the canon aright? Well, let me rephrase that question. Is there a possible world in which Jesus promises that the church receives the canon and she does not receive it? I would say ABSOLUTELY NOT. Does that make the Romanist position correct? After all, isn’t it true that because Johnny errs in possible worlds, Johnny must be fallible even when God decrees that he act impeccably correct? Yet because Jesus errs in no world, he therefore cannot err and is, therefore, infallible. So what about the church? If there is no world in which she errs on the reception of the canon given the promise to receive the canon, mustn’t the church have been infallible when she received the canon? NO – and here is why. Up until now we’ve only been talking about possible worlds in which one errs or does not err given the same state of affairs. So, when Johnny is merely decreed to get 100% on his test without an accompanying divine promise, there are possible worlds in which he doesn’t earn the grade he ends up getting in this world, corroborating that he is fallible. Yet once a promise is made from God, it is impossible for what the promise contemplates not to come to pass in any possible world wherein the state of affairs includes the divine promise. In a word, there are no possible worlds in which Johnny is promised a grade of 100% by God and does not receive it, lest it is possible for God’s promise not to come to pass. I hope we can see more clearly that infallibility is not a necessary condition for the impossibility of acting incorrectly. If Johnny were promised 100% by God, Johnny does not become infallible in order to earn the mark, but rather fallible-Johnny is preserved from error according to the promise. Given the promise there is no world in which Johnny fails to earn 100%, even in those worlds in which he simply guesses the answers. Maybe a less hypothetical example might be of use. There is a promise from God that all true believers will be glorified. That means there is no possible world in which a justified soul perishes, given the golden chain of redemption. Does that make justified sinners infallible in their perseverance in faith? No – but it certainly demonstrates God’s preservation of his adopted sons in Christ. (Obviously, no sinner is perfect in sanctification and that is not the inference that should be drawn here, or used against this short polemic. The point is that the justified will believe the truth until the end, which can be for one of two reasons - their infallibility or God's infallible preserving of them. Again, to act correctly is not a sufficient condition for infallibility - i.e. infallibility is not necessary for correctness.)

In summary, to say that all men are infallible because they always act according to what God determines would make “infallibility” a vacuous term. Nobody is doing that. A subset of that consideration is that when morally responsible agents get the correct answer, they are not behaving infallibly lest we all have seasons of infallibility. When a divine promise is made, which must come to fruition being a divine promise, infallibility is not a necessary condition for the result to obtain lest sinners justified by grace become infallible in their perseverance.

Proof for the reception of the canon:

Jesus promised to build his church. (Matt. 16:18) Jesus also told his apostles that those who received them received Him. (Matt. 10:40) The implication is that the building project of the Lord was to be founded upon the apostles and prophets with Christ Jesus being the chief cornerstone. (Eph. 2:20) Consequently, the words of the apostles and Christ had to be received without error because Jesus promised to build his church upon them, which is now a matter of history given the passing of the apostles. Therefore, the canon is closed, lest the church has no foundation. The apostolic tradition was both oral and written (II Thess. 2:15) but only the written apostolic tradition has been providentially preserved. Accordingly, Scripture alone is what the church is built upon, which must have been God’s intention since Scripture alone is all he left us in keeping with Christ Jesus’ promise to build his church.

This simple argument has recently been met by Romanists from "Called to Communion" with resistance for two primary reasons. The claim is that the apostolic office in view in Ephesians 2:20 includes both the perpetual seat of the papacy and the oral tradition of the church. Let’s assume then that the unwritten tradition still exists even though it has never been produced. Jesus promised to build his church and we’ll say that he promised to build it upon both Scripture and unwritten tradition. (I of course would say that if Jesus promised to build his church on the unwritten tradition then he failed since there is no preserved unwritten tradition that the church has been built upon; yet for argument sake let’s assume the tradition is intact.) Whether we have the unwritten tradition or not has zero impact on the argument from “intent and providence” for the reception of the written tradition. Any preservation of the unwritten tradition does not undermine the reception of the written tradition. Now in a last ditch desperation Romanists will resort to saying that the texts in view are not just speaking about the teachings of Christ and his apostles (even oral traditions) as being the foundation of the church, but rather the texts mean that we are to receive for the foundation of the church the teachings of their alleged successors (the popes) both written and oral. In passing I’ll note that to have to receive the teaching of a pope 2,000 years after the teachings of the apostles and Christ would clearly deny the import of “foundation of the church.” But aside from the obvious, even if we grant the point, the reception of the written tradition through divine intent and providence is not affected by the Gnostic “exegesis” of Ephesians 2:20 regarding popes because a papal apostolic succession and the reception of the canon are not mutually exclusive premises. To “refute”” the Protestant position on the canon in a non-arbitrary, non-ad hoc fashion the Roman apologist will have to deny that Jesus had any intent whatsoever for the church to be at least partially built upon his written words and the written words of the apostles. To introduce Gnostic dogmas regarding unwritten traditions and the succession of bishops is simply to throw up Red Herrings in a sophist manner.

In sum, the Roman apologist needs to avoid the divine intent at all cost; for as soon as he acknowledges Christ Jesus’ intent to build His church “at least in part” on Scripture, he is then constrained to show why God’s intent could not have come to pass without an infallible magisterium (according to the same divine providence by which the rest of the eternal decree comes to pass). Since Romanists cannot possibly succeed in showing that God could not bring to pass the reception of the canon without an infallible magisterium, they are left no other choice (short of becoming Protestant on this matter) than to bring into question the divine intent. The Romanist does this through arguing by false-disjunction, introducing non-mutually exclusive premises to the promise of building the church “at least in part” on the canon; these Red Herring premises are intended to (a) establish a need for an apostolic oral tradition, and (b) establish a succession of infallible bishops. Yet neither a nor b undermine the divine intent to bring to pass the reception of the canon for the establishment of the NT church. Yet even allowing for those unjustified premises, the Romanist still cannot with any valid argumentation undermine the divine intent, which presuppose the necessity of bringing to pass the reception of the canon. They with the Satan can only say, “Has God said?”

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Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Bahnsen's Use of Modus Tollens and Modus Ponens

It was recently asked of me why Greg Bahnsen argued transcendentally using Modus Tollens (MT) as opposed to Modus Ponens (MP), which I suppose is a fair question since even John Frame, it would seem to me, did not seem to see any persuasive reason why Bahnsen was a stickler about using one formulation rather than the other.

To argue by way of negation as opposed to affirmation is much more powerful because it reduces the opposing worldview to absurdity. There’s a reason, after all, why MT is referred to as a reductio ad absurdum argument. Both forms (MT and MP) are valid forms of argumentation; can be converted to the other; and argue to the same narrow conclusion – in this case that God exists. But it is one thing to say that causality logically implies God, which is what MP achieves, and quite another to argue that without God there could be no causality. The latter, of course, employs MT. At the very least, there is a tactical difference between: “Ccausality, therefore, God” and “No God, therefore, no causality”.

Consider the major premise: “If logic (predication, induction, or whatever), then God.” I’ll now try to show where we might use MP and where we should use MT to be most affective given that one major premise, with which both MP and MT may begin. First I’ll address MT.

The reason Bahnsen argued by way of negation (MT) in all his formal debates and in his classroom lectures on transcendental arguments is because he appreciated that no other formal construct illustrated more clearly and powerfully the point he wanted to make, that intelligible experience has no rational grounding given the negation of God’s existence. Bahnsen, following Van Til, wanted to argue that to predicate anything God must first exist (i.e. predication presupposes God). The way he chose to demonstrate that was by assuming for argument’s sake the opponents position that God does not exist, which required the negation of the consequent of the major premise, as opposed to the affirmation of the antecedent. By assuming the atheist’s worldview, Bahnsen for argument’s sake would negate the consequent of the major premise, “God”, which forced the conclusion that there is no logic (for instance). The reductio was apparent since logic was being presupposed by the one arguing the opposing position. By negating the consequent of the major premise the opponent is left to deal with the force of the conclusion: no predication – yet while all the time predicating! Bahnsen’s mantra was that to argue against God one must first presuppose God in his reasoning. Accordingly, he would argue by way of reductio: “No God”, which affectively led to the absurd conclusion of “no possibility of argumentation.” Bahnsen said over and over again that “the proof of God’s existence is that without him one could not prove anything.” That is precisely why he negated “God exists” in the minor premise - to show the absurd conclusion that there is no logic, etc.

Where MP might be found useful is in the apologist’s follow-up, which is to offer the solution to the quandary. Once one has been left with the absurd conclusion of “no logic” and cannot make logic comport with his unbelieving worldview, then by all means it is under good regulation to reformulate the argument with a new minor premise, that being the assertion of the antecedent – “Logic” (or causality, or prediction, or induction, etc.) In other words, once one is left with the conclusion of the reductio, which is the conclusion that his unbelieving worldview leaves him with(!) - it might be a good idea to assert the antecedent of the major premise (logic) in order to arrive at the conclusion: “God exists”: If logic, then God; ~God, therefore, ~logic (reductio). Ah, but there is logic (assert antecedent of major premise), therefore, God (MP). That is the only use of MP one will probably ever find in Bahnsen’s lectures, debates or writings with respect to this particular matter. MP is employed to give the solution to the dilemma. But even that can be done by MT! In other words, the conclusion of the argument is essentially "~God, therefore, logic". Accordingly, by treating that as a premise, we can simply add to the argument by negating logic in order to affirm God, which is to continue the argument with a form of MT rather than applying MP to the original major premise. In other words: If logic, then God. No God, then no logic. Logic, therefore, God.

With his debate against Dr. Stein, Dr. Bahnsen argued as his major premise: “If the uniformity of nature, then God” – (which was to posit the assertion that the uniformity of nature presupposed God’s existence.) The negation of God’s existence led to the absurd conclusion that there could be no possibility of the basis for all scientific inference, induction. Dr. Stein, a scientist and professing atheist, had no answer to his own dilemma. His scientific endeavors were all based upon the borrowed capital of God’s providence. The absurd conclusion of “no induction” left Stein with the task of proving how induction was indeed possible without the God of providence whom Scripture has revealed. With attorney Edward Tabash, although Bahnsen argued briefly that induction presupposes God (with his “toothpaste proof for God’s existence”), I would say that Bahnsen’s emphasis was on the necessary preconditions for morality (given that Tabash had Jewish relatives who suffered under Hitler). With the negation of God's existence, Awschwitz was morally irrelevant. (Doug Wilson employed the same sort of reductio with Dan Barker at the University of Delaware about a decade ago.) In both cases, “the toothpaste proof for God’s existence” and the “morality” argument, Bahnsen demonstrated through MT that morality and induction have their only grounding in God.

In a word, arguing by reductio is the most powerful way of demonstrating that the very tools of argumentation presuppose that which the unbelieving worldview does not afford, God’s existence. That is done, as Bahsnen so often said, by “assuming for argument’s sake that God does not exist”, which is the very conclusion the professing atheist wants to lead us to in his argument. In summary then, the reason we first argue by negation and not affirmation is that negation allows us to assume the opponent’s conclusion. In other words, it allows us to better lead the opponent by the hand by starting with his presupposition in the minor premise.

Now, of course, if we apply MT as I do immediately below, in which case it is posited “no intelligible experience” in the consequent of the major premise, then we conclude with the existence of God (i.e. it is not the case that God does not exist). Accordingly, what was demonstrated before in Bahnsen’s coupling of the minor premise and the conclusion (i.e. no God, therefore, no intelligible experience) is now located in what the major premise posits. Such an argument is not as readily accessible in my estimation - first because of the two negatives that are used in the major premise, plus the double negative found in the conclusion. Notwithstanding, I have employed that very argument on this site when I was not so much interested in concluding the ramifications of the reductio (no intelligible experience), but rather when my intention was to lead to the conclusion that God exists (by using MT).

Step 1 (A--> B): If God does not exist, then there is no intelligible experience (since God is the precondition of intelligibility)
Step 2 (~B): There is intelligible experience
Step 3 (~A): It is not the case that God does not exist

Let’s now see what happens if we utilize MP rather than MT given the same major premise.

Step 1 (A--> B): If God does not exist, then there is no intelligible experience
Step 2 (A): God does not exist
Step 3 (B): Therefore, there is no intelligible experience

Unlike the argument that concludes God’s existence, this argument leads to the same conclusion as Bahnsen’s use of MT, but by using MP instead. I find this terribly cumbersome, however, because in the major premise “no intelligible experience” is posited as the necessary condition for no God, rather than God being positively posited as the necessary precondition for intelligible experience: “If intelligible experience, then God” (because God is the necessary precondition for intelligible experience). Accordingly, in this argument MP needs some reworking to make the point more clearly that intelligible experience presupposes God (as its necessary condition). In other words, although the conclusion is the same as Bahnsen’s, the opposing worldview is not reduced to absurdity because a reductio form is not employed. Also, this argument gives way to the five negatives employed in the two premises and conclusion.

Finally, Frame finds no problem with the following use of MP.

If causality, then God
Therefore, God

The reason Frame’s use of MP is not as affective as Bahnsen’s use of MT is similar to a reason stated before. Although all the negatives are done away with in this formulation, Frame’s argument does not conclude with the absurdity that there is no causality (or science, or ethics, etc.), which is the very thing the unbeliever would otherwise be challenged to overcome. In other words, because Bahnsen’s use of MT concludes the negation of that which the unbeliever affirms, the unbeliever is more abruptly confronted with the challenge to prove how intelligible experience can possibly comport with the minor premise of no God. Also, MT no less than MP can be formulated with additional commentary to address necessary preconditions (as opposed to mere necessary conditions). Therefore, MT can offer both, the transcendental challenge and the reductio in one short, sharp, shock. Bahnsen wins outright – point, set, match. (Also, Frame until late did not seem to fully appreciate that an argument from presupposition requires that God be the precondition for both the denial and the affirmation of the intelligible experience under consideration. He now acknowledges the point.)

Finally, Bahnsen once wrote:

“A transcendental argument begins with any item of experience or belief whatsoever and proceeds, by critical analysis, to ask what conditions (or what other beliefs) would need to be true in order for that original experience or belief to make sense, be meaningful, or be intelligible to us. Now then, if we should go back and negate the statement of that original belief (or consider a contrary experience), the transcendental analysis (if originally cogent or sound) would nevertheless reach the very same conclusion.” (Bahnsen, Van Til’s Apologetic, 501-502.)

What Dr. Bahnsen meant was that whether we argue for or against morality (for instance) we arrive at the same transcendental conclusion, God exists. Accordingly, to make sense out of the belief that there is no morality (or that there is morality) one must presuppose God’s existence in that investigation. It should be obvious that Bahnsen did not commit this fallacy:

If morality, then God
No morality
Therefore, no God

Rather, he simply meant that whether one claims to believe or not to believe X, then God. The reason being, God is the necessary precondition for all beliefs, true of false.


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Sunday, April 04, 2010

Federal Vision Teachers - Worthy to be Abhorred or Simply Dunces?

“We affirm that there is only one true Church, and that this Church can legitimately be considered under various descriptions, including the aspects of visible and invisible.”

This is one of the most troubling statements of the FV. The statement communicates that there is only one church, which can be described in terms of its being visible and invisible. The implication of such a construct is that the invisible church and the visible church are the same church. From that false premise comes much confusion and outright error. To make the point more clearly, consider the following modification of the statement: We affirm that there is only one true God, and that this God can legitimately be considered under various descriptions, including the aspects of transcendence and immanence. The modified statement, which uses the same construct of the FV statement, clearly communicates that the one transcendent God is the same God as the immanent God. That is true. Transcendence and immanence are simply two aspects of the one God. Is the FV statement true in this way? Is the visible church the same church as the invisible church? The FV statement clearly implies that they are one and the same; for it states that there is “only one true Church” that can be described in various ways, like visible and invisible. How can they claim such a theology and also claim to be Reformed?

In contrast to FV theology, now consider Reformed theology: “The catholic or universal Church, which is invisible, consists of the whole number of the elect, that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one, under Christ the Head thereof; and is the spouse, the body, the fullness of Him that fills all in all…The visible Church, which is also catholic or universal under the Gospel (not confined to one nation, as before under the law), consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion; and of their children: and is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation.”

Note the difference. Within Reformed theology the invisible and visible churches are not the same church. The invisible church consists of the elect who will all possess Christ, whereas the visible church consists of those who profess Christ. On that basis alone, the FV may not be considered “Reformed” in any sense of the word. The FV is comprised of a bunch of muddled thinking men.

The Federal Vision blurs the visible-invisible church distinction and has a faulty view of the Covenant of Grace. Accordingly, they imagine that through water baptism one is united to the very life of Christ. Consequently, if one who was baptized with water were to deny the faith, he would in Federal Vision terms truly fall from grace and lose the life he had in Christ.

Federal Vision theology does affirm that all who have been justified will be glorified. Notwithstanding, how can one who has been justified be assured of his final state of salvation, glorification, if he can in fact fall from grace and lose the life in Christ he supposedly had? It is no wonder that assurance of salvation in the Federal Vision is limited only to the objective truth that those God has justified will be glorified. Federal Vision theology makes no room for personal, subjective assurance of one’s final salvation; indeed how can it if one can truly fall from grace and lose his life in Christ that is alleged to be given to all in the church?

The Federal Vision is correct that the “the decretally elect cannot apostatize”. But by blurring the visible-invisible church distinction and attributing a former life in Christ to those who outwardly deny the faith, the truly justified that will one day prove themselves elected unto glory is left no place to ground his assurance of his justification. After all, both those elected unto glory and those who deny the faith allegedly share in the same life in Christ and consequently must have the same grounds for assurance of perseverance, which becomes no grounds at all since some with life will not persevere.

Federal Vision proponents would do well to learn that the Covenant of Grace was established only with Christ as the Second Adam and in Him, with the elect. Consequently, the promises the covenant contemplates are restricted to the same, the elect – the invisible church, which comes from a systematic theology the Federal Vision abhors.

Any system of theology that would make such claims and create such confusion for God's people is abhorrent, but the teachers of the Federal Vision are not in my estimation so much to be abhorred but simply regarded for what they are, dunces. Note well, I would never use such language to describe those who are walking in the ways of the Federal Vision or even standing in the way. It is only the ones who have taken a seat in order to teach Federal Vision do I consider dunces. After all, it is they who have studied hard and still haven't a clue about the doctrines of church, salvation and covenant. For that they are to sit in the corner in shame.


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Saturday, March 20, 2010

Van Til, Bahnsen, Logic and TAG

“To us the only thing of great significance in this connection is that it is often found to be more difficult to distinguish our method from the deductive method than from the inductive method. But the favorite charge against us is that we are still bound to the past and are therefore employing the deductive method. Our opponents are thoughtlessly identifying our method with the Greek method of deduction. For this reason it is necessary for us to make the difference between these two methods as clear as we can.” (Van Til, Survey of Christian Epistemology, 9.)
“To put it simply, in the case of ‘direct’ arguments (whether rational or empirical), the negation of one of their premises changes the truth or reliability of their conclusion. But this is not true of transcendental arguments, and that sets them off from the other kinds of proof or analysis. A transcendental argument begins with any item of experience or belief whatsoever and proceeds, by critical analysis, to ask what conditions (or what other beliefs) would need to be true in order for that original experience or belief to make sense, be meaningful, or be intelligible to us. Now then, if we should go back and negate the statement of that original belief (or consider a contrary experience), the transcendental analysis (if originally cogent or sound) would nevertheless reach the very same conclusion.” (Bahnsen, Van Til’s Apologetic, 501-502.)

“Years ago Van Til realized that opponents of presuppositionalism tend to think that there are only two kinds of reasoning: inductive and deductive. Deductive reasoning stands opposed to inductive. However, there is also transcendental reasoning, in which the preconditions for the intelligibility of what is experienced, asserted, or argued are posed or sought. It, too, stands opposed to a purely inductive approach to knowledge. Critics seem to think that, since presuppositionalism does not endorse pure inductivism, it must favor deductivism instead. This logical fallacy is known as false antithesis.” (Bahnsen, Van Til’s Apologetic, 176, n. 55.)

The above three quotes were recently forwarded to me for comment because these sentiments of Van Til and Bahnsen are often (sadly so) misconstrued as affirmation of their denying the place of deduction and induction in the realm of presuppositional apologetics. (Having the books, I have verified the accuracy of the quotes.)

The beauty of the transcendental argument for the existence of God (TAG) as a special kind of deductive argument is not in the reductio but in the transcendental challenge, which demonstrates that to argue against God one must first presuppose that which only Christianity affords. In other words, TAG is certainly a deductive argument, but it's a unique kind of deductive argument, not in its form per se but rather in what it seeks to demonstrate. Transcendental arguments are concerned with the preconditions of any fact of experience – what must be true in order for any fact of experience to be that which it is. Van Til was careful to note that “the Christian method uses neither the inductive nor the deductive method as understood by the opponents of Christianity, but that it has elements of both induction and of deduction in it, if these terms are understood in a Christian sense.” (Van Til, page 10 - emphasis mine.) Why the qualifier "as it is understood by the opponents of Christianity" if Van Til did not believe that TAG incorporated deduction? Why not just say that the Christian method does not use deduction, end of statement? The reason is, TAG has aspects of not just deduction but induction too, as Van Til states with no ambiguity. TAG has a distinctly inductive aspect to it because with TAG the Christian investigates what must be true in order for some experience to be intelligible. Such explorations are inductive in emphasis. Notwithstanding, the manner of the investigation is not open ended because the premises within TAG do not merely support the conclusion, they ensure it. That aspect is unique to deduction. Moreover, the conclusion from TAG is not a mere hypothesis, but rather a sound conclusion derived through a deductive process. Finally, TAG falls short of being fully inductive because there is no asserting the consequent with TAG, as there is with all scientific inference, the playground for induction.
Van Til goes on to critique what he qualified as “exclusively” deductive arguments and “purely” inductive arguments that do not presuppose God. It was the anti-Christian Greek method of logic that Van Til and Bahnsen opposed but not logical apologetics. In other words, they never opposed deduction and induction but rather qualified these disciplines in reference to strictly secular uses of reason and inference. Even a careless reading of Van Til and Bahnsen bears this out, but one must first read the authors and not just read about them. And reading the authors would require reading past page 9 in Van Til, at least up through page 10. (Many perceived problems regarding Gordon H. Clark would also vanish if one would only simply go to the original source, rather than choosing sides in a partisan manner.)

Bahnsen typically employed modus tollens (MT) in his formal argument, yet he distinguished his employment of TAG from garden variety deduction. Mike Butler (at one time Bahnsen’s assistant) to my knowledge, also, has never pitted transcendental arguments against deduction. Butler has written TAG out, which is indeed deductive in form "For x (some aspect of human experience) to be the case, y must also be the case since y is the precondition of x. Since x is the case, y is the case." (Butler, The Transcendental Argument for God’s Existence, 91 The Standard Bearer.)
Van Til and Bahnsen fully appreciated that TAG is a deductive argument strictly speaking (lest they contradicted themselves in practice). However, their focus in this regard was on what distinguishes TAG from the usual kind of deductive (and inductive) arguments. The unique quality of TAG that sets it apart from all other standard deductive arguments is that with the latter we begin with some truths (or inferences) and reason to others - but that to which we reason is not presupposed as a necessary precondition for the intelligible experience of the original fact of experience. In other words, with standard deductive arguments we try to deduce from a fact, or series of facts, other facts; no more, no less. If it's Sunday I'm with a congregation of saints from 9:30-12 in the morning. If I’m not with a congregation of saints at 10:00 a.m., then it’s not Sunday. That it’s not Sunday can be a standard deduction, yet my being with the saints at a certain time does not make Sundays possible. Kant's genius was that TA's are concerned with what must be true in order for something else to be possible. God’s revelation makes intelligible experience possible, whereas my being with the saints at a particular time does not make Sunday between 9:30 and noon possible.

Clearly, Bahnsen applied deduction in his demonstration of TAG. Accordingly, he was either inconsistent with himself, or we should interpret his statements as meaning something other than TAG is not strictly speaking deductive. With little effort we can reconcile Bahnsen's practice of TAG with his description of it. TAG is not like any other deductive argument because it does not reason from fact to fact in the standard Greek sense but rather reasons from fact to the preconditions of fact, which is Kantian, yet when in the hands of a Christian a very powerful tool.


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Wednesday, March 10, 2010

John Piper on Infants Dying in Infancy

John Piper believes that all infants dying in infancy go to heaven but it would seem that faulty reasoning has caused him to ignore basic evangelical tenets. (Click on title to go to link.)

"I think they're all saved. In other words, I don't buy the principle that says that children born into "covenant families" are secure, and children born into "non covenant families" aren't. I don't go there."

He rejects the notion that the only saved infants dying in infancy are those born into covenant homes. He also rejects the idea that some born within covenant homes that die in infancy can be lost. Rather, he affirms that God saves all who die in infancy. Piper is not alone in these speculations. Presbyterian A.A. Hodge and Dispensationalist John MacArthur assert the same. I appreciate Piper much more on this matter for he speaks more tentatively regarding what he thinks; whereas Hodge and MacArthur are dogmatic in their claims. Hodge even went so far as to suggest the Westminster standards teach this form of universalism, which it does not.

"My reason for thinking they're all saved is because of the principle in Romans 1 where Paul argues that all people know God, and they are "without excuse" because they do not honor him or glorify him as God. His argument is that they are without excuse because they know things, as though accountability in the presence of God at the Last Judgment will be based, at least partly, on whether they had access to necessary knowledge."

Piper’s reasoning is terribly flawed. Piper reasons that if a person knows God, then he’s without excuse. Fine so far… until he deduces from that premise: If a person does not know God, then he needs no excuse. It is certainly true that if a man knows God, then he his culpable. However, it does not logically follow from that premise that those who do not know God are not culpable. That is fallaciously to deny the consequent based upon a denial of the antecedent. In other words, from if P then Q, we may not reason to not P, therefore, not Q. Even if Piper’s final conclusion were true, it would not follow from his premises. Simply put, that one is culpable for having knowledge of God does not imply that he is not culpable for something else apart from such knowledge, such as the inherited corrupt nature and imputation of Adam’s sin. Rather than deal with these, Piper seems to presuppose that sins proceeding from the corrupt nature either are not present in infants, or simply do not warrant damnation. In either case, the forensic and genetic aspects of sin are simply ignored in his treatment of the subject. (In passing we might note that it is a bit dubious to assert that infants do not know God. A defense of that premise might have been in order.)

"I think babies and imbeciles—that is, those with profound mental disabilities—don't have access to the knowledge that they will be called to account for. Therefore, somehow in some way, God, through Christ, covers these people."
"In some way, God, through Christ, covers these people?" What needs to be covered? Certainly not their sin, for Piper has already conceded that what these infants need is not a covering for sin but rather their just and deserved place in the kingdom. Moreover, why would Piper say that humans such as these are saved in death? Saved from what? Would he at least concede that elect infants dying in infancy are united to Christ through the monergistic work of regeneration, or would that smack of the need for too much grace? In the final analyses, either Piper has affirmed that the “salvation” of infants dying in infancy is a matter of justice alone, or he has implied that infants deserve mercy and grace.

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