Also, check TurretinFan on this matter.
Does anybody really believe that we are to embrace as true both x and ~x at the same time, in the same sense? At the very least, I would hope that no Christian believes that we are to accept as true something that is actually false. But what about this – Are we to believe certain doctrines that appear false? Many Christians say “yes”. Some even say “YES!” It is believed by more than a few that some if not all doctrines must(!) appear contradictory - if we’re to remain humble and not let logic cloud our biblical reasoning. Accordingly, not only are we to accept doctrines that at first glance appear paradoxical to the rational mind, we simply cannot get around being subject to apparent contradictions. In other words, given our finitude and God’s infinitude, it is alleged that certain doctrines, even all doctrines, will always appear contradictory because of the “Creator-creature” distinction, a distinction I embrace with all my orthodox heart,soul and mind yet without letting it lead me down a dead end alley of skepiticism.
In order for two or more propositions to appear contradictory, I would think, in my creaturely finitude, that they must actually appear to take the form of a contradiction. After all, these supposed paradoxes are not claimed to be apparently consistent but rather apparently contradictory. So ask yourself, what is a set of propositions that looks like a contradiction and sounds like a contradiction but is not a contradiction? Clarkians will answer “A Van Tillian musing, of course!”
If the apparent contradiction imbedded in a particular doctrine cannot be made to disappear, then what rational hope is there that the apparent contradiction is not a real contradiction? How can an actual contradiction be distinguished from an apparent one if the apparent seems actual from a creaturely perspective? After all, is there an acid test to distinguish real contradictions from ones that aren’t real but look real?
Until one reconciles an apparent contradiction, I don’t think he has any business embracing both horns of the supposed contradiction. (I appreciate that there are transition periods in one’s thinking but we’re not to live in a perpetual state of transition over any given doctrine. We are to prayerfully wrestle with things and press on.) Now then, let’s say one embraces Jesus’ humanity, which entails a localized body, yet also embraces the real presence of the mass. He would embrace what appears to him to be an apparent contradiction, which in this case would be a real contradiction. He would embrace something he thinks appears false, and in this case is actually false. Not good.
Now let’s move to two orthodox horns of what is a conundrum for some. Let’s say one embraces a Reformed view of God’s foreordination of all things along with human moral accountability, yet finds those concepts contradictory. If those concepts are truly contradictory then one of the premises must be false. If one is willing to accept what appears false, then why not the real presence? What would be the basis of accepting one false looking doctrine over another? To simply say that we’re to embrace the seemingly false doctrines the Bible teaches and leave the other false interpretations alone isn’t a workable principle. It's a recipe for arbitrariness and inconsistency.
Moreover, I find it highly improper to call any particular pair of doctrines an “apparent contradiction” because of the universality of the claim. It’s not only an unjustified claim; it’s a false claim too. What is seemingly contradictory to one person can be perfectly harmonious to another since apparent contradictions are not objectively contradictory but rather only perceived as such. Actual contradictions are universal, whether anyone appreciates them or not; yet apparent contradictions are subjective and only apply to those who think, for example, that the eternal decree an human responsibility are seemingly incompatible. Accordingly, it’s simply a misnomer to call any particular doctrine an apparent contradiction because of the idiosyncratic nature of each person’s level of confusion. I find it even a bit arrogant when one asserts that this or that doctrine is paradoxical since the who would voice such a claim would be setting himself up as the measure of another man's capacities, as if he were saying, “I perceive these doctrines as seemingly contradictory, therefore they are apparently contradictory (to all humans), but of course these parallel lines meet in the mind of God.” Now that might be a big pill for some people to swallow, but certainly such people are not saying anything like: “I don’t believe these doctrines need to appear contradictory (if they are indeed orthodox doctrines), but at the moment I’m still working through some things and I believe they might not be contradictory to others. The problem must be with me.”
Some helpful hints moving forward
If someone wants to assert a paradox, it might be helpful to identify the contradictory premises and show why either must be false. As soon as he shows how either one must be false, then should abandon that one. If he can’t show that one must be false then he hasn’t come across an apparent contradiction, now has he? Confusion does not imply contradiction.
So for example, how would one go about proving that the existence of Paris does not conflict with the existence of New York to one who thinks it appears that these two cities cannot exist in harmony? It would be helpful for the one who thinks there is a conflict to put forth his perception of the conflict. The confused one should explain what he thinks is the contradictory nature of the supposed paradox. I’ve been waiting for years to hear why it is seemingly contradictory that God’s foreordination of my actions, which proceed from my intentions, somehow alleviates my responsibility for my actions. God has a morally sufficient reason for the good and evil he determines, and I am responsible for what I do. These two propositions aren’t on a collision course; they’re simply on different tracks. Accordingly, there's not a whole lot to be reconciled.
True humility (coupled with half a sense) appreciates that to embrace something that appears false is not spiritual but in fact foolish. Only someone who is confused would say it looks false but I must embrace it out of humble obedience to God. Whereas one with more understanding will say it looks false so I must be missing something either in my overall theology or on this particular point. I either need to change some governing presupposition(s) or else get a better handle on this new item of consideration.
Another example might be helpful. One might reason from common experience that persons have a beginning, but since the Second Person of the Trinity had no beginning, the eternal sonship of the Second Person is an apparent contradiction. Yet such a paradox disappears when we let God define for us the realm of possibility as it relates to persons, finitude and being. In other words, these propositions are seemingly contradictory to the carnal mind that is not subject to the word of God, but when we let God’s word inform our thinking the propositions do not appear at odds with each other in the least. With that example in mind, the astute reader might find a terrible irony in all of this. It seems to me that Van Tillians are to get their framework for the possible realm from Scripture, and if we begin with Scripture to inform our thinking on what defines reality etc., apparent contradictions, which always incorporate autonomous thought, go away. When Scripture informs us of truth and the realm of possibility, we get a whole host of new propositions to play with, which is something CVT grasped well yet did not incorporate into his thinking in the realm of paradox. With Scripture as our presupposition, we begin to see that three persons and one being (descriptive of God) is as coherent as one person and one being (descriptive of man). The latter in one sense is more common to our experience, but the former is no less revealed to our minds. (It can even be argued that the latter is more common to our experience given that we are bombarded with the one and the many every moment of every day.) Since both are revealed truths, we don’t have a contradiction of x and ~x, but rather we find a harmonious x and y. If we’re talking about x and y, then there was no apparent contradiction between two x’s to begin with but rather only imprecise terminology that needed to be fleshed out a bit more. It’s the person who reasons apart from Scripture that finds himself with x and ~x. It’s only when we think in terms of necessarily one being = one person, which is not a revealed truth, do we run into problems with the Trinity in this regard.
Does all that make me a non-Van Tillian? Well, what are the essential properties one must maintain to be called a Van Tillian, or a Calvinist for that matter? Regarding the former, is it enought to believe that the Triune God is the necessary precondition for intelligible experience, and that Scripture is the justification of all knowledge, and to predicate against God one must presuppose that a common creator provides a fruitful connection between my mind and the external, mind-independent world? Is it enough to believe that formally the believer and unbeliever have much in common but in principle they disagree on everything? Does one need to embrace Calvin’s Geneva to be a Calvinist? I remember Greg Bahnsen while lecturing on the Westminster Confession saying that God’s determination of creaturely choices and man’s responsibility are not seemingly contradictory doctrines but only mysterious. Was he not Van Tillian? Regarding the problem of evil, Bahnsen noted that God has a morally sufficient reason for the evil he ordains. To put it in Gordon Clark’s terms, God is not answerable to anyone but himself.
Finally, nobody is saying that Christian doctrine can be exhausted in our finitude. All that is being said is that seemingly logical contradictions can be removed from doctrines that are pure. If I cannot relieve the tension, then I’ll be constrained either to change my overall theology or dig harder to learn why a new proposition that confronts my old thinking is not at odds with my existing theology. That’s how I became a Calvinistic paedobaptist. It is just not available to earnest Christians to embrace what appears to be contradictory, which is not to say we can exhaust the depths of the doctrines we know in part, or that mystery must be denied. It’s not to raise logic above God’s word, nor is it to be too rational (whatever that means). When did irrationality become a virtue?
Indeed, there are many Christian tenets that remain mysterious to my mind, but I am unaware of any antinomies contained therein. Nor do I believe that because I’m incapable in my finitude of plumbing the depths of any proposition that I’m consigned to a world of incompatible propositions. Biblical faith does not call us to embrace what appears to be false, which is why I can reject the alleged transubstantiation of the mass in good conscience.