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Monday, May 30, 2011

More on Paradox

If God is good, then he cannot ordain evil. God ordains evil and is good. Therefore, I have to accept "by faith" that although what appears contradictory is not. I'm to believe what appears to me to be defeated. Some Reformed Christians actually say that we are to think that way. We are to believe what we think looks false.

Greg Bahnsen had a response to that problem had by so many, which is commonly called the problem of evil. His answer was simply that God has a morally sufficient reason for the evil he ordains. With Bahnsen, I find that response sufficient to remedy any apparent contradiction between God’s goodness and his determination of all things including evil, but I don’t find the additional premise to be a stroke of genius by any stretch. The apparent problem had by so many is that they judge goodness by carnal standards, forgetting that God defines goodness and what is acceptable behavior for himself. (Note: That God defines goodness does not imply that goodness is arbitrary.)

That God’s goodness and his sovereign determination of evil appears contradictory to some hardly implies that it should appear contradictory to all. It’s simply too grand a claim to suggest that if some perceive contradictions then others should.

One might even expect to have a better chance of alleviating apparent contradictions by beginning with a simple presupposition that says there need not be any apparent contradictions. The belief in apparent contradiction can make one not only lazy but also very unjustified in his theology, just like by not believing that the inverse operation of subtraction is always addition can make a child think his wrong answers could be correct though they don't check out just right by performing the inverse operation. The less partisan will find the analogy acceptable, whereas those who blindly follow Van Til will no doubt throw the rationalistic flag at this juncture. Notwithstanding, the point that can be received by the less fearful who are brave enough to be their own man is simply that once we become committed to our ability by grace to alleviate apparent contradictions within God’s word, we might end up working a bit harder at resolving them rather than letting the axiom of apparent contradiction cause us to accept things as true that really appear false to us.  Now of course this comes at a price. There must be a willingness to accept the label rationalistic, but what’s the alternative, believing in something that appears false yet while hoping it is not?

Now some might say that we have reason to believe what appears false and that reason is the church teaches it, which reduces the belief to an inference short of knowledge if that's all the belief is based upon. There is a subtle distinction that must be teased out from such a theory. It pertains to the difference between a justification for believing something is true and a justification of the facts themselves that are believed to be true. I can believe a doctrine is true because the church teaches it, but it’s quite another thing to know those teachings are true. Such a justification of the truth of the church's teachings can only come from God. This is not to say that the God does not speak through the church, for he does. Notwithstanding, if one is basing a theological propositional belief on something other than God's testimony, then such a belief can hardly account as knowledge of the truth.

How can we know truth while it appears false? What would be the warrant for believing what appears to be a defeated proposition? If one says God's say-so, then why if I'm to believe what appears false ought I not disbelieve what appears true?

Not only do the following passages teach that we’re to hear from God and not men on these matters, the Confession's addresses cited below, in concert with Scripture, commend such a practice. (Matt. 16:13-17; John 4:39-42; Galatians 1:11, 12; I Thess. 2:13;  WCF 1.5 and 1.10; WCF 14.2) Note well that Paul when battling the Judaizers did not even cite the apostles but rather Christ alone in his defense of the gospel he knew to be true, for he did not receive it by man but from God.

In a nutshell, contradictions take the form of p = ~p, so if a doctrine is to appear contradictory it must appear to take that form. Until one shows how any Christian doctrine appears to take that form, he fails to show that any doctrine actually appears contradictory. But it gets much worse than that. Until one shows that any doctrine takes a contradictory form, he fails to show how it appears contradictory even to himself! Consequently, not only have these people failed to show that Christian doctrines are apparently contradictory, a universal claim of theirs that applies to every person – they even fail to show that they appear contradictory to them personally.

The only contradictions I’m finding are in their reasoning. They assert apparent contradiction and fail to demonstrate any.

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Friday, May 27, 2011

Christian Paradox

Also, check TurretinFan on this matter.

Many well meaning Christians, even Reformed Christians, believe that many Bible doctrines must be embraced though they are seemingly contradictory. These Christians believe that many mysteries of the faith (if not all things ultimately) are really paradoxes, antinomies or apparent contradictions, same thing for our purposes. These apparent contradictions, though said not to be real, appear to imply a false orthodox proposition, since contradictions always contain a false proposition. For example, if God is one, then it would seem that God cannot be comprised of three persons who are all God, for one is not three. Consequently, one of the two orthodox horns appears false. Either there are three Gods or God is not one; yet since the Trinity is an orthodox doctrine, the antinomy must be embraced. Christianity ends up being apparently contradictory but not really. In other words, Christianity appears contradictory but it really isn't. Professing atheists have a field day with such lobs. Rather than the Christian’s apologetic appearing as aspirin tablets at the top of the knees low and away, we end up lobbing watermelons in the wheelhouse when we speak that way.

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.

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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Camping Prediction More Probable Than Those of Most Evangelicals

Harold Camping's prediction of a May 21 judgment day is more likely to come true than the predictions of most evangelical pastors. If Camping is right, then he made a lucky guess and consequently optimistic Amillenialism is based upon faulty exegesis, an unlikely scenario. On the other hand, all dispensational pastors are definitely wrong on their general description of the end times. Even if we allow dispensationalists to pick every date from now until the end of the age as their prediction for a pre-tribulation rapture, they’d still be wrong. No one will be left behind.

The ramifications are striking. Dispensationalists are wrong about a doctrine that is often more thoroughly explicated in their respective church covenants than the doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone, or the Holy Trinity for that matter. At the very least, I hope that all Reformed Christians believe it is more probable that (i) Jesus will return on May 21, 2011 than (ii) he will return in stages and unbelievers will occupy pilotless air craft. The former is highly unlikely whereas the latter is an absurd impossibility.

Obviously Camping is a heretic - given his ecclesiology if nothing else, but let's not lose perspective, shall we? Most of evangelicalism is confused on this matter of Jesus’ return, yet are sensible enough not to make date-predictions. Notwithstanding, their general predictions of how things will unfold are more disturbing than Camping’s predictions, at least for me. Camping has excommunicated himself from the Christian church, so his exegesis (or in this case his numerology) is of little or no concern to me. I am exceedingly more concerned about evangelicals like John MacArthur, for instance, who refuse to renounce such silly rapture teachings that bring reproach upon Christ’s church from the inside. Indeed, Camping is an embarrassment but not to the church, for Camping is not a member of the body of Christ. He's a fringe-fanatic and nothing more.

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Saturday, May 14, 2011

More on Merit

Condign merit presupposes that the recipient of reward has claim upon it rooted in pure justice, which is not a factor in congruous merit, which presupposes that the giver of reward finds it appropriate or fitting to bestow reward upon a recipient. The latter entails a magnanimous posture of the giver, whereas the former entails moral obligation toward the recipient that is predicated upon actions that have intrinsic value worthy of honor and reward. Regarding what is known as the Covenant of Life, Reformed folk should appreciate that both condign merit and congruous merit have no biblical support.
 
Many Reformed thinkers posit a form of ex pacto merit, a reward that is due not out of what is fitting to bestow or out of intrinsic value of good performed that warrants reward but because of contractual terms. In other words, ex pacto merit implies meritorious reward that is due a recipient because the terms of a compact sanction blessings in exchange for something done. Specifically, an increasingly popular idea is that Adam would have merited a confirmation in righteousness, translating him into a glorified state, had he obeyed the terms of the Covenant of Life for the entire alleged probation period. Not only is that view widely held in Reformed circles, it is also thought that to deny it is to undermine the gospel.
Ex pacto merit is best considered from at least two vantage points. First, was there an offer of confirmation in righteousness in the prelapsarian covenant? And secondly, if Adam was offered a glorified state as part of the terms of that covenant, would it be equivocal to say he was in a position to have merited the outcome, eternal glory?

Regarding the first question, an affirmative answer is not deducible from Scripture. By drawing analogies to the Second Adam who entered into glory upon completion of his earthly work, it is often presupposed that Adam could have earned an eternal state, but that of course entails question-begging as it pertains to God’s covenant with Adam, as opposed to deducing an answer from premises found in Scripture. Such a notion of merit implicitly denies Sola Scriptura (and the laws of deduction). Turning to the second question, allowing for a moment the speculative notion that Adam was offered confirmation in righteousness and resultant glory (as opposed to
perpetual communion with God without any prospect of ontological transformation), if one agrees that there is no place for condign merit, then he should agree that it would be equivocal at best to say that Adam could have “merited” glory. Even had the terms of the covenant prescribed such an outcome as wonderful as eternal glory, it is nonsensical that one can “merit” reward from another who receives zero benefit from the one being rewarded. Mustn't on some level the one issuing reward (in this case God) receive benefit from the one being rewarded if we're to call the outcome "merited" and not unmeritied favor bestowed? After all, when God discharges the wages of sin, it is because he is justly offended, is it not? Shouldn't the reverse hold true? If one is it to earn a reward from God, shouldn't God owe a debt that is a matter of justice deserved and not merely a matter of contractual terms that are not an essential property of God? At the very least, wasn't the entering into covenant a matter of divine condescension? Is God lacking in something that Adam could have filled-up? Secondly, I find it even more absurd to think that a creature could by good works merit something from God when such good works would require God to effect in the creature those works necessary to obtain the reward. What is it after all to merit something based upon a performance that requires the one who is to issue the reward to bring to pass the performance of the performer?! Yes, you have heard right, libertarian freedom is a metaphysical surd even for the prelapsarian era, something that escapes too many Reformed folk, even seminary professors. Wouldn't Adam even prior to the fall have owed his willing and doing of God's good pleasure to God alone? Or was Arminianism true before the fall and just not after? In the third case, in common parlance when one merits something the reward received is in accordance with the magnitude of work performed. So, in sum, how can good works for a finite period of time that are efficaciously wrought in man by God’s determination and providence (no less) wherein God gets nothing in return be the grounds for meriting such a disproportionate reward, relative to the work performed, such as an eternal state of not being able to sin, a state of non posse peccare?

For Adam to have performed sufficient works in order to have been confirmed in righteousness he would have needed that which only God could have supplied; the reward would have been greater than the work performed; and the work would have been of no benefit to the one bestowing the reward. Now if one is willing to admit all that, then he should also acknowledge that to call such work “meritorious” is to make "merit" a vacuous term. I'd simply prefer to consider such pure condescension on God’s part as unmerited favor toward a creature. Yet aside from tagging speculative ideas with inappropriate and misleading terms, it is an even greater monstrosity to pass such musings off as the Reformed position, let alone essential to the gospel.

Finally, it's interesting to me that the infralapsarian position seems to require such a prelapsarian compact, for in the infralapsarian construct creation must exceed redemption in glory and grandeur. That is not to say that I am pleased with the framing of the supra-infra debate. I am not, if for no other reason than God's purposes are multi-faceted and not just linear. Yet with that said I find the teleological supra schema of Hoeksema, Clark and Reymond most attractive in what it it aims to put forth (as opposed to Beza's construct for instance). For in the contemporary supra-schema, God's choice to redeem presupposes men as fallen. Damnation becomes not an end in itself but justice that presupposes sin, a very biblical concept indeed. Of course the infra position is simply a denial of true Calvinism.


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