Follow by Email

Monday, June 27, 2011

Radical 2 Kingdom & The "General Equity" of the Law

The Westminster standards teach that the general equity of the civil code given to ancient Israel is still binding upon civil magistrates today. When it comes to the execution of blasphemers radical 2 Kingdom (R2K) proponents will assert that the general equity for the death penalty under Moses is now excommunication from the church. A popular proponent of the R2K movement posted me a while back saying:

"Since you continue to insist on general equity, what is the general equity of executing blasphemers (Deut, 7 Deut; 13)? I haven’t heard where you go with that or how it might apply to the Christian magistrates treatment of Mormons and Jews. I believe that the general equity is excommunication."
It’s hard to imagine that such thinking has received a place within the Reformed community and even on some Reformed sessions.

That the church has a responsibility to deal with sin does not imply that the state does not. In fact, it is a common fallacy to argue for a repeal of directives that pertain to the state from directives that pertain to the church. One could just as well argue that the state should not discipline professing-Christian rapists because the church should censure them. It's rather apparent, is it not (?), that under the guise of preserving the general equity of civil sanctions, R2K proponents would prefer to see them replaced without remainder.

Maybe R2K proponents would like to distinguish for the rest of us how their view of applying the general equity of the civil case laws differs from an outright abrogation of those laws. If their view of "general equity" is for all intents and purposes no different than abrogation, then why should their interpretation of " general equity" seam plausible and confessional? The church doesn't need the "general equity" of the civil case laws to know it should censure blasphemers. Consequently, since the church apart from the case laws already has exhaustive instructions on spiritual matters pertaining to censure - how can it be maintained that the case laws are not indeed abrogated given that they are rendered useless under such an R2K interpretation of the Westminster standards? If the case laws no longer apply to the civil magistrates and are no longer to resemble the original penal sanctions in any respect, how can it be maintained that they are to be preserved in their general equity? R2K is not an affirmation of the preservation of the general equity of the civil case laws but a blatant denial of it.

It is simply arbitrary (and hazardous) to operate under the principle that one is not accountable to the state because he is accountable to the church. There was excommunication under the older economy, a “cutting off” (an exile of sorts), that was not accompanied by OT execution. Yet in God’s wisdom both were operative, presumably with distinct purposes. Accordingly, it seems a bit dubious that excommunication is equitable to execution, if for no other reason than the translation does not preserve the general equity of the civil sanction! The two aren’t even close to being equitable because, at the very least, repentance lifts the penalty of excommunication, which was not the case for capital crimes under the older economy.

Let’s not pretend any longer, shall we? By collapsing execution into excommunication the general equity of the sanction is not preserved but rather obliterated. But R2K proponents cannot admit that because in their autonomous thinking and quest for civil pluralism they also fancy themselves as the keepers of the Confession, while too often being historically inaccurate and theologically incorrect.

Now I have not argued here that public blasphemy is a crime punishable by death (though I am certain it is). The point I am making here is not that blasphemers should be put to death (for treason in God’s universe), but that it is a farce (and serious falsehood) to suggest that one may harmoniously affirm R2K and the Westminster standards. It is one thing to take exception to the Westminster standards and quite another thing to promote a misinterpretation of those standards. My Baptist and Arminian brethren do so all the time, take exception to the Reformed standards. However, their practice pales insignificant to those who would take exception to the Confession while claiming they don’t.


Free Website Counter

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Jonathan Edwards, A Gross Misrepresentation

In Jonathan Edwards: Philosophical Theologian, edited by Paul Helm and Oliver Crisp we find the following quote:

On Edwards understanding, a conditional analysis is in the offering here. “I can A” is always “I can A, if I choose,” which in turn goes to “If I choose to A, I will A.” So to say I can lift this rock is to say that if I choose or will to lift it, I will lift it. So far, so good, perhaps. But if responsible freedom belongs to the operations of will as well as to overt action it must also be the case that I can choose to A, and – to turn Edwards’s own argument against him – there the analysis clearly doesn’t work. We get, “If I choose to choose to lift this rock, then I will choose to lift it,” which is completely implausible, and leads to a regress. We can improve things somewhat if we ignore Edwards’ failure to distinguish choice from prevailing desire, so that “I can choose to lift this rock” becomes, “If my strongest desire is to lift this rock, then I will choose to do so.” But this really isn’t plausible either. For one thing, there are many situations in which we think the exercise is actually impaired by the strongest desire – for example, when the agent suffers addiction or psychological compulsion, or is affected by post-hypnotic suggestion. Such cases deserve special treatment, but surely if determinism were true we should not consider the freedom of such agents to be impaired, since certainly their decisions would be different if they were not afflicted by compelling motives. So it doesn’t work in this case to submit the concept of freedom to conditional analysis. And why should it, after all? This analysis treats the will as thought it were imprisoned in the natural order – as thought its operations were no more spontaneous, and finally of no greater moral interest, than those of our house pets. Why should we expect this to be our concept of freedom, if the phenomenology of willing is entirely opposite?
I'll interact with the post in small bites. 

What, then, shall we say about the formula according to which such freedom comes to nothing more than the ability to act differently if we please, or if we will? On Edwards understanding, a conditional analysis is in the offering here. “I can A” is always “I can A, if I choose,”

Edwards does not utter a word such as “can” without enormous qualification, for one reason because of the vulgar-language baggage that comes with such a word. These qualifications that are embedded throughout Edwards’s writings are a deterrent for most people to try to muscle through Edwards’s view of the will, or any other treatment of his, which spanned a vast multitude of subjects. But in any case, given such a broad-brush portrayal of Edwards view of the will in light of conditional analysis, it can safely be said that “I can A, if I choose” can only mean for Edwards that “I can A, only if my strongest inclination at the moment of choice is to A.” Also, “I can” must presuppose no external prohibitor, for “can” in this discussion is not a matter of natural ability (a common use of the term, hence Edwards’s qualifications) but rather must be thought of as metaphysical claim that also implies “I cannot A, unless I’m inclined to A.” (I can grab a taco, only if my strongest inclination at the moment of choice is to grab a taco.)


“I can A, if I choose,” which in turn goes to “If I choose to A, I will A.” So to say I can lift this rock is to say that if I choose or will to lift it, I will lift it. So far, so good, perhaps.

Given the terms being employed, the statement, again - if it is to reflect Edwards’s thought, must mean “If my strongest inclination at the moment of choice is to lift the rock, then I will lift the rock.” It is most equivocal to use “will” in two different ways in the same sentence, and to equate “choose” with “will”, especially without explication, is hazardous. It’s doubly criminal to do so when trying to critique another person’s view, especially one who was hyper-careful in this regard.

But if responsible freedom belongs to the operations of will as well as to overt action it must also be the case that I can choose to A, and – to turn Edwards’s own argument against him – there the analysis clearly doesn’t work. We get, “If I choose to choose to lift this rock, then I will choose to lift it,” which is completely implausible, and leads to a regress.

The interpretation of Edwards that leads to “If I choose to choose to lift this rock, then I will choose to lift it,” is based upon a gross imprecision having to do with the tagging of terms. Anyone even half-way acquainted with Edwards appreciates that he denies that one ever chooses his inclinations, and that his argument against such an Arminian implication took the form of a  reductio that led his opponent into that very problem of regress. So only a reckless (or malicious) interpretation of Edwards can construe that Edwards's arguments implied such a thing. In fact had his arguments been so blatantly flawed, one would expect such gross inconsistency to have been observed and exposed even moments after he penned such notions. But the reason that didn't happen is not because the philosophers of his day didn't see the inconsistency; rather, the inconsistency was not there to be seen, for the inconsistency is based upon a formulation that is not Edwards's. At the very least, I know of no person who claims to be Edwardsian that holds to that supposed formulation of Edwards's view of the will, which in turn leads to inconsistency. The contributors for JEPT have erected a classic straw man by employing equivocal terms, and then knocked it down. Again though, given the terms being employed, the statement, if it is to reflect Edwards’s thought at all, may only be taken to mean, “If my strongest desire / inclination at the moment of choice is to lift the rock, then I will lift the rock,” which does not imply a position that under analysis implies regress, let alone an internal contradiction within Edwards's own view.

We can improve things somewhat if we ignore Edwards’ failure to distinguish choice from prevailing desire, so that “I can choose to lift this rock” becomes, “If my strongest desire is to lift this rock, then I will choose to do so.”

Edwards’s failure to distinguish choice from prevailing desire?! Is there anyone in the history of the world who spent more time defining and distinguishing ideas such as desire and choice? Not only did Edwards do so; he did so ad nauseum.

But this really isn’t plausible either. For one thing, there are many situations in which we think the exercise is actually impaired by the strongest desire – for example, when the agent suffers addiction or psychological compulsion, or is affected by post-hypnotic suggestion.

That remark is even more obviously confused. Granting any one or combination of such effects on inclination, the simple response is that when one’s inclination is altered, the consequent-action still follows an antecedental inclination. Indeed, the inclination that might have otherwise been present apart from such factors is no longer present, but that does not undermine the plausibility of the thesis as it narrowly pertains to the mechanics of the will. It can only lend implausibilty to the question of responsibility, though it doesn't. 

Now we’ll turn to the driving emotive force behind the attempt to make much out of impaired thinking. 

Such cases deserve special treatment, but surely if determinism were true we should not consider the freedom of such agents to be impaired, since certainly their decisions would be different if they were not afflicted by compelling motives.

Determinism does not rule out an impaired mind, let alone inclinations that can be altered to something other than what they might have been apart from alteration.

So it doesn’t work in this case to submit the concept of freedom to conditional analysis. And why should it, after all? This analysis treats the will as thought it were imprisoned in the natural order – as thought its operations were no more spontaneous, and finally of no greater moral interest, than those of our house pets. Why should we expect this to be our concept of freedom, if the phenomenology of willing is entirely opposite?

Spontaneity, properly understood, is not undermined by conditional analysis that is true to the position in question. Emotive phrases such as “imprisoned in the natural order” have little value in a discussion such as this, but I suppose they can be deemed necessary when there's not much more to be said. Regarding mind-alteration as it applies to moral responsibility, maybe the contributors hadn't considered that responsibility need not imply potential for guilt, though it usually does.

Free Website Counter

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Trinity & Paradox

It has been rightly argued by some that we can distill these claims from the Athanasian creed:

1. The Father is God.
2. The Son is God.
3. The Spirit is God.
4. The Father is not the Son.
5. The Father is not the Spirit.
6. The Son is not the Spirit.
and,
7. There is only one God.

An apparent contradiction in view is:
A. f = g (premise)
B. s = g (premise)
C. f ≠ s (premise)
D. f = s (from 1, 2, by transitivity of identity)
Contradiction or Paradox? 
It seems to me that these conundrums can be dealt with in many ways by adding additional biblically informed propositions to the incomplete ones. Simply replace some of the abbreviated premises with premises that contain more biblical truth and paradox disappears, yet without being able to uncover the mysteries of the Trinity. (i.e. The solution is rational but ought not to be considered rationalistic.)

Equivocal terms lead to unreliable conclusions:

It should be noted up front that there is a semantic difference between is and =, for x is y does not imply y is x; yet x = y is equivalent to y = x. (Please don't read on without digesting that.) The leap from what x is (found in 1-7) to what x equals (the complaint in the "apparent contradiction" i.e., A-D) is fallacious, which I trust will become apparent.

Points 1-7 (which utilize "is") imply that three distinct persons all share in the one divine nature and occupy what can be called "the same divine space".  So far, so good. Points A-D that follow (which utilize "=" instead of "is") leads to confusion (and supposed paradox). Points 1-7 and A-D must be nuanced, for 1-7 does not imply the conclusion of A-D, which is not only an apparent contradictory but rather a real contradictory.

First, with respect to the confusing four points (A-D), the only way Jesus equals God is if Jesus and God are numerically identical - exactly the same without remainder. Yet God can mean Trinity, which Jesus is not. God can also mean the person of the Holy Spirit, which Jesus is not. Finally, God can mean the person of the Father, which Jesus is not. Accordingly, to say that "Jesus equals God" and the "Father equals God" is equivocal at best and if taken literally leads to modalism because identity is transitive, which would mean that Jesus and the Father are the same person.

With respect to points 1-7, indeed, we should rightly say that Jesus is God because Jesus shares the divine essence: he is very God of very God, but that is not what is implied in points A-D when things such as "Jesus = God" are stated. In other words, if what is meant by "Jesus is God" is that that Jesus equals God, then of course that would be incorrect. But that is not what is typically meant by "Jesus is God", which makes reference to his divine nature, one in being with the Father.

Jesus is a specific person. Accordingly, if Jesus equals God, then God must equal Jesus and, therefore, must be a specific person (the same as Jesus), which would preclude any other person from sharing in the divine nature such as the Father, which in turn would undermine the doctrine of the Trinity. So yes, Jesus is God because Jesus is divine, but Jesus and God are not synonymous terms - for if they were synonymous terms, then "Jesus is God" could be equated to "God is Jesus". (In simple terms of analogy, Jim is human does not imply Jim = human.)

Jesus does not equal God, for the Father and the Holy Spirit are also God yet are different persons than Jesus. There is more than one God-person in the Godhead, all of whom mutually indwell the other two. There is only one triune-God, that in three persons and oneness of being lives in perfect harmony.

More on the equally ultimate, unity and diversity:

The Father is God just as the Son is God, but an essential property of the Father’s *person* (not to be confused with the ontological essence), which merely is to say it can only be predicated to the person of the Father, is his relationship to the Son and the Holy Spirit. Being distinct persons, there are differences between the members of the Holy Trinity. The Father is not God apart from his intra-Trinitarian relationships. That to say, the Father is not God apart from being a member of the Trinity. These Trinitarian relationships are essential properties of personhood, not essence (lest Father is Son). If we cannot distinguish properties in this way, we cannot distinguish persons. Accordingly,  f does not equal s because neither f nor s have the same intra-Trinitarian relationship with the other two divine persons in the Godhead. So, as we fill in what it means for f and s to be g, we do so not in a vacuum but with other biblical propositions in view, informing us of g as it pertains f and s. Indeed, it is true that f is g and s is g, and if that was the end of the story we might be in trouble. Without further elaboration, f is  g plus s is g is consistent with  modalism, so we needn’t be surprised that such constructs, though true, must be interpreted through a biblical lens in order to avoid heresy.

Although I don’t deny the prima facie intuitive notions surrounding 1-7 that can lead to a conundrum, it can be maintained on the consistency of God and his desire to communicate to his people that those intuitive notions that appear logically problematic can disappear when we presuppose additional revelation, which is not to say that mysteries can be solved. Logic cannot solve true mysteries, but biblically informed logical pursuit can demonstrate that certain doctrines are not actually seemingly-contradictory.  It’s when we think intuitively, which is to say apart from Scripture, we can get in trouble. As I've noted elsewhere, that's an insight of Van Til's apologetic but not one that I think he carried into this thinking on paradox. (For instance, when we use only experience unaided by revelation we can think one essence necessarily implies one person; when we presuppose Scripture we can know that proposition is false.)

Finally, the original formulation if it is interpreted as allowing for f=s, (which is prior to the intra-Trinitarian elaboration that forbids such an interpretation), ends up implying that the sending of the Son was arbitrary, which means the Son could have sent the Father. The arbitrariness is not demanded by the original construct (1-7), rather it comes as a result of an interpretation of the original construct that does not consider other biblical truths, such as each divine person in his intra-Trinitarian relationship with the other two divine persons. In other words, without, for instance, an elaboration of how the Son relates to the Father, 1-7 might be wrongly inferred as implying an apparent contradiction, leaving it open that the Son could have sent the Father. In the final analyses, the original construct of 1-7 is true and it is fine as far as it goes; I believe it is most suitable for a creed, but it is not a full blown theology of the Trinity, which a creed ought not to be.

Finally, regarding the arbitrariness noted above (an idea I gleaned from Robert Letham's writings), there is good reason to believe that there is an actual appropriateness that the Son was sent in the incarnation and not the Holy Spirit, but the first construct is void of such implication.We may learn of the ontological relationship through the economic activity, as Dr. Letham rightly pointed out in his review of Dr. Robert Reymond’s Systematic Theology. So for example (and as Dr. Letham has written here) the submission to Father by the Son reveals something of who the Son is prior to his incarnation, which is consistent with the turning over of the kingdom to the Father by the Son in the eschatological consummation.


Free Website Counter