Tuesday, May 27, 2008

More Muddled Musings & Flip Wilson's Geraldine

{Click on the title to see what I'm talking about.}

Somewhat of a mantra (or at least a reoccurring theme) on this site has been “inclinations are never chosen” for if they were (and if choices are always according to inclinations) then it stands to reason that any choice would require an infinite regress of choices and inclinations. Paralyses would set in before anyone ever chose anything!

When Misty Irons states that “the homosexual orientation [is] a fallen and yet unchosen condition…” what distinction is she trying to draw? After all, are any of our fallen inclinations chosen? Does the married man, for instance, who is bent on lusting after strange women (or strange animals for that matter), choose such an inclination? Of course not for our inclinations are never chosen. Notwithstanding, most certainly our present inclinations and subsequent choices flow from the font of past inclinations acted upon. The man who acts in such a way as to sear his conscience will be able to act in that same manner with much less resistance the next time similar temptation comes to bear. Conversely, the man who exercises himself unto godliness, gaining increasingly greater mastery over his members, is able to resist the devil with less effort when temptation should come through the hand of divine providence moving the pawn-tempter. So, although we don’t choose our inclinations directly, our choices certainly impact our future inclinations and subsequent choices. There is something called will-formation after all. The world is rational and our choices do have consequences for which we are responsible.

So why is it that the sin of lusting after the same sex should gain some special status of consideration as opposed to the acts of thievery, serial killing or bestiality for that matter? All of these transgressions proceed from inclinations that are in accordance with a “fallen and yet unchosen condition” do they not? Now obviously lusting after the same sex is unnatural in a way that other sinful desires are not. Desiring shelter in a storm, for instance, is natural even though such a natural desire could become sinful when the shelter gained is against the owner’s wishes. So, at least in some sense, the inclination to lay down with the same sex is more deviant than otherwise lawful desires that are desired unlawfully. However, does even a severe step-change in abnormality give us occasion to question whether one is less culpable for his transgression, or give us any more occasion to pause and reconsider the simple remedy for sin, which is a persistence in heart felt confession, true repentance and genuine faith in God? Is the fact that our fallen nature is not chosen any reason at all to cause us to approach the more deviant behaviors with a different antidote, or more sympathetically than God does? (Even a non-nouthetic counselor should agree.)

Let me now substitute “axe murderers” for “gay men” and “homosexual” in Mrs. Irons’s quote:
“But it's not enough to present abstract doctrines and theological definitions. I also read from the testimonies of two axe murderers who were professing Christians who talked about what it was like to grow up with the dawning awareness that they were axe murderers. To me this was the centerpiece of the class, because if you haven't heard people describe it for themselves, you can never fully appreciate what people mean when they say, ‘I didn't choose this.’ I don't know how people in the class felt about those testimonies, but everyone listened in a respectful silence.”
Now I can almost hear the sound of well meaning Christians saying “Come on Ron. Certainly you see the difference between being an axe murderer and a homosexual.” Well, not really – at least not in any consequential sense when God’s word as opposed to autonomous reason becomes our standard. God does not draw a relevant distinction between the two transgressions, other than that the latter one is often a sign of reprobation! (Romans1:27, 28) Special revelation would have us believe that God’s abhorrence often precedes the abominable practice of homosexuality and not the reverse. God’s wrath already abides upon the homosexual and his sin is just a foretaste of what is to come if he doesn’t repent. The transgressions are indeed equal in that those who would engage in the abominable practices of murder and homosexuality are to be punished by death (Exodus. 21:12; Leviticus 20:13) and await God’s eternal damnation. (1 Corinthians 6:9; Galatians 5:19-21; Ephesians 5:5; Revelation 21:8) The fact of the matter remains, the acts of murder and homosexuality proceed from the very same “unchosen condition” that has not been buffeted and brought under subjection.

At the end of the day, Mrs. Irons is for some reason impressed by the lame testimonies of a certain category of transgressor that reduce to no more than Geraldine's quip “the devil made me do it.” That the human condition, whether fallen or remade, and its associated inclinations are not chosen is as irrelevant for the homosexual as it is for the common punk-thief, Flip Wilson's Geraldine (pictured above), and the sinner whose heart has been subdued by grace. Men are responsible for their inclinations and choices because God says so. Some men get justice and others get grace. Nobody gets injustice from the hand of God.

What is most terrifying is that Mrs. Irons is teaching in a PCA church, if I am to believe her Blog entry. What is more alarming is her observation that “No one [in her class] was hostile, everyone was trying to think and understand. Maybe the reason it all went so well was because our church is very young. The vast majority of members are in their 20's and 30's.” Would these 20 and 30 year old Christians sympathize with the testimony of a self-deceived axe murderer, rapist, thief, or whoremonger who would dare justify himself with: “I didn’t choose this..."?

What an insidious approach of Satan’s it is to use a former minister’s wife who claims to be Reformed to legitimize in any respect a practice that in then end will bring eternal torment to those who would indulge themselves, even according to an “unchosen condition.” To the secularist, Mrs. Irons appears more loving than your run of the mill Reformed Christian. Yet one need not be a profound exegete or an acute logician to navigate through the muddled musings of Mrs. Irons. One simply needs to be committed to Scripture over feelings, that’s all. But again, and with all sincerity, what should we expect from those whose primary form of revelation on such matters is “natural” and not “special”?


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Friday, May 23, 2008

Lee Irons & Theonomy

In an attempt to reduce the theonomic thesis to absurdity, Lee Irons took a swipe at various quotes from the late Greg Bahnsen. I’ve dealt with just a few of Irons’s arguments (italics) below.
"The ‘No other standard’ argument [is] ‘Where else can we find God's standards for socio-political justice, except in Scripture, particularly, the Mosaic civil legislation? If we reject the divinely-revealed civil law, we are left with no other standard, condemned to wander in a fog of personal bias and subjective relativism.’

One way to respond to this argument is to question the assumption that Scripture is a sufficient source of guidance for societal and political questions. No doubt the Bible contains many general principles that are to be observed, but why should it be regarded as a detailed blueprint for society? After all, we don't go to the Bible to find specific directions for other equally important human endeavors, such as art and architecture, literature, the culinary arts, medicine, technology, etc.
Dr. Bahnsen’s claim is that the rejection of “standards” in the realm of civil government leads to subjective relativism. Irons, however, addresses a different thesis all together, having to do with a “detailed blueprint” – one that gives “specific” directions. Irons tries to support his argument by noting that Bible does not give us specific directions for architecture, literature, culinary arts and other endeavors he says are “equally important.” In passing we might note that if is true that the Bible has given us no standard for such endeavors, then Irons’s claim that such endeavors are “equally important” is of course a dubious one since the Bible has much to say about the role of civil government.

The Westminster Confession affirms that the general equity of the OT civil law is applicable for today. Accordingly, it is confessional to argue that the God-ordained punishment for rape is death. The general equity of that punishment for such wrongdoers, of course, would not include the mode of punishment (e.g. stoning verses firing squad), for that would entail a “detailed blueprint” containing “specific directions” that go beyond the general equity of the law in view. Accordingly, that the Bible does not disclose a detailed recipe for baking a cake or finding a cure of cancer should not discourage us from obtaining a defensible justification for putting lawfully convicted rapists to death. A more thoroughgoing argument would have to be put forth to lead us to the conclusion that God has abrogated the death penalty for rapists.

At best, Irons’s argument reduces to: if the Bible doesn’t tell me how to build a bridge, write a literary masterpiece, create a scrumptious meal, develop a cure for cancer or design and manufacture an integrated circuit, then we should not assume it is sufficient to guide us in the realm civil government. Presumably, Irons believes that the Bible is a source of guidance for at least some things, such as how one obtains peace with God. Yet does the Bible’s silence on the specifics of modern medicine cast doubt on the general equity of the law as it pertains to the temporal punishment for transgressions such a rape? “Has God said?”

“The Westminster Confession acknowledges that there are areas of life "which
are to be ordered by the light of nature, and Christian prudence, according to
the general rules of the Word, which are always to be observed" (WCF I.6).

Implicit in Irons’s assertion is the following argument: If there are areas of life that are to be governed by light of nature, according to the general rules of the Word, then we cannot know which sins are to punished by civil magistrate and what those punishments should be.

The civil case laws of the OT, being God’s law, could have never been at odds with the light of nature, which is also God’s law. Accordingly, we may always look to the civil case laws without fear of contradicting the light of nature. After all, are we to suspect that under the older economy Israel could have violated God-given conscience by submitting to God’s given word? In other words, was there a tension for the OT believer between submitting to natural law and special revelation? Or, does the light of nature tell us today that a rapist should live but under the older economy it confirmed death?

If there are areas of life that are not covered by the case laws yet are covered by the light of nature, then of course we’d have no choice but to rely on the law of nature. In such cases we’d have no way of offering a justification of what we could know, but neither would such a reliance in such circumstances invalidate the contemporary validity of the case law. Essentially, all Irons has asserted is that if there are some instances that the civil case laws are impotent, then they are irrelevant in all circumstances.
Scripture is not sufficient for the art of cologne and perfume manufacture, although one particular recipe is given in the Mosaic law (Exod. 30:23-25). Does that mean we should only make the Levitical perfume? Are all other non-Biblical scents autonomous and sinful?

Irons’s argument reduces to:

1. Scripture is not sufficient for the art of cologne and perfume manufacturing

2. Scripture delineates a recipe for anointing oil

3. All other scents are not sinful

4. Therefore, the civil case laws are not applicable for today

Typically, where Reformed thinkers disagree is over the justification of the premises pumped into validly formed arguments. I the case of Mr. Irons's argument, I'm afraid we don't even agree on what a validly formed argument even looks like.
Properly defined, the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture states that the Bible is "the only rule of faith and obedience," (WLC # 3), directing us "how we may glorify and enjoy" God (WSC # 2). The Scriptures "principally teach what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man" (WSC # 3). In other words, as Paul states, the primary purpose of Scripture is to "make us wise unto salvation through faith in Christ Jesus" (2 Tim. 3:15).

Irons’s argument reduces to: If the Bible principally teaches how man may be saved, then it may not teach us how to govern ourselves in the realm of civil magistrate. Is an internal critique of such an assertion even necessary?

What I find most amusing over the controversy that surrounded Mr. Irons is that it was the non-theonomists who were so outraged at the trajectory of their own position. Irons was merely representing the non-theonomic thesis with shocking clarity.

If nothing else, Reformed Christians should appreciate that the light of nature does not reveal to us which sins are punishable by civil magistrate, let alone what those punishments should be. Accordingly, apart from the theonomic thesis there can be no objective standard for the penalty of steeling a loaf of bread for a starving child. Subjective relativism can always justify death in such cases. Whereas theonomy (i.e. God's law) offers an epistemologically sound justification for a lesser penalty. With respect to harsher crimes, such as rape, does the non-theonomist think that death is never an appropriate sanction, or is it just to be considered a sanction that can no longer be defended by Scripture? At the very least, if we are to govern ourselves strictly by the light of nature apart from special revelation, wouldn't the non-theonomic Christian be constrained to argue that all sins deserve death, since all men know by nature that the just wages for all sins is eternal destruction? Since the light of nature argument fails the non-theonomist, shouldn't he then be willing to concede that the penalties of the civil case laws of the OT are at least permissible today, even if they were no longer required? Or is it that we may only legislate laws that do not resemble those given to ancient Israel? What is it to be non-theonomic after all?

How does the non-theonomist, without being arbitrary and inconsistent, refute Mr. Irons's conviction that same sex marriage, although still sinful in the modern world by his estimation, is biblically justified as a God given civil right? Again, what is it to be non-theonomic after all?


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Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Back To The Garden

The theological perspective that posits that Adam would have been confirmed in righteousness and translated into a state in which he could no longer sin had he passed an alleged probation period is not deducible from Scripture. After all, if it were, then I would think that someone in the history of the church would have proved it by now. What is most insidious is not that theologians speculate but that they raise their speculations to the level of revelation. After vain speculations become canonized, then it’s only a matter of time that those who are constrained by sola scriptura will be chastised for not affirming in their dogmatic assertions that which goes beyond the boundaries of sound exegesis. "Good and necessary inference" has taken on new meaning I'm afraid.
As John Frame so aptly noted:
"For thirty years or so there has been a movement in American evangelicalism to
recover the past, to remedy the “rootlessness” that many have felt in
evangelical churches. In the 1950s and ‘60s, the intellectual leaders of
evangelicalism were for the most part biblical scholars, apologists, and
systematic theologians. But at the end of the twentieth century, church
historians, and theologians who do their work in dialogue with ancient and
recent history, have become more prominent. Reformed theology has participated
in this development, so that many of its most prominent figures, such as [I’ve
deleted the names] do theology in a historical mode. The history-oriented
theologians tend to be uncritical of traditions and critical of the contemporary
church. But their arguments are often based on their preferences rather than
biblical principle and therefore fail to persuade. The Reformed community, in my
judgment, needs to return to an explicitly exegetical model of theology,
following the example of John Murray."

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Saturday, May 10, 2008

Reformed Folk & The Power of Contrary Choice

Libertarian free will (LFW) can simply be defined as the ability to choose contrary to how one will. My position on the matter is straightforward. LFW is a philosophical surd. If it is true that one can choose contrary to how he will, then the future God believes will come to pass might not come to pass; and even if the future does come to pass as God believes, he will not have been justified in his belief. He would have just been lucky.

John Frame once noted: “I don't know how many times I have asked candidates for licensure and ordination whether we are free from God's decree, and they have replied ‘No, because we are fallen.’ That is to confuse libertarianism (freedom from God's decree, ability to act without cause) with freedom from sin. In the former case, the fall is entirely irrelevant. Neither before nor after the fall did Adam have freedom in the libertarian sense. But freedom from sin is something different. Adam had that before the fall, but lost it as a result of the fall.”

I resonated with John’s observation the very first time I read his lament. This is a very serious matter. These men to whom John refers may have very well been ordained and licensed in Reformed denominations (or gone to teach at seminary), yet without any appreciation for the implications of their religious philosophy.

It’s one thing not to appreciate that Adam was not able to choose contrary to how he chose. It’s quite another thing to accuse as being in opposition to the Reformed confessions one who does appreciate the folly of the philosophical notion of “the power of contrary choice”.

Recently, on a well known Reformed website, I was accused by an ordained servant in a Reformed denomination that I was “outright denying that Adam was created righteous and innocent, contrary to all the Reformed confessions.” If this were indeed true, then I trust by God’s grace I'd give up my office as an elder in my denomination.

In a discussion having to do with the freedom of the will in general and Adam's first sin in particular, my "opponent" asserted that Adam could have chosen contrary to how he did, which of course I deny (and in this instance challenged the notion).

I was told by this ordained servant (who I will simply refer to as OS) that:

The pre-Fall and post-Fall distinction is what is completely escaping you.

I responded: “Did the metaphysics surrounding LFW change with the fall?” (John Frame's point I believe.)

Given OS’s assertion regarding the distinction he thinks I am missing, it would seem to follow that he thinks the metaphysics surrounding LFW has been altered since the time sin entered into the human race. Yet OS (somewhat happily) responded with: “The mechanics of how man chooses something are the same before and after: he can always choose what his nature determines that he can choose.”

Now OS was close to correct with his answer. I did offer him a minor correction though: “The nature determines no action of choice. The nature simply determines the moral quality of the choice that will necessarily occur according to the inclination at the moment of choice. So then, an unregenerate man will sin; his nature determines that he must. His nature, however, does not determine what sin he will choose.”

Although OS indexed the determination of the actual choice to the nature (as opposed to correctly indexing it to the inclination that is consistent with the nature), he was indeed correct when he stated that the “mechanics of how man chooses something are the same before and after.” So given that OS affirms this with me that the mechanics of choosing have not changed since the fall, I am confused as to what he thinks is escaping me with respect to the “pre-Fall and post-Fall distinction”. (Could it be that he is thinking inconsistently, like those to whom John Frame was referring?)

I reject the notion of the power of contrary choice, just as OS says he does. I reject the notion that the metaphysics of choosing has changed since the fall, just as OS says he does. The only disagreement we had communicated, and it is a big one, is that OS affirms that “Adam could have willed to do the right thing” and in saying so, OS also affirmed that “[the impetus] would have come immediately from Adam, even though such ability to choose the good had been given him by God.” It would seem that he attributes this to the “power” Adam had (see below) and the “pre-Fall and post-Fall” distinction (noted above). For now we might just note that OS affirms two mutually exclusive propositions.

OS: “Let me state that again: Adam could NOT have thwarted God’s will in the garden.” “What I am saying is that Adam could have willed to do the right thing.” “Are you denying that Adam could have chosen to obey?”

Mustn’t it be true that if Adam truly could have acted contrary to how he did, then Adam truly could have acted contrary to God’s decree? After all, had Adam acted as OS says he could, then the decree would have been thwarted - hence OS's contradiction.

OS also stated: “You are outright denying that Adam was created righteous and innocent, contrary to all the Reformed confessions.

This is false. What I stated (and argued) was that Adam was not able to choose contrary to how he did, yet this is does not imply that Adam was not created righteous or innocent.

The ability to choose contrary to how one will is libertarian freedom, a philosophical surd that being created innocent and righteous cannot legitimize. I deny LFW and, therefore, affirm that Adam could not choose contrary to how he did. OS claims to deny LFW yet asserts that Adam could have chosen contrary to how he did. What OS has done is the deny the literal label LFW, while affirming its meaning! So we have two things going on here – my alleged apostasy from the Reformed confessions and OS's internal contradictions. (Something tells me that the allegations are being driven by the contradictions.) With respect to what I have been accused of, does my denial of Adam’s supposed ability to choose contrary to how he did lead one to rationally conclude that consistency on my part would require me to deny that Adam was created in righteousness and innocence? A premise would seem to be missing in that line of reasoning.

OS also said: “You deny that Adam was created with the power to obey.

This is false. As I clearly noted: “YES Adam prior to falling had the ‘power’ to perform spiritual good. Just as Tom’s quote from Calvin notes, Adam had the power to choose good over evil, but as Calvin also noted in that same excerpt, this power could be exercised ‘if he so willed; so now we have power and what Calvin called ‘the will’ to contend with. The ‘power’ is akin to the nature and liberty – liberty being the ability to act as one wants – the nature in that case being un-fallen, yet mutable. Accordingly, Adam could have stood and not fallen – ‘if he [so] wished’ – which is to say – had he been so inclined..."

I was most clear in my affirmation that Adam had the power to obey. Nonetheless, the power to obey does not imply that Adam could have chosen contrary to how he did anymore than a car’s power to run can direct the car in a direction contrary to the way in which it ends up moving. What OS did seems rather apparent. OS equivocated over the use of the word "power". He apparently confused the "power" the Confession speaks about with the "power of contrary choice"! He assumes that Adam had the power to choose contrary to how he did, which is LFW.

Toward the end, OS stated just prior to locking the thread: “you are using the term “molinist” as if it was all about Adam’s will before the Fall, and wasn’t about middle knowledge and man’s ability after the fall. You cannot project the one onto the other, like you are so obviously doing. I am very tired of this thread, and am therefore closing it.

I’m hesitant to even try to address this remark because it lacks any discernable progression of thought. It’s more of an emotional outburst than anything else I’m afraid. What I will note, however, is that OS has seemed to miss the relevance of my reference to his Molinistic type assertions. OS is under the impression that since he affirms that God’s plan could not be thwarted, he is somehow Reformed in his thoughts about the will of Adam. I merely pointed out to him: “OS, no Molinist thinks that God’s decree won’t come to pass (or be thwarted). Molinism affirms two essential points: 1) Man will act in accordance to God’s decree; and 2) man could act contrary to how he will. Both of these sentiments you have affirmed in this thread. Accordingly, you do not distance yourself from the Molinist when you say that man will act in accordance with God’s decree. This is precisely what Alvin Plantinga and W.L. Craig affirm. You affirm the tenets of Molinism when you say that Adam *could* have acted differently than he did. The Molinist says, as do you, that Adam could have chosen contrary to how he did, yet that Adam would choose according to God’s decree (i.e. not thwart God’s decree).”

In the final analyses, if OS truly denied LFW, wouldn't he deny that Adam could have chosen contrary to how he chose? Yet he’s not willing to do this. In fact, he bolstered his argument by attributing Adam’s alleged freedom to choose contrary to how he did to the “pre-Fall distinction”, affirming my suspicion that he falls into the category of those examined by John Frame.

God’s plan according to Molinists who affirm LFW will not be thwarted. Accordingly, the affirmation that God’s plan will come to pass is not evidence to convict one of the repudiation of LFW. So, OS’s appeal to God’s immutable decree is of no help to him since all good Arminians affirm this. (I am not suggesting for a moment that OS is Arminian; I have little doubt he affirms the "Five Points.") I seriously do wonder whether OS believes that fallen men can choose different sins than they do and whether men in glory will be able to choose different righteous deeds than they will. If he does believe this, then he is quite consistent with his libertarian freedom philosophy. If he should answer NO, then he is happily inconsistent and simply consigns LFW to the prelapsarian paradigm.

I’m not saddened so much that men don’t appreciate the distinctions that I have tried to make on this subject. Nor am I terribly surprised that ordained servants are sometimes confused in their thinking when it comes to the metaphysics of choice. I am saddened, however, how easily people – especially when they are ordained servants – are willing to say that X-and-so does not affirm the Reformed standards. That is a far-reaching problem in our day.

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