Saturday, April 19, 2008

Further response to Bnonn

It's not an appeal to authority. I am just presenting Lewis's take on the matter, one that I agree with in point of fact, and which I believe I can defend. The idea that you can somehow theologically to Scripture as a blank slate to be written on with no presuppositions or questions of one's own is alien to my way of thinking, and quite implausible based on my understanding of epistemology.

The trouble is that Scripture only indirectly addresses the problems that we are interested in. In Romans 9, for example, Paul is concerned not about the election of individuals but in explaining the unbelief of Israel and explaining how God's promises were not broken.

What you get in Scripture are some strands emphasizing sovereignty, some emphasizing personal responsiblity, and strands emphasizing the universality of love. So what people do is extrapolate. Strictly speaking Scripture can't answer the question of predestination as you and I would ask it, because it doesn't ask the question. I can extrapolate in ways that require me to set aside my strongest moral convictions (I don't even like saying intuitions here) or I can avail myself of extrapolations that don't require abandoning what I take to be very basic moral convictions.

Scripture doesn't even begin to function authoritatively unless a person thinks there is a omnipotent, omniscient and perfectly good being. Since God by definition is a being who is omniscient, omnipotent, and perfectly good, what that means is that, at least logically, we have to know how to use the word "good" before we could possibly know how to use the word "God." And Scripture doesn't get its authority until we have the conviction that it comes from God, which we would not be able to recognize even if we had a pre-existing conception of "good."

What I am more or less a skeptic about is the extent to which we can get the precise meaning out of Scripture via historical-grammatical analyses. I don't believe that final doctrinal answers can be read off these kinds of analyses. They are very helpful, but they are quite human attempts to put me inside the mind of people 20 centuries distant from me who spoke a language I don't speak. Further, exegetes seem to me to reflect the theological biases they bring to the text.

Then we have to look closely at the kind of inerrancy we are dealing with. Scripture passages would have led people in OT times to believe that righteous conduct results in earthly reward and wicked conduct results in earthly punishment. Passages in, for example Deuteronomy, would strongly lead us to think that. That's probably was the comforters of Job had in mind. I am sure they were the best exegetes in town. They just got it wrong.

7 comments:

Mike Darus said...

Victor,
You are right about the affect of presuppositions. The best approach to theology is to admit one's presuppositions and try to factor against that in one's conclusions. It is good that you admit to your epistemology. You favor reason when cornered with difficult Scripture.

First: I challenge your definition of God. By defining God as omnipotent, omniscient and perfectly good, you only play into the caricature of God presented by those looking for the POE. There are more fundamental aspects of God's character that must be included and defined in such a way that there are not contradictory.

Second: I agree that we need to be careful about Scriptural proofs of issues that Scripture does not address, but this is not excuse to reject Scriptural data that is relevant in favor of a philosophical approach. I wonder if you really want to favor philosophy over revelation in the same way that Lewis seemed ready to favor God's goodness over inerrancy.

Third: Be careful of rejecting an authoritative biblical revelation because of a caricature of inerrancy. Inerrancy does not require belief that righteous conduct always results in earthly rewards. In fact, the Psalms are filled with complaints to God that this is not the case all the time. The idea of a heavenly reward is appealed to as a remedy for the apparent injustice in this life of evil rewarded and good punished. The thoughtful inerrancy I was taught recognizes the progressive nature of revelation where Old Testament questions receive New Testament insights. And every commentator I am aware of agrees that Job's counselors were often wrong. There are many errors and untruths recorded in Scripture authoritatively. There is a lot of room for treating Scripture as authoritative before you get to a literalistic, blind inerrrancy

Jonathan said...

Dr. Reppert,
'm currently a philosophy major at Wheaton College (IL), and next year I'll be going to grad. school in phil. I'm a fan of your blog and your book. Thanks for your good work in both. I I'm a bit distressed, however, with your all out assault on that which is so treasured by so many (a strong doctrine of providence).

Sadly, the "God of the philosophers" (hereafter GOP) seems to have taken hold of your mind. You and I both know that God is trinitarian, and I suggest we start with that as a foundational element of our theology. The Christian God is not the GOP. Neither is our God the god of natural theology. From natural reasoning it might be possible to become a deist, but I hope you can agree that special revelation is needed to get to our trinitarian God. We aren't in the OT or the NT times, and we now have the canon of Scripture against which we have discovered that God is trinitarian (and surely that is a non-negotiable doctrine).

Why messy this discussion up by insisting that we first think of God as trinitarian? For a couple of reasons.
1) We shouldn't base our theological beliefs on a faulty foundation of who God is. After finding solutions to theological problems (e.g. providence and love) that uses only the GOP, we now have to fit this solution into the true definition of God as trinitarian. And that completely throws a wrench into things.

Is God's trinitarian-ness irrelevant to the discussion of providence? If it is, then toss out the doctrine of God's simplicity because now we've decided that some of God's attributes truly can be compartmentalized.

When we insist on reasoning about a *trinitarian* God, then we've truly engaged in *Christian* philosophy. Ironically, this particular discussion about Calvinism or Arminianism could comport well with deist discussions about who God is. Thank God we've actually started using Scripture. Now we just need to think of God as the Church has agreed he's portrayed himself (i.e. trinitarian).

2) When we start talking about God as trinitarian, we avail ourselves of thinking of God as the mystery that he is, which opens up proper mindsets for thinking on the doctrine of providence. The doctrine of providence is largely a doctrine about God's transcendence and other-ness. It largely relies on a strong Creator/creature distinction. But because you've continue to think of God's providence in rather creaturely analogies, you seem to run into problems.

I, as a Calvinist, still have a good idea of what "love" and "goodness" are. And I trust that God has both perfectly. I also have a good idea of personal responsibility. In fact, I have a good deal of it. HOWEVER, I personally feel that the clear witness of Scripture points toward a strong view of providence.

How do the 3 (God's goodness, my responsibility, and God's sovereignty) all fit together? I don't know; but I know why I can't know. I can't know because I'm not a trinitarian Creator God. There are certain ways in which we can't relate with God. The particular transcendent ways of God will, then, remain mysterious to us. You don't ask how God creates ex nihilo. You don't ask how God hears everyone's prayers at once. Similarly, his sovereignty is one of those qualities that is a mystery to us. We cannot identify with that quality of God. **To try and solve the problem as you are doing is to engage in a category mistake**.

How do we live in the light of this? With the clear knowledge that God in Christ has shown his love to us on the cross, and that we all know we're responsible for those actions which we commit. Meanwhile, we trust that we are in non-competition with God's sovereignty.

Paul Manata said...

Hi Dr. Reppert,

Since your WCP against Calvinism was burried so far below, I thought I'd let you know (up here) that I have responded to your WCP post.

http://triablogue.blogspot.com/2008/04/repperts-latest-try-at-undermining.html

I'd be interested to know what you think of it.

normajean said...

Good post, Victor! This also proves that Calvinists (not Arminians only) do philosophy when reading scripture.

Darek Barefoot said...

Victor

Your post will change few opinions, but it is an excellent statement. That kind of reflection on God's qualities and our response makes me think of Jonah 3:11.

Dominic Bnonn Tennant said...

Victor, thanks for your post. I have replied at http://bnonn.thinkingmatters.org.nz/?p=68.

Regards,
Bnonn

Anonymous said...

"Your post will change few opinions, but it is an excellent statement. That kind of reflection on God's qualities and our response makes me think of Jonah 3:11."

There is no Jonah 3:11...