Thursday, May 22, 2008

Some notes on the exchange

I am wondering if the following type of analysis might be helpful. 

Suppose I were to argue as follows. 

1. Given the fact that Calvinism violates my conception of what it is for God to be good, I ought to accept it only if it can be established biblically beyond a reasonable doubt. 
2. Probably, Calvinism cannot be established biblically beyond a reasonable doubt. 
3. Therefore, probably, I should not accept Calvinism. 

1 can be objected to by saying that my belief concerning what it is for God to be good is based on a mere "intuition" or gut feeling. But of course, to my mind, it is central to retaining a reasonably strong analogy between divine goodness and human goodness. I think Calvinists leave the analogy far too weak.  Some allowances for the creator-creature distinction, and, more importantly, a difference in knowledge and wisdom must be considered. But there are limits on how far that goes. 

Consider the fact, for example, that Allah of the Muslims is a creator-God. We are, if Islam is true, the creatures of Allah. But one of the main reasons I have for accepting Christianity and not Islam is the moral superiority of the God of Christianity to Allah. A God who does the sort of things Allah is said to have done is, in my view, not a good God. A good Muslim would probably say "Who are you, o Victor Reppert, to answer back to Allah?" but it seems to me that the moral failings of Allah represent a good reason to reject Islam in favor of an alternative view of God. I would be answering back to a God that, in my view, does not exist, or if he did, would not qualify as possessing the three characteristic of God: Omniscience, omnipotence, and perfect goodness. 

Now my definition of beyond reasonable doubt is evidence sufficiently strong to justify and execution. Scripture teaches plenty of things beyond reasonable doubt: God's creation of the world, Jesus' resurrection, human sin, Jesus' crucifixion, the Ten Commandments, etc. But predestination? That strikes me as a judgment call at best. 

But notice that in this argument all I am doing is using my conception of divine goodness to impose a strong burden of proof on theologies that undermine it. In doing so I am certainly not rejecting inerrancy. It seems that some people are suggesting that in order to be a good Christian I have to commit myself not  only to Scripture's inerrancy, but to its counterfactual inerrancy.  "What if you were to discover that Scripture teaches Calvinism?" Well, I could ask "What if you were to discover that Scripture clearly teaches that Jesus predicted his own return within the lifetimes of the disciples. Would you still be a Bible-believing Christian?" 

I don't think I'm going to dedicate my life to examining this question biblically. It seem highly unlikely antecedently that it is the case. I am interested in Scripture study and in seeing how people from different theologies react to different passages. I'd like to know, for example, how a God who controls all things can sorrow over what humans have done. How he can seek lost sinners when all he has to do is bestow irresistible grace and guarantee their return to the fold. But for the most part, this is probably not the best use of my talents. Am I sticking my head in the sand? No, I am adjusting my belief system as evidence comes in, like a good Bayesian. I could be mistaken about all sorts of things. 

Am I not open to the teaching of Scripture? Do I have no clue what it means to be a Christian?The argument doesn't show that. As I indicated, Scripture teaches a lot of things beyond a reasonable doubt. It could have taught Calvinism beyond a reasonable doubt. It doesn't.  

19 comments:

Paul Manata said...

Victor,

1. Can be objected to by *rebutting* it *or* providing a theodicy *or* showing that you yourself, by your own standards, given your own method of arguing, would have so say that *your conception* of God isn't good.

I have advanced objections as those three above and have not had a response.

To act as if the only objection to (1) is to say, "But those are just intuitions" is to *massively minimize* the arguments that have been offered to your position. Indeed, it makes it seem that you never even bothered reading a single post in response to you.

2. can be objected by pointing out that you haven't even engaged in the exegetical debate. You haven't even tried to understand and grasp the arguments from Calvinists. I see this easily in your constant misrepresentation and caricature of their position.

Furthermore, are you trying to present a *cogent* argument against Calvinism? It seems to me that you've been preaching to the choir. You have assumed libertarianism, Arminianism, etc. But, *given the truth of these,* then *of course* Calvinism has problems. But usually, when debating with someone, you are trying to convince them. To show *them* that they are in error. I mean, why even post? Most your blog readers are already Arminans, or worse! :-), so they never needed an argument.

You also attempted to give *inernal* critiques against us. If *that* was the argument you were giving, it has been refuted. We showed that *at least* we have the resources to render our position internally consistent.

Given the above, you have not made your case and you also have been given defeaters such that you are not even warranted in holding *your theology* without sufficiently answering the arguments that have been advanced against your position.

You could remedy this by reading the posts and sufficiently responding to them.

Mike Darus said...

Victor,
I agree with Paul in the sense that you should be more specific about your objection. Your argument is likely not with all of Calvinism. Your objection to God predestining those to be damned is only against Supralapsarian Calvinists (rejected by the Council of Dort). You need to battle against everything called Calvinism; it is too wide a swathe.

Also, remember that the task of good theology is to best understand both natural and special revelation with an emphasis on special revelation. It is special revelation that is most likely to provide the answer to the question being asked.

Mike Darus said...

oops
"...you need NOT to batttle against everything..."

I thought we used to be able to edit our own posts after it was published.

Dominic Bnonn Tennant said...

Victor, does this mean, as per point (2), that you're finally going to take the plunge and attempt to provide a genuine justification for your theology, by establishing it from the text of Scripture rather than from your personal intuition?

Regards,
Bnonn

Dominic Bnonn Tennant said...

It seems that some people are suggesting that in order to be a good Christian I have to commit myself not only to Scripture's inerrancy, but to its counterfactual inerrancy. "What if you were to discover that Scripture teaches Calvinism?" Well, I could ask "What if you were to discover that Scripture clearly teaches that Jesus predicted his own return within the lifetimes of the disciples. Would you still be a Bible-believing Christian?"

What you've said here doesn't seem very coherent. I think the use of the term "counterfactual" probably has something to do with it. Perhaps ex hypothesi would have been a better choice of words. But mostly it's the vast disanalogy between the examples in your analogy. In one case, you're arguing that we should not believe in Scripture's inerrancy in the event that it unequivocally contradicts itself by teaching an undeniable falsehood. Obviously Calvinists would agree. Yet you then try to liken this to not believing in its inerrancy if it teaches something which contradicts us—that is, somee intuition which we hold dear.

Surely you can see the category error you've made? If Scripture ex hypothesi teaches Calvinism, it can still be inerrant. It contains no logical incoherence or error in this event. Inerrancy is not disproved or even threatened. We have shown this quite exhaustively. On the other hand, if Scripture ex hypothesi teaches that Jesus predicted his return within the lifetime of his disciples, then an obvious contradiction—an obvious error—exists. Inerrancy is thus not only threatened, but totally disproved.

There is a vast difference between the ex hypothesi situation of Calvinism being taught in Scripture, and the ex hypothesi situation of an undeniably false prophecy being taught in Scripture by our Lord. The difference is so vast, in fact, and so obvious, that you'll forgive me for saying that it's simply a specious analogy.

Regards,
Bnonn

Mike Darus said...

Victor,
I think you would be on more solid ground if your argument was:
1) Calvinism offers an exegetical theological framework for interpreting Scripture.
2) The conclusions of Calvinism conflict with Victor's conception of what it is for God to be good.
3a) Victor rejects those exegetical and theological constructs of Calvinism that conflict with Victor's conception of what it is for God to be good.
3b) Victor concludes that the theological and exegetical constructs of Calvinism provide an inadequate understanding of Scripture.

I think you are right to avoid Paul Manata's challenge for an exegetical duel. It would only lead to identification of the differences in hermeneutics between Calvinists, Arminimians, Kingdom Theology, etc. You would then discover that the acutal differences are minute. There are far more agreements between these Christians than differences.

On the issue of Jesus predicting his return during the lifetime of the Apostles, Scripture admits to this minsunderstanding of Jesus by the Apostles. This does not threaten inerrancy, it only questions the trustworthiness of illumination (the Holy Spirit's enabling believers to understand revelation).

Darek Barefoot said...

Bnonn

>>In one case, you're arguing that we should not believe in Scripture's inerrancy in the event that it unequivocally contradicts itself by teaching an undeniable falsehood.<<

Well, full preterists would not agree, and they make a case. I don't find the case convincing, but it is not so patently absurd that it requires no refutation. You may have found it necessary to refute them yourself.

Dominic Bnonn Tennant said...

Darek, I wonder if you could clarify. I'm not greatly familiar with what full preterists believe. Surely they do not make the claim that Scripture contains an error yet is simultaneously inerrant? It's impossible to believe both at the same time; it's a contradiction in terms; an incoherent position. It doesn't make enough sense to be believed.

If full preterists believe that Jesus himself unconditionally prophesied his return within the disciples' lifetimes, then they believe that Jesus prophesied falsely. That doesn't just have implications for Scripture's inerrancy, but for the whole doctrine of God. As I said, I'm not hugely familiar with the views of full preterists, but I can't imagine they'd believe that. Presumably they would either argue that Jesus' prophecy was conditional in some way, or that it was not actually a prediction of his immediate return, though it was misunderstood as such by the disciplines themselves?

Regards,
Bnonn

Darek Barefoot said...

Bnonn

The Wikipedia article on preterism is here:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Preterism

There's a pretty good survey article with references to the leading proponents here:

http://www.presence.tv/cms/brief_history_covenant_eschatology.php

One of the local Baptist churches here was torn apart six years ago when the pastor, Tim King, signed (with several dozen other pastors from across the US) a full preterist manifesto called the Nine Point Five Theses. It used to be posted on the Internet but I have been unable to locate it.

Paul Manata said...

Mike,

I only bring up the exegetical challenge when Victor intimates that my doctrine isn't taught in Scripture. If Victor doesn't want to get into an exegetical debate, then don't make statements about Calvinism not being taught in Scripture, or, probably not being taught.

Darek,

You don't need to go all the way to hyper-preterism. A partial-preterist can hold that Jesus returned within that generation.

As far as refuting hyper-preterism, I have offered "two-dozen (or so)" arguments against them:

http://triablogue.blogspot.com/2006/04/two-dozen-or-so-orthodox-arguments.html

Bnonn,

Hyper-preterism is heretical. They go further than a return of Jesus to that generation he spoke to. The claim that *all* eschatological prophecy has been fulfilled. They thus deny the bodily resurrection of the dead, and claim we are living in the new heavens and earth right now (by this they just mean "the new covenant age").

Partial-preterists are orthodox. Some notable ones are: R.C. Sproul, Jay Adams, and Greg Bahnsen. Many others have taken partial-preterist understandings on particular texts.

Basically, the argument is that Jesus said "this generation" would not pass away until they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds.

Now, 'coming on the clouds' is familiar OT judgment language. Many passages speak of Jehovah 'coming on the clouds' or 'riding a cloud' etc., as judgment language. As storms were bad news for people back then, this language makes sense.

So, the partial-preterist takes these claims that occur in the Olivet Discourse and say that Jesus did indeed "come back" to that generation. It was not a *physical* return (that is still to come and can be referred to as the second advent, it's prediction is seen in Acts 1:11, no time text is included there). It was a spiritual return. A return in judgment. Jesus had said that "all the blood of the prophets" would be taken out on "this generation" speaking to the generation that killed Jesus. He said that "not one stone" would remain at the temple. Partial-preterists see this as pointing towards the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 a.d. That Jesus predicted this destruction is fairly clear and many commentators agree that the temple's destruction was what he was referring to in, say, Matt. 24.

Anyway, this *partial* preterist view is orthodox and coherent. There are other views, perhaps better ones, but this PP position is a viable option and fully satisfies the atheological argument Victor raised.

The point here is that the *text* is engaged and seriously dealt with. Rather than just throwing out bombs, as Victor is find of doing, the serious student of the Bible will actually deal with all of these challenges. This PP position doesn't require one to reject inerrancy and also turns into quite the strong apologetic from predictive prophecy.

Now, I'm not claiming this is the correct option, there are others (e.g., idealist/recapitualionist, futurist, historicist, etc.,), but I think it is definitely a viable option and it it can answer virtually all of the atheoilogical objections launched at it. The stronger objections are in house objections, hermeneutical objections.

Darek Barefoot said...

Bnonn

Sorry, that last URL got mangled.

http://www.presence.tv/cms/
brief_history_covenant_
eschatology.php

Dominic Bnonn Tennant said...

Paul, thanks.

Darek, since Victor was talking about falsifying Scripture, I think my original interpretation of him is correct—full preterists notwithstanding. Full preterism does not admit to Scripture being errant, so it doesn't seem relevant to the analogy Victor was drawing. Of course, he can correct me if I have misunderstood.

Regards,
Bnonn

Darek Barefoot said...

Bnonn

Well, can you picture yourself becoming a full preterist and at the same time remaining a Bible-believing Christian? Maybe yes and maybe no, depending on the definition of "Bible-believing Christian."

Paul

I like your icon.

All

It occurs to me that Jason Pratt (a universalist) has one thing in common with Calvinists as opposed to Arminians. He thinks that God will save everyone whom he wants to save.

Those of us who are Arminians, or who like me lean more toward Arminianism than Calvinism, doubt that God will save everyone whom he wants to--because he wants to save everyone and everyone will not be saved.

Does God want sin to occur? Well, it's hard to say in one breath that God absolutely hates sin, that it has no part in him, that he cannot look upon it with approval (I should not have to give the references in this group) and yet also say that he wants it to occur. Yet in that he brought forth the world knowing sin would occur in the plan of salvation, there is some very highly conditioned sense of "want" that we might apply. Very highly conditioned.

In that sin does occur but God absolutely hates it, we seem on firm ground saying there are events that occur that in a very real sense God does not want to occur. This just lies in the intelligibility of the concepts of "hate" and "want."

As to the condemnation of sinners, I would tend to use that very, very, very conditional sense of "want" to say that he wants their condemnation. And I would use a much less conditioned sense of "want" to say that he wants sinners to repent rather than to be everlastingly lost.

It seems to me that much depends on how these senses of "want" are weighted versus each other. Substitute "desire" or "wish" or "will" if you like, it makes no difference.

I'm not supplying a boatload of texts for the above. First, because I don't have the time right now. Second, because there is so much in the tone and tenor of scripture that speaks for it that I despair of proving it to someone who knows scripture well and fails to at least see a basis for it--even if they depart from me on thier weighting or grading of "want" in these cases.

Ilíon said...

Mr Reppert,
I wish I had the time right now to carefully read and respond to this entry. ... Based on just a quick scan of the beginning of it, I believe I can offer some thoughts to strengthen your case and/or defeat some of the potential objections to your case (such as you've noted).

But, I don't have time right now. So, rather than directly responding to this particular post, I want to offer an idea which relates to the underlying issue: Is God Good/Just? and specifically how "eternal punishment" comports with assent to the question.


My thought is this:

You ... and as a general rule, 'atheists,' but one *expects* that of them ... are looking at the questions and issues backwards. If I may paraphrase, you frequently echo an accusation-as-question with which many 'atheists' try to deny that God [if they grant, for argument, that he exists] is worthy of praise and worship and love: "Does any human being deserve 'infinite punishment' for a finite crime/sin?"

Rather than asking that question and leaving it at that, why not ask the further (and I think deeper) question: "Does any human being deserve 'infinite happiness' for any number finite good acts?"

If, as you seem to believe and as the crusading 'atheists' certainly assert, the answer to the first question is a resounding "No," then by what reasoning is the answer to the second question not also at least an equally resounding "No?"


Having posed this conumdrum, I do not propose to solve it at this time.

Paul Manata said...

Darek Barefoot said...

"Paul

I like your icon."


Why thank you. :-)

Darek Barefoot said...

"Bnonn

Well, can you picture yourself becoming a full preterist and at the same time remaining a Bible-believing Christian? Maybe yes and maybe no, depending on the definition of "Bible-believing Christian."


There's a distinction between solO and solA Scriptura.

The hyper-preterist practices the latter. And in that sense is "Bible-believing."

It's also quite the arrogant thing to hold a position that is contrary to what EVERY SINGLE CHRISTIAN REGARDLESS OF DEMONITANIONAL BOUNDARIES has held to, viz., a second advent, bodily resurrection, future/final judgment.

Indeed, to hold a position that Jesus was coming back when the early church, disciple of John, the grandson of Jude, etc., wrote that he was still coming, stretches the limits of credulity. That's why some hyper-preterists had to postulate: (a) there was a secret rapture of all true Bible believing Christians, (b) the church apostatized right after John died, or a couple other crack-pot ideas.

That's the kind of stuff you get with solO Scriptura. SolA Scriptura doesn't spit in the face of Christian history or interpretation.

Also, you mentioned church splits that happened. Paul warned of Hymenaeus' teaching - that the resurrection had already occurred - that it was gangrenous. You saw that Paul was right.

:-)

Paul Manata said...

XQs me, I meant "the hyper-pretertist practices the *former.*

Anonymous said...

"Does any human being deserve 'infinite happiness' for any number finite good acts?"

Again, the answer is clearly a resounding "No". My guess is you think this is a problem for the doctrine of heaven - why do we get an infinite reward for the finite trusting in Christ we do in this life?

Surely we don't. What we get through trusting Christ is the imputation of his active obedience, and then all the awards conditional on such obedience will accrue to us.

Anonymous said...

And Christ's suffering and obedience was infinite.

Ilíon said...

Anonymouse, you're barking up the wrong tree.