Monday, August 31, 2009

Neutrality, moral intuitions, and Calvinism

Gene M. Bridges: You've admitted in the past that you begin with your moral intuitions, not the Bible. It seems to me, you have the cart before the horse. You should submit your intuitions to the Bible first...figure out what is moral according to Scripture, then decide if what Calvinism teaches is moral or immoral.

Theoretically, that sounds good. It's kind of like Cartesian doubt in philosophy: doubt everything, and believe only what you can be sure of. Classical foundationalism it is sometimes called. But nobody really comes to the Bible, or to the study of nature for that matter, with an empty mind, but some people pretend that they do.

First, Scripture is largley responsible for how I got my intuitions in the first place. Scripture taught me that I ought to love everyone, that I ought to be like Jesus, that Jesus was God, so it looks like I ought to expect that God will love everyone. Now you're telling me that I care a lot more about my non-Christian friend's salvation than God does??

Second, my moral beliefs are part of why I believe Christianity to be true. As I understand Christianity, God's consistently loving character gives me a moral reason, as opposed to a merely prudential reason, to worship and obey him. I don't worship him because he's bigger than I am and can beat me up (the logic of the schoolyard bully) I worship him because I know that he pursues my good and the good of all whom I love.

Third Scripture deepens my moral convictions and intuitions. What I find there builds on what I believe already, and helps me see things I might have overlooked and misunderstood about what is good.

Fourth, when you use the word "intuitions" it seems always implied that these are gut feelings of some kind, when in point of fact as I understand it there is a kind of "intuition" that permits me to rationally perceive that 2 + 2 = 4. On my view, our knowledge of right and wrong is rational, not emotional. Fifth, if I were in a tradition that used a different Scripture, (the Qu'ran for instance) you would expect me to start doubting that Scripture because of its moral failings and start looking at the possibility of believing something else. If I happen to have been born in Saudi Arabia, does that mean I should submit myself to the Qu'ran and lock in my moral views based on what the Qu'ran teaches?

Finally, Scripture can certainly change my moral beliefs. But I am more sure of some of those moral beliefs than I am that such-and-such a verse was exegeted correctly by so-and-so. So in the face of at least some biblical evidence, it might be rational to believe that I don't understand everything I need to about that verse than it would be. as Lewis would say, to start believing that what I think of as black is really God's white. Opennness to God and obedience to God does not require neutrality.

I think of my belief system as a boat, not a house. You can't take out all the planks of your boat, or you will sink.

16 comments:

unkle e said...

Victor, I wonder why you seem to be letting the Calvinists get to you?

1. It is unlikely they will change, no matter what you say. I have many Calvinist friends, and most are good people, but I would guess that Reformed christians may be the most obdurate of all people I have met.

2. Their viewpoint is demonstrably inconsistent, in my view, because they hold a "high" view of Scripture (the only and sufficient rule of faith and practice), yet Calvinism, the five points of Calvinism, and all the rest of it are not Biblical doctrines. They are rather doctrines which may be derived from Scripture by (in J Gresham Machen's phrase) "good and necessary consequence". i.e. their reasoning and deduction from Scripture. If your deduction from Scripture is different to theirs, then you have as much right as them. Even though they will claim their view is more Scriptural, they cannot consistently sustain that claim unless they can extract the five points from Scripture verbatim.

3. Some of their arguments require one to assume their view is correct. Yes, if God has really revealed that Calvinism is true and the Bible teaches it unambiguously, then we should be faithful to that revelation. But we have to first get to that point (and like you, I don't).

4. I recall CS Lewis's advice, to the effect that, if God and truth seem to be diverging, follow truth, and you will find that is where God was all along.

I don't think arguing or cajoling or using logic will make any difference to them, because their belief system innoculates them against such. You might change the mind of a few onlookers, but surely the more important "battle" is against unbelief?

I'd encourage you to keep on with apologetics and good philosophy of religion, and let the Calvinists continue in a belief you and I and most christians think is mistaken, but which they are very strongly wedded to. There are more important battles to win! : )

a helmet said...

uncle e,

You're right, the doctrines of grace aren't biblical but fully eisegetical. I maintain a blog dedicated to refute Calvinism on the basis of the chief scriptural pillars they offer to bolster TULIP.

I'm still waiting for a calvinists who is willing to debate the the reformed interpretation of John 6,37-44 with me. Verily, this passage doesn't in any way promote the doctrines of grace and the reformed understanding of God's operations with men. Since this passage is one of Calvinism's "best of", I challenge them to come out and defend it aganist my interpretation.

Your 3rd point is good, too.

let the Calvinists continue in a belief you and I and most christians think is mistaken, but which they are very strongly wedded to.

The irony is that the system collapses like a house of cards under exegetical scrutiny. Again, that's why I challenge every calvinist to evalute their interpretation of John 6 against mine.

-a helmet

arminianperspectives said...

Very good post Victor.

God Bless,
Ben

Shackleman said...

Hello Mr. Unkle e,

You said, "It is unlikely they will change, no matter what you say"

and, "I don't think arguing or cajoling or using logic will make any difference to them, [...] There are more important battles to win!"

To which I'd like to offer my view. I was raised in a mostly agnostic, somewhat "soft" atheistic home. I've been on my journey of faith and have walked the path of Christianity for only a few years now. While Dr. Reppert's post may not carry any weight for the Calvinist, they carry weight with me and I greatly appreciate what he, and others, are trying to do when they address the differences between our Christian traditions. It helps me tremendously since without a childhood faith tradition of my own, I am open and eager to learn about them from others.

It may not be the most "important" battle, but I believe it helps advance the truth of Christ. And what could be more important than that?

I am grateful for Dr. Reppert's site, and am grateful to you and all other contributors for taking the time to offer your insights, expertise, and points of view.

Shackleman said...

Dr. Reppert,

This was a wonderful post. I will refer back to it often!

Thanks!

unkle e said...

Shackleman,

"I was raised in a mostly agnostic, somewhat "soft" atheistic home. I've been on my journey of faith and have walked the path of Christianity for only a few years now. "

I'm very glad to meet you on the journey! I hope you continue to grow in your faith and to be satisfied with the journey.

"While Dr. Reppert's post may not carry any weight for the Calvinist, they carry weight with me and I greatly appreciate what he, and others, are trying to do when they address the differences between our Christian traditions."

Thanks for the counter opinion to the one I expressed. Yes, I can see that discussion of these "secondary" matters is helpful to many people, sometimes myself included (though not in the case of Calvinism for me). I think, in the light of your comment, I would just say that I think discussion among friendly fellow travellers can be helpful, but argument with those who cannot be friendly, and perhaps don't even recognise me as a fellow believer, certainly not one of equal standing, seems of little value, and more likely to create heat than light.

Thanks again.

philip m said...

unkle e,

I think it's illicit to draw a line between theology and combatting unbelief. The fruitfulness of good theology is one of the main arguments for belief. People who say the parts of the Bible which strictly expound on theology are irrelevant to evidential matters are not thinking clearly. It is tremendously important that the theology of Paul makes sense, for that is how things would be if Christianity was true.

Indeed, the fact that Jesus is located at the center of a host of fecund theological discussion is one of the main reasons other Pagan myths are so disanalogous; there has been no such rampant theological analysis connecting their lives to the rest of history, the preceding theological traditions, and the salvation of all people. And since that is the case, I have much more reason to believe in Jesus than Odin, Mithra, and so on.

For whatever the truth is will make sense of everything, which means a coherent theology is an important part of belief in the first place.

Victor Reppert said...

There is an a way of arguing from Calvinism to atheism. If the Bible is true, we have no libertarian free will (based on Calvinist arguments), but that means that God could have created us in such a way that everyone free does what is right, and everyone goes to heaven, but didn't. But a God who not only allowed sin, but also damnation, when God could just as easily have chosen their salvation is not a God worthy of worship. Hence, if the the God of the Bible exists, he is not worthy of worship (is not omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good), and hence there is no being in existence that satisfies this requirement. Therefore, atheism is true.

The closest I ever came to atheism was when I first encountered the biblical case for Calvinism.

Shackleman said...

Mr. Unkle e,

Thanks for the thoughtful reply. I'm glad to have met you on the journey as well!

My faith is certainly growing, not always easy, but growing steadily. Thanks for helping me along my way, fellow traveler!

As for the heat of these discussions with "those" people (tongue is in my cheek of course)...I certainly can see your point! It can get nasty in here sometimes, and over at Triablogue--yikes. I fear they turn people away from Christ at times. What I've never quite understood is why they bother to try to convert at all. If they're right then the would-be converts were predestined to be converted anyway, and those that deny their views were predestined to be deniers. Unless of course I'm missing something, which is quite likely.

It reminds me a bit of reductive materialists. If RM's are right, then why do they bother arguing for their positions on blogs and such? Since given their world-view, thoughts can be nothing more than necessary effects from physical forces acting against atoms in brains. Reasons therefore, regardless how good or bad, can have nothing to do with what one thinks. They, like the Calvinists in my view could stand to more closely examine and contemplate the AfR!

Thanks again for your helpful thoughts. Until next time, blessings to you and yours.

Peter Pike said...

"What I've never quite understood is why they bother to try to convert at all."

You could always ask us.

A) God commands it.

B) God ordains the means as well as the ends--something Arminians usually fail to grasp, which is why they accuse Calvinists of fatalism even though Arminians, with their view of ends without means, actually hold the fatalistic viewpoint. As an analogy (not perfect, but hopefully sufficient): if you ever think "God is like a master chess player who can always beat you no matter what you do" that's fatalism, for you cannot escape your fate no matter how hard you try; on the other hand, in the movie Signs all the little quirks that characters have turn out to be necessary for the ending of the movie, yet at no point did any of the characters involved feel "manipulated" or like they were coerced into doing something. The end was determined, but so was the path to the end, which included them being exactly as they were so as to shape the end itself. Thus, they did what they wanted to, and the end happened exactly as it was predestined to do. Hence, compatiblism.

C) I'm fairly certain "because we want to" is a part of it too.

Shackleman said...

Thanks, Mr. Pike for your thoughts.

The explanation of my confusion comes from this portion of my post: "If they're right then the would-be converts were predestined to be converted anyway, and those that deny their views were predestined to be deniers.". I appreciate your trying to elucidate your position some, however it didn't clear up the confusion for me.

A) Was clear as can be. Thanks for the reminder of that.

B) Did nothing to help me with my confusion. It doesn't explain why you, an apologist for Calvinism, would seek to try to change the hearts and minds of those whose hearts and minds, according to your teachings, cannot be changed by anything *you* say or do, but can only be changed by the predestined will of God. Are you not in the end just wasting your breath?

C) I'm sure this is the case, but my question is *why* would you "want to", since given predestination, your arguments, no matter how sound, *cannot* change the outcome?

It's incoherent and illogical to me, but I'm new to the arguments and so I would appreciate any further teachings and thoughts you'd care to offer.

Be well.

Peter Pike said...

Shackelman,

I'll just focus on the middle point for now. You said:
---
Did nothing to help me with my confusion. It doesn't explain why you, an apologist for Calvinism, would seek to try to change the hearts and minds of those whose hearts and minds, according to your teachings, cannot be changed by anything *you* say or do, but can only be changed by the predestined will of God. Are you not in the end just wasting your breath?
---

Again, God ordains the means as well as the ends. Thus, it isn't simply a case where God says, "Joe Smith is going to be saved." He also says, "Joe Smith is going to be saved because I'm going to send Bob Jones to evangelize him."

And for the record, I myself do not "try to change the hearts and minds" of anyone. God does the heart-change. But it is our priviledge as believers that God will use us as an instrument to that end. He didn't have to do this, but I'm glad He did.

Finally, evangelism isn't just about a sinner coming to Christ, it's also about the growth of the one who evangelizes the non-believer. Part of the reason God uses us in evangelism is so that we can understand Him more through the process, including when we witness to people who totally reject us. It also teaches us to rely more on Christ, to pray more, to read more Scripture, etc. In other words, there are a whole host of good things for the one who evangelizes, in addition to the fact that God will bring more of His lost sheep back to the fold through it.

Shackleman said...

Mr. Pike,

Thanks for the helpful dialogue. You say, "Again, God ordains the means as well as the ends. Thus, it isn't simply a case where God says, "Joe Smith is going to be saved." He also says, "Joe Smith is going to be saved because I'm going to send Bob Jones to evangelize him.""

I think I understand what you're intending, but this brings the question in my mind around to free will. I can't reconcile predestination with free will. If you're destined to be sent by God to evangelize to Joe Smith, and there's nothing you can do about that, then where does your free will come in? I've heard combatabilists defend this, but not in any way that makes sense to me. Perhaps you can offer a different way of expressing it that would seem more cogent? I doubt it, though! {smile}

Let's assume you would retort by saying you didn't "know" you were destined to do this so it "felt" to you like it was your choice, and therefore it *seemed* to be your choice and that's good enough for you. Well if that's true, then the only cogent response you could make to my question of,

"Why do you do it?",

would be,

"Because God made me do it.".

Any other response ultimately fails to answer the question and just confuses the issue.

Not only that, but the only cogent response to *any* question, given predistination, is "Because God made it that way".

Why did the chicken cross the road? Because God made it cross the road.

Why did I fail English in school? God made me fail English in school.

Why did the sicko torture the baby? God made the sicko torture the baby.

It would be as if we're all just actors in a play, scripted to the finest detail by God, (who can sometimes make people do the most monstrous, vile, immoral and evil of things), only we aren't aware that we're mere actors in His play!

I suppose you wouldn't agree with that, but I can see no alternative. I'd ask you for arguments that would change my mind, but nothing you say will change it....only God can!! {wink}

I think it was Plantinga who said that God made a *real* world, not a puppeteer-like play. Or something like that. That rings far more true with me, and carries with it a sense of beauty and gratitude that I just don't get when I look into Calvinism.

You also say, "Finally, evangelism isn't just about a sinner coming to Christ, it's also about the growth of the one who evangelizes the non-believer. Part of the reason God uses us in evangelism is so that we can understand Him more through the process, including when we witness to people who totally reject us. It also teaches us to rely more on Christ, to pray more, to read more Scripture, etc. In other words, there are a whole host of good things for the one who evangelizes, in addition to the fact that God will bring more of His lost sheep back to the fold through it."

For which I would say thank you. This helps to answer the question of "why?" for me in a way that I can understand. I appreciate it, and heartily agree. It holds true too for the non-Calvinist and serves as a reminder to me!

I doubt we'll come to agreement here given the medium, but you've helped at least a little and so I appreciate your time and effort. Since we're straying far offtopic from the intent of Dr. Reppert's original post, I'll leave you to the last word, but please know I will read them and they'll be appreciated! We'll have an opportunity to further investigate our differences at some point in the future, I'm sure.

Until then, thanks again for the dialogue. Be well, and God bless.

Robert said...

Hello Shackleman, [part 1]

I was reading your discussion with Pike from Triablogue and you wrote:

“Let's assume you would retort by saying you didn't "know" you were destined to do this so it "felt" to you like it was your choice, and therefore it *seemed* to be your choice and that's good enough for you. Well if that's true, then the only cogent response you could make to my question of,

"Why do you do it?",

would be,

"Because God made me do it.".”

You may be a new believer but you have already seen a major problem with Calvinism/necessatarian beliefs: if everything is predecided and predetermined by God then literally GOD MAKES US DO EVERYTHING. We are forced to do everything that we do and never have a choice: we are all “only following orders.”

“Any other response ultimately fails to answer the question and just confuses the issue.

Not only that, but the only cogent response to *any* question, given predestination, is "Because God made it that way".”

Correct. If everything is necessitated then you are and you do exactly what God wants and forces you to do. It is helpful to remember that we can be ****forced**** to do things in two very distinct ways. One way is through coercion where we are forced to do something against our will. There is also another way: if another person directly and completely controlled you (the way a puppet master controls a puppet, the way a man controls his radio controlled air plane with the remote, etc.) then they would force you to do whatever they want you to do. If they controlled your mind, your thoughts, your desires, your bodily movements, everything, then they could force you to do whatever they direct you to do. And though you would do so “willingly” (i.e. it would not be coercion as you are not forced against your will but instead are forced by controlling your will) you would still be forced to do whatever you do. If everything is predecided, predetermined, prescripted, then to combine metaphors, it would be like a prescripted play on a stage with radio controlled actors performing on the stage doing whatever the person who holds their controls is forcing them to do.

“Why did the chicken cross the road? Because God made it cross the road.”

Yep.

“Why did I fail English in school? God made me fail English in school.”

Yep.

“Why did the sicko torture the baby? God made the sicko torture the baby.”

Yep and this is where necessatarian beliefs get particularly gruesome and nasty. All evil and sin is always and only what God forced people to do. So we are all forced to sin and do evil things by a God who at the same time in his revelation, the bible, tells us that He is love, that He is good, that He is merciful, that He desires the salvation of all, that He provided Christ as an atonement for all, etc. etc. Most Christians across all theological traditions (whether they be Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Protestant or Independent) look at the bible and then compare it with Calvinism and end up staying with the bible and outright rejecting Calvinism and its necessatarian beliefs.

Robert

Robert said...

Hello Shackleman, [part 2]

“It would be as if we're all just actors in a play, scripted to the finest detail by God, (who can sometimes make people do the most monstrous, vile, immoral and evil of things), only we aren't aware that we're mere actors in His play!”

Interesting that you should bring up this analogy as it is one that I use often for necessatarian beliefs (God’s decrees = the prescripted details of the play; the history of the universe = the acting out of every detail that has been prescripted).

“I suppose you wouldn't agree with that, but I can see no alternative. I'd ask you for arguments that would change my mind, but nothing you say will change it....only God can!! {wink}”

This is a place where the calvinists are not forthright about their beliefs and in my opinion even sometimes dishonest. They want to believe (and convert others to their belief) that God predetermines everything, that everything is prescripted and predecided, that God directly and completely and continually controls everything, but then when the implications of this kind of control are pointed out with analogies they then claim “no it’s not really like that at all”. There are some exceptions but most of them when confronted with the fact that their view leads to a “puppet-world” or “dominoes world” or “robotic world”, deny it and claim it is not like that at all.

“I think it was Plantinga who said that God made a *real* world, not a puppeteer-like play. Or something like that. That rings far more true with me, and carries with it a sense of beauty and gratitude that I just don't get when I look into Calvinism.”

If Plantinga said this (do you recall where?) then he is right and again note that he also uses the analogy of “a puppeteer-like play”. If you can, definitely read Plantinga as his stuff is absolutely great. A great book that he wrote that discusses these issues is a little book titled GOD, FREEDOM AND EVIL. Have you read it yet? If you have not, get a hold of this book.

Robert

Shackleman said...

Thanks for the thoughts, Mr. Robert,

Very good stuff in there. I think you summed up my understanding of Calvinism very well when you said,

"(God’s decrees = the prescripted details of the play; the history of the universe = the acting out of every detail that has been prescripted)."

Quite concise.

Unfortunately I don't remember where I read that bit about the real world vs. a puppet world. I think it was Plantinga but don't remember for sure. Maybe in a short autobiography of his I read? That said, an analogy like that could have easily come from Chesterton too, so maybe that's where I got it. Sadly, my capacity to remember details is always dwarfed by my capacity to see the forest through the trees--or at least I'd like to think so! I haven't yet read "GOD, FREEDOM AND EVIL", but based on your recommendation I will. Thanks for the suggestion.

Thanks again, and God bless!


(PS: the word verification for this post was "loser". Seriously. That's so not right!)