Friday, September 18, 2009

Scripture, Intuitions, and Calvinism

There is no conflict between believing that Scripture is inerrant, and believing that if one came to believe Scripture taught something that one in fact now believes that Scripture in fact *does not teach*, that that would be reason to doubt inerrancy.

Consider the following.
S believes in inerrancy.
S believes that biblical inerrancy is compatible with an ancient earth.
If S were to come to believe that no interpretation of Scripture consistent with an ancient earth were consistent with the literal acceptance of the Genesis text, then S would cease to believe in inerrancy.

All these can be true together. If we are assessing whether someone believes in inerrancy or not, we have to assess this relative to what the person thinks that Scripture actually teaches, rather than assessing it relative to what they say they might do if they were do discover that Scripture teaching something else.

How a Calvinistic God would reconcile me to the idea of reprobation in such a way as to permit me to worship him is difficult for me to comprehend. I sympathize with Talbott's statement 'I will not worship such a God, and if such a God can send me to hell for not so worshipping him, then to hell I will go'.

But let's put it this way. Suppose I became convinced that I couldn't deny Calvinism without denying inerrancy, and also that I couldn't reject inerrancy without undermining Christianity. (This is a real hypothetical scenario, but let's go there for a minute). Then I would be left with my intuition that this sort of God was acting wrongly, and what would I do with that? Could my intuitions be in error? I think I would pose the question as follows. Can Calvinism offer any reason for worshipping their God that is not a dressed-up version of the might-makes-right argument? If no, then I'm with Tom Talbott. I won't worship on the basis of mere power alone. If yes, then I can imagine questioning my intuitions. There are plenty of possible all-powerful beings who deserve to be answered back to and not worshipped. Is there something better than a might-makes-right argument that can be made on behalf of a Calvinistic God? That would be the question.

But we are a long way from this situation. I will repeat that the closest I ever came to atheism was when I started reading the Bible Calvinistically at the age of 19. However, I don't see any superiority in Calvinist interpretations of Romans 9, John 6:44, Ephesians 1:14, or whatever the other Calvinist proof-texts are, to anti-Calvinist interpretations (Hamilton on Romans 9 looks pretty good to me), and since I agree with Steve that a consistent Calvinist has to deny that God loves the reprobate, and I find the attempt to reconcile this denial with John 3:16 and verses like it to be strained. So I'm not, at the moment, faced with the hypothetical problem I posed for myself above.


Anonymous said...

A person ought to ask themselves: what are they more convinced of the truth of? Christianity, or the truth of their moral intuitions?

If you are more sure of your moral intuitions than you are of your Christianity, I imagine your problem is not with Calvinism, but rather with your insistence that the way you see things must be right.

It is not easy for everyone to accept Calvinism; it didn't seem very fair to me when I first learned Calvinism a few years ago. But that means nothing. How I feel is irrelevant to what scriptures actually teach, and if I don't like it, then I ought to change what I like rather than twist scripture in this and that direction to suit my moral intuitions.

Victor Reppert said...

But Calvinist interpretations of Scripture strike me as being even more strained than those of their opponents.

If I believe that it is wrong to inflict pain on little children for one's own amusement, is that just an intuition that one could abandon because some highly disputable interpretation of one's holy book suggests otherwise?

Does "God is good" just mean "God does what God does?," or "God is more powerful than we are, and therefore he has the right to determine what is good?" Part of what persuades me that Christianity is true is the fact that in my view it teaches the existence of a loving God.

Gordon Knight said...

I had thought that Plantinga's molinism was an attempt to render comprehensible strong predestination and free will. So its a sort of Calvinism which respects human dignity. I don't agree with P. on this, but its interesting and makes sense.

Victor Reppert said...

I have been told that Arminius was a Molinist. Actually, he was also a Calvinist, in the sense that he accepted Reformed teaching on matters other than predestination that were at issue between Calvinists, Lutherans, Anabaptists, Catholics, etc. To his credit, Calvin didn't spend his whole life on the Five Points (a format developed post-Arminius by Dordt), and might be a little shocked, if he were alive today, to find out that one aspect of his legacy has gotten the lion's share of attention.

Victor Reppert said...

Let me repeat myself on this. If there is something better on the side of Calvinism than an implied might-makes-right argument, that would provide a basis for questioning my moral intuitions. If not, then my moral intuitions, like any other belief of mine, can, of course, be questioned.

I must say that I am surer that it is wrong to inflict pain on little children for your own amusement than I am that Jesus rose from the dead. I believe both, of course, but I have more certainty about the first than about the second.

Anonymous said...

If you don't think Calvinist interpretation is all that compelling, that's fine--I don't agree with you, but that doesn't matter.

However, another relevant question is that of why a person (anyone, not necessarily you) doesn't think Calvinist exegesis is compelling? Because it is at odds with your intuitions? Surely you can see the problem there.

But if a person objects to Calvinism, not on emotional grounds, but rather because he thinks Calvinist exegesis is just bad, well, then, who can blame them?

Victor Reppert said...

We've got to be a tad careful not to commit the ad hominem fallacy here. When I posted a link to this essay by Robert Hamilton on Romans 9 I got all sorts of questioning concerning my motives but NOBODY, NOBODY bothered to explain what was wrong with Hamilton's position. There were some exegetical discussion on the part of a couple of anti-Calvinists, but that was it.

Why is Hamilton wrong?

steve said...

Victor Reppert said...

"Why is Hamilton wrong?"

What should we even bother given your past performance and statements?

i) When you cite prooftexts for your position, and I cite non-Calvinists who offer interpretations consistent with Calvinism, you respond in silence.

ii) You've also said that if you were convinced that Reformed exegesis is sound, then that would be a reason to reject the inerrancy of Scripture.

iii) In addition, you've set the bar arbitrarily high for Reformed exegesis and arbitrarily low for opposing exegesis. You've said that any merely possible interpretation is always preferable to a Reformed interpretation.

When you've rigged the game in so many ways, why should we play your game? You cheat. You used marked cards.

Sure, we could spend a lot of time on Hamilton. Suppose we showed that his exegesis is implausible.

Would you become a Calvinist? Clearly not.

So why do you even go through the motions of invoking Scripture? You admit that you're not bound by Scripture if it conflicts with your intuitions. So why the charade?

Anonymous said...

But Calvinist interpretations of Scripture strike me as being even more strained than those of their opponents.

Me too, by a long shot. That's the primary reason I am not a Calvinist.

CES said...

"A person ought to ask themselves: what are they more convinced of the truth of? Christianity, or the truth of their moral intuitions?"

I think this question is on-track. I would refine it a little, though.

First, I would chnage "truth of Christianity" to "Biblical Inerrancy", since I think that the historical fact of whether Jesus rose from the dead or not does not stand or fall on, say, the Biblical doctrine of election. In other words, (parts of) the Bible could be untrustworthy -- and yet the essential historical facts AND spiritual truth of the gospel message could be completely true.

Second, I would substitute something stronger for "moral intuitions". "Dictates of one's conscience" might be too strong, but given that men and women have given their lives for deeply held moral convictions - whether religious or other kinds - I think it's more descriptive to use a strong term. Maybe "convictions of their conscience" or something along those lines is best.

So, restating...

"A person ought to ask themselves: what are they more convinced of the inerrancy of the Bible, or the truth of the convictions of their consciences?"

I think that IS INDEED one of the most important questions we must answer.

I note also that the New Testament teaches us that it is important to maintain a faith which does not violate our own consciences. I note also from my own life experience that the consciences of some people (both saved and unsaved) are far more assertive than those of others. At one end, there is a tender schoolgirl who bursts into tears at the slightest injustice done to a friend -- at the other end, the sociopath or mercenary for whom conscience is no obstacle at all.

CES said...

P.S. I for one am more convinced of the convictions of my conscience than the inerrancy of the Bible.