Monday, September 29, 2008

"Think & argue about it, but at the end of the day come to the conclusion that God is sovereign and man is responsible." - T. S. (paraphrased)

After reading, talking, thinking, and praying for a very long time and to a level of sophistication that very probably nears my max out, whatever that may be, I have come to a number of core convictions most highly relevant to matters related to the doctrines of divine omnipotence and the responsibility of humankind:

1. God can do anything
2. God is morally good
3. God knows everything
4. Man is responsible
5. Logic is true

You are welcome to speculate concerning the details.

You are not welcome to elevate your philosophical speculations even remotely close to the levels of certainty and importance that the gospel enjoys.

38 comments:

  1. "Logic is true"

    Don't know what this means.

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  2. As I haven't followed the progression of your thought in this area, I'm not sure where this leaves you. As a Calvinist I affirm all 5 points

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  3. @Jon
    The claim "logic is true" is quite unclear, indeed. Maybe I should try for something like "God's nature and character are orderly and consistent". Your thoughts?

    @ Jon PS
    "Don't know what this means."

    Don't know what this means.

    @ Brandon
    I'm interested to learn you are a Calvinist (admittedly I had my suspicions). I think Calvinism illustrates a scenario in which points 1-5 above can all be true. However, I do not think Calvinism is entailed by the Biblical data and therefore ought not be held to be as important as the gospel, and ought not be believed with the same degree of certainty.

    I personally am emphatically not a Calvinist.

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  4. Perhaps I should note too, that I think Calvinism can sometimes have a hard time defending statement 2 above in light of the details it adds over and above the other statements listed above*. So I think out of a righteous desire to uphold statement 1 and explore its meaning, Calvinism inadvertently ends up affirming some things that may arguably work to undermine statement 2. This is a weakness of Calvinism.

    *and over and above what I believe the Bible actually teaches - though this is acceptable, so long as it does not claim the same level of certainty or importance as the gospel, and so long as it does not encourage unprofitable beliefs or behaviors.

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  5. I can't distinguish what is commonly called Calvinism from the Gospel, so I have a hard time creating a hierarchy of what ought to be believed between the two.

    I would very highly recommend reading Clark on point 2 if you have not done so:
    God and Evil: The Problem Solved

    I also found Reymond helpful
    A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith

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  6. Thanks for your recommendations. I'm sorry you can't distinguish between Calvinism and the gospel!

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  7. Yeah, Spurgeon had the same problem:

    What is the heresy of Rome, but the addition of something to the perfect merits of Jesus Christ—the bringing in of the works of the flesh, to assist in our justification? And what is the heresy of Arminianism but the addition of something to the work of the Redeemer? Every heresy, if brought to the touchstone, will discover itself here. I have my own private opinion that there is no such thing as preaching Christ and Him crucified, unless we preach what nowadays is called Calvinism. It is a nickname to call it Calvinism; Calvinism is the gospel, and nothing else. I do not believe we can preach the gospel, if we do not preach justification by faith, without works; nor unless we preach the sovereignty of God in His dispensation of grace; nor unless we exalt the electing, unchangeable, eternal, immutable, conquering love of Jehovah; nor do I think we can preach the gospel, unless we base it upon the special and particular redemption of His elect and chosen people which Christ wrought out upon the cross; nor can I comprehend a gospel which lets saints fall away after they are called, and suffers the children of God to be burned in the fires of damnation after having once believed in Jesus. Such a gospel I abhor.

    Let me know if you read either of those books. I'd like to hear your thoughts.

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  8. Spurgeon is very certainly right about justification by grace through faith and not of works, about the fact that God is sovereign, and about the fact that God is loving and gracious. And I happen to hold firmly that he is right that saints cannot fall away (as Spurgeon means it). And I also just so happen to think he is right by what he means when he says Jesus redeemed particular people (meaning, the sin that was paid by Jesus was that of all those individuals who have or will be redeemed - to say nothing of how it is that they came or will come to be redeemed).

    Where I part ways with our beloved forerunner is where he says "there is no such thing as preaching Christ and Him crucified, unless we preach what nowadays is called Calvinism. It is a nickname to call it Calvinism; Calvinism is the gospel, and nothing else.". I must say it is a slightly redeeming quality to this statement that it is preceded by "I have my own private opinion that".

    He also uses the term "electing" to describe the love of God, and while I cannot - and do not want to - weasel out from under the fact the scriptures use this term, I happen to disagree with what Spurgeon believes are the details and outworkings of it. It is my position that his understanding of election, while prima facie consistent with the Biblical data, is not entailed by it and, like I said, ought thus not be elevated to the status of the gospel.

    As for those two books, if you had caught me anytime between eight and four years ago, I would have delightedly followed your recommendations. And perhaps even I will file these recommendations away for a rainy day. But at this point in my life, given my earnest efforts to understand the matter thus far, and given my present commitments, I do not judge it profitable to consume additional literature on the topic.

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  9. I'm sorry to hear that.

    By "entailed by" do you mean deduced from?

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  10. "Deduced from" is only sometimes considered identical to "entailed by", but to be clear I will be specific.

    I do not believe that no interpretation of the Biblical data makes it true and Calvinism false.

    In other words, I believe that there is at least one interpretation of the Biblical data in which the Biblical data are made true and Calvinism is false.

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  11. For what they're worth (and to take a simple question way too seriously when a simple "yeah" would do just fine), here are my cheesy notes on chapter 9 of Quine's "Methods of Logic", Implication (or "entailment").

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  12. Btw, though Clark's book is 60 pages, his essay is only 30, the rest being intro, foreward, index, and appendix. Reymond's section on the topic is only 6 pages. The rest of his systematic is fantastic as well. Definitely worth the $24 tag

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  13. Incidentally, have you ever read John 3:16? Super short verse, but very illuminating on the matter?

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  14. Are you interested in me actually respond to that? I would be glad to if you are not being facetious.

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  15. Haha, thanks. I was totally kidding. I am very familiar with the arguments. I will go ahead and read this link anyway. For you.

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  16. Thanks, I feel cared for.

    I don't remember if that article mentions it, but people generally read 3:16 as "For God loved the world so much" when really it should be read as the NET translates it:

    For this is the way God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.

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  17. ...so a proper interpretation, Brandon, seems to be "For God so loved the elect.."?

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  18. A proper interpretation would be:

    And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. For God loved both Jews and Gentiles in this way, that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

    Remember the Jewish context in which for a thousand years Gentiles were enemies of God and were to be kept out of the covenant. The word world is used in different ways throughout Scripture. World here means all men without distinction, not all men without exception.

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  19. “World here means all men without distinction, not all men without exception.”

    So you mean “without distinction” in the sense there’s no distinction between the kind of human (e.g. it’s not a matter of Jew vs. Gentile); but rather with exception to some other kind of distinction. For surely to say that “world” does not mean “all men without exception” there must be some qualifying mark that makes some men the exception. And the only thing that’s going to that work for you is by saying the exceptional is the damned. For God only loves the elect, correct?

    Again, does God love all men without exception? Or does he love only the elect?

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  20. He loves only the elect.

    John 17:9 I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours...20 “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.

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  21. I suppose I can put the point in a less round-a-bout way. Your interpretation reads:

    For God loved both Jews and Gentiles in this way, that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

    Where “Jews and Gentiles” is synonymous with “world”. But surely Jesus couldn’t have meant the all inclusive “all Jews and Gentiles” because, as you say we can’t read it as “all [Jews and Gentiles] without exception.” For God only loves some of all the Jews and Gentiles, viz. exclusively the elect.

    So your proper translation must read:

    “...For God so loved the elected Jews and Gentiles, that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

    Have I missed the mark?

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  22. No, the proper translation would be as it appears in every bible.

    The proper understanding that we arrive at by comparing Scripture with Scripture is that God sent His only Son that whosoever (be he Jew or Gentile) believes (which only the elect who have been regenerate will do), will have everlasting life, because he does not just love Jews, but the whole world.

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  23. So the proper interpretation (not translation) according to you, is:

    “...For God so loved the elected Jews and Gentiles, that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

    My next question concerns the “whoever” clause. Clearly Jesus means by “whoever” simply “those that believe”, for it’s clear that only “those that believe” in [the son] are the ones who will not perish but have eternal life.

    So, since we’re at least clear on what “whoever” is denoting, we should put it in its clarified sense back into our interpretation and see what happens:

    “…For God so loved the elected Jews and Gentiles, that he gave his only son, that [those who] believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”


    But [those who believe…] = [the elected Jews and Gentiles], which renders Jesus’ teaching redundant, and clearly this does violence to the text, for it alters its prima facie meaning, viz.:

    “…For God so loved [inclusively all mankind], that he gave his only son, that [the exclusive set of mankind who believe] in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

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  24. Or perhaps, to put the point in a less roundabout way, when Jesus says:

    “…For God so loved the world, the he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

    It’s clear that “whoever” is a limiting clause to the “world”. But if Calvin is right, we need to qualify Jesus’ words from its straightforward reading and make it so “whoever” is not a limiting clause at all. But this is doing violence to the text.

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  25. PS- would you say this is an accurate summary of Gordon Clark's book?

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  26. Derek,

    Thanks for the opportunity to sharpen some iron.

    When you say "If Calvin is right..." Are you referring to his commentary, or what are you referring to?

    First, you keep trying to phrase the verse in a way that I haven't, in order to try to knock it down.

    "For God loved all types of people in this way, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life."

    I don't see any problem with this understanding.

    Second, if you want to phrase it as:

    “…For God loved the elected Jews and Gentiles in this way, that he gave his only son, that [those who] believe in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

    It still does not create a problem. It is explaining the way in which the elect are saved, following the description of the way Israelites were saved when Moses lifted the serpent.

    It’s clear that “whoever” is a limiting clause to the “world”.

    You are assuming what you are supposed to be proving (that world refers to every man without exception). The only reason you think it creates a problem is because you think it has to be read according to your understanding. What you call prima facie, I call conditioned by years of Arminianism.

    And yes, I think that's a decent summary of Clark's book.

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  27. Of course I'm begging the question- but that's what happens when you try to prove the self-evident via the not self-evident.

    What you call prima facie, I call conditioned by years of Arminianism.

    There's no way that "Arminianism" has anything to do with the common usage of the word "world", nor the common syntax of sentences.

    Do you honestly believe that if there had not been any such thing as "Arminianism" the prima facie reading would have been:

    "For God so loved the Elect, that he gave his only son, that whoever of the elect who believe will not perish but have eternal life." ?

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  28. Finally, God is neither responsible nor sinful, because there are no superior entities that God can be responsible to or laws that He can be held accountable to. He cannot be sinful, because by definition whatever God does is just and right. God cannot sin, and because he causes man to sin does not mean that God sins. There is no law above God that judges Him or states that decreeing sinful acts is sinful. Man is responsible because God calls him to account. Man is responsible because God can punish or reward him for his actions. God, on the other hand, cannot be held responsible because there is nothing higher than God. There are no laws which He could disobey.

    Synopsis on Clark’s “God and Evil: Problem Solved” (sic)

    If this is true, it’s entirely possible that Jesus could have tortured Mary. Do you think this is true, Brandon?

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  29. No it's not entirely possible that Jesus could have tortured Mary. You are ignoring secondary causes and interpreting that summary to say that God is the direct cause of evil, which is not what it's saying.

    WCF III.I
    "I. God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established."

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  30. My point of contention is the following:

    (C1) There are no laws which He could disobey.

    and,

    (C2) because by definition whatever God does is just and right.

    Now consider the following:

    (1) God is omnipotent

    If God is omnipotent, and “by definition whatever God does is just and right” and “There is no law(s) which He could disobey”, it follows that God can possibly do anything, for there is no action that is morally prohibited. So, if we are to accept this, it is entirely possible that Jesus could have tortured Mary. If you deny this, you must say that there are some things God cannot do, because they are immoral. But this commits you to the denial of C1 and C2.

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  31. God's omnipotence does not outweigh his holiness. Your argument seems to be akin to saying that God is not omnipotent because He can't create a square circle. God's omnipotence is not bound by anything outside of Him. Whatever He desires to do He can do. He does not desire to sin.

    You also seem to be misunderstanding the argument. (C1) is in reference to His responsibility. (C2) is in reference to His sinfulness.

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  32. Being one converted by your efforts Derek, I sympathize with your line of reasoning.

    However I think that even if Brandon succeeds in defending the interpretation or understanding of this particular verse that he espouses, he has a lot of work to do if he wants to exegetically demonstrate that the Bible teaches a characteristically Calvinistic (permit the anachronism) model of election.

    So a non-Calvinist like myself could easily grant his interpretation of John 3:16 (which is not immediately established, or without toil, given the conventional Johannine use of "kosmos"), and yet still maintain that the mechanism by which God elects is altogether different than any Calvinistic one.

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  33. That's the second time you've alluded to the fact that you hold a nuanced view of election. I'm curious, do you mind summarizing it?

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  34. @ Brandon
    I supposed I owe it to you, don't I. I have a lot to do this weekend, but I will be thinking about the best way to summarize my extant theory and the warrant for belief in it the best I can over the next week or so, and hopefully I can hop back on and lay it out for your consumption and critique.

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  35. Sounds good. Take your time, I look forward to it.

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