Sunday, July 27, 2014

Donald E. Hartley's Remarks on Pancausality

I don't have a lot of time today, my friends, but just wanted to say that divine pancausality (the doctrine that teaches God is the ultimate cause of everything) has some untoward and possibly even bizarre implications. For example, Donald E. Hartley relates that the sexual violation of a child, while morally repugnant is nonetheless good in a "decretal" sense. That is to say, it's bad morally but good insofar as God brings all things to pass (including the violation of a young child). That view seems to denigrate the divine glory and detracts from God's goodness.

Stephen T. Davis on the Incarnation's Logic

While I'm on the subject of the Incarnation (the doctrine that God became human), I would like to post a few points once gleaned from Stephen T. Davis' wonderful book _Logic and the Nature of God_.

Davis initiates his discussion by citing John Hick, who avers that the claim "Jesus is fully God and fully man" (VERE DEUS, VERE HOMO) is in effect saying that a circle is fully square and fully circular. Hick argues that the claim is "devoid of meaning" and logically impossible. If an object is fully square, then it cannot be fully circular (it cannot be P and ~ P at the same time and in the same sense). Therefore, the proposition "Jesus is truly God and truly man" is deemed to be incoherent.

This point can also be illustrated by juxtaposing the properties of God and the properties of man. God is omniscient, but man is not omniscient; God is omnipotent, but man is not omnipotent; God is A SE ESSE, but man derives his existence from God.

God is immortal; man, however, is not. It seems that divine properties rule out finite properties subsisting in the same entity simultaneously? The predicates essential to God appear to be incommensurable with the predicates proper (essential) to man. Davis realizes this point and concludes that in order to coherently formulate the Incarnation doctrine--one must deny the essential nature of God's omniscience and furthermore, one must also state the Incarnation teaching in a way that does not imply Jesus has all of the essential properties of God or all of the essential properties of man SIMPLICITER. But surely this view is not in harmony with Chalcedonian orthodoxy. It reflects the kenoticist views of the 19th century.

In conclusion, I think that Davis' treatment of this issue shows the ineluctable conundrums that result when one tries to make the Jesus of the New Testament fit one's preconceived theological and philosophical notions of our Lord. He is an ardent defender of the Incarnation, but he has realized the logical difficulties associated with believing that God became man.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

A Brief Followup to the Westminster Confession Subject and Predestination

Firstly, I want to thank Mike Felker for discussing the issue of foreordination (predestination) with me. His comments were quite helpful and I hope his understanding of Witness beliefs also has been advanced.

Looking at the Westminster Confession a little more closely, it seems that the "God brings whatsoever comes to pass" language should be interpreted as "God foreordains" (predestines) or God wills all events. That is to say, God foreordained the suffering and death of Jesus, he willed the rape of Tamar, the adulterous affair between David and Bathsheba and the Holocaust along with chattel slavery which wreaked such havoc on many Africans who were brought to America. Yet it is odd that God has condemned many of the acts he supposedly foreordained (willed) and even punished humans for committing them. That still makes little sense to me along with other implications of the Confession.

Am I being uncharitable in my interpretation of the Westminster Confession? I don't think that is the case, and here is why I make this claim.

John Hendryx, when composing a reply to Roger Olson (who is critical of Calvinism) writes:

We acknowledge that we cannot explain all of God's secret acts since God has chosen not to reveal many things about Himself. But one very prominent feature of the Bible is that it frequently declares that God meticulously ordains all that comes to pass (Eph 1:11) AND that men are responsible for their actions. One major example sticks out: the greatest sin ever committed by men in history -- the crucifixion of Jesus ---when the Apostle Peter, preaching at Pentecost declares:

"...this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men." (Acts 2:23)

[END QUOTE]

So Hendryx declares that God "meticulously ordains" all things eternally and immutably--even wicked actions that include the execution of Christ and genocide, cruel slavery, homicides, rape, child sacrifice, abortions, terrorism and a host of other evils that are manifestly ungodly. But yet humans are still fully responsible for all of the previously mentioned actions that God has putatively foreordained.

Or take the much stronger assertion made by Donald E. Hartley:

"No sin imaginable is more horrific than the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Yet, Scripture indicates that this was done by God the Father to God the Son (mediately) through the immediate agency of sinful human beings in the crucifixion (Isa 52:13-53:12; Acts 2:23; 4:28). If this is the worst possible evil that can be imagined, and God is clearly the ultimate cause behind it, then why be repulsed by divine causality when it comes to the rape of a child as if this is a greater evil?"

Hartley insists that God is the agent (doer) of all things (even sins performed by human agents), but God himself is not the author of sin. How this all works is said to be a mystery.

But there are further comments made by Hartley that bear on how one understands the Westminster Confession. He points to Aquinas who apparently thinks that every act undertaken (whether morally good or evil) is good insofar as God has willed all that comes to pass. Hartley therefore raises the possibility that while the rape of a child is evil in one sense, it's potentially good in a "decretal sense." Yet even Hartley admits that hardly anyone wants to hear this view espoused. See http://books.google.com/books?id=nnUrwTkP4iwC&pg=PA80&lpg=PA80&dq=god+foreordained+rape&source=bl&ots=5BGOa1yoRj&sig=Xhhg-VeAQgOBQ-jw_gC6K4SGvWs&hl=en&sa=X&ei=fA_UU4maLIrs8QGtqICgAQ&ved=0CDgQ6AEwAw#v=onepage&q=god%20foreordained%20rape&f=false

So the "come to pass" language of the Westminster Confession should be understood to mean that God wills or foreordains all that happens. And we have not even touched on double predestination which is likewise addressed in the Confession. I'm still left with many questions that have not been satisfactorily answered. Hendryx, whom I quoted earlier, says:

"Likewise, nowhere in the Bible did God call us to work out the details of this doctrine by philosophical means, or pry into the secret things of God. Rather He calls us to be faithful to the Text that says God ordains all things, even evil, and that, at the same time, God is blameless in doing so. That He ordains sin sinlessly. I do not have to hold these truths together rationally (according to human knowledge) or philosophically but because they are axiomatic in the Bible. My understanding the intricacies of how this comes about is secondary. God is God. DO our finite minds have to understand HOW He does this in order for it to be true?"

While I'll concede that many aspects of God's purposes are not immediately understandable and rightly can be described as "incomprehensible," to retreat into the "mystery corner" is a hackneyed and unsatisfying way to evade the tough questions.


Friday, July 25, 2014

Reliability of the Bible and the DSS

We've had recent comments about the reliability of biblical translations in light of the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS) or Septuagint Version (LXX). I guess that some perceive a possible conflict between the Masoretic Text, the LXX and the DSS.

I consulted Geza Vermes translation of the DSS (introductory notes) and he appears to downplay any potential difficulty that might exist for how we read Scripture juxtaposed with the DSS or LXX. Another article that touches upon this issue is found at http://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/biblical-topics/bible-versions-and-translations/the-original-bible-and-the-dead-sea-scrolls/

The example adduced by Tov from 1 Samuel 1:24 provides an interesting case study.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Saint Jerome on the Bible Canon

"Therefore as the church indeed reads Judith, Tobit and the books of Maccabees, but does not receive them among the canonical books, so let it also read these two volumes [Sirach and Parables] for the edification of the people but not for establishing the authority of ecclesiastical dogma" (Prologue to the books of Wisdom).


Thursday, July 17, 2014

My Review of Peter van Inwagen's Book "The Problem of Evil"

The so-called logical problem of evil suggests that there's a marked inconsistency between the statement "Almighty God exists" and the utterance "evil exists." For if God is almighty and omnibenevolent, then why does evil obtain? This problem was raised long ago by the Greek philosopher Epicurus and the ancient Gnostics.

Notre Dame University Professor, Peter van Inwagen, offers a useful contribution to the growing literature about the logical problem of evil. His book is a solid collection of eight Gifford lectures delivered at the University of St Andrews in May 2003. The prose contained in the work is often impressive, the reasoning is starkly lucid and van Inwagen's philosophical arguments generally are compelling. Hence, these lectures carefully analyze "evil" in order to remove manifold confusions that surround the concept. There are contexts in which "evil" denotes "moral depravity" but other contexts where the denotation is possibly "the absence of good." Defining evil is an arduous task, but the clarification of ideas should precede genuine philosophical analysis.

Before showing the deficiencies evidently associated with the logical problem of evil, van Inwagen posits his idea of God. He reasons that there are certain attributes which God should possess in order to be the maximally excellent entity, that than which a greater cannot be conceived (according to Anselm of Canterbury). These divine qualities include omniscience, moral perfection and omnipotence. The reader is subsequently treated to a definition and insightful analysis of the expression "philosophical failure." What is philosophical failure? How does this notion affect the argument from evil? Those perusing the book have such questions answered. Additionally, they find new distinctions regarding evil (for example, local versus global evil).

In the final analysis, I believe that van Inwagen demonstrates how the argument from evil fails. He establishes (with a certain degree of plausibility) that one cannot rightly argue from evil to the non-existence of God. There are other ways to account for the permission of divinely-preventable evil. To this end, the book addresses animal suffering, predatory activities among beasts and the so-called hiddenness of God. The author wisely frames a number of his arguments in dialogical form by creating two characters known as Theist and Atheist, who argue about the logical problem of evil in front of an imaginary neutral crowd. The dialogue is interesting, to a point, although I believe that van Inwagen tries to be too clever at times.

This philosophical treatise is written for those who have some familiarity with the common vocabulary of metaphysics, the philosophy of religion, and systematic theology. Moreover, I would not call the arguments here conclusive, in any sense of the word, but the read is generally enjoyable and illuminating.

Commentator Joseph Alexander on Acts 2:23

See http://archive.org/stream/actsapostles00alexgoog#page/n102/mode/1up

Very incisive remarks.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Is It Reasonable to Believe That God Brings All Things to Pass?

If God has foreordained every event or action, then he not only causes evil through evil men like Hitler or Judas--but he also causes "evil" (along with good) through every human who has ever lived. According to this line of reasoning, God evidently brings it to pass that fetuses are aborted through humans. It also seems that God caused evil through humans when the ancient Israelites offered their innocent babies in the fire to the false god Molech. Yet, YHWH explicitly stated that he never commanded such actions, nor did these kinds of sacrifices ever come up into his heart (Jer 7:31; 32:35). In fact, God called such sacrifices an "abomination." I also judge (condemn) similar actions and I would never think that God moved someone to offer his/her child in sacrifice, nor would a righteous and good deity move one man to rape another man's wife. "There is no darkness" in God (1 John 1:5).

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Westminster Confession As It Pertains to Foreordination

Some people believe that God foreordains all that comes to pass--including the ungodly acts of those not serving him. The Westminster Confession of Faith (III.1) states:

"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."

So God evidently foreordained the Edenic Fall and he ordained (eternally) the violent death of his Son and so many other historical atrocities. Yet God is not the Author of sin. How does this kind of reasoning logically work? I also wonder how this view comports with scripture.

Two points for now:

1) Why foreordain the Fall, yet warn Adam and Eve what would happen if they disobeyed and took fruit from the tree in the middle of the garden? Why sentence them to death if they were simply doing what had been foreordained? What would you think about me giving an assignment to my students, and telling them there would be a penalty for failure to do it, but then make the assignment undoable by dint of its design? I would probably not win professor of the year for such a move. And I can't help but wonder how God's name would be magnified by the foreordination of evil.

2) James 1:13-17 seems to contradict the Westminster Confession. God does not tempt (try) us with evil. He is perfect, just and good in all his ways. God did not foreordain the treacherous act of Judas Iscariot; nor did he bring to pass chattel slavery or the Holocaust. Each one is tried or enticed by his own sinful desire. As for the Edenic Fall, it occurred because of two humans who chose to misuse the free will granted them by our God and sovereign. He did not bring that event to pass.