Dedicated to the devotional, exegetical and philosophical study of theological paradox in Conservative, Thoroughly Biblical, Historically Orthodox, Essentially Reformed theology . . . to the glory of God alone!

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Is There Logical Paradox In the Bible?

I occasionally visit other blogs and comment on posts that are of interest. Sometimes these comments are met with comments from others who disagree. What follows is a response I wrote after some point/counterpoint that occurred in one of these situations . The discussion was about whether or not the Bible contains logical paradoxes. This was written to an earnest brother who used Scripture and some weighty theological sources to argue forcefully against my viewpoint. The full context is at this link.

Thanks for this well-reasoned response. I really enjoy this type of discussion and spend a lot of time meditating on these topics.

It is obvious that you are well read and of a scholarly disposition, probably much more so than I am. I rejoice that God's grace and truth are dear to you.

Before I disagree with anything you've said, I want to affirm that it is great to have you on the same team as a fellow Reformed thinker and engaged student of theology. I believe that we're discussing a disagreement that takes place within orthodox, historic Calvinism. So, I'm glad we can discuss this issue "brother to brother" in Christ. I appreciate the gracious spirit that is evident in your response to my comment.

I actually don't know too much about Van Til, and did not mean to imply that I agree with everything he said. I'm pretty sure I don't. My point in bringing up Van Til vs. [Gordon] Clark was simply to show that there are two different streams of thought. You and I probably won't come to agreement on this (just as they didn't), and I think that's okay. You're a good representative of the Clarkian position, and I hope I am a faithful representative of those who embrace Biblical paradox.

I don't see any difference between saying, "we can understand everything God says (to us)," and saying, "we can understand logically everything God reveals to us." Either way, my point is the same. If we agree that there are some things God has kept hidden, it follows that there may be some things God has only partially revealed to us - and as a result our logic falls short of grasping them. I believe Clark and some others have created a false dichotomy of "completely hidden" truth and "completely revealed" truth. Why can't there be anything in between, truth that is only partly revealed? Why insist that everything revealed can be understood logically? Even if we were to concede that all the things revealed are fully revealed, don't we still need to acknowledge that man's fallen mind - even after salvation - is lacking some of what it needs to fully understand the ways of the omniscient and exalted God? Again, this is not the same as saying God is illogical, or even that Biblical revelation is in any sense irrational - only that some things revealed in the Bible are not revealed enough for us to make perfect logical sense of them. Sure, we can develop a logical argument and make a good case, but don't we run the risk of doing violence to the text?

What I'm saying is that we simply don't have enough light or the right kind of eyes to make strict, logical sense out of certain matters that are implicit in Scripture (e.g. divine sovereignty and human responsibility). Because of this, some things do SEEM contradictory to us - not because they are inherently illogical but because our logic is inherently insufficient. I'll have to respectfully disagree with Gary Crampton on this point. I have read Crampton's article before, and I concluded that he is overreacting to Neo-orthodoxy's mish-mash of bad theology paraded under the false banner of "paradox." Admittedly, I'd rather have his view than theirs.

As to I Cor. 14:33, you probably know I'm going to say it doesn't technically apply to this discussion. It refers to church services that are out of order, where various people are trying to give prophetic messages at the same time. It's disorder, not mystery (or even logical paradox), that is decried by the Apostle Paul. There are many other places where mystery is directly applied to our knowledge of God (Romans 11:33, for example).

If you're interested, there's a great article about paradox and mystery at Tony Byrne's blog:

I think Byrne strikes a great balance on this.

Finally, I agree most heartily with the following quotes from C.H. Spurgeon:

"That God predestines, and that man is responsible, are two things that few can see. They are believed to be inconsistent and contradictory; but they are not. It is just the fault of our weak judgment. Two truths cannot be contradictory to each other. If, then, I find taught in one place that everything is fore-ordained, that is true; and if I find in another place that man is responsible for all his actions, that is true; and it is my folly that leads me to imagine that two truths can ever contradict each other. These two truths, I do not believe, can ever be welded into one upon any human anvil, but one they shall be in eternity: they are two lines that are so nearly parallel, that the mind that shall pursue them farthest, will never discover that they converge; but they do converge, and they will meet somewhere in eternity, close to the throne of God, whence all truth doth spring." (New Park Street Pulpit, 4:337)

"Men who are morbidly anxious to possess a self-consistent creed, a creed which will put together and form a square like a Chinese puzzle, are very apt to narrow their souls. Those who will only believe what they can reconcile will necessarily disbelieve much of divine revelation. Those who receive by faith anything which they find in the Bible will receive two things, twenty things, ay, or twenty thousand things, though they cannot construct a theory which harmonizes them all." ("Faith," Sword and Trowel, 1872)

. . . thanks again for the iron sharpening discussion. I probably can't say much more than I already have, so I'll leave it here. Feel free to put in the last word, and I'll read it with interest. I know we will both agree unreservedly that this is our earnest prayer: may the knowledge of God increase, and may He be glorified greatly in the hearts and minds of those who read our words. Amen.

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