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!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Divine Grace VS. Human Pride and An Answer to Phil Johnson's Question

I'm reluctantly breaking up the current series of posts on divine and human goodness with this one because it is current and relevant to the topic. Phil Johnson has been in Jacksonville this week, teaching at a conference hosted by Grace Community Church. Last night, I was privileged to hear him preach at another local fellowship, Changed By Grace Community Church. The sermon had some great insights for our present study on goodness. This is definitely worth hearing. Here is a link:

Phil is the Executive Director of John MacArthur's "Grace to You" broadcasts, and he is also the editing genius behind many of MacArthur's books. He has edited 50 of these books over the last 25 years! This has required him to go over MacArthur's sermons and writings continuously with an eye for the details of what is being said. In other words, Phil Johnson has been swimming in a sea of Mega-Gospel-Truth-Saturation for the last 25 years - and it comes out in his teaching! He also contributes to the Pyromaniacs blog.

I was able to speak with Phil for a few minutes after the service, and he asked me a provoking question about Theoparadox. In essence, he wanted to know if I believe Biblical paradoxes are actual contradictions or apparent contradictions. Is truth essentially contradictory, or is there a logical coherence to reality? This question is one I've been pondering for the last few weeks, and here's my best answer:

By definition, paradoxes are apparent logical contradictions. Some Biblical paradoxes can be solved quickly and easily by just about anyone who takes the time to think and pray over them. Others have been explored and argued for centuries and have never been fully explained. Many paradoxes fit somewhere inbetween. Ultimately, though, every paradox CAN be solved logically and coherently. I contend that paradoxes are designed to humble and amaze us, because God has not given fallen man the mental capacity to solve many of them. The Trinity and the two natures of Christ would be two examples of humanly unsolvable paradoxes. Our logical faculties are too limited to solve them, but God's mind is not limited. To the Infinite God, every paradox makes perfect logical sense and contains no contradiction whatsoever. We, as finite beings, are called to believe, practice and proclaim God's Word, not to unravel it. So truth is perfectly coherent to God, but it is apparently contradictory to us in some cases. Truth is infinitely logical, but we are limited to finite logic and therefore partially left in the dark.

I should add that God has given us clear light on everything we NEED to know. Sometimes it's blindingly clear! Now there's a paradox.

Part of my introduction to the idea of paradox came through John MacArthur. Several years ago I heard him on the radio doing a question and answer session. Someone pressed him on the issue of divine sovereignty, election, and human responsibility. MacArthur responded, (and I'm paraphrasing here), "It's a paradox. Christian theology is full of them. How can you explain the Trinity, or the two natures of Christ, or many other key doctrines, without understanding them as paradoxes?" That was a great answer, and it opened my mind in ways I never expected. The cracks it put in my cherished Arminian ideas ultimately contributed to the utter collapse of my man-centered theology. Thank God for His grace!

If anyone disagrees with me on the nature of truth being non-contradictory, please chime in. I'm open to reason (or should I say "un-reason" in this case?).


  1. Great thoughts, Derek. The problem that I have found with the word "paradox" has been that it has a few definitions. In mathematics, a paradox is an illogical contradiction--- it is always wrong. Sometimes people use "paradox" in this way in other contexts as well. Then there is the other extreme, where people, especially the younger, post-modern generation uses the term "paradox" to mean something that cannot be known or understood.

    Here's the definition that I use on my blog for the term "paradox"; the definition is from Webster's 1828 Dictionary: "A tenet or proposition contrary to received opinion, or seemingly absurd, yet true in fact."
    "Paradox", as I use it, is two opposite tenets held together in such harmony that it almost seems impossible. As you hinted towards, I don't think we truly can fully understand the "paradoxes" around us and in the Bible; but I DO think that we can understand paradoxes truly and in part. Christianity is full of paradoxes because God is a God of balance, he is both omnipotent and humble, just and merciful, loving and true. The Christian life is also full of paradoxes because it is a life lived in the footsteps of Christ; it is a life of balance.

    Keep thinking and helping us think over these issues!

    I've appreciated your comments on my blog. I've added you to our blogroll as well.

    1. I just discovered Theoparadox site today. I find your 1828 definition to be a good one. This leads me to a question I would like to pose both sites. Why does "Christianity" today for the majority sake find God's Sabbath of the 7th day Saturday to be a paradox, written with his own finger on tablets, which He never changed, not in any Bible I have ever read. "Christians" Worship on the LOrds Day, Sunday, or from the sun god, of past errors.

    2. Hello Anonymous,

      You ask an interesting question. I worship on Sunday because I believe the weight of the Biblical evidence leans that way. However, I can't say I've had all of my questions about the Sabbath answered and I can certainly sympathize with those who hold the conviction that Saturday is the right day to gather for worship. If godly people are gathering for worship at all, I figure I won't quibble over which day they choose.

      If the day has indeed changed, I suppose it could be considered a paradox. I have more studying to do on this topic.

      Thanks for commenting,

  2. Stephen,

    You've made the case better than I have. I should have let YOU respond to Phil Johnson in my stead. Indeed, the term "paradox" can carry some undesirable connotations, and your Webster definition provides good clarification. I have that old dictionary on my shelf as well. It's usually helpful beyond my expectations. Perhaps I need to put a worthy paradox definition in a conspicuous spot on my blog, just as you and Josiah have. Thanks for putting TheoParadox on your blog roll, that's a real honor. It's great to see the wisdom and God-centeredness on your site - I recommend it to others without hesitation.

    Grace & peace,


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