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, April 28, 2009

He's Been In Prison A Long Time . . .

My Father-in-law just can't stay out of prison. At 70, he's still working as a chaplain helping inmates to find the grace of God and a new start. Recently, he was featured on the local news - again. This time, it's a story about his "prison art show," which is made up of paintings, drawings and sculptures crafted by the incarcerated men he's worked with over the years. It's pretty amazing stuff.

Click this link to see the video:

Saturday, April 25, 2009

The Logic of THEOparadox

What follows is a list of propositions, guidelines and principles which represent a balanced approach to theological paradox. These are the logical reasons for embracing paradox, standing in clear opposition to the assertions of those who exalt man's reasoning abilities beyond proper limits and at the same time minimize divine transcendence. These statements are an attempt to explain how a person can passionately and enthusiastically embrace Biblical paradoxes without in any way abandoning rationality, sound reasoning and common sense.

10 Affirmations of THEOparadox

1. God is perfectly logical, infinitely logical, and eternally logical.
In other words, contradiction and irrationality are not found in Him.
2. God's Word, The Bible, conforms perfectly to God's logic.
I am here affirming the logical coherence of Scripture.
3. Logic is the divinely authorized tool with which human beings must interpret Scripture.
Abandonment of logic is not an acceptable hermeneutic, for it would require the rejection of an essential and praiseworthy aspect of God's nature.
4. Human logic is an attempt to describe and explain divine truth.
Thus, as far as it goes, it is good and useful.
5. Human logic is imperfect, fallen and finite.
It is limited by our creaturehood and suffers from the effects of sin, so it inevitably falls short of its aim.
6. Human logic, no matter how mature or well developed, cannot correspond perfectly to divine truth.
This is nothing more than an affirmation of man's pervasive depravity and God's incomprehensibility. Man's logic is not always God's logic.
7. This lack of correspondence is not due to any irrationality on the part of God or the Bible. It is due entirely to man's creaturely status, his fallen nature and his stubborn dependence upon his own imperfect reason.
In other words, God is NOT the author of confusion. Rather, man is.
8. Where there is a lack of correspondence, there sometimes appears to be a contradiction of logic. This contradiction exists only in the mind of man and in the logic of man, not in God Himself, nor in His perfect Word.
In this I am affirming without equivocation that paradox, or apparent contradiction, is sometimes the furthest man can go in his attempts to explain divine truth. If a paradox cannot be resolved without removing essential aspects of divine revelation, the paradox is to be heartily embraced and affirmed in the face of all human logic - not because it is actually contradictory, but because human logic is insufficient.
9. Man's logic can correspond to divine truth only to the extent that God reveals both His truth and the way in which human logic corresponds to that truth.
To the extent that God describes what human logic cannot explain, there remains unsolvable mystery in man's knowledge.
10. God uses the paradoxes and mysteries which exist in man's mind as a tool for the furtherance of His purposes and the continuing revelation of His divine glory.
He is fully aware of our limitations, and accomplishes His will in His own way and by His own means - means which are comprehensive enough to involve mysteries and paradoxes resulting from the inherent imperfection in the logic of His children.

Let God's great glory be revealed, and man's fallen and finite mind be utterly humbled in consideration of these facts. Let man's pride be brought low as he realizes he is fallible, incapable and totally dependent on God's mercy.


Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Paradox Under Fire ... and Impressively Defended

Paradox is under fire here:

And it's impressively defended here:

You'll find the same video of Mark Kielar making his case against theological paradox in both places. Many are lining up behind Kielar's illogic and affirming their disgust with divine mystery, even calling Van Til a heretic. Readers of this blog will instantly recognize the problems with the video. In the Triablogue post, you'll find Paul Manata capably dismantling the video's arguments and offering helpful correction.

Despite what some are implying, the debate over paradox is not equal to the Van Til vs. Clark controversy. Van Til vs. Clark was a Reformed Civil War, and in some ways it continues today. The real debate is between those who believe the human mind is capable of reconciling all that is presented in the Bible, and those who believe God has left some information unrevealed in order to humble our proud minds, test our faith and delight our hearts in accordance with His eternal purposes. Very few things are as engaging to the human mind as a difficult paradox. Van Til and Clark argued this in their own unique way, but theirs is not the definitive case. One may reject or greatly modify Van Til's thought and still embrace Biblical paradoxes. And one may strenuously oppose Clarkianism without becoming "irrational."

Ultimately, paradox is not to be our focus. Paradox is a means to an end. It serves as a tool to deepen our understanding of the Gospel. It is a philosophical instrument with practical uses: to make us more dependent on God, to make us less confident in ourselves, to make us more like Christ, to form His character in us, to aid us in explaining God's greatness to those who may wish to understand. It is strange that some who oppose our view rush quickly into accusations of irrationality, while ignoring the fact that we are only proposing a logical limitation of human understanding and a fitting exaltation of the sovereign transcendence of the Holy One. We are not in any way denying the rules of logic or the inherent rationality of God's mind as the origination of ALL TRUTH.

I left comments on both posts. Here is what I said on "God's Hammer" . . .


Sadly, the alternative to embracing Biblical paradox is the proud exaltation of human reason above God’s infinite wisdom. All of us are better served by humbly bowing our hearts and logical explanations before the Almighty Father. If any person grasps the minutest grain of truth, it is of His pure mercy.

I do not know if Van Til was right or wrong, or to what extent. But I am certain that God’s ways transcend the finite logic of the best human minds.

Despite all the cheering going on here, Kielar’s video is fraught with problems. I commend James Anderson’s book, Paradox in Christian Theology, as an antidote. Also, you will find a wealth of quotations from men like Charles Spurgeon who loved the way God outwitted them and worshipped Him more as a result. They saw Him high and lifted up, and themselves mere worms.

When we come face to face with God, every one of us will realize that we have been outmaneuvered by a wisdom unlike anything we’ve imagined. Better to acknowledge it now and prepare for that day with a corresponding humility.

Grace & peace,
Derek Ashton

Monday, April 20, 2009

Paradox in Christian Theology, Part 2

This is a continuation of my review of James Anderson's book, "Paradox in Christian Theology: An Analysis of Its Presence, Character, and Epistemic Status."

Note: The "parts" of my book review correspond to the "chapters" in the book. Part 1 covered the Introduction, which is chapter 1 of the book. Since the book contains 8 chapters, I expect to post 8 parts.

Chapter 2: The Paradox of the Trinity

Anderson plays the dual role of historian and philosopher as he summarizes the events and issues involved in the early development of the doctrine of the Trinity. He takes special note of the way the Nicene and Post-Nicene theologians articulated their trinitarian arguments, demonstrating that key figures such as Athanasius, the Cappadocian Fathers (Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory Nazianzen, and Basil the Great), and Augustine of Hippo viewed the Trinity as a paradox.

Following the historical survey is a critique of several non-paradoxical views as represented by certain modern theologians. Specifically, Anderson takes aim at the errors of modalism, social trinitarian interpretaions, and relative identity interpretations. He shows that these approaches inevitably cross Biblical boundaries and depart from earlier orthodox conceptions in their attempts to rule out paradox. There is also a brief overview of several modern theologians who continue to present a paradoxical doctrine of the Trinity.

While reading through this fascinating material, I was impressed with how much I don't know about the Trinity. I found it helpful to keep my Theological Dictionary open as I read. And I learned a new word. Disambiguate. I hope to use it in my next game of Scrabble.

Anderson concludes that we are faced with this choice regarding the doctrine of the Trinity: to be orthodox and paradoxical, or to find ourselves moving beyond the bounds of orthodoxy. The chapter concludes with these words:

"As the debate stands today, no writer from the first century to the twenty-first century has offered an explication of the doctrine of the Trinity that is both clearly orthodox and free from apparent contradiction. It sems that the careful theologian inevitably faces a dilemma: that of embracing either paradox or heterodoxy." (page 59)

Well said.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Guest Blogger: Explaining Eternity

My daughter enjoys reading THEOparadox, and today she is joining me as a guest blogger. She's seven. I'm posting this exactly as she wrote it:

Here is a girl who is wondering something. Here she is: I'm wondering how can God have no beginning or end? That's amazing!! I can understand "no end" better than no beginning. Isn't that amazing? Well, God is more amazing than this girl! Anyway, here she is! Goodbye! I hope you enjoy my story!

So, how would you explain eternity to a child?

Sunday, April 12, 2009

PARADOX FILES, Vol. 5 - Ted Christman

The Sermon of the Century!

All hyperbole aside . . . this is a message that epitomizes the THEOparadox concept about as perfectly as it can be done. It was recently delivered by Ted Christman at Heritage Baptist Church in Owensboro, Kentucky. Christman offers some great advice for dealing with Biblical paradoxes. He also discusses antinomy and mytery, and exhorts us to respond to Biblical "tensions" in the most God-honoring way: with silent awe and worshipful adoration of the divine, glorious and perfect Being.

Here's a little quote from the sermon, which I've been meditating upon:

"God does what He does because He thinks what He thinks. And God thinks what He thinks because he is Who He IS!"

Great stuff. And there's a lot more where that came from.

After you've heard the sermon, you'll know why he qualifies for this stylish t-shirt . . .

The shirts aren't too flattering, but looking good isn't the point.

HT: Jonathan Christman

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

John Piper on Free Will and Antinomy

A link to a short video of John Piper is at the end of this post. But before watching it, let's explore the background a little bit.

3 things are at work here:

1. Awhile back, J.I. Packer wrote a chapter in a book called, "Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God." It offered a very fine and well-reasoned defense of the paradox of divine sovereignty and human responsibility. However, Packer did something unusual that significantly altered the conversation. He chose to use the word "antinomy" rather than the word "paradox." As a result, the two words have become nearly synonymous in the modern Evangelical mind. Their close cousin is the term, "mystery." Antinomy properly means laws that genuinely contradict one another, while paradox designates seemingly contradictory truths. I think Packer was trying to rescue the truth of Biblical paradox from its misuse in Dialectical theology, and so he opted for a different word. Piper follows suit. As for me, I still like the word "paradox," as long as it is defined and applied properly.

2. John Piper has a high enough view of God that he is forced to admit to an element of mystery. He is also humble enough to admit some things are beyond his grasp. All the while, he wisely and carefully distinguishes between that which is clearly revealed and what is actually mysterious.

3. The author of a website called "Truth Matters" occasionally posts material related to Biblical paradoxes (or antinomies, or mysteries, or whatever you want to call them), which is part of the reason Truth Matters is on my list of recommended sites. The other reason is that the site aggregates many challenging, God-centered messages and articles from around the web.

Watching this video reminded me of the reason I awarded John Piper a THEOparadox T-shirt. But it also made me wonder if I should have written "THEOantinomy" on the shirt, instead.

What Piper says here is also a very good argument for what is commonly referred to as the "free offer of the Gospel." That is, the notion that God commands us to preach the Good News to everyone, not only those we happen to believe are elect. But that's a subject for another series of posts.

Click here for the video from TRUTH MATTERS.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

A Passion Week Meditation

This is from an article Tony Hayling recently posted on the agonizomai blog:

"The crucifixion and resurrection were ordained before the world was made. He whose hands fashioned the world would one day offer those hands to the nails of the world’s betrayal, and the piercing of the Father’s bottomless wrath. Unthinkable! Unimaginable! If we think we take it in we deceive ourselves. We can’t possibly take it in. And, ironically, the more we understand the depravity of our own souls, the less we can take it in, yet the more we marvel at it; the more we magnify the Name above all names. O the depth of the wisdom of God – how unsearchable are his thoughts and His ways past finding out!"

IMPOSSIBLE: The Sermon On The Mount, Part 4

At the end of the last post in this series (going back about three weeks - where does the time go?), I posed the question, "where are faith and regeneration in the Sermon on the Mount?" Here's the answer I'm proposing: they are wrapped up in the concept of God the Father which our Lord has interlaced through the entire sermon.

Jesus' presentation of God as the Father of His disciples implies regeneration and inspires faith.

Before we leap toward the commonly held, universalistic idea that "all people are God's children," let's notice that Jesus is expressly addressing His disciples in this sermon. Matthew 5:1-2 says, "When Jesus saw the crowds, He went up on the mountain; and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him. He opened His mouth and began to teach them ..." The direct audience is the disciples, although the crowds are certainly listening in.

A child is a father's offspring, the extension of his life. The life of the father is in his son. As in Adam all died, so all who are in Christ live again, through the sharing of the Father's life that is in Christ. Jesus, the eternal Son of God, shares with us the privileges of His sonship. This includes the most basic privilege of all, that of having spiritual life in ourselves. It is impossible to have eternal life apart from union with God.

That is the INVOLUNTARY side of sonship. It is the aspect in which God gives us His own life, not because we chose to live but because He chose to make us alive. After all, who chooses to be born?

The VOLUNTARY side of sonship involves dependency, relationship, and imitation. Another way of of saying this is, "sonship leads us voluntarily into a faith relationship." Many earthly fathers have proven themselves untrustworthy, and failed to bring their children into this type of trusting intimacy, but it is nonetheless God's intention for fatherhood. With God, failure is impossible. He always draws His children irresistibly into communion with Himself, simply by showing them how loving and faithful He is. We therefore voluntarily trust Him, through the faith which He gives us by revealing Himself. One of our Lord's most obvious objectives in the Sermon on the Mount is to endear us to the Father He is revealing.

With this in mind, I would like to examine the various statements about God the Father, so that in the words of His Son we might find Him more glorious and trust Him more fully.

A Perfect, Holy & Righteous Father

(Perfect, yet not perfectionistic)

Mt. 6:9 Pray, then, in this way:‘Our Father who is in heaven, Hallowed be Your name.

The Father is holy. He lives in heaven. He hears our prayers.

Mt. 5:48 Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

The Father is perfect (Gk. TELEOIS, finished, mature, fully developed, complete). His eternal and immutable perfection engenders our perfecting process, and guarantees that we ultimately become like Him in character (i.e., imitators of Him).

Mt. 6:33 But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness ...

The Father is a Righteous King. Sovereign, just, and worthy to be our primary pursuit.

A Provider

(Rich, yet generous)

Mt. 6:32-33 For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

The Father knows everything we need. He promises to provide everything we need. He does not abandon His children. In this section, His kingdom and righteousness are presented as our basic necessities, compared as they are with such daily essentials as "food" and "clothing."

Mt. 7:11 If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!

The Father gives His children good things. He does not sell to them, nor does He trade with them. He responds lovingly to their requests with free gifts of grace. What could they ever use to trade or buy with? All that they possess has come from His bounty.

A brief side note here: the concept of total depravity is implied in Jesus' passing description of His own disciples as "evil." He calls them the Father's children, and yet He calls them evil in the exact same verse. In this we find the paradox of a pervasively depraved nature and a radically sanctifying grace present and active in the very same individuals. Those who teach errors such as sinless perfection and innate human goodness would be hard pressed to explain this dual description of the disciples. When we read passages like Romans 7 and Galatians 5, it all becomes more clear, though it is still indissolubly paradoxical - even under the penetrating light of Pauline examination. But back to the subject at hand . . .

Mt. 6:26 Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they?

The Father takes care of all His creatures, especially His own children. A good father values his children and gives all he has to them. If we hunger and thirst for righteousness, He will not fail to feed us.

An Omniscient Father

(Unseen, yet all-seeing)

Mt. 6:4 so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.

The Father sees everything, even our most secret deeds.

Mt. 6:6 But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.

The Father is unseen, and He sees every unseen thing. Just as the Father dwells in secret, and the birth of His children takes place in secret, so a great deal of our relationship with Him must remain hidden. Yet the light that results from such a relationship cannot possibly remain a secret.

Mt. 6:8 ... your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.

The Father knows everything we need. He knows what we are thinking. He is intimately acquainted with our hearts, wills, and bodies. He made us.

Mt. 6:18 so that your fasting will not be noticed by men, but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.

The Father notices what we do. He is not ignorant of our deeds, whether good or evil.

Mt. 6:32 For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things ...

The Father knows what we need. Are we getting this yet?

A Kind and Generous Father
(Forgiving of enemies, yet not forgiving of unforgiveness)

Mt. 5:44-45 But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.

The Father's kindness is unlimited, extending even to His enemies.

Mt. 6:14-15 For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.

The Father forgives transgressions. He is so committed to forgiveness that He will not allow for exceptions in His children. They must forgive as they have been forgiven, and they will be forgiven as they share His forgiveness.

Mt. 5:9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
The Father's likeness is seen in those who resolve conflict and restore relationships. They are doing His work as His representatives, for they imitate His kindness.

A Father Who Rewards His Children
(Giving just rewards, yet doing so on the basis of grace)

Mt. 6:1 Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven.

The Father notices and rewards every single righteous deed done by His children, even though the righteousness came to them as a gift in the first place - and in spite of the fact that they have been forgiven for innumerable evils.

Mt. 6:6 But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.

Believe it! God will reward the work you do for Him.

Mt. 6:18 so that your fasting will not be noticed by men, but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.

The rewards are promised, but granted only in the future. Therefore, they can only be received through faith in the Father's Word. Thus, we will only practice secret righteousness if we believe His promise, so our "just" rewards come by grace, through faith. Sublime paradox!

A Glorious Father
(Unseen, yet revealing His glory through our works)

Mt. 5:16 Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.

A perfect balance is achieved by comparing this verse to Mt. 6:1. We are not to practice our righteousness before men, but we are to shine our light before men. Like the Father, we should seek to enlighten others, and not to justify ourselves. We are not to act in such a way that we ourselves are noticed by men, but rather that they may see our good works. Like the Father, we ourselves should remain hidden and allow our works to be seen. We are not to have the motive of being noticed by men, but rather that men may glorify our Father. God-revealing light shines through the good works which result from a humble dependence upon His righteousness. But the man-centered reward of self-glorification is all we will ever get from gaudy displays of self-righteousness. The actions may appear outwardly similar in some respects, but what a contrast in motivations and results!

The Father is worthy to be glorified. Only the new heart that has been created by regeneration, and become endeared to the Father, can have as its motivation the supreme glory of God. Apart from regeneration and faith, the God-centered Christian life would be . . . impossible.

Likewise, it is only as we come to know God as Father that we can bear to see that we are spiritually destitute. It is only in the embrace of our Father that we can shed tears of shame and grief for our sins. It is only in the glow of the Father's love and generosity that we can bow the knee and willingly comply with what He has commanded. As He graciously fills our spiritual hunger, we begin to imitate Him in His mercy, purity, and peacemaking ways. Thus the light shines, and He is greatly glorified in His adoring and grateful children.

Friday, April 03, 2009


The lump on my son's neck is beginning to shrink, and it is also less sensitive to the touch now. His fever is greatly reduced and he seems to be on the mend. All of this without hospitalization or antibiotics! We're hoping we can manage his condition without surgery for several more years. Surgical intervention will be less risky later.

I didn't mean for this to become a major subject of this blog, but as so many have expressed concern and faithfully prayed, I've concluded it's important to give occasional updates. Perhaps someone out there will be struggling through something similar and find solace in these reports.

Thanks everyone for your prayers, we are most grateful.