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, November 05, 2009

Phil Johnson on Paradox and Logic

Recently, on the Pyromaniacs blog, Phil Johnson posted an interesting perspective on the concepts of paradox and logic. Let me start by saying Phil is way smarter and way more educated than I am. I should also say that I largely agree with what he wrote. However, I did submit a detailed comment in which I challenged him to open the door for mystery and paradox just a tad wider - without shutting the door on the laws of logic in the process. 

I believe mystery and paradox exist within the framework of and because of the laws of logic - but they DO exist. THEOparadox is not misology (hatred of reason). Quite the opposite - it is a dual acknowledgement of the Source of reason (God), and the limitation of reason (our creaturely and fallen minds). We want to avoid rationalism on one side, and irrationality on the other. In the work of inspiring the Scriptures, the Holy Spirit did a remarkably good job of balancing this. It's exactly what we would expect from the God Who IS the Truth.

I'm not sure if Phil will answer my questions, but if he does I am sure I will learn something. Here's an excerpt from the Pyromaniacs post:

"When faced with two difficult truths we find hard to reconcile, we ought to view it as an opportunity to work out the kinks in our thinking and try to gain a better understanding of truth. If two biblical truths seem to contradict, we need to take another look and be humble enough to acknowledge that perhaps we have misunderstood one or the other (or both) of the seemingly contradictory ideas. We need to understand—like those mathematicians did at the start of the 20th century—that if "truth" really contradicted itself, the very concept of truth would be moot. Christians of all people ought to stand firmly against every charge that truth is inherently self-contradictory."

Here is a link to the post:

And here is my comment/question to Phil Johnson:

As one who finds paradoxes (i.e. apparent contradictions of greater and lesser degree) all over the place in Scripture and theology; as one who passionately believes in the fallen-ness and limited-ness of human understanding which result from total depravity; as one who deliberately embraces a very real sense of mystery in God's revelation (or, in some cases, non-revelation) of Himself; and as one who takes seriously the implications of God's incomprehensibility, I have to say . . .


Because of the above checklist, I am sometimes confused with those Neo-Orthodox and PoMo people you are talking about. For the record: I'm not them.

Here's a really cool paradox that helps to keep me balanced and always has me hunting for possible solutions to Biblical paradoxes:

One cannot even say there is an apparent contradiction unless one has already acknowledged the fact that the law of non-contradiction is normative. IOW, if the law of non-contradiction is invalid, then there IS no such thing as an "apparent contradiction." There could only be a vague mish-mash of what might be called "ungrounded propositions" (welcome to Postmodernism). So, in my view, the Biblical way to approach paradox is to START by acknowledging the Law of Non-Contradiction.

I believe the Holy Spirit deliberately placed some APPARENT contradictions (i.e. paradoxes) in the Scriptures in order to get our attention. To Him, they are not contradictory at all, but to us they appear contradictory. Given enough time, information, and application of logic, all would be solved - but we're not fully equipped.

To go a little further, and at the risk of alienating some readers . . . don't we have to admit with Spurgeon (and contra Gordon Clark, I think) that there are some things revealed in the Bible which man's creaturely and fallen mind can't quite comprehend? That is to say, in at least some cases, the logic which reconciles two apparently contradictory truths is with God alone? Who's to say God has given us ALL of His logical tools? Maybe we've only got enough to confuse ourselves on certain issues. Hence Calvin's many warnings against "morbid speculation" and the like.

The laws of logic, like other valid laws, aren't OVER God (nothing is) - rather, they FLOW FROM His Essence and Nature. So, can't there be aspects of logic that remain incomprehensible to us?

What I'm really trying to say is that, from a practical standpoint, we shouldn't go too far with our rational DEMANDS when it comes to the things not revealed. We can get ourselves into trouble applying laws of strict logic when some of the needed propositions are unknowns. IOW, we are sometimes in danger of jumping to conclusions. The results can be errors like Arminianism and Hyper-Calvinism.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Feel free to respond to anything written in the posts, or to the comments left by others. All comments are reviewed before they are published.

Please be charitable. If you disagree, do so with grace. Keep your words positive, focused, and on-topic. We don't expect everyone to agree, but we do expect everyone to treat everyone else with respect and grace, speaking the truth in love.