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 27, 2010

James Anderson on Reformed Forum Radio

There is an excellent and informative interview with James Anderson at the Reformed Forum. Dr. Anderson discusses his book, Paradox in Christian Theology, and fields questions about the Clark/Van Til controversy, Alvin Plantinga's thought, presuppositional apologetics, and other topics.

For the first few minutes, the hosts chatter about some uninteresting things (uninteresting in my opinion, anyway). If you want to go straight to the relevant portion, start around the 5:00 mark on the audio.

Here's a very insightful excerpt:

"By advocating paradox I don't want to give the impression that I'm giving a carte blanche to not think philosophically, to not think deeply, about these doctrines. Quite the opposite. . . . My position is that with each of these doctrines we reflect on them as hard as we can, we penetrate them as best we can based on the Scriptural data that we do have, but we also recognize that there are going to be limits, and that those limits are actually a positive thing and not a reflection of some inherent problem in the doctrines or in the process of theological reflection. . . . I think we can make progress, we can make considerable progress, in understanding these doctrines and resolving some of the . . . initial difficulties that we have with them, but at the same time recognizing that we're always only going to get so far and when we bump up against the limits of our capacity to formulate them in certain ways or to resolve certain difficulties in them, we shouldn't be too concerned about that. We certainly shouldn't say, 'Okay, we need to admit that Christians are ultimately irrationalists.' No. We don't need to say that at all. . . . It's a Biblically constrained rationality. It's a middle way between rationalism, of which I think [Gordon H.] Clark was a representative, and irrationalism, of which, to take an example I think the Neo-Orthodox - Karl Barth - would be an example, where you're saying that there are actual contradictions in there. So I think it's navigating a Biblical middle way between these two extremes: having too high a view of the human intellect, and perhaps too low a view of the intellect, of our ability to know the things of God."
~Dr. James Anderson

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Rationalism VS. Revelation

This is the latest installment in an ongoing conversation I'm having with a friend who turned from Christian faith to agnosticism. Rationalism seems to be a common factor in many "de-conversion" accounts, and it has become a dominant topic in our exchanges. My friend has embraced science and rationality as primary epistemic sources, excluding the possibility of divine revelation. A previous letter discussed the use and limits of science. Here I am addressing the use and limits of rationality - and our desperate need for divine revelation.

I think we agree on the empirical nature of the natural world, the real-ness and objectivity of "things." The question is, are there realities beyond this? Can we know them? How?
As a Christian theist, I say . . .
"Yes, there are realities beyond the empirical, even beyond the empirical things we don't know yet but can discover. There is a spiritual dimension that we all live in but rarely consider or define, which we cannot discover independent of divine revelation."
"Yes, we can know it, but not by scientific discovery or rationalistic pursuit. On the other hand, the realities of this spiritual dimension will not ultimately contradict scientific fact or rational logic. Indeed, the spiritual dimension undergirds them, determines them, defines them, and upholds them."
"We can (only!) know these realities through divine revelation."
Further, there was a time when our whole race knew these realities, but we have fallen into a state in which we can perceive only what is merely scientific and what is merely rational (and I would add that we can perceive spiritual realities of an evil or false nature, but not of the Truth).
The process you describe, that of courageously embracing reality and humbling oneself to accept what is revealed by rationality and the senses, is magnified when one walks in the light of divine revelation. Here realities are revealed which are a hundred times more humbling and a thousand times more challenging to one's native presuppositions.
In fact, the entire construct I have described is designed to humble us. But it goes beyond that. It is also designed to raise us to heights we could never reach by any other means. And it takes a special kind of courage called "faith" to receive these things.

This divine revelation comes through multiple streams:

Scientifically: the created universe, even in its fallen state, shows a beauty, order and magnificence that points to God's power and grace.
Historically: the unique Person of Jesus Christ revealed God's will in His words and works, and especially by His death and resurrection. (Christ's historic work can be classified as both general and special revelation, a bridge of sorts)
Textually: the amazing Bible with divine "fingerprints" all over it.
Dreams, visions, angelic visitations, etc. that have been given to some.

All of this is interpreted rationally by the mind of man.

It is interesting to see how these streams are woven together, the Bible itself containing visions and dreams and angelic visitations, and Christ experiencing angelic visits during His life. Genuine subjective revelations will point us back to Christ and the Bible. But Christ Himself and the Bible itself are the clearest and most objective revelatory sources.

Those who live and walk in these truths, and love them, won't trade them for anything. They are precious beyond every earthly treasure and they bring a joy that is beyond comprehension.

Such faith is not given to every person, and on the whole it is rejected by a self-reliant humanity. To those who possess it, it is incomprehensibly wonderful. It calls for the abandonment of rationalism, but not of rationality. For the Christian, seeing the rationalist's refusal to abandon his self-reliance gives evidence to the presupposition of Scripture, that man is in rebellion against his Creator. Seeing the rational framework of the rejection of God confirms the presupposition that man is created in God's image and retains the mark of it. But the "gift" of rationality is now turned against the One who gave it!

Apart from divine revelation, fallen man can never reason his way to the conclusion that
he is in rebellion against his Creator. Why? Because he is too fallen to be able to reason to this conclusion. He can't see what he is. So, according to divine revelation we are in quite a conundrum apart from divine revelation. Based on their respective presuppositions, Christians and rationalists cannot arrive at the same conclusions. It is impossible.

Can you feel the gigantic divide in our epistemic sources? We are each in a philosophically frustrating position. You believe there is no divine revelation because your rational faculties don't (won't/can't) ever lead you to it. You would like me to see what you see. I believe there is divine revelation because I have experienced it. But I cannot prove it to you in a rational way, I can only pray that you also may experience it and know as I know.

One final note: overall, I'd say the ball has moved forward. You are being honest and we are no longer playing games. You do not pretend to have experienced divine revelation, which leaves the possibility that you may yet experience it. If and when you do, your rationalistic presuppositions will be shed like a caterpillar's cocoon, and you will fly on the wings of a new and unshakable certainty. You will not (indeed, cannot) lose or deny your scientific and rational facts, only the presuppositions that lead you to interpret them in a rationalistic way. And you won't miss them.

I continue to pray for you, my friend.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

PARADOX FILES, Vol. 15 - Brad Bigney

I've Got Questions about Election and Predestination . . .

That was the title of pastor Brad Bigney's recent message about the paradox of divine sovereignty and human responsibility. His remarks are insightful and balanced, emphasizing the greatness of our God and the meagerness of our capacity as fallen creatures. For this humble and God-honoring approach, he gets a THEOparadox t-shirt!

A few sobering quotes from the message . . .

"You're never going to escape a measure of mystery in the Bible."

"The issue really boils down to: how comfortable are you with a measure of mystery in all that we know about God and what He's doing - including as it relates to salvation?"

"Your human logic will never be fully satisfied."

"There's no way we're going to be able to fully understand the whole scope of God's work."

"When mystery is kept alive humility will characterize you."

You might also like this one about divine incomprehensibility, it is super!

For 18 pages of faith-building sermons like these - approximately 360 messages - visit this link:

It's the single most reliable sermon resource I know of. The style and content are along the lines of John Piper, C.J. Mahaney/Sovereign Grace Ministries, Paul Washer, and Paul Tripp. Messages here are usually topical, but LOADED heavily with insightful Biblical content and great theology. There is a strong emphasis on application, with plenty of encouragement and exhortation. Messages are available in multiple audio formats, and there are downloadable PDF outlines, too.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Salvation & Salvage

This week, business has taken me to Tampa, Florida. Yesterday I spent some time at a scrap metal yard.

Behind me is a 4-story metal shredder that can vaporize a bus in a matter of seconds. That's impressive, but our God can do ever better things. Safety equipment is highly recommended.

This fascinating business takes items that are generally considered worthless and grinds them into twisted chunks of valuable material which can be used to build new items.

It strikes me that God is in the salvage business . . . and for this my soul will praise Him always!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Philosophical Limits of Science

I wrote the following to a longtime friend who recently abandoned the Christian faith and turned to agnostic naturalism for answers (or should I say non-answers?).

When you say you "believe s
trongly" in the scientific method, are you acknowledging a certain kind of faith? A faith that only things which can be proven by the human senses matter? That the collective sense-knowledge of humanity serves as the final authority on what does and does not meaningfully exist, what is and is not significant?

Given all that I know of human beings - by my own observation and study, in addition to the findings of psychologists, anthropologists, historians, biologists, etc. - I would not trust that a race of beings who are so finite, limited and error-prone could hold the keys to everything. In order to do this, I would have to presuppose that the race (or at least its educated leadership) is correctly interpreting the cosmos, concerning both the things seen and the things unseen. Since the universe is so vast, and our window on it is so tiny, how can we place so much trust in our own perceptions?

The strength of this position is that things known are known with absolute certainty (e.g., that rock is a rock, made up of these elements, having these properties, and it always behaves in these ways, no matter what). The weakness is, larger questions are left unanswered - there are so very few things that can actually be known with "scientific" certainty. A true agnostic has to disbelieve so many things which would seem to be self-evident, simply because they are not scientifically warranted.

However, I do not believe anyone really lives by these principles. There is a presupposition that God either does not exist or has no interaction with the world. Hence, divine creation is not even entertained as a possibility, and evolution is assumed because it is the only possible way life could have arisen without divine action. And when the obvious question is asked, "Where did the original particles come from?" the answer is: "We don't address that question, it can't be known with any scientific certainty." And yet there is a certainty about the idea that there is (essentially) no God (at least no meaningful God), and He couldn't possibly have intervened in the universe in the distant past (let alone have created it). But I say, "What if there is such a Being, and He really did those things, and He is simply beyond the reach of human perception?" Although this cannot be known with scientific certainty, it is equally true that His non-existence and non-interaction cannot be known with scientific certainty.
So, when it comes to the big questions (the ones not discernible by science), all of us are left to faith and presupposition.

Imagine, for a moment, that mankind had no sense of taste, touch, sight, smell, or hearing. Would everything that is now scientifically verifiable cease to exist or have meaning? Would everything be meaningless until observed? Even if we had no means of observing it? That would be absurd, like the old question about a tree falling in the woods! Yet this very assumption is made, that there is no meaningful God because we cannot observe Him scientifically.

I love science and agree with its observations as far as they go. But is it wise to conclude that there are no meaningful realities beyond the scientific facts? Are there scientifically valid reasons to assert this? I believe there are scientifically valid reasons not to assert it, and even to vehemently deny it. One observable, repeatable, and established fact proven by science is that there is much more in an unsearchable universe than science has ever discovered or ever can discover. As an epistemic source, I judge it to be highly reliable but far too limited. Like a very solid and well-built bridge that only goes a few inches across the chasm.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Limited Atonement - A Middle Way

In a recent post on the Theological Meditations blog, Tony Byrne offered an extensive quotation from the esteemed English Puritan, William Lorimer (1640-1722), in which Lorimer traces the history of the debate over the extent of the atonement and concludes that there are not two but three main categories to consider. Two of them are Reformed, and one is Arminian. Here is a little excerpt from the conclusion:

". . . we maintain that Luther and Calvin by holding universal Redemption in the sense explained, did not corrupt the Christian Religion, nor preach a new Gospel. And if they did not, then those amongst us who hold universal Redemption as they held it, do no more corrupt Religion, nor preach a new Gospel than they did; and consequently it is a vile Calumny and Reproach cast upon us (and through us upon our First Reformers,) that by the middle-way aforesaid we corrupt Religion, and preach a new Gospel."

Responding to critics who viewed universal atonement as a distortion of the Gospel, Lorimer carefully distinguished between the Arminian view, the strict Limited Atonement view, and the "Middle Way" of Calvin, Luther, and other early reformers. This is very helpful for those who don't find a sufficient Biblical basis to affirm the strict Limited Atonement view, but also deny the Arminian extreme and wish to articulate a solidly Reformed position that is Biblical and does not distort the clear meaning of numerous Scripture texts.

Mark Driscoll has articulated a similar view, which he confusingly (but paradoxically) calls "unlimited limited atonement." A really cool and creative graphic and web designer named Satchell Drakes has extensively summarized (another paradox) Driscoll's teaching and created the nifty chart below (sorry if you have to squint to see it) . . .

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

The Gulf Oil Spill as an Illustration of Sin

The Gulf Oil Spill is a horrific disaster. It calls to mind an even greater tragedy which affects each of us in much more significant ways. Let's look at some of the parallels . . .

The Gulf Oil Spill started with the catastrophic fall of something that was created good . . .
Just as mankind fell catastrophically from original innocence when Adam and Eve sinned.
Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned . . . (Romans 5:12)

The problem with the Gulf Oil Spill is not just what is on the surface, but the gushing well in the depths below . . .
Just as sin is not a mere behavioral issue, but a deeply rooted condition flowing from an evil and corrupt heart.

And He was saying, "That which proceeds out of the man, that is what defiles the man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man." (Mark 7:20-23)

The significance of the Gulf Oil Spill has been minimized, discounted and treated lightly . . .
Just as sin is taken lightly and not approached with the seriousness and severity it deserves.

For from the least of them even to the greatest of them, everyone is greedy for gain, and from the prophet even to the priest everyone deals falsely. They have healed the brokenness of my people superficially, saying, 'Peace, peace,' but there is no peace. (Jeremiah 6:13-14)

There have been repeated unsuccessful attempts to fix the Gulf Oil Spill . . .
Just as there have been repeated unsuccessful attempts to save mankind from the effects of sin.
For I testify about them that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge. For not knowing about God's righteousness and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God. (Romans 10:2-3)

The Gulf Oil Spill will carry an immense price tag, with environmental effects, lost jobs and bankrupted businesses . .
Just as sin has cost mankind all of his spiritual riches, leaving every one of us spiritually dead and
entirely bankrupt.

What then? Are we better than they? Not at all; for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin; as it is written, "THERE IS NONE RIGHTEOUS, NOT EVEN ONE; (Romans 3:9-10)

The most hopeful remedy for the Gulf Oil Spill is a relief well that will draw the polluting oil into an alternate path and make a complete capping of the broken well achievable . . .
Just as the only remedy for human sin is the substitutionary atonement of Christ, leading to the ultimate redemption and final righteousness of His people. (NOTE: Whereas the relief well is not a guarantee, the atoning work of Christ is a guarantee of salvation for all who come to Him in faith).
. . . Christ Jesus, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession . . . (Titus 2:13-14)

Even with a successful relief well, the Gulf Oil Spill cleanup will be a long term process . . .
Just as sanctification is a progressive work that requires time, effort, and ongoing faith.

Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, having been firmly rooted and now being built up in Him and established in your faith, just as you were instructed, and overflowing with gratitude. (Colossians 2:6-7)

In the time of the New Heavens and New Earth, when the creation itself has been redeemed, all the effects of the Gulf Oil Spill will be completely remedied . . .
Just as the effects of sin will be completely remedied when we see Jesus face to face.

Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure. (I John 3:2-3)

Monday, July 05, 2010

Site Changes

If you've been here before, you have probably already noticed there are now two sidebars, and a brand new header graphic.

On the right side of the header, we have the open Bible indicating divine revelation as the source of Truth, and our commitment to the study of Scripture.

On the left side of the header, we have the balances indicating our thoughts weighing and wrestling with the Truth revealed in Scripture, and our commitment to good theology.

There are some additional page links just below the header on the left side. The FAQ page contains all of the updated background material for THEOparadox. And there is a completely new Thesis page, which is a condensed outline of the basic ideas underlying the site. Included there as a footnote is a brief discussion of moderate/mainstream Calvinism and its relation to the atonement debate.

The Thesis page does not allow comments, but you may feel free to post any reactions or thoughts here.

Grace & peace,