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!

Monday, June 06, 2011

The Legitimacy of Paradox as a Theological Model - Part 2

Pastor Richard Ostella of Westminster Reformed Church in Plymouth, Michigan has graciously granted permission to re-publish his March 2009 ETS paper on theological paradox here at THEOparadox. To understand these thoughts in context, please begin by reading part 1.

1A. Theological Paradox  

For Van Til, a paradox is an apparent contradiction or any intellectual tension.1 It relates to the philosophical notion of contradiction.The coherence of God and His revelation calls us to avoid contradictory thoughts and practices. Simply put: being God’s image bearers, we are to be like Him. God is logical because He is truth. If there were contradictions in God's knowledge, then some of His knowledge would be false, He would not be the truth, and He would not be God. Accordingly, there is no contradiction in God’s revelation; therefore, man, His image bearer, to be like Him, must avoid contradiction.3
Nonetheless, we must come to terms with apparent contradictions, beliefs that seem inconsistent. Importantly, we know that there is no inconsistency between them because God has revealed hem. Paradoxicality should be no surprise. After all, we are creatures and He is the Creator. We have limited knowledge; we cannot penetrate all the interconnections that exist within the truth that God knows. Pointedly, paradox is the “result of our ignorance about interconnections.”4

Pastor Ostella's Footnotes
Cornelius Van Til, Common Grace (Philadelphia: P&RP, 1954) 9-10. In Defense of the Faith (P&R Publishing: Phillipsburg, 2008, 4th edition, edited by Scott Oliphint), 67-68 he says: “Our knowledge is analogical and therefore must be paradoxical.” Oliphint on Van Til notes that what seems to be contradiction is not ultimately one because “God is exhaustively coherent” (fn38). Oliphant also explains the Van Til uses paradox to refer to “any intellectual point of tension” (fn38).  
2 The idea of contradiction has almost universal recognition.  Outside the history of Western philosophy, some 
people try to make sense of statements like "you are to meditate on one hand clapping." However, this example shows that one of the reasons that contradiction is wrong is that it is meaningless and blocks communication. You cannot make sense of "one hand clapping." Try to clap with only one hand; it becomes "one hand waving." It is ambiguous (you can "clap" one hand against something) but what is meant is "clap your hands together but only use one hand" (trying it I cannot even keep one hand still!). That is contradiction. It breaks down communication; very often, it breaks down honest communication. 
3 Therefore, to fulfill our role on earth receiving God's communication to us in nature and in Christ, we ought to be logical, consistent, and non-contradictory in our thinking. Cf. Van Til, Common Grace and the Gospel (P&R, 1972): “The rules of logic must be followed in all our attempts at systematic exposition of God’s revelation, whether general or special,” 9. Using logic is an “ought to”; it is an ethical ought. Being logical is being godly. It is God-like. It is good and proper. It is required of us not only academically or intellectually but also morally and spiritually. How else are we going to obey the Lord when He says, "Come now let us reason together"? To place a healthy emphasis on logical and critical thinking is a hurdle all its own. However, once we jump this obstacle, we face other ones such as the problem that human reason may take on a magisterial role rather than a ministerial role. When that happens, the reasoning self forgets (avoids, denies) the reality that he is duty bound under the authority of God’s revelation and he will have difficulty accepting “mysteries that are beyond reason’s ability completely to comprehend” (Scott Oliphint, Reasons for Faith: Philosophy in the Service of Theology, [P&R Publishing, 2006; cf. the insightful citation from Owen, 255, fn39] 88-89). In the end, this is a failure to practice the most humble use of logic. 
4 John Frame, “The Problem of Theological Paradox” in Foundations of Christian scholarship: essays in the Van Til Perspective, ed. Gary North (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 1979), 321. Frame goes on to explain that “we do not know precisely how they ‘dovetail,’ how they take account of one another. We know that they do dovetail, for we know that God’s plan is wise and exhaustive, and usually we know how they fit together to some degree, but the gaps in our knowledge often demand that we rest content with a paradoxical formulation” (underlining mine). 

PART 3 - Click Here

1 comment:

  1. Cognitive dissonance is an uncomfortable feeling caused by holding conflicting ideas simultaneously. The theory of cognitive dissonance proposes that people have a motivational drive to reduce dissonance. They do this by changing their attitudes, beliefs, and actions. Dissonance is also reduced by justifying, blaming, and denying. It is one of the most influential and extensively studied theories in social psychology. -Wikipedia

    (Reposting because it's so applicable.)


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