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, June 07, 2011

The Legitimacy of Paradox as a Theological Model - Part 3

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 with part 1.

Moreover, we know that a set of beliefs is a paradox by the following ingredients.    

 1) There are (at least) two claims or beliefs.  

 2) Both are in Scripture; they are clear threads of biblical teaching, clear threads of truth.  

 3) They seem to contradict each other. This means we have difficulty seeing how they fit together in the fabric of Scripture. It means that human reason has trouble accepting one teaching because of the other.5 Intellectual tension exists in a tenacious and profound way.6

 4) Danger: we have the tendency to damage one teaching or the other by our reasoning. Thus, we take a biblical truth and use it to deny another biblical truth! This is a red flag. On the word contradiction, it is a response to those who claim the presence of actual contradiction. Van Til states that when “contradiction” is wrongly attributed to two truths, one is “thrown overboard” to solve the problem logically.7

Pastor Ostella's Footnotes

5 There may be other factors that make acceptance of x difficult, but the juxtaposition to the corresponding thread is central as a cloud that hinders seeing x clearly and accepting it wholeheartedly.   
6 Not every difficult set of teachings constitutes a paradox. Difficulties such as Jephthah’s vow in relation to Jesus teaching on vows are not paradoxical because they do not push against each other. Church history and the history of theology reveal a limited number of paradoxes easy to identify. Paradoxicality is not difficulty in arriving at comparable truths, but difficulty in harmonizing truths that are clear (by themselves Christ’s deity and His humanity are quite clear, but reflection on their interconnection takes theologians all over the map). Some example paradoxes are the trinity, the deity and humanity of Christ, the Bible is the word of God and the word of men, sovereignty and responsibility, God’s decree and His desire, and moral inability along side of full responsibility.   
Defense 69. This is not merely a debate between reformed and non-reformed thinkers because, for one example, Van Til wrestled on the basis of paradox in opposition to some reformed thinkers in his book, Common Grace (Philadelphia: P&RP, 1954). In more ways that one, J. I. Packer compliments and gives detail to Van Til’s approach to common grace and the free offer of the gospel in Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God (Chicago: Inter-Varsity Press, 1961). Packer’s definition of antinomy (appearance of contradiction, apparent incompatibility) equals Van Til’s use of paradox, though Packer restricts paradox to a figure of speech, 18-19. Van Til uses antinomy and paradox interchangeably, Defense, 67, fn36.

PART 4 - Click Here


  1. Very interesting.
    We have some shared interests.
    You may want to check out my site:

    Also, if you are intersted, there is a free download of the first two chapters of my book "Paradoxy: Creating Christian Community Beyond Us and Them" at


  2. Ken,

    Thanks for dropping by. I read the excerpt from your book, listened to your church dedication sermon on YouTube, and browsed around your site. We do have some common interests, and some fairly significant differences in approach as well.

    The links are appreciated.

    Grace & peace,


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