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!

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

The Legitimacy of Paradox as a Theological Model - Part 4

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.

This use of theological paradox for intellectual tensions, and as a response to thinkers who attribute actual contradiction, grounds a reply to Ciocchi’s opposition to paradox; for him it is not a helpful model. He has two main objections: it incorrectly implies types of contradiction and it wrongly claims impossibility of understanding. 

 a) His claim that the notion of paradox fails “because it implies a distinction between types of contradiction,”8 is not necessary since the use of the word is simply deflective: opponents make the charge of actual contradiction and they eliminate one belief or the other by logical analysis. Defenders take both beliefs as clearly biblical and claim appearance not actuality because God gives us both threads, so both must be true and coherent, however difficult it may be for us to reconcile them in the fabric of truth.  

 b) Ciocchi also claims that paradox as a theological model probably fails because of “its reliance on the dogmatic claim that a logical reconciliation…is known to be impossible.”9

Briefly, in reply, paradox refers to intellectual tensions, to what Ciocchi acknowledges: intractable tensions,10 due understandably to God’s incomprehensibility. 

Pastor Ostella's Footnotes
8 David M. Ciocchi, “Reconciling Divine Sovereignty and Human Freedom,” JETS 37/3 (September 1994): 398. 

9 Ciocchi, Reconciling 396. 
10 However, his formulation of an intractable tension between paradox and reason is simply another paradox. Even worse, his paradox/reason tension actually boils down to the difference between a ministerial and a magisterial use of reason. For Ciocchi, tensions such as the paradox/reason tension and the sovereignty/responsibility tension are so difficult that they lead him to agnosticism about resolution and to suspension of debate regarding them. He expresses his agnosticism in the “Reconciling” article (JETS 1994) and the call for suspension is the point of “Suspending debate about sovereignty and freedom” (JETS 1998). For short, his paradox/reason tension is for all intents and purposes another theological paradox and is most likely misstated because his paradox/reason tension boils down to the tension between a ministerial and a magisterial use of reason. Thus, and contrary to Ciocchi, when we face tensions such as the deity and humanity of Christ that the records of church history and historical theology show to be “intractable tensions,” it is reasonable to conclude that these thoughts transcend our thoughts like the heavens transcend the earth. We should be excused for thinking that it is impossible for us to fully comprehend these thoughts revealed to us by the incomprehensible God! For Turretin, reason serves theology as its handmaiden and must function “in subjection to Scripture” and not preside over Scripture; “reason…neither can nor ought to be constituted the rule of belief,” Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, ed. James T. Dennison Jr., trans. George Musgrave Giger, 3 vols. (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 1992-97), 1:24-28. Ciocchi’s tension thus becomes:  paradox (reason in its ministerial role) vs. reason (reason in its magisterial role). On context, we must saturate 
ourselves with a passage by prayerful meditation and reflection in order to absorb the pattern of thought. We must work hard at grasping the writer's purpose in a verse within a paragraph, within a book in the New Testament, within the Bible, within the history of redemption, remembering that the ultimate author is the Holy Spirit. This is easier to say than to do: we need to practice the art of careful contextual thinking. We need to expend much effort to absorb the patterns present in the word of God (cf. the outline of sound words, 2 Tim 1.13). Failure in the handling of paradoxes shows up in the twisting of words and the forcing of passages beyond clear contextual warrant. Granted, sometimes we will have to debate about what is contextually clear. Thinking there may be contradiction leads us to closer reading of the text; that is a benefit, especially when we engage with open-minded humility.

PART 5 - Click Here

Editor's Note: David M. Ciocchi's lengthy ETS article, "Reconciling Divine Sovereignty and Human Freedom", is available HERE.

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