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 13, 2011

The Legitimacy of Paradox as a Theological Model - Part 8

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.

3) Free will doctrine supports only half of its definition 

 Fallen man does not have free will because he cannot do anything good. Free will teaching (fallen man can do good or evil) has the doing evil half of its definition in place but not the doing good half.  

 Since Scripture is so clear on the natural man’s moral inability (he cannot bring forth good actions, he cannot believe,19 he cannot understand the things of the Spirit; he cannot submit to the law of God, etc.20), we wonder about the source of the idea of free will. What is the biblical basis for tweaking the impact of the large number of clear inability texts in the interest of affirming belief in free will? As far as I can tell there is one line of support: the notion that “ought to” implies “able to”; as Geisler claims: the command to believe indicates the ability (freedom and free will) to believe.21 This belief is a starting point in Kant’s philosophy of religion and in the typical defenses of free will.22

 It is allegedly self-evident and intuitive. Hence, it easily takes on presuppositional status. However, there is the serious problem that this principle opens a flood gate for evil without responsibility because “if I am morally responsible then I am morally able” logically, by contraposition, implies “If I am not morally able, then I am not morally responsible.”23

 This logical entailment is highly suspect. The following examples show that the “ought/able” 
inference fails.   

 a) Sub prime slime example: If I am morally responsible to pay my mortgage (it is more than money; it is a moral obligation) then I must be morally able to pay it (I must be honest and work hard) and if not morally able to pay it then I am not morally responsible to pay it. This means that the person who lacks integrity (who cannot find it in himself to be honest, work hard, and sacrifice to meet his financial/moral obligations) is not accountable (to men or to God).24

 b) Hitler example: if Hitler was not able to love the Jews then he was not responsible to love them. He was so saturated with compounding sins that bound him in lust for power, hatred, and murder that he was therefore not responsible for what He did. Clearly, responsibility does not imply ability.  

 c) Worst are least example: if responsibility implies ability, then as a criminal becomes more hardened, he becomes less responsible.   

 d) Commandments example: is the non-Christian responsible to keep the Ten Commandments? Surely, we will say, “yes!” Is he able to comply with them25 in their true spirit and intent? Surely, we will say “he is not able.”26

 Therefore, responsibility does not imply ability and the philosophical basis for free will does not overturn the clear biblical teaching on fallen man’s moral inability.27

Pastor Ostella's Footnotes
19 John 6.44 (“no one can come to me”: no one is able to believe); Romans 8.7 (he cannot submit [in faith] to God).
20 Cunningham, Historical Theology, II, 586-88. 
21 Geisler, Chosen but Free, 30. 
22 In Kant’s reading of Scripture, it is of the essence of man that the antecedent to every act is an expression of freedom; otherwise, “the use or abuse of man’s power of choice in respect of the moral law could not be imputed to him nor could the good or bad in him be called moral,” Immanual Kant, Religion within the Bounds of Reason Alone, trans. Theodore M. Greene and Hoyt Hudson (New York: Harper and Row Publishers, 1960). 16. Thus, the tablet of stone for much of modern philosophy and theology has these Kantian inscriptions: “If I am responsible, then I must be able” and “duty demands nothing of us that we can not do” (Religion 43). Interestingly, Kant’s argument for free will is the reductio: without it there is no such thing as morality. 
23 Another example of contraposition (that applies to sufficient conditional statements) pertains to faith and  salvation: “If you have faith then you have salvation” logically contraposes to “If you do not have salvation then you do not have faith.”  
24 On this principle, the inability to be honest and have a hearty work ethic that leads to mortgage default demands a moral social order in which foreclosures are unethical and bail outs are proper. On a larger scale, this opens a wide door to moral hazard: I can “irresponsibly” take bad risks because I will not be held accountable.  
25 Because of debate about the Law, we should note that this argument has the same weight if we substitute the commandments of Jesus for the Ten Commandments. Or, we might simply ask, “Are we responsible to be holy as God is holy?” Surely, we are responsible even though we are unable.  
26 If he worships false gods, lies, steals, and commits murder, he is accountable, even though he is not able to obey God’s precepts. Moreover, if he disobeys the gospel command to repent and believe, he is accountable, even though he is not able to repent and believe. In a word, fallen man does not have free will because he is evil; his nature is evil; his heart is evil. Because he is evil, we reasonably conclude, do we not, that he is all the more responsible? He is fully responsible; he has full responsibility and no “free will.” 
27 Cf. the substantive treatment of the three blocks of biblical material that support the bondage of the will in Historical Theology, by Cunningham, II, 586-88. By contrast, Wesley affirms and supports a full fledged doctrine of fallen man’s moral inability at the beginning of his Sermon on Free Grace by noting that free grace does “not depend on any power…in man; no, not in any degree…Whatsoever good is in man, or is done by man, God is the author and doer of it. Thus is his grace free in all; that is, no way depending on any power or merit in man, but on God alone” (par. 3.2, 8-9), even though he ends the sermon by stating that “all who suffer Christ to make them alive” (par. 29.4) “shall live” (29.3).

PART 9 - Click Here

1 comment:

  1. Because these posts are a republication of another author's material, I decided not to interact with them directly in the posts. Thus, I'm leaving another comment on my own blog, just to say this is one of my favorite parts of the article. It's well argued and the examples are great!


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