4) The paradox model emphasizes faithfulness in biblical study
The great lesson in exegesis and theological formulation is that faithfulness to the text has
precedence over logical coherence.42
This does not stifle debate as if anyone may shout “paradox” and dogmatically end discussion. No, debate must continue by faithful study with the caution that though we must engage with critical thinking, we must not make logical consistency the dominant principle or ultimate goal.
For example, if Scripture clearly teaches that the natural man has moral inability and if it clearly teaches that he has full responsibility then, however difficult this may be to harmonize logically, we must accept both and work hard to apply both in preaching, teaching, and living. Similarly, if Scripture perspicuously teaches that the natural man is morally unable to do anything good then this teaching ought to take precedence over logical inferences “from Scripture” that contradict that teaching,43 such as the duty/ability inference.
Of course, how we interpret the many passages on inability (blindness, deafness, deadness, etc.44) must reflect faithful exegesis.45
Debate is also legitimate with regard to the “duty implies ability” reasoning to see if it is philosophically problematic, Kantian, and counterintuitive.46
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Pastor Ostella's Footnotes
42 In one sense, admitting paradox is simply another way of saying that God's thoughts are above ours as the heavens are above the earth and it should not surprise us when we face difficulty. What we must do in faithful quest of the truth is pull together biblical data and accept paradox "where it is warranted."(John Frame, Ibid, 323-24). Logic is properly used when it is governed by the recognition of our creaturehood and hence by the recognition of the limits of creaturely reasoning. We must acknowledge the distinction between Creator and creature, and thinking this way must control the use of logic because the laws of logic are founded in the character of God (He is truth and thus there can be no contradiction in His knowledge or revelation). Properly used, the laws of logic will reveal no contradiction in the biblical system of truth because as God's revelation it has no real contradiction.
43In this light, the inference that people (believers and non-believers alike) draw from duty to ability wrongly sets aside the biblical teaching about moral inability. The command to keep the whole law of God in its spirit and intent is a duty; from that we must not set aside the doctrine that an evil tree cannot bear good fruit. In turn, the fact that lost sinners have the command to repent and believe does not allow us to infer to their ability to believe and repent such that we set aside all the clear texts on moral inability with respect to faith.
44 Cf. Cunningham, Historical Theology, II, 586-588 and The Canons of Dort, “Third and Fourth Heads of Doctrine: The Corruption of man, His Conversion to God, and the Manner Thereof.”
45 Our interpretations must be subject to examination by the church at large. Nonetheless, it should be easy for us to see (by the aid of the paradoxicality model) that there are scores of inability texts and “cannot” texts. It is reasonable to affirm that we must keep them front and center in our discussions with acute awareness of the philosophically problematic nature of the “duty implies ability” challenge to the “clear” message of the “cannot” texts.
46 It is perhaps the result of the failure to preserve the distinctiveness of the “duty implies ability” principle to
Christians who have the indwelling Spirit and can discern spiritual things. It is the natural man that can do nothing good whatever.