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!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Reflections on "The Legitimacy of Paradox as a Theological Model"

Pastor Richard Ostella of Westminster Reformed Church in Plymouth, Michigan graciously granted permission to re-publish his March 2009 ETS paper on theological paradox here at THEOparadox. The entire series can be viewed as separate "bite sized" posts here or you may wish to read it in long form here. Following are my reflections on the material.

Reading through Dr. Ostella's paper on theological paradox was highly beneficial for me. I appreciate the fact that he begins with a careful definition of theological paradox. Helpfully, he mentions this about identifying paradoxes: 
Paradoxicality is not difficulty in arriving at comparable truths, but difficulty in harmonizing truths that are clear.
Thus, it is not a question of perspicuity (the clarity of Scripture), but of logically reconciling that which is perspicuous. Dr. Ostella shows that his embrace of theological paradox is not in any way a rejection of the use of logic, but exactly the opposite: a full acceptance of it.

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 . . . 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. 

The coherence of God and His revelation calls us to avoid contradictory thoughts and practices. . . . 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.  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 them. 

At the same time,
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.
Ostella does not merely affirm the validity of logic; he makes proficient use of it. His identification of the Kantian formula, "Duty implies ability," as unbiblical and illogical is particularly helpful. His exegetical analysis of numerous Biblical texts in refutation of this commonly held assumption is also excellent. I found the following line of reasoning deeply insightful:

For Christians who can live righteously but who may also sin, is their ability to sin central to their new found freedom in Christ? No, it shows that they have freedom now partially and not yet fully. Their ability to sin is not evidence that they are free. Instead, it is evidence that their freedom is incomplete. What demonstrates their freedom? What shows that they are free persons is their ability to do good from the heart, even though it has to grow.
Along the way, Ostella effectively uses various illustrations to demonstrate his points. Alongside of these are extensive quotations from other scholars, including some wonderful excerpts from John Calvin.

Finally, Dr. Ostella's systematic and ferocious (yet irenic) dismantling of "free will" doctrine - from the "duty implies ability" fallacy to the Arminian notion of "prevenient grace" - is simply incredible!

I am deeply grateful to Dr. Ostella for allowing me to share his superb article with readers of THEOparadox. As a result of studying this material, I have gained a better understanding of leading Reformed thinkers like John Calvin, Cornelius Van Til, John Frame and Scott Oliphint, as well as some of their detractors. Most importantly, I have gained useful insight into the Bible itself.

Questions for reflection

1. How might someone attempt to overthrow the arguments presented in the paper? Are there any obvious openings?
2. Which part of Dr. Ostella's article was most edifying or beneficial to you?

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