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!

Friday, September 30, 2011

Try a Blog (But Don't Try Triablogue)

NOTE: There is an important update to this post at

I share the following with a great deal of disappointment, both in myself and in the others involved.

For some time, I have looked up to Steve Hays at Triablogue, and I've also made no secret of my admiration for Paul Manata. Unfortunately, I must now disavow any recommendation of these men and their work.
Why? I wish I didn't have to say any of this. But I do.
For several weeks, Hays and Manata have been posting vociferously against some arguments David Ponter has presented regarding certain distinctives of Moderate Calvinism. This week I got into a related discussion with both Hays and Manata in the Triablogue comment box. The discussion went downhill and quickly turned into a mud slinging contest, with uncharitable personal attacks being launched from both sides. Hays then wrote a blog post about me, citing out-of-context phrases taken from comments I posted, interspersed with his cutting remarks. Hays harshly attacked my character, calling me a "yes-man" and a "cheerleader" for Ponter. Mind you, Hays has never met me, and has rarely interacted with me online. So I'm not sure how he justifies making those pronouncements.
After considering the whole situation, I concluded that one of Hays' criticisms was correct. I had engaged in ad hominem attacks, particularly with regard to certain remarks I had made about him. I also realized I had not conducted myself with appropriate respect or humility in our previous exchanges. I had become sarcastic and was starting to take things too personally. The ad hominem attacks from both sides were escalating, and we were violating clear Biblical standards. Proverbs 15:1 came to mind with great force and began to batter my conscience. Also, Colossians 4:6. What could I do? 
I decided it best to take responsibility for my actions and try to restore good relations with these Christian brothers. I wrote a detailed confession, asked their forgiveness, and requested further input from them if they felt there were other offenses that needed to be addressed. I also asked Hays to back up what he had asserted about me (my full responses are quoted at the end of this post).
The only response was from Hays: "Thanks, Derek."
No admission of wrong from his side. No affirmation of forgiveness and no request for forgiveness. No attempt at reconciliation. Worst of all, perhaps: no acknowledgement of the falsehoods that were brought to his attention.
The falsehoods were the reason I engaged in dialogue with Hays in the first place. He has labeled his posts about Moderate Calvinism with the misleading tag, "Anti-Calvinism." Take a moment to think about the significance of that. In Hays' estimation, moderate Calvinism equals ANTI-CALVINISM. The label is pure slander. Hays continues to do this despite the fact that he has repeatedly been shown conclusive proof that moderate Calvinism is a historically valid stream of Reformed Theology and is not in any sense "Anti-Calvinism." Norman Geisler and Randal Rauser are Anti-Calvinism. Classic/Historic/Moderate Calvinists like David Ponter are not. I find Hays' ignorance about these matters disturbing, and his stubbornness when corrected alarming. In my mind, his ongoing refusal to accept the facts and correct his own thinking disqualifies Hays from acting as a Christian apologist or a representative of mainstream Reformed thought. He has shown a persistent unwillingness to tell the truth about his opponents. He has smeared them with false charges and misrepresented their arguments. And he has not been willing to justify or recant slanderous remarks made about a brother.
In contrast, Ponter's response to Hays and Manata has been copiously fair and balanced. He has addressed the arguments presented rather than the individuals who presented them. His posts have lacked the insulting tone and deceptive selectivity of Hays' posts. Whether or not you agree with Ponter, his godly conduct in this debate has been unmistakable. This is a good example for me to learn from. This is admirable.

It is notable that Hays picked a fight with James White on the same day he attacked me. White perfectly described Hays' basic M.O. when he said:

"The ability to not only disregard the obvious meaning of my words, but to stretch to this incredible length, speaks so loudly to the length to which Mr. Hays is willing to go in the prosecution of his case against those he personally dislikes that I truly need to make no further comment. I simply ask the reader to compare what I wrote to his response, see how the substance of my reply was ignored, and that what he does say in response ignores my clear intent and purpose, and make your decision on the basis of the facts."
I have seen Hays consistently use these tactics with moderate Calvinists like David Ponter and Tony Byrne, and I have seen him use them against many others. Systematically and unrepentantly. This makes for a sad parody of Reformed Apologetics that can only serve to reinforce negative stereotypes. I stand with White in his conclusion:
"I pray the Lord's blessings on Steve, and on the whole Triablogue team. I simply pray he will recover his balance and seek fairness in his future efforts."
Until that happens, I recommend trying another blog. In the past I would have suggested Paul Manata's. But Manata has disgracefully stood with Hays on these matters and is now taking shots at other moderate Calvinists as well. So, for a more objective approach to Reformed Philosophy and Apologetics, I recommend these great sites:
James N. Anderson - Analogical Thoughts
I don't agree with these men on every point, and I don't imagine they agree with me on every point, but I have found I can count on them to be fair and respectful to their opponents. That adorns their arguments with grace and makes me much more willing to consider the merits.
Dear reader, those you admire will fail. Your friends will fail. I will fail and you will fail. But Christ will never fail. Keep your trust firmly set on Him, and you will not be shaken. Keep repenting, and you will not get far in your own selfish folly when it arises. Keep walking humbly with Him, and you will find rest for your soul. These are lessons I am learning . . . sometimes the hard way.
My notes to Steve Hays and Paul Manata at Triablogue:

Steve and Paul,

This cut-and-paste job on my comments is a stacked deck. I could do the same using comments from you, but I'm not going to bother with it. I would simply invite readers to go back to the original comment threads and read my words in context along with the rest of the conversation. No defense, just a call for objectivity.

For my part, I admit I got too deep in this and resorted to some ad homs, and definitely employed some unnecessary sarcasm. In particular, my two "conclusions" about you, Steve, were offensive and uncalled for. I can see that my sinful pride fueled some of my words as our disagreement heated up. Please forgive me.

FWIW, the logic of my "formal argument" was intentionally ridiculous in order to make the point that one need not be a professional philosopher to realize calling moderate Calvinism "anti-Calvinism" is simply incorrect. Amazingly, you (Steve) continue to use and even defend this misleading label. I never considered that you would take my "argument" as a serious attempt at formal logic. So I guess I set myself up for your comeback.

That doesn't excuse the improper labeling of moderate Calvinism. On this point I will stand firm. It's a matter of Truth, and it is to your benefit to accept what I'm saying. Obviously, the choice is yours.

Now the three of us have had our little brouhaha and I hope we can all shake hands (metaphorically speaking) and take responsibility for what went wrong with the discussion.

BTW - I have always held that you are much better philosophers than I am. You'll get no arguments from me on that point. I hope you enjoy your abilities and use them for the glory of God, and speak Truth in love.

Derek (a.k.a. THEOparadox)

PS - nothing written above should be taken as sarcasm. These words are sincere and serious reflections on our recent experience of significant disagreement. If I have committed offenses that need to be addressed further, please give feedback and let's be sure we are fully reconciled as Christian brothers.

One other question: Other than agreeing with Ponter, was there something I did that led you to the conclusion that I am a "yes man"? I work very hard at thinking independently and speaking honestly to everyone in every circle I travel. I have lost jobs and strained friendships over this. No doubt I fall short sometimes, too. But this question is very, very important to me, so I would deeply appreciate any further thoughts on this point especially. Thanks.

PS - again I want to assure you there is no sarcasm here, and I am grateful for your willingness to bring to my attention the areas in which I have fallen short during our conversation.

Friday, September 23, 2011

The Gospel and the Household

I want to take a moment to consider a Biblical character quality that has suffered neglect in our culture: hospitality. This quality is enjoined upon every believer (Romans 12:13, I Peter 4:9, Hebrews 13:2) and it is a non-negotiable requirement for all Christian leaders (I Timothy 3:2, Titus 1:8). Thankfully, hospitality is making a comeback as the grace of Christ opens hearts and homes in many places.
The Principle of Hospitality
John Piper reminds us that the Gospel, at its heart, is a form of hospitality.
“The ultimate act of hospitality was when Jesus Christ died for sinners to make everyone who believes a member of the household of God. We are no longer strangers and sojourners. We have come home to God."
Even for God, hospitality involved sacrifice. As His sacrifice brought magnificent benefit to humanity and much glory to God, so our small sacrifices of hospitality can serve others and glorify our Father in heaven. My pastor often reminds me that every Christian household can be an outpost for ministry, and every true church is a part of the "household of God" (Ephesians 2:19, I Timothy 3:15, I Peter 4:17) which is made up of our households. A concordance study of the word "household" is be a good way to rediscover a few of the forgotten Biblical principles around this topic. Hospitality is nothing less than the mercy of God extended through a household as outsiders are welcomed in and cared for.

The Practice of Hospitality

 Do you lack hospitality? Do you want to grow in this grace? There is a cure! As in many other areas, the medicine and its effect are the same. What do I mean by that?

A friend once said to me, "If you want to be more humble, start doing humble things. It's hard to be proud when you're scrubbing toilets or picking up trash." Well, trust me, it's not impossible! But that's still good advice, and the same goes for hospitality. If you want to be more hospitable, invite some folks over and serve them. Feed them. Turn off the TV, computer and other devices and listen to them. Ask questions. Talk to them. Don't wait until you feel like it. Do it this week.

An Opportunity
Another good way to grow in hospitality is to get around people who practice it with joy and excellence.

My friends Craig and Theresa Bowen are just that sort of people. They have recently launched "A Candle in the Window," a Christian hospitality network. Over the years, the Bowens have hosted hundreds (if not thousands) of visitors in their home (including me and my family on numerous occasions). They exude kindness, compassion and genuine care, not only in big ways but also in the small ways that say, "You're truly welcome here."

If you would like to stay with hospitable Christians when travelling, and also open your home to fellow believers who are away from home, a one or two year membership in "A Candle in the Window" might be a good investment. While there is a small fee to join, a one or two year membership costs less than most hotels charge for a single night's stay. Theresa recently wrote to let me know they are offering special introductory rates at this time. See below for details, and please help spread the word to those who might find this useful.

From Theresa Bowen . . .
We are new and it will take us awhile to build our database. Please show grace as we are growing. At first, there will be fewer member locations… but we believe we will soon be a thriving worldwide network of Christian households delighting in hospitality!
 As an incentive, we are offering free lifetime memberships to the first household in each state or foreign country to join. These will be our “charter members”. Click on the locations page: if there are no members yet from your state or country, join and become your state’s charter member. Hurry! We are also offering an introductory discount of $30/1 year and $50/2 year. To take advantage of our discounts, go to join us, click on either 1 or 2 year memberships. Click next to take you the following screen. Fill out preliminary application and type into the discount code box either FOUNDER'S 1 YEAR (case sensitive and spaces) or FOUNDER'S 2 YEAR (case sensitive with spaces) and the discount will automatically be applied.
 Please help us spread the word… post a link on your facebook page, email or "tweet" it to your friends. Be creative. We also enjoy speaking on the topic of hospitality and would welcome opportunities to do so in your area. The more members we have in different locations, the better it is for everybody!"
Even if you don't join the network, you may want to bookmark the site for valuable insights on how you can grow in the practice of hospitality to the glory of God.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Why "God Hated Esau" is of No Use to Randal Rauser - Addendum

While examining the arguments presented by Dr. Rauser and comparing them to the theology of mainstream Calvinism, it occurred to me that there is a striking difference in our methods. He was willing to write off a Biblical text as too "complex" in order to maintain the simplicity of his Systematic Theology. In contrast, we have drawn out the clear meaning from a variety of relevant Biblical texts and attempted to construct from them a coherent description of God's disposition toward fallen humanity. We are willing, by God's grace, to take the texts at full face value and accept the logical challenges created by exegesis - even if we can't solve the logical challenges (although in this case we can).

A question facing every Evangelical theologian is this: am I going to accept the whole of the Bible as God's unique and inerrant self-revelation - and the only light by which I see - or will I impose my own system of thought upon it?
Psalm 119:160 The sum of your word is truth, and every one of your righteous rules endures forever. 
Like some Evangelical theologians, this house is
lacking something important: a solid foundation.
Like some Calvinists, it could use a better paint job
and a more welcoming entrance.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Why "God Hated Esau" is of No Use to Randal Rauser - Part 2

This is Part 2 of a discussion of Randal Rauser's recent essay, "Why 'God Hated Esau' is of No Use to the Calvinist." Click here for Part 1.

Where Rauser Goes Wrong

In part 1, we discussed the first of two points:

1. Rauser's confusion begins when he proposes two different kinds of Calvinism

Now we will move on to the second point:

2. Rauser clouds the Biblical texts with vague hermeneutical speculation rather than accepting the plain teachings of the passages.

He suggests the teaching of Romans 9 is very complex, and proposes we use John 3:16 as an interpretive control against the Calvinistic understanding. In my view, a better approach is to hold the clear truth of Romans 9 in balance with the clear truth of John 3:16. Otherwise, we are in danger of skewing our perspective by discounting valuable Scriptural data.

Back to the text . . .
I will be the first to admit there are passages in the Bible that are hard to understand. However, Romans 9 is not one of them. It is hard to accept, but not so hard to understand at the basic level. Without any doubt it is "strong medicine." But the strong medicine of God's Word is the cure for our sin-sick souls' deepest diseases, and we need to be willing to receive it full strength. Let our Systematic Theology feel the pain if it must, but Scripture is non-negotiable.

Rauser dilutes this medicine by proposing the following "complexities": 

(his words are in orange, with my responses following)

Rauser: The specific individuals Jacob and Esau serve as symbols representing people groups
Me: Sure, these individuals are heads of nations. But that doesn't change the fact that they are themselves individuals, as Rauser's statement candidly admits. They are individuals who represent nations, and nations are of course made up of individuals. One of Paul's points is that being ethnically a part of an elect nation does not make the individual elect (Romans 9:6-8). Isaac and Ishmael were both descendents of Abraham, but only Isaac was elect. Jacob and Esau were both descendents of Isaac, but only Jacob was elect. In other words, election extends beyond the national/ethnic level to the individual level.
Rauser: There is the potential for the hyperbolic use of language.
Me: It is true that Scripture sometimes uses hyperbolic language, but Rauser needs to show how the language is hyperbolic, and what is meant by the hyperbole. Otherwise, this claim does nothing to clarify the meaning of the text. It would have to be some kind of extreme hyperbole for the text to mean, "Jacob I loved, and Esau I loved equally." That interpretation is, in fact, antithetical to the context as well as to the terms employed.
Rauser: Insofar as “election” is in view there is the distinction between election for a particular task and election for an eternal destiny.
Me: Is this idea drawn from the text, or brought to it by the interpreter? Let's see . . . the entire previous chapter and the letter itself are about salvation. Paul begins the passage by speaking of the eternal destiny of Israel (Romans 9:3). Does he change course somewhere along the way? Would election to different tasks cause us to question God's justice (Romans 9:14)? Paul is certainly referring to eternal destinies in Romans 9:23-28, as is the case in Romans 9:30, where he says the Gentiles have attained righteousness by faith. That's not "task" talk, it's "salvation" speak. Where, exactly, does Paul switch from discussing eternal destinies to discussing tasks? Rauser would need to present some strong exegesis to make this claim believable.
Rauser: Insofar as one accepts the appropriateness of the “scripture interprets scripture” principle there is the question of whether texts which seem to teach divine omnibenevolence (e.g. John 3:16; 1 Timothy 2:4) should function as interpretive controls of those texts that seem not to.
Me: As shown in Part 1, the Biblical Calvinist does not have this problem. Omnibenevolence is taught in Scripture, and God's hatred of the unregenerate is also taught, along with God's election of some to salvation. For Calvinists it's both/and (or "all three"), not either/or. This is the reality of Biblical paradox, under which our thoughts must be forged like steel on the anvil. Among the soteriological options, it is our judgment that Calvinism alone has the epistemological integrity to withstand the full weight of the tensions found in divine revelation. Rauser's theological commitments seem to require him to affirm the omnibenevolence of John 3:16 without any tempering from other Scripture passages. It's much easier - and more common among theologians - to declare a passage "complex" and then just ignore the tension it creates.
Rauser vs. The Text

Romans 9 is not as mysterious as Rauser's suggestions imply. Let's see if we can understand the place of "Esau I hated" in the flow of its teaching. This will be both edifying and educational.

Graphic by Eddie Eddings of, 
 a site everyone should visit often.
In Romans 9:13, Paul's reason for quoting "Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated" is to reinforce what he has just said about God's sovereign election of Israel as opposed to other nations - including those nations descended from Abraham (which is also Malachi's point) - by the election of the individual named Jacob as opposed to the individual named Esau. Since the type of election Paul references occurred prior to birth (Romans 9:11-12), it was unconditional. Since it was related to specific persons (Romans 9:7; 9:13; 9:17), it was not merely national in scope but was particular to the individual. Since Paul's discussion of this election includes descriptions of the "children of God" (Romans 9:8), the display of God's saving mercy (Romans 9:15-16), the call to faith (Romans 9:24), the people of God (Romans 9:25-26) and those who will "be saved" (Romans 9:27), it is clearly more than election to a task. It is election to salvation and righteousness by faith (9:30-33). Paul quotes Malachi 1:2-3 to support this unconditional, individual/national, salvation-focused election. Anticipating that some people will think this exercise of divine prerogatives is inherently unjust, Paul asks, "Is there injustice on God's part?" Then he answers, "By no means!" (Romans 9:14). And what is Paul's justification for this claim? He says God's sovereign election of persons and nations is not a question of justice, but of mercy (Romans 9:15), and he says that man is in no position to question God's right to make such choices (Romans 9:20-21). All of this accords perfectly with the teachings of mainstream Calvinism, especially the teaching that election is God's saving mercy toward hated sinners, His pre-determined plan to specially love them by satisfying the demands of justice on His own Son in their behalf. In terms of election, God pre-determined to give justice to Esau and saving mercy to Jacob.

To recap: in terms of Common Grace, God clearly loved both Esau and Jacob. In terms of election, God loved Jacob and hated Esau. Both are true according to Scripture, and both are affirmed by Calvinism.

Thus Rauser's claim that Romans 9:13 and Malachi 1:2-3 contradict Calvinism is unfounded. These verses only contradict Rauser's mistaken understanding of Calvinism. Unfortunately, Rauser seems unwilling to correctly interpret the texts that would lead him inevitably to that beautiful system of Biblical paradox called "Calvinism."


This looks scary, but it's not the real thing.
It seems clear that Dr. Rauser is wrestling with a misunderstanding of Calvinism and not the genuine article. He is trying to address Calvinistic conceptions without fully grasping them. This leaves room for the hope that he may someday gain a better understanding of Calvinism, and embrace it with the same enthusiasm with which he now opposes it.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Why "God Hated Esau" is of No Use to Randal Rauser - Part 1

For a textbook example of how the failure to apprehend Biblical paradox can lead to erroneous theological conclusions, check out Randal Rauser's article, "Why 'God Hated Esau' is of No Use to the Calvinist."
First of all, I'd say every word of Scripture is of use to a Calvinist. But let's take a look at his arguments to see what's good and what's not so good, and whether he has a point.
Where Rauser Gets It Right
First, we should point out a couple of positive features.

1. He refreshingly notes that some Calvinists believe that "God loves all people but has a special love for the elect." Non-Calvinists often miss this point, but Rauser does not. The truth is, all mainstream Calvinists affirm this, while hypers deny it. 

2. He correctly notes that the principle of "Scripture interprets Scripture" compels us to place greater weight on the clear passages when we are examining less clear passages. That's a useful principle that no self-respecting Calvinist would argue against.

Pretty good so far.

Where Rauser Goes Wrong

1. Rauser's confusion begins when he proposes two different kinds of Calvinism
Non-Omnibenevolent Calvinism (NOBC): God loves the elect and hates the reprobate. 
Omnibenevolent Calvinism (OBC): God loves all people but has a special love for the elect.
Here's what he misses: Biblical Calvinism embraces the paradox of God's love and hatred for all unrepentant sinners. What Rauser terms OBC and NOBC are each essential components of mainstream Calvinism. In other words, there is a sense in which God loves all people, and there is a sense in which He hates all the wicked. He is nonetheless omnibenevolent. So, we have three apparently contradictory propositions:
  • God loves all people, sinners included (Matthew 5:44-45, Luke 6:35)
  • God hates all unregenerate sinners (Psalm 11:5)
  • God has a special love for the elect (Ephesians 1:3-6)
These propositions are not actually contradictory or mutually exclusive. They appear to be, and yet they are not so hard to reconcile on Calvinistic terms. Different Calvinists resolve the paradox in different ways, but every mainstream Calvinist affirms these three undeniably Biblical truths. Rauser's artificial division of two separate Calvinisms - one affirming one truth of Scripture, and the other affirming another truth of Scripture - creates a false dilemma that is not applicable to mainstream Calvinism.
I don't believe Rauser purposely creates a straw man here; I think he is truly unaware of the beautiful Biblical paradox that Calvinism embraces (in fairness, this might partially result from the fact that most debating Calvinists are so zealous to get their point across that they fail to present a balanced perspective). However, Rauser's misunderstanding fatally clouds his analysis and renders his arguments invalid because he assumes that Calvinists believe God can only love or only hate a given class of persons. Scripture presents a more complex disposition, and most Calvinists are willing to accept this.
Properly speaking, God loves and hates all of the unconverted, including the unconverted elect who are under His wrath (Ephesians 2:3). The non-elect are loved through Common Grace, while the elect are loved with Saving Grace. Unconditional Election means God has chosen to show saving mercy to a subset of sinners who are chosen beforehand according to His own wise counsels. Reprobation means that God has chosen to allow some sinners to go on in their natural course of rebellion and receive the just punishment they are due. Even so, the reprobate are extended much mercy and patience throughout their earthly lives (Romans 9:22, Romans 11:32, Psalm 145, 15-17). There is nothing to prevent God from saving them if they are willing to be saved. No one suffering in hell can deny that God showed love to him, that God was kind to him, that God was patient with him, that God was willing to save him on condition of repentance, or that God treated him justly. No one suffering in hell can say that God somehow prevented him from repenting; all who are there know that they were unable to repent simply because they were unwilling - and that they remain unwilling in spite of their sufferings. Esau included. 
That is the ugly face of human sin. No wonder God condemns it.
To the elect, God grants a willingness to be saved; yet for His own part He is always willing and ready to save all who come to Him. He is truly omnibenevolent! Jacob and Esau were both loved and hated in various ways, but Esau was not loved with electing love, while Jacob was. Thus we conclude, in opposition to Rauser: the phrase, "Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated," is of great use to the Calvinist because it highlights the electing love of God. Yet it does not diminish His general love for all people, or His general hatred for all the wicked. 
All the words of Scripture are useful to the Calvinist because he strives to take all of them together, as the whole counsel of God, and hold them in their proper balance.
In part 2, we will examine Rauser's hermeneutical arguments and support our thesis with a study of the Biblical texts themselves.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Calvinism, Systematic Theology and Scripture

At some level, every Calvinist who is not hyper embraces a paradox (you can call it tension, antinomy, aporia, really deep mystery, or whatever you like, but I prefer "paradox"). This is properly true of every Christian, but it is especially true of Biblical Calvinists. Our theology generates paradox, whether it's the apparent duality of divine wills, multiple senses of God's love and hatred for fallen humanity, or the compatibility of deterministic divine sovereignty and real human choice/freedom/responsibility. Calvinism without the essential balance of Biblically-derived paradox is in danger of going the way of Herman Hoeksema and the PRC. Characteristically, hyper-Calvinists eschew paradoxes in every possible way. Arminians, for their part, also seem reluctant to embrace paradoxes. Some take great delight in calling Calvinistic paradoxes "contradictions," ignoring the fact that these are unavoidable if we take divine revelation and historic/orthodox Christianity at face value.
THEOparadox is essentially a call for Calvinists (and others) to do two things:
1. Go whole hog and embrace every Biblically justified paradox, refusing to exegetically "adjust" any verse or passage of Scripture that might create a seeming contradiction in Systematic Theology.

 2. Be rigorous in trying to understand, explain and evaluate possible resolutions to these paradoxes, but accept the fact that we can ultimately have no greater certainty than the very words of Scripture afford us.
It seems that many Calvinists don't want to follow through with their paradoxes, perhaps afraid they will end up in the murky slough of Neo-orthodoxy, or that embracing a Biblical "both/and" scenario somehow amounts to a denial of dearly held truth.
Whatever it is that drives some Calvinists to twist texts to their own liking, it is not a helpful thing. This bad habit leaves the door wide open for Arminians and others to criticize our theology on Biblical grounds. On the other hand, if we are copiously Scriptural in our affirmations and they criticize our position as "contradictory," they are really accusing Scripture of contradiction and leaving our paradoxes unscathed. Non-Calvinist Christians will find no holes in the fortress of Biblical Calvinism, except where our exegesis is unsound. That can be fixed. And of course they will find a gaping hole right in the center of our fortress: the open door of invitation to join us in believing ALL the Word of God (whether we like it or not, and whether we can explain it or not).
Someone will respond, "But that kind of thinking will destroy Systematic Theology!" This is only true if our Systematic Theology does not include a robust theory of knowledge that carefully balances the perspicuity of Scripture, the incomprehensibility of God, and the Creator/creature distinction. 
Accepting Biblical paradox does not harm Systematic Theology; it enhances it. A well-developed Systematic Theology is essential and useful, but Biblical and Exegetical Theology are supreme. You can't have an accurate Systematic Theology if you don't have an in-depth knowledge of the texts themselves. To the extent that any system rejects even one tiny drop of the Bible, it reduces its own validity as a Christian system and partially cripples itself. Let's rather have a system that is hard to explain - yet Biblical to the core - than a system that explains itself by reducing the Word of God to man-made concepts.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Tensions in Divine POWER and PURPOSE

A central point of theological tension is found at the intersection of God's power and His purpose. Many errors grow directly from the conflation or general misunderstanding of these two distinct facets of theology which sometimes appear to contradict. Let's examine a few of these paradoxes.

Does God have the POWER to keep his creatures from falling into sin? Of course.
Was it God's PURPOSE to prevent the fall? No.
Yet this does not mean God was not grieved by the fall.

Does God have the POWER to save all people? Certainly.
Is God's PURPOSE to save all? No.
Yet this does not mean God does not desire the salvation of all.

Is there sufficient POWER in the atoning work of Christ to save all? Absolutely.
Was this God's PURPOSE in the atonement? No.
Yet this does not mean the atonement is inherently limited.

Does God have the POWER to move every living person to repentance and faith? Certainly.
Is it His PURPOSE to irresistibly draw every living person? No.
Yet the fault for the sinner's unbelief lies with the sinner alone.

Does God have the POWER to keep Christians from sinning? Yes.
Is it God's PURPOSE to make us sinless in this life? No.
Yet we are responsible to grow in grace, mortify sin and persevere in faith.

I have just explained why I am a 5-Paradox Calvinist. 

Here is R.C. Sproul with a few thoughts on God's sincere desire for the salvation of all.