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, March 31, 2013

Marveling at the Gospel (Re-Post)

The incomprehensible God united Himself incomprehensibly with humanity, 
to die under the incomprehensible suffering 
generated by His just and incomprehensible wrath, 
paying an incomprehensible price to redeem incomprehensibly sinful sinners
through His incomprehensible grace, 
rising again by His incomprehensible power, 
showing His incomprehensible love, 
displaying His incomprehensible wisdom, 
revealing His incomprehensible glory.

I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.

Ephesians 1:16-21

Saturday, March 30, 2013

PARADOX FILES, Vol. 19 - ESV Study Bible on Acts 13:48

The ESV Study Bible's note on Acts 13:48 says it perfectly:

Throughout Acts, Luke affirms the sovereignty of God over all of life while at the same time affirming the significance of human activity, as evidenced by the remarkable human effort and sacrifice involved in proclaiming the gospel. Thus Luke, without contradiction, maintains a dual emphasis on divine election ("appointed") and on human response ("believed") ... The emphasis here in 13:48 is on the way in which divine sovereignty (appointment) results in the belief of the Gentiles, demonstrating that their belief was due to God's grace alone.
That's good stuff. THEOparadox approved!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Big Shoes, Small Minds (or "Sovereignty and Freedom in Perspective")

So ... I believe that God, who created the world and everything else that exists, exercises absolute, meticulous and exhaustive sovereignty over all events, including every thought, word and deed of mankind, through His definite predestination and continual providence. I also happen to believe that human beings make real, significant, voluntary and uncoerced choices for which they are morally responsible in a just economy.

This is not "hard" determinism or "soft" determinism, but FREE DETERMINISM.

Does this compatibilistic belief in FREE DETERMINISM strike you, upon reflection, as contradictory, irrational or illogical? Then I suggest you read the fifth word in the first sentence again. In case you have forgotten, we are speaking about GOD. My friend, have you come to to terms with the fact that the self-existent, eternal God created the world and everything else from exactly nothing? If you think it is impossible for Him to give His creatures genuine freedom without relinquishing His meticulous sovereignty, you may have never imagined a God big enough to wear His own shoes. You may be trying to fit Him into a small space that can't hold Him. That small space is the sum of what you consider logically conceivable. If God must fit into this space, then your mind's capacity, rather than His omnipotent ability, has become the measure of Truth. Yet Truth was there before your mind came into being; and Truth contains your mind within it, not the other way around.

While our minds can hold the knowledge of His greatness, they cannot hold His greatness. This is an important fact to remember when we feel we must tell God what He can and can't do. Indeed, you may not happen to believe that God employs FREE DETERMINISM in His administration of the universe. But if you don't think it is possible for Him to do so, it is possible that you may not actually believe in the Biblical God at all.

And if you go to the Bible with an open heart to find out how God actually administers His universe, you will find FREE DETERMINISM is the only real possibility.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

St. Patrick's Confession (Video)

Here is a video featuring a professional reading of St. Patrick's "Confession," an autobiographical account written by the early Christian missionary and former slave who was used of God to win multitudes of converts in Ireland. This is well worth the 45 minutes. (I have no idea who the people in the photos are; perhaps they are related to the narrator).

Here is another video about St. Patrick. This one is quite a bit shorter, and also very well done (other than getting Patrick's birth date wrong by a few centuries!).

Obviously, there is much more to St. Patrick's Day than green beer . . .

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Is Paradoxical Theology Irrational?

A recent visitor to this blog mistook our advocacy of paradoxes for an endorsement of irrationality. He is not alone; I have found this is often the initial response to any mention of theological paradox. The commonness of this response is perhaps a reflection of the inroads made by humanistic rationalism during the 20th century, and the influence it still holds over the minds of "deep thinkers." Nowadays, the prevailing philosophy held (perhaps unconsciously) by the average person in America has swung way over toward irrationalism. Our aim is to embrace neither of these extremes, and instead to hold up the Biblical balance of rationality without rationalism, and acceptance of paradox without irrationalism. 

Logic is a reliable tool, or framework, for interpreting knowledge, yet it is not in itself a "source" of knowledge. Like all tools, it has its usefulness and limits. Where would one be if one had only logic, but no other knowledge of any kind? Think about this for a moment! To even state the laws of logic, one has to start with something a priori. Just as nothing can be properly deduced apart from logic, nothing can be known in the first place apart from presupposition.

This reminds me of the old joke about the brilliant atheist whom God challenged to create life out of nothing. The atheist said, "Sure, no problem," and then reached down to pick up a handful of dirt. A thundering voice immediately said, "Hey, no cheating! Go make your own dirt!" If you think about it, this is actually two or three jokes in one.

When we realize that logic is a tool for working with the raw materials of knowledge that God has graciously provided, we find ourselves free from the need to reconcile everything with everything before we will believe anything. We still attempt to reconcile as much as possible. We don't even consider giving up on the practice of logical thinking. But at the same time, we don't elevate our proposed solutions to an authoritative level, and we don't refuse to believe the facts of divine revelation just because we fail to reconcile them. We don't make our ability to understand a matter the measure of its truthfulness. We start with Truth and then seek understanding.

My response to the commenter was as follows:
I certainly don't want to give the impression that irrationality is entailed in the type of theological paradox I embrace. Rather, my belief in paradox is built on the solid foundation of Scripture as the Word of God, and flows logically from my presuppositions, as illustrated in the following premises and conclusions: 
P1 The Bible is the highest and surest source of knowledge: inerrant, infallible, and authoritative.
P2 The Bible clearly (that is, perspicuously) teaches certain distinct doctrines which, when compared side by side, appear to human minds to be logically incoherent.
P3 The Bible does not explain in detail how all of these doctrines interrelate.
P4 The Bible does not imply that any of these doctrines actually contradict one another (and strongly implies the opposite).
P5 The Bible teaches that man has mental limitations due to creaturehood, depravity and incomplete information.
P6 The Bible teaches that God possesses perfect and exhaustive knowledge of all things, and no possibility of self-deception.
P7 Even with perfect logic, the reliability of one's logical conclusions is proportional to the amount of correct information one possesses (i.e., partial information easily leads to false conclusions). 
C1 (Based on P1, P2, P3, P4) All doctrines taught by the Bible are entirely true, compatible and non-contradictory, without regard to any human being's ability to explain their interrelations.
C2 (Based on P5, P6, P7) The Bible reflects the perfect logical conclusions of a perfectly logical God, even if no human being can explain the logic used to reach those conclusions. 
As you might guess, I am no formal logician or philosopher. Still, I think my crude attempt holds water.
In short, I would not say my theological system is based in any sense upon irrationalism. For further discussion of this topic, I recommend James Anderson's excellent quote found in the sidebar of this blog:
"By advocating paradox I don't want to give the impression that I'm giving a carte blanche to not think philosophically, to not think deeply, about these doctrines. Quite the opposite. . . . My position is that with each of these doctrines we reflect on them as hard as we can, we penetrate them as best we can based on the Scriptural data that we do have, but we also recognize that there are going to be limits, and that those limits are actually a positive thing and not a reflection of some inherent problem in the doctrines or in the process of theological reflection. . . . I think we can make progress, we can make considerable progress, in understanding these doctrines and resolving some of the . . . initial difficulties that we have with them, but at the same time recognizing that we're always only going to get so far and when we bump up against the limits of our capacity to formulate them in certain ways or to resolve certain difficulties in them, we shouldn't be too concerned about that. We certainly shouldn't say, 'Okay, we need to admit that Christians are ultimately irrationalists.' No. We don't need to say that at all. . . . It's a Biblically constrained rationality. It's a middle way between rationalism, of which I think [Gordon H.] Clark was a representative, and irrationalism, of which, to take an example I think the Neo-Orthodox - Karl Barth - would be an example, where you're saying that there are actual contradictions in there. So I think it's navigating a Biblical middle way between these two extremes: having too high a view of the human intellect, and perhaps too low a view of the intellect, of our ability to know the things of God."
That quote gives us essentially the same idea, but from a "real" philosopher!

An Arminian Deleted My Comments

UPDATES: I received a kind note from the individual referenced in this post, and decided to redact portions of this text as a result. He certainly has the right to manage his own blog as he sees fit, and sincerely believes his decisions are justified. I believe his chosen path is both unwise and unhelpful (I don't think all of my conduct has been spotless, either). At this time, I am extending a personal and public apology to Ben (aka "KangarooDort") for the harshness of some comments in this post (as originally published) and for the generally harsh tone I exhibited in writing it. I have removed selected portions, added a few additional comments, and retained only what seems most important. 

This post is going to be a little bit out of the norm. [REDACTED]

[I am going to re-post here a comment that was mostly blocked by the blog administrator at this post:]

[It seems to me that] this individual has decided to set himself up as the judge and jury in a matter he knows [next to] nothing about. He has demanded that people explain themselves to his satisfaction and make themselves accountable to his scrutiny, [REDACTED].  Beginning with the [REDACTED] sentiments he attempted to leave at a post on this blog, he has [REDACTED] refused to accept the possibility that his pre-conceived perceptions might be misguided. When I responded [REDACTED] with the actual truth I learned from firsthand investigation, he decided to "edit out" most of my comment. [REDACTED]

I am now posting my full comments below in protest against the [REDACTED] approach taken by this [REDACTED] blogger. [REDACTED] This individual has been solemnly warned that he will have to answer to God for maligning a godly pastor.


Below is the comment I wrote, which [REDACTED] "KangarooDort" [REDACTED] decided to almost entirely censor. (Note that "Now Dimly" is the name of [another] commenter, to whom I addressed my opening lines).

Now Dimly, 
You bring up some interesting points that are worthy of discussion, and I thank you for your thoughtful questions. However, Ben has laid down the following mandate: 
"If you want to carefully explain what Blaine meant by his words and how exactly we have so badly misunderstood and misinterpreted what he said, you are welcome to comment further. If all you have to offer are more assertions that we are just supposed to accept because you say so, then please do not bother commenting further on this thread." 
So, it appears we are at an impasse unless I am willing to comply with Ben's demand for explanatory testimony. Dr. Wayman, on the other hand, says any further attempt to "defend" Blaine's actions only makes him look guilty. So in these hands we Calvinists are ________ if we do, and ________ if we don't. You can fill in the blanks with your favorite euphemism. 
This situation well illustrates the fact that the internet is indeed a kangaroo court and not the place to be airing disputes of this kind (unless sufficient charity and lack of hostility are present).
Someday, when the whole story is known (which will be in eternity, I suppose), some will be ashamed of their conduct in this matter. I do not happen to believe Blaine will be among them. Others may believe what they will. 
I have tried to make a few substantive points, as follows: 
1. Blaine has been misinterpreted and badly judged (no one else has to believe this, though I happen to know it is true)
2. Given the fact that someone has looked into the matter and drawn this conclusion, others ought to be charitable in their response to something they know very little about.
3. Blaine may or may not want to comment/defend/explain, but no one here has the right to subpoena him, condemn him, or call him to resign if he doesn't choose to do that.
4. Deciding not to respond to questions people ask you on the internet is no admission of guilt.
5. The Assemblies of God leaves plenty of room for Blaine's teachings and actions, though the teaching may be outside the mainstream for that denomination. By and large, A/G men are mature and well able to handle some disagreement on minor points. Blaine's pastoral and personal associates are well aware of his theological leanings and know that he actually did nothing "sneaky," "sly," deceitful, harmful, or even slightly worthy of concern. If anyone in Blaine's life has a right to demand explanation, by now they probably have, and have been more than satisfied by the full story. 
Ben said: "I mean really, if he communicated that poorly about things on Derek’s blog, should he really be in the business of communicating God’s word and challenging theological concepts to HS students?" 
I suppose the person who has never miscommunicated in a blog comment can cast the first stone. By your standards, I shouldn't be preaching or teaching, either, as I have often communicated poorly in the combox. Would you be this hard on a fellow Arminian? 
So now, since I have likely stepped over the line of Ben's mandate, and because I respect his rights as a blog administrator, and because I doubt there is much profit in continued wrangling over this, I will join Blaine in his judicious silence and, saying nothing more, let this be my final comment here. 
Blessings to all men of peace. 

As an addendum, here are comments I left at another blog post covering the same topic:

As the erstwhile "defender" of the dreaded "sneaky Calvinist," I find it rather unbecoming for the Arminian apologist to set himself up as judge and jury in this grand kangaroo court called "the internet," particularly when he has been reassured that he misinterpreted the account.
I would like to be a "fly on the wall" when he calls that District Superintendent, who, if he is like every other A/G Superintendent I have ever met, will be a mature, humble and godly man who is all too aware of the trouble and divisiveness that can be caused when people jump to conclusions and remove attention from the simple preaching and teaching of the Bible because they would rather engage in attack politics. He won't be shocked to find out that there is a minister in his district who, while agreeing with every major tenet of the denomination's theology, might have a quibble or two with their lead theologians over what are considered "minor points." I have personally known A/G pastors with all sorts of interesting theological stances and disagreements on minor issues. It was no secret, and it did not hinder fellowship. And to think that this might actually enter into those pastors' teaching when supported by the passage they happen to be studying ... well, who would be surprised! I am certain that a District Superintendent has better things to do than chase down Internet misinterpretations of a godly shepherd's methodology in interpreting Scripture that addresses sincerely held minor disagreements. Especially when that pastor sums up his teaching on the subject with a humble admission that the whole matter is surrounded in mystery. Not exactly a militant approach!

Given my A/G background, I enjoy fellowship with some fine Arminian brothers. They are tough in debate, let me tell you. But they don't waste time griping about things as inconsequential as all this, or making mountains out of molehills. I learned much about the difference between "real life" Arminians and certain Internet Arminians as a result of this exchange. The two are strangely dissimilar, despite the labels and general theological agreement.
In my experience, most A/G pastors are "real life" Arminians who aren't going to be freaked out in any way by this. (More here:

[REDACTED] I sincerely hope this individual will [turn from] the [REDACTED] approach he has chosen in this matter. Friends, let us love one another, and let us speak the truth in love.

[And be willing to change our approach if warranted.]

Friday, March 08, 2013

Arminian Election: An Unbiblical Paradox?

Lately I have had a lot of interesting discussion with Arminians. The following came to mind while considering some of their arguments:

Arminians have classically advanced the idea that election is based on God's foreknowledge of our future choices. Let's assume for a moment that this view is true. Under this scenario, God elected a person not because God chose of His own free will to save them, but because He foresaw that they would choose to be saved.

How, then, did God treat those He knew would believe for a time and then apostatize? Would such people be considered elect or non-elect? Were they termporarily elect during the time they were "saved"? If God elected a person from eternity based on the person's foreseen faith, did He un-elect them from eternity based on their foreseen apostasy? Are such people considered to be both elect and non-elect?

Perhaps Arminians would call this a paradox, or relegate it to the "mystery" of foreknowledge. But I wonder where the Biblical basis for such a supposed paradox could be derived?