Friday, January 11, 2013

You're Philosophy; I’m Scripture

Recently I had separate conversations with Steve Hays and Turretinfan both of which got down to the charge that "you're using philosophical speculation, I am using scripture".  A serious charge, this; one wants his theology to be grounded in scripture rather than floating away via the levitating power of thin air. However, faith and reason are often intertwined; can you even trust scripture's words without trusting your eyes, ears and brain more than some philosophers are willing to do? We all have philosophies whether we are aware of them or not.

My comments in blue; Steve and Turretinfan's comments in red.

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http://triablogue.blogspot.com/2012/12/outside-camp.html


Steve: Then I read a book by Jerry Walls and David Baggett which says my God could command people to torture little children for the fun of it.


When I read that, it doesn’t hurt my feelings. It doesn’t offend me. But it does alienate me. It instantly dissolves any sense of spiritual rapport between me and Jerry or David. A chasm opens up between us. They can’t talk that way about my God, and still expect to be friends. That’s too compartmentalized. Too horizontal–at the expense of the vertical.


Now, you might respond, “Oh, we’re not talking about God. We’re just talking about your idea of God. Your Calvinist conception of God.”


Except that if I’m right, then my idea of God maps onto the one true God–just as you think your Arminian concept of God maps onto the one true God.


Me:I appreciate your commitment to making theology practical but I fear you may not understand your Arimian opponents. I could be wrong, maybe Walls and Olson do go too far, but take this classic comment by Wesley: 

"You represent God as worse than the devil; more false, more cruel, more unjust. But you say you will prove it by scripture. Hold! What will you prove by Scripture? That God is worse than the devil? It cannot be. Whatever that Scripture proves, it never proved this; whatever its true meaning be. This cannot be its true meaning."

I assume you do not think God is worse than the devil. So you and Wesley agree that God is not worse than the devil. That’s vital common ground.

Perhaps you think Wesley is saying, “if Calvinism is true, then God is worse than the devil”, and that’s the offense. Maybe verbally Wesley, Olson or Walls say that, but they could never mean by it what that statement means to you.

For an Arminian, Calvinism is inconsistent and for a Calvinist, Arminianism is inconsistent. Sure you can make sense of this claim here and that claim there, but the whole system is at odds with itself. You can never understand a contradiction.

What Wesley is most likely doing is combining an incompatiblist notion of moral responsibility with the idea that God unconditionally reprobates. He’s saying that would make God worse than the devil. He rules out a compatiblist notion of responsibility as incoherent. And if you believe reprobation requires a compatibilist notion of moral responsibility, then you might even agree that reprobation and an incompatiblist notion of moral responsibility would make God worse than the devil. If you agree, that’s vital common ground.



Steve: I appreciate your commitment to making theology practical but I fear you may not understand your Arimian opponents.”

Funny that David Baggett didn’t think to accuse me of that.

This isn’t about how Calvinists understand Arminianism, but how Arminians understand Calvinism.

I assume you do not think God is worse than the devil. So you and Wesley agree that God is not worse than the devil. That’s vital common ground.”

That’s not really common ground since we don’t agree on what would make God devilish. Therefore, the superficial agreement is equivocal.

“Perhaps you think Wesley is saying, ‘if Calvinism is true, then God is worse than the devil’, and that’s the offense.”

I didn’t say it was “offensive.” I said it was “alienating.”

Maybe verbally Wesley, Olson or Walls say that, but they could never mean by it what that statement means to you.”

They mean that if God has the characteristics Calvinists think he has, then he’s morally monstrous, worse than Hitler, worse than the devil, could command people to torture little kids for fun.

What Wesley is most likely doing is combining an incompatiblist notion of moral responsibility with the idea that God unconditionally reprobates.”

I don’t think he distinguishes between unconditional and conditional reprobation. Rather, he’s indignant at the notion that God never gave them a chance.

And if you believe reprobation requires a compatibilist notion of moral responsibility, then you might even agree that reprobation and an incompatiblist notion of moral responsibility would make God worse than the devil. If you agree, that’s vital common ground.

I don’t agree. I don’t begin with a theory of moral responsibility, then use my preconceived theory to pick out which God I’m prepared to believe in.



Me: Baggett and I probably agree on the big picture (i.e. on soteriology and that Calvinists are brothers in Christ). And this issue is a two way street, I have to deal with the fact that Calvinists sometimes say that on Arminianism, God is not sovereign, He’s a cosmic bell hop, a looser.

You and Wesley have very different notions of what conditional reprobation means.


It doesn’t really matter if you start with what the bible says about responsibility or somewhere else. Responsibility is an important part of the soteriological picture; everyone has to get around to it. The bible says sin is against God’s will - something He hates, laments and takes efforts to avoid. You may think we are overly philosophical when it comes to God’s will in predestination, but we think Calvinists wax philosophical when it comes to God’s will concerning sin. 

For my part, I think it’s less dangerous to ask the why and how questions than not ask them.

But it remains that if you insert a single Calvinist tenant into an Arminian worldview, you get a bizarre result. Likewise, Arminians don’t have a concept for a whole Calvinist worldview – it just looks inconsistent to us. Either Calvinists or Arminianians are inconsistent, but not blasphemers.



Steve: “And this issue is a two way street, I have to deal with the fact that Calvinists sometimes say that on Arminianism, God is not sovereign, He’s a cosmic bell hop, a looser.

Those are two very different streets. That’s quite mild compared to saying God is worse than Satan, a moral monster, &c.

You and Wesley have very different notions of what conditional reprobation means.

Actually, I expect Wesley was subconsciously reacting to his tyrannical father.

It doesn’t really matter if you start with what the bible says about responsibility or somewhere else.”

It makes a hell of a difference whether we start with a philosophical preconception of responsibility, then say God is Satanic or morally monstrous if he doesn’t measure up to our philosophical preconception.

The bible says sin is against God’s will - something He hates, laments and takes efforts to avoid.

You sound like an open theist.

But it remains that if you insert a single Calvinist tenant into an Arminian worldview, you get a bizarre result.”

I didn’t insert a Calvinist tenet into Arminianism. I was working off of how Arminians like Olson, Baggett, Wesley, and Walls characterize Reformed theism as well as their own position.

Either Calvinists or Arminianians are inconsistent, but not blasphemers.”

If the inconsistency was merely based on misinterpreting Scripture, that wouldn’t be blasphemous. But to compare God to Hitler, the Devil, &c., based on a philosophical postulate, is most certainly blasphemous.

Me: “The bible says sin is against God’s will (John 7:17) - something He hates (Psalms 45:7), laments (Luke 19:41-42) and takes efforts to avoid (Jeremiah 2:30).”
Do I still sound like an open theist
?

Steve: Since open theists quote the Bible, too, how does merely quoting the Bible distinguish your position from an open theist? What have you quoted that an open theist would take issue with?

Me: I wasn't really trying to distinguish my position from open theism, but I didn't think I had to. Do you think the Bible itself sounds open theistic?

Steve: It's a question of your hermeneutic.

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http://turretinfan.blogspot.com/2013/01/dont-conflate-middle-knowledge-and.html

Turretinfan: Rather, he [Dan] is missing an argument for the distinctively Molinistic view as contrasted with a Bañezians (aka Thomistic) or Calvinistic view. In other words, we firmly agree that God knows future contingents that are contingent on creaturely freedom (the so-called counter-factuals of freedom). We simply affirm that God knows those future contingents postvolitionally. 

Nothing in or about the cited verses suggests a prevolitional knowledge, and thus appeals to these verses continue to leave Molinism without support as to its distinctive assertions. We recognize that some Molinists, such as William Lane Craig, are content to acknowledge that Molinism is not something taught by Scripture, and we think that all Molinists ought to join with him in this important concession.


Me: I doubt many Calvinists actually hold that God decreed what they would do if they were Gandolf the Gray. If they did the might not be so quick to say my view was speculative and not based on scripture. But until determinists put forward some more plausible account of counterfactuals of creaturly freedom then they have done, middle knowledge does provide the best reading of these text.

Turretinfan: I don't see the Gandolf the Gray problem as a serious objection either to Calvinism or Molinism (I don't think many Molinists actually hold that God middle-knew what they would do if they were Gandolf the Gray), but if it is a problem for Calvinism it is at least as big a problem for Molinism.
d) Just asserting that compatibilism isn't a plausible account seems to beg the question. 


Me: On Gandolf, part of my point was that the Dominicans were more influenced by the scolastics and natural theology in general than modern Calvinists. That's partly why they don't respond to Molinism the same way modern Calvinists do and if your average Calvinist were steeped in the scolastics; they probably wouldn't object to Molinism on the basis that it's overly philosophical.
On compatiblism and scripture, I have argued on the subject here: 

http://www.traditionalbaptistchronicles.com/2012/10/1-corinthians-1013-teaches-libertarian.html
 

Turretinfan: Partly that's because post-Reformation Dominicans had less of an emphasis on Sola Scriptura.
If you want your theology to be accepted amongst the children of the Reformation, it has to come from Scripture. 


I will re-read your argument from 1 Corinthians, but my recollection is that it has the same problem as the arguments I've linked to above, namely that it falls short of actually demonstrating LFW from Scripture. 

Me: By putting space between Calvinists and the Dominicans and by conceding most Calvinists don't hold to decrees regarding Gandolf, you have shot your on views on Gandolf in their gigantic gray boots.
What, the Dominians believed in decrees regarding Gandolf because of philosophy whereas some small number of Calvinists get those same views from scripture? Um, double-standard. 


Turretinfan: respectfully decline to agree with your characterizations. I think the preceding comments are clear enough.
"What, the Dominians believed in decrees regarding Gandolf because of philosophy whereas some small number of Calvinists get those same views from scripture? Um, double-standard. "

Even assuming I were saying that the Thomists/Banezians/Dominicans got to the same conclusion by philosophy that we get to by Scripture (that's not what I'm saying, but let's run with it), that's not a "double standard," that's a one-two knockout combination.

Moreover, if Molinism loses when evaluated just by philosophy (e.g. Harry Frankfurt) and then if it also loses when evaluated based on Scripture (e.g., Francis Turretin), that's not a double-standard, just a loss on two fronts. 

Thanks to Steve and Turretinfan for taking the time to share their thoughts on these subjects!