On November 3, a friend of mine posted a link via facebook to a recorded broadcast of R.C. Sproul’s “Renewing Your Mind.” The topic was “What is Free Will?” A discussion quickly followed in the comment thread, primarily between myself and a friend of my friend’s, with whom I have interacted online before, but have never met in person. The conversation grew so large that I suggested that we move it to The Sovereign Logos, and he agreed. I am posting all previous relevant comments in the main post, so that any readers may see the context if they so desire. (I have edited comments addressed to other participants, in respect to their privacy.)
Clifton Harris: Wow, I genuinely felt that both sides of free will were inaccurately and incompletely dealt with. –November 3 at 8:29pm
Clifton Harris:I’ll start in reverse order of how they were presented:
Sproul mentioned that Compatibilism/Volunterism/ or “Sproulian Free Will” as he called it, permits a person to act upon his/her highest character belief. But he seemed to have left out the fact that these beliefs are dictated by our internal biology, upbringing, and society at large. As were the previous generations, and the previous, and so forth, all the way back to Adam and Eve, who were given their character beliefs by God. So if this is how Compatibilism works, God is responsible for all actions, yet man acts freely. But he mentioned self-determination, which I found foreign to this view.
Now my view, the other one mentioned. He called it “Humanist Free Will” and challenged it on the grounds that it was spontaneous, void of reason and motive. I would say that while motives are not dictated by preset character beliefs, they are influenced by them. So if, for example, I am hungry, I could choose not to eat, even if this resulted in my perishing, but I probably will not because of my biological craving for food. Nonetheless, I am the ultimate deciding factor in my decisions (at least for some). My reason or motive is likewise decided by my ability to choose an available option. I can adopt any available motive I want, and am not bound to any particular choice. It’s not void of reason or motive; it is influenced by them.
So yeah, those are some of my thoughts. I’m not claiming to be inerrant, but these did strike me as problematic misrepresentations.
November 3 at 9:28pm
Patrick McWilliams: If Sproul names a view “humanist free will,” then describes it, and it doesn’t describe your view, then why do you assume he’s talking about your view? Are you a humanist? –November 3 at 9:32pm
Clifton HarrisLong time no see. I’m not a humanist, obviously. But I have three reasons for thinking that Sproul is referring to Libertarian Free Will when he speaks of Humanist Free Will.
1. Sproul made the claim that “many Christians hold to this view”.
2.This criticism bears strong resemblance to what Calvinists say regarding Libertarian Free Will, that it is random and man cannot be held responsible before God. In the book “The Storms of Providence” Michael D. Robinson notes McGregor Wright for making a similar claim. He says “Wright bids us imagine an unrepentant sinner, standing before the throne of God, complaining that he cannot be held responsible for his actions because they were mere chance events, deeds over which he had no control. (page 99)”.
3. The names are rather skewed with respect to both views of freedom. That is to say, Sproul uses neither the terms Compatibilism nor Libertarianism, or anything of the like, yet there are only two basic view of human freedom. There are many theological resolutions, but they all stem from these two types.
November 3 at 9:56pm
Patrick McWilliams: Hiya 🙂 When I read your description of your own view, all it seems to boil down to is that humans make decisions. No Calvinist would disagree.
November 4 at 12:00am
Clifton Harris:If we have no disagreements thus far, I’ve probably left something out of my view when explaining it.
I find my view consistent with the notions that we have the ability to both: 1. Genuinely undergo the process of deliberation (i.e. we struggle to choose between decisions, as opposed to our strongest desire merely actualizing itself.) 2. We have the ability to resist God’s will. For the latter, this is not because God lacks the power to exercise any control over our freedom He so desires, but simply because an exercise of such precise control renders the created order utterly pointless. God chooses not to exercise such control. God has limited us with certain physical regulations, and powerfully coerces our decisions. There may in fact be times in which God overrides human decisions to accomplish some goal, but I think Scripture and sound reasoning forbid this sort of thing from being the norm.
If God controls every creaturely act, is God not responsible for evil?
November 4 at 1:06pm
Regarding #2, “We have the ability to resist God’s will.” Romans 9:19?
“…an exercise of such precise control renders the created order utterly pointless.” Says who? Scripture?
“God chooses not to exercise such control.” Scriptural support please?
“God… powerfully coerces our decisions.” Perhaps you want to reword this, as it contradicts everything else you’re saying. Calvinists are often (falsely) accused of saying that God coerces men.
“…I think Scripture and sound reasoning…” So far, you have produced not a single verse of Scripture, and have demonstrated no reasoning at all, just bald assertion.
God is not responsible for evil; there is no one for Him to give a response to. God is God, we are not. Paul answers your question in Romans 9:19-21. –November 4 at 6:06pm
Clifton HarrisSorry for my disappearance for a few hours. Life happens.
We’ll get back to #1 in due time, as we continue to outline what our views are. (I’m also taking a small break from my coercion statement.)
Speaking of which, remember that Calvinism, Arminianism, Molinism, and Open Theism are just frameworks from which we view Scripture; they are not said by name to be the view of Scripture. For example, however many passages you feel support your view, the phrase “Calvinism” does not appear in Scripture. So first we need to identify what we are stating and whether Scripture supports the view without necessarily contradicting it. In fact, at this point, we aren’t even declaring one of the above views; we’re merely identifying what our definition of free will is.
Because Compatibilism is very common to Calvinism (The only Calvinist I’ve heard of that affirms the traditional 5 points and yet holds to Libertarian Free Will is apologist Greg Koukl), I feel it’s safe to assume that’s your view. This is especially safe since you’ve illustrated disagreement toward my statement about being able to resist the will of God.
You affirm that God’s will is irresistible. This would also seem to mean that human beings do nothing outside of the will of God. Lastly, God directly controls and purposes all events that occur. Therefore, God wills evil. You claim that this does not make God responsible for evil, since God is too superior to us to be held accountable. Perhaps responsible was a poor word choice; let’s try this: God is the author of sin on your view. God intentions that human beings sin because this brings Him glory, even though all things equal He could prevent human beings from ever sinning. Is this correct? I’m aware, btw, of your mention of Romans 9 and your request for Scripture, but remember, I’m just trying to identify your view and its implications. Even on your interpretation of Romans 9:19-21, Paul is not saying God is not the author of evil. So one more time for clarity’s sake, is God ultimately the one who purposes evil in human beings?
November 5 at 12:24am
I don’t want to be splitting hairs, but I would clarify that Calvinism, Arminianism, Molinism, and Open Theism are not exactly frameworks through which we view Scripture, rather they are systematizations of what various people believe the Scriptures to say. Thus, a Calvinist reads Scripture and systematizes his understanding of its doctrine. Perhaps this is what you meant in the first place, it’s just that “framework” seems to suggest that one reads a passage then decides how it fits into his preconceived framework. This is eisegesis, not exegesis, and not how systematic theology is supposed to work.
I’ll shy away from the term “compatibilism,” only because I’ve heard it described/explained in different ways, not all of them good. Once I offer some clarifications on my view, if you choose to consider it as compatibilism, so be it. I care more about others understanding my view than about what label is used.
Correct, human beings do nothing outside the will of God (you are familiar with the usual distinctions of God’s prescriptive and decretive will, correct?).
“God directly controls and purposes all events…” No, most of the time He acts indirectly, or mediately, through the use of second causes. He does purpose all events, yes.
“God wills evil.” This is a sort of vague statement, so I’ll clarify that God wills and ordains that evil acts occur.
God is not the author of sin, though He is its first cause. God created Christopher Hitchens; Christopher Hitchens wrote “God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything.” God is not the author of “God is Not Great.”
God ordained the fall of man in order to bring the maximum amount of glory to Himself, in accordance with His nature. He is the One Who ultimately purposes everything, yet He is not the immediate author of sin. Let me know if I need to clarify this further.
I cannot recommend highly enough Gordon Haddon Clark’s little book, “God and Evil: The Problem Solved.” It’s about 60 pages long, and it is the most excellent discussion of this topic that I have found. Anyone interested can pick up a copy from Amazon for around $6. Trust me, it will be a great investment. Even if you disagree with Clark’s conclusion, it would be valuable to own the strongest defense of determinism available.
Clifton Harris:Perhaps ‘Framework’ is poor word choice as well.
I am acquainted with the response given above, though I still find it confusing.
The distinction between God’s prescriptive and decretive becomes vague at least, and incoherent at worst. There are times in which reasonable statements are made, saying that God merely creates the sinful being and sustains them. The Libertarian would agree to this. Yet it is said that God purposes that all events, including evil. I’m not sure how this changes the situation at all.
For example, you write:
[God is not the author of sin, though He is its first cause. God created Christopher Hitchens, Christopher Hitchens wrote “God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything.” God is not the author of “God is Not Great.”]
If one is the first cause of some event, and the subsequent secondary causes are unable in any way to defy the purpose of the first cause, is not the first cause still the author of the event? If a scientist, for example, were to manipulate a patient’s brain, in effect brain washing them, and through this brain washing caused them to commit murder, is not the brain-washing scientist ultimately responsible? Wouldn’t true justice require that, so long as the patient was unable to make a free response to the contrary of his murderous act, that only the scientist be thrown in jail? How is it justice to through the person committing the action in prison if in fact their will was totally subjected to the scientist?
[God ordained the fall of man in order to bring the maximum amount of glory to Himself, in accordance with His nature….]
This statement brings me to the only possible problem worse than God being the author of sin on Calvinism, namely the Problem of Gratuitous Evil on Calvinism. This will be a deductive argument, meaning that if the premises are valid, the conclusion follows necessarily. An example is the traditional Problem of Evil, which goes as follows:
1. If God exists, evil does not exist.
2. Evil exists.
3. Therefore God does not exist.
Now this is a valid syllogism, but the premises are NOT valid. (Emphasis added to indicate I’m not a proponent of this position or anything like it.) The invalid premise is #1; it is not evident that God and evil are logically incompatible. God may in fact have a morally sufficient reason for permitting the evil that occurs. You’ve done well to note a purpose for evil, any Christian is free to offer this refutation.
The problem arises however when we turn the gratuitous version, which says:
1. If God exists, gratuitous evil does not exist.
2. Gratuitous evil exists.
3. Therefore God does not exist.
It seems to become difficult for the Calvinist to answer this version, since premise #1 now appears to be the one with which we must agree. Given that God is maximally great (possessing attributes such as, but not limited to, omnipotence, omniscience, goodness, holiness, etc.), there seems no room for gratuitous (or excessive and unnecessary) evil and suffering. God should only permit evil which brings about a necessary good result. Therefore, it seems we want to refute #2.
The Libertarian refutes this premise by saying that God permits the evil that occurs in order to bring about a good result: the salvation of as many individuals as possible. Since it is logically impossible to make someone freely choose God, yet God desires that all persons be saved, He endures patiently, urging creation to come back to Himself, yet justly punishing individuals for the acts they commit from their evil hearts, with no divine purpose.
This option does not seem available to the Calvinist. The free will of man plays no role whatsoever in his salvation. As you’ve said: “Those whom God calls, He saves. Simple as that.” So why does God permit and act as first cause of such a vast quantity of evil deeds? The answer you’ve given is quite common for the Calvinist: to bring the maximum amount of glory to Himself. But is this necessary? Does God depend upon the created order to receive glory? Is it impossible to receive equal glory while reducing human suffering? My answer, at least, to these three questions is no. Maximal greatness is incompatible with any dependence upon the created order, and it seems more praiseworthy that God receive glory from creatures who give it even though they did not have to. Furthermore, the idea that God is glorified by the suffering of certain persons seems to me utterly incoherent with the concept of goodness. If the goodness of God may not be expressed in any comprehensible way, why bother with attributing the term to Him? Good means desirable in nature and honorable, attributes that are not fitting for a human should they purpose the suffering of another. Without Special Pleading for God, if God purposes the needless suffering of others, He’s not Good. Yet Scripture clearly teaches that God is good, and so by necessity Calvinism must be false.November 5 at 8:28pm
It just depends on how you want to define “author.” When I say that God is not the author of sin, I mean that He Himself does not sin. I will readily say that God is the first cause of sin. You must recognize the distinction between first and second (and third, fourth, etc.) causes. Hitler’s parents are not responsible for the murder of Jews (that I know of). But they were one of a string of many causes of the holocaust. My point is not to compare an omniscient, omnipotent God to Hitler’s parents who didn’t know the future, but rather to demonstrate that you yourself must certainly differentiate between primary and secondary causes.
The analogy of the scientist fails because a scientist is responsible to God’s laws for humanity, whereas there is no authority higher than God Himself. At judgment, the scientist must give an account (a response) for his actions. I do not have enough details about the patient’s state to comment on his responsibility, but I will say that responsibility depends on knowledge; if one has knowledge of good/evil, and chooses to act evilly, then one is responsible for that act, regardless of motive.
You define “gratuitous evil” as “excessive and unnecessary [evil].” If we operate according to this definition, then I agree that God does not create gratuitous evil. I reject premise 2, and thus conclusion 3. First I will respond to the Libertarian response to premise 2:
“God permits the evil that occurs in order to bring about a good result: the salvation of as many individuals as possible.” The highest good is God’s glory, not man’s salvation. God is glorified both when a man graciously receives salvation, and when a man is justly punished in hell.
“It is logically impossible to make someone freely choose God…” I think this is the heart of the matter. What is freedom? What constitutes a free choice? I feel that we must forget all the rest until we answer this question. Does this seem reasonable to you? For now, I’ll just keep going.
“God desires that all persons be saved…” This is another foundational issue in our conversation. I reject this premise as I believe it is not found in Scripture.
“…with no divine purpose.” Ephesians 1:11 states that God works ALL things according to the counsel of His will. Nothing is without divine purpose.
Now, to your criticism of what you believe the Calvinist’s response must be (and indeed many Calvinists may answer the way you predict):
“The free will of man plays no role whatsoever in his salvation.” Again, we haven’t defined “free” yet, but man’s will certainly does play a role. Man’s salvation is not dependent upon man’s will (Rom 9:16), but the Holy Spirit gives man a new will that he may believe the gospel and be justified through faith.
No, God is not dependent upon mankind. But He has chosen to glorify Himself in this manner, and, being God, He cannot deny Himself glory; He cannot dishonor Himself. Even Christ’s humiliation was done in order to bring much greater glory to God.
The idea that God is glorified by the suffering of wicked individuals may be incoherent to you, but it is not incoherent to Scripture. Rom 9:22-23 state that God chooses to show his wrath and to make His power known (and He is glorified thereby). Prov 16:4 states that God made the wicked for the day of evil, *for Himself*. Rev 19:1-2 states unequivocally that God is glorified in His punishment of evil. I would be very interested in your response to these passages.
Once again, you wish to use humans as an analogy for God. Of course humans should not purpose the suffering of another; vengeance belongs to the Lord (Rom 12:19). Thus, what is improper for man, is not necessarily improper for God, as He is assuming His divine role. God cannot sin; if He did, He would no longer be God. Again, God does not purpose *needless* suffering of men, as if He acts according to meaningless whim. His purposes are always good.
“Scripture clearly teaches that God is good, and so by necessity Calvinism must be false.”
This is an absurd statement, as you well know that no Calvinist would accept the premise that God is not good. If you’re interested in honest, edifying debate, statements like this do not help. Honestly, to conclude your post with such an outrageous statement is beneath you. You should know better. You certainly wouldn’t take me seriously if I said that “Scripture teaches that God is sovereign, therefore Arminianism is false,” or “Scripture teaches that God is omniscient, therefore Molinism is false.” Thus I am choosing to ignore your last statement, as it does not befit an attitude of truth-seeking.
That being said, I am truly enjoying this exchange, and I hope we can continue without insulting one another’s intelligence by taking cheap shots.
Clifton Harris:I’m enjoying our exchange as well. That said, I want to clear up an earlier statement:
“Scripture clearly teaches that God is good, and so by necessity Calvinism must be false.”
I wasn’t going for a cheap shot. This was not meant to say that either you, or any Calvinist I’ve come to know believes God is not good. In fact, for my many objections to Calvinism, I must admit that I appreciate the attention to God’s sovereignty that the view provides. Through the years, I’ve realized my picture of God has been too small. Many Calvinists have actually helped me enlarge my understanding of God, for which I am thankful. I came to this debate in years past so ignorant of Scripture as to think Predestination was not a biblical concept.
That said, what I meant is that the implications of God’s exhaustive control over human beings would have Him originating sin, making the traditional concept of goodness incoherent with respect to God, and thus running contrary to Scripture. This is similar to the manner in which Open Theism seems to strip God of omniscience. I suspect that we are all true Christians with godly intent, but certain theological views seem to create problems no Christian wants to affirm. (Hopefully this is seen as less offensive, ideally, not offensive at all. If not, I may need to reconsider what I’m saying.)
Hitler’s parents are not responsible for Hitler’s actions simply in virtue of bringing him into the world. Likewise, God is not responsible for human sin just because He brought human beings into the world. But Calvinism has God going well beyond what Hitler’s parents did, namely God renders certain that human beings will accomplish certain actions. If Hitler’s parents brainwashed him, causing him to only be able to commit the actions which he caused, his parents would go down in history as the more vile and evil than Hitler, if in fact Hitler could not resist such brainwashing. Any Libertarian would identify God as a first cause in the sense of Creator, but not as one rendering all actions of humans certain through His will.
Certainly God is not dependent upon the created order. But what is meant by this statement? It is indeed certain that God does not depend upon the created order to exist. But is this the case for God’s ability to demonstrate justice? Must God create sinful human beings in order to display His justice? If so, He is dependent upon the created order in this way. If not, then creating evil beings to be judged is unnecessary, and so gratuitous evil does exist.
You’ve said there is no authority higher than God. Correct, and so we could never hold Him accountable to anything. But we are still able to recognize justice or an infringement of it. Is it justice to hold persons morally responsible for acts that you’ve rendered certain? I’m unable to understand how a creature is responsible for what he or she has done if his/her actions were determined by God. Does the creature originate the sin they commit? Is it their idea? Can they do anything to the contrary? If not, it would seem as though the sin they’ve committed is not their fault, and therefore it is not justice to hold them accountable.
For these reasons, I feel as though Libertarian freedom must be the correct view. (By the way, you’ve said you wanted to stray from the term Compatibilism, but that does appear to be your view, since only that view entails that God controls all things). As I’ve defined it previously, Libertarian freedom is the ability of the human agent to choose between a variety of available options despite a compulsion towards a certain choice. For example, if I’m hungry, I could have cereal or toast, or just not eat at all, even though I’m physically compelled to eat. This freedom is present only at certain times, however. Fallen man can resist sin on occasion, but cannot act inconsistently with his nature, and so will inevitably sin. He cannot by any means save himself, but I see no reason why, if convicted by the Holy Spirit, man cannot respond in affirmation to Christ’s atonement. This does require that God act first.
It’s still a bit too early to get into Scripture at length; the above issues must first be dealt with. Suffice it to say for now that Romans 9:22-23, Proverbs 16:4, and Revelation 19:1-2 assume God is not acting unjustly. It is in debate as to whether God’s controlling all human actions paints a similar picture. I absolutely love your use of ‘all’ in Ephesians 1:11; we’ll see similar use of it in other passages. For now, I’ve yet to see that this verse indicates, all things equal, that God causes all events as opposed to causing all events which occur to conform to His will. The latter leaves room for events, such as human sin, to occur outside of God’s will, and then He produces something good through them. As of right now, this appears to be undecided.
But again, before getting into Scripture at length, these issues as to what our views mean and imply should be dealt with, particularly my paragraph starting with “Certainly God is not dependent upon the created order.”November 7 at 8:00am
With regard to God’s meticulous sovereignty, and His being the First Cause of sin, relating to our concept of goodness, I propose that we align our concept of goodness to what Scripture says about God. In Platonic philosophy, “good” and “evil” are concepts to which beings are aligned. Many Christians think of God and goodness in this way, so that God chooses to align and conform Himself to good. Although this is a popular notion, it is actually backward. God does not align Himself to good, rather, *good is defined by what God is.* Thus, anything that God does is good, not because God chooses to be good, but rather it is good because God does it! “Good” describes God’s inherent character.
Thus, if Scripture describes God’s action in a way which conflicts with our concept of “good,” then what needs to change is our concept of “good.” You have made several statements along these lines: “Wouldn’t true justice require…” “It is logically impossible…” “It seems more praiseworthy…” “The idea… is utterly incoherent with the concept…” “an exercise of such precise control renders the created order utterly pointless,” “God chooses not to exercise control,” etc. What you haven’t done is demonstrate *why* things “must” be as you say. While two propositions may not seem to make sense in your mind, they may actually be perfectly logically compatible. We are often unaware of how philosophy has shaped our theology. As one studies philosophy, it becomes clearer. We must all strive to conform our philosophy to Scripture.
Again, my ENTIRE point about with the Hitler’s parents thing was to demonstrate that there is a distinction between first and second causes. It was emphatically NOT to draw a comparison between God and men regarding responsibility. I debated with myself over whether or not to even use that illustration, for fear its intent would be misunderstood.
Scripture has already been cited which says that God has prepared the wicked for the day of destruction in order to display His wrath and power. Why are we even asking the question of “must” He do it? If you believe it is unnecessary, I suggest you take it up with Him 🙂 Nothing forces God’s hand; He is only bound by Himself. As God, He cannot deny Himself glory. I believe He is the wisest as far as deciding how His power is to be displayed, and Himself glorified.
You ask the question, “Is it justice to hold persons morally responsible for acts that you’ve rendered certain? I’m unable to understand how a creature is responsible for what he or she has done if his/her actions were determined by God.”
To which I respond, Gordon Clark, in “God and Evil: The Problem Solved,” answers this question by demonstrating that responsibility is not dependent on free will, but rather on knowledge of good and evil. I urge you to read his short but complete argument. I have yet to read a refutation of his reasoning in this book.
“Does the creature originate the sin they commit?” God is the First Cause, the creature is a secondary cause.
“Is it their idea?” I’m not sure what you’re asking; of course the idea to murder someone may be suggested by another…
“Can they do anything to the contrary?” As all events happen according to God’s will, and were planned before the foundations of the earth, I would say no.
“If not, it would seem as though the sin they’ve committed is not their fault, and therefore it is not justice to hold them accountable.” I challenge you to produce Scripture to show why this assertion is true. Don’t get me wrong, I totally sympathize and I understand why you would think this way, but I’m trying to demonstrate that popular notions of right and wrong are not always those that Scripture provides.
I don’t like the term compatibilism (though those who share my view may like it for themselves) because it implies that God’s meticulous sovereignty & Free Will are “compatible.” I do not believe Free Will exists.
You define Libertarian freedom as “the ability of the human agent to choose between a variety of available options despite a compulsion towards a certain choice.”
Compulsion, by dictionary definition, is irresistible. Perhaps you mean a different word. I will assume that you mean “an urge” or a “prompting” toward a certain choice. Please correct me if I’m wrong. If I’m right, then all you’re doing is affirming that humans make decisions! I wholeheartedly agree! I wonder if perhaps you have not heard a clear explanation of the Calvinist view. Beware, there are many false caricatures out there. While I have disagreements with some of his beliefs, Clark is the best, clearest, most logical writer available.
“[Fallen man] cannot by any means save himself, but I see no reason why, if convicted by the Holy Spirit, man cannot respond in affirmation to Christ’s atonement. This does require that God act first.” Amen and Amen, brother! I can’t help but chuckle as I wonder what horrible picture of Calvinism has been painted for you, to think that any would deny this.
Of course those passages assume God is acting justly. He always does, that’s my point. Therefore your earlier statement that ” the idea that God is glorified by the suffering of certain persons seems to me utterly incoherent with the concept of goodness” is refuted, because here are certain persons suffering, and God is glorified by it.
I suggest a word study on “energeo” to see if your interpretation of “conforming” has any merit. I submit that it has none. Can Gal 3:5 make any sense if God is conforming miracles? Of course not, He caused them. “Summorphos” is definitely in Paul’s vocabulary (Rom 8:29); if that is closer to his sense, why not use that word?
P.S. I noticed something you said earlier that I missed, about God “overriding” human decisions. I’d like to clarify that I don’t believe He ever does; humans are not robots.
Clifton Harris:Philosophy is the process of thinking critically about subjects. It uses the universal and necessary language of logic to do so. A defense for logic being universal and necessary is this: any attempt to refute the necessity of logic, implements logic in order to do so. Thus, philosophy does not need to be put in subjection to Scripture; it already is. If an argument is sound, it need not be altered to fit Scripture. As the perfect Word of God, Scripture will not run contrary to anything that is logically sound.
Proverbs 21:30 (New American Standard Bible)
30There is no wisdom and no understanding
And no counsel against the LORD.
I think a clarification of God’s goodness is in order before handling other issues.
You’ve mentioned the philosophy behind God’s goodness, noting that God does not merely align Himself with the good, but rather that goodness is essential to God’s nature. You are correct in this respect. However, you seem to have made two mistaken statements about how this goodness is expressed.
*good is defined by what God is.*
This appears to declare that the statement “God is good” is one of Moral Definition. This is false, however, because such a statement renders God’s goodness arbitrary. If goodness is *defined* as God’s character, and God commands us to commit murder, then we must conclude that murder is good. The problem is that this permits anything to be considered good, which requires us to distrust our moral intuitions.
Yet our moral intuitions are what philosophers refer to as Properly Basic, meaning that while there is no successful arguments to provide in their defense, the experience of certain truths impose themselves upon us rather than originating from human thought. Because such experiences impose themselves upon us, we rationally ought to affirm them unless given some reason to the contrary.
For the above reasons, I vote that we consider the statement “God is good” to be one of Moral Ontology. Ontology deals with the nature of being, so the statement “God is good” is meant to explain the nature of God, not the meaning of the word ‘good’. Good, again, means honorable, praiseworthy, of high quality. Thus, an Ontological statement of God’s goodness is the equivalent of saying “there is no possible world or instant in which God is not good”. Than manner in which this is expressed brings me to the second problematic statement.
“Thus, anything that God does is good,”
Stemming from the same misunderstanding, this statement is victim to the Euthyphro Dilemma. There are two horns to the dilemma.
1. Something is good because God wills it.
2. God wills something because it is good.
Both of these, pious as they may sound, are fallacious. If something is good because God wills it, is rape or murder potentially good? What about hatred. In his book, On Guard, Dr. Craig says the following on the matter: “If you say that something is good because God wills it, then what is good becomes arbitrary. God could have willed that hatred is good, and then we would have been morally obligated to hate one another. That seems crazy.”
For the second, if God wills something because it is good, then moral values and duties would appear to exist independently of God. But then it would seem as though God were merely a divine middle man between morality and mankind. Thus too, is obviously wrong. How do we respond to this problem? A third option seems preferable.
3. God wills something because He is good.
This option affirms that desirable notion that God is good, without resorting to affirming absurdities such as murder and hatred are good. God may issues divine commands which constitute our moral duty. Far from being arbitrary, they are grounded in His very nature, so that even if the command is not good, we may trust that the end result will be consistent with God’s good nature.
Take for example God’s command to destroy and conquer the land of Canaan. If we affirm model #1, we must actually say that exterminating large groups of people is good. True it ceases to be morally wrong in the event God commands it, nevertheless an action’s goodness or badness do not change.
So in summary (and despite the length of this explanation, this is a very short summary of God and morality) affirming God as the Ontological foundation of goodness, and His commands as sets of duties consistent with His nature, rather than morally good commands, we are able to understand God’s goodness as described in Scripture without erring philosophically. True, we made need to change our understanding of God’s goodness if we detect conflict with Scripture, but this is no reason to change the definition of goodness itself. (If this was not sufficient, I’d be more than happy to elaborate.)
Another concept which has been brought up frequently in this discussion is the distinction between Primary and Secondary Causes. I have found this language largely unclear, but I will examine two possible meanings. The responses to these are the thoughts of Michael D. Robinson in his book “The Storms of Providence”
God as First Cause in a Linear Series of Causes
If you mean to say that God acts as the First Chain in a series of events, this in no way seems to prevent God from being the author of sin.
God Sustains the Existence of Creatures, but the Creatures cause their own Sin
This seems to be the one you affirm. Again, at face value, this is what the Libertarian would agree to. But Calvinism holds that God causally determines human actions as well, so this argument fails to solve anything.
Unless there is another model of Primary/Secondary Causation which I’ve missed, this argument has already been refuted, and needn’t be brought up again.
With regard to Eph. 1:11 and Galatians 3:5, note that I also used the word caused. My statement again: “For now, I’ve yet to see that this verse indicates, all things equal, that God causes all events as opposed to *causing* all events which occur to conform to His will.” But again, look at how lengthy this debate is. Imagine how long it will be if we get deep into Scripture and do not first work out other issues.
[You ask the question, “Is it justice to hold persons morally responsible for acts that you’ve rendered certain? I’m unable to understand how a creature is responsible for what he or she has done if his/her actions were determined by God.”
To which I respond, Gordon Clark, in “God and Evil: The Problem Solved,” answers this question by demonstrating that responsibility is not dependent on free will, but rather on knowledge of good and evil. I urge you to read his short but complete argument. I have yet to read a refutation of his reasoning in this book.]
I’ve yet to read this book, so it makes sense that you’ve seen no refutation. Yet it seems that the mere knowledge of good and evil is irrelevant if it cannot be acted upon. I’ll likely order it tomorrow, so it will be a few days before I’m able to read it and a bit more time before I develop a response. You’re welcome to summarize the argument for me though.
I hope this is not meant to be a response to the following paragraph, which I noted was my most important:
[Certainly God is not dependent upon the created order. But what is meant by this statement? It is indeed certain that God does not depend upon the created order to exist. But is this the case for God’s ability to demonstrate justice? Must God create sinful human beings in order to display His justice? If so, He is dependent upon the created order in this way. If not, then creating evil beings to be judged is unnecessary, and so gratuitous evil does exist.]
If the dilemma above cannot be solved, then the Calvinistic model fails to maintain the relationship between God’s sovereignty and human responsibility. Perhaps I’ve missed your resolution to this problem. But, because of the seriousness of this problem, it should be the main focus of our discussion.November 8 at 4:55pm
“Thus, philosophy does not need to be put in subjection to Scripture; it already is.”
All philosophies do not agree. Are you saying they are ALL in accordance with Scripture? Philosophy most certainly does need to be brought into subjection to Scripture! Colossians 2:8?? You’re not a universalist, so you must have grossly misunderstood me, although I can’t figure out how…
“If an argument is sound, it need not be altered to fit Scripture. As the perfect Word of God, Scripture will not run contrary to anything that is logically sound.”
If you had ever studied logic, you would know that this is patently false. (Although you seem to understand it earlier, in your demonstration above.) One can have a perfectly logically valid argument with a completely wrong conclusion. For example:
p1: All birds are fliers.
p2: All penguins are birds.
c1: All penguins are fliers.
The above is a perfectly valid argument, but premise 1 is wrong, thus the conclusion is wrong. We must bring our premises in line with Scripture. If we are to discover truth, it must be by making logical deductions from Scripture. I recommend “An Introduction to Logic” by H.W.B Joseph, followed by “Logic” by Gordon H Clark.
“Such a statement renders God’s goodness arbitrary.”
How are you defining “arbitrary”? And why does my statement do that?
“If goodness is *defined* as God’s character, and God commands us to commit murder, then we must conclude that murder is good.”
You have chosen to use the word “murder,” instead of perhaps “kill.” Murder, by definition, is sin. Thus, it is not good. To say that murder is good is a contradiction; “good murder” is like saying “square circle.” However, God has certainly commanded specific men to kill before (1 Sam 15:3). This was not sin, because God commanded it. If they had done it of their own whim, it would have been murder, but God commanded them to do so, so it is not murder. Thus your next statement, “this permits anything to be considered good,” is shown to be false. Murder is never good. God does not command murder; He forbids it. Murder is not synonymous with killing.
“Yet our moral intuitions are what philosophers refer to as Properly Basic…”
This is exactly what I’m talking about when I say that we MUST derive our philosophy from Scripture. You are not doing so. Your assumptions about the way the world works are not derived from Scripture, thus your conclusions are often wrong. Yet when you base your premises on the revealed propositions in Scripture, as long as you do not err in your logic, you will arrive at truth!
Your next few paragraphs have been addressed by defining good as that which is in accordance with God’s character, and there is no need to rehash it. If I have not been clear, I again urge you to read Clark’s “God and Evil;” he explains it much clearer than I can. Also, beware of equivocating on the word “good.” For example,
p1: Exterminating large groups of people is good.
Is arbitrarily exterminating large groups of people morally righteous? No.
Is the extermination of large groups of people, as part of God’s plan to bring His people into Canaan, profitable and good? Yes.
Dr. Craig is wrong. God could not have commanded hatred (in the sense that Craig means), because hatred by its definition is wrong. Again, it’s like saying “square circle” or “a rock that God can’t lift.” It is nonsensical, but many theologians have fallen for it as a logical argument. A circle cannot be square BY DEFINITION, thus God can’t make one. Also, hatred & murder cannot be good BY DEFINITION, thus God can’t command them. However, He can certainly command us to hate sin, right? And He certainly commanded the Israelites to kill, right? Thus those actions, performed in accordance with God’s will, are not wrong; they are not sin.
Saying that God is the First Cause in a series of causes DOES INDEED prevent God from being the author of sin. I have already defined what I mean by “author;” I mean an immediate, direct cause. If you want to define it otherwise, go ahead, I can’t stop you. You haven’t refuted it, because in your “refutation” you use your own definition of the word “author,” and not the one that I have provided. Thus we mean two different things when we use the word, thus your refutation is of something else, not my argument.
If I knock over a single domino, which in turn knocks over a whole chain of dominoes, I am the first cause, but the individual dominoes are the many second causes which occur to demolish the entire chain. They are each the “authors” of the following domino’s demise. While I fully intended to cause them all to fall, I did not knock them all over; I only knocked over the first one. Thus, I am the first cause, who has used several second causes to accomplish my purpose. If you still don’t grasp the distinction between Primary and Secondary Causes, I’m not sure what else I can say. Perhaps Clark can communicate it better than I.
Haha, I meant that I haven’t yet read a refutation of Clark’s book by *anyone*, I wasn’t expecting one from you if you haven’t read it. Sorry if that was unclear 🙂
That paragraph was not meant to be a response to your paragraph; it was a response to the two sentences I quoted. I answered your primary paragraph by writing that
“Scripture has already been cited which says that God has prepared the wicked for the day of destruction in order to display His wrath and power. Why are we even asking the question of “must” He do it? If you believe it is unnecessary, I suggest you take it up with Him 🙂 Nothing forces God’s hand; He is only bound by Himself. As God, He cannot deny Himself glory. I believe He is the wisest as far as deciding how His power is to be displayed, and Himself glorified.”
Clifton Harris: No problem. You and I are too busy to quickly respond at times. It’s the busiest time of an already busy semester.
When I use the term Philosophy, I mean with respect to its more analytical use, that is identifying the soundness and lack thereof of certain concepts. So when I say that, as God’s perfect Word, the Bible will not run contrary to Philosophy, I mean it will not base its statements upon fallacious reasoning. I by no means intend to say that every Philosopher must agree with Christianity.
I am quite familiar with studies of logic, which is precisely why I referred to an argument’s ‘soundness’. What you have presented in a would-be refutation of my statement is a valid syllogism. The argument however, is not sound. This subject is covered in Craig and Moreland’s book “Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview”, which, in the spirit of recommending books, I do so for this.
In defense of my use of the word, the authors say:
“An argument that is both logically valid and has true premises is called a sound argument. An unsound argument is either invalid or else has a false premise.”
The example you give is not “perfectly valid” but rather merely formally valid. Again quoting Craig and Moreland: “a good argument will be not only formally valid but also informally valid….there is a multitude of fallacies in reasoning which, while not breaking any rule of logic, disqualify an argument from being a good one-”
Your explanation of Divine Command Theory agrees with what I said and quoted Dr. Craig to say (at least what I meant to say). This topic stemmed from what must be a misunderstanding of your phrase: “Thus anything that God does is good”. If you in fact agree that God’s nature forbids Him from commanding hatred or murder, there is no issue. This also eliminates any need for me to elaborate on what constitutes a Properly Basic belief as well. Nonetheless, suffice it to say I was by no means attempting to say that our moral intuitions are superior to, or in any way override Scripture.
About the issue of causation, your example illustrates the problem.
You start of chain of events by knocking the first domino over which they have no control. You have not knocked each individual one over, but you have rendered the fall of every domino certain. Thus, If I were to come into the room afterward and ask, “Who knocked these dominoes over?”, it would be inappropriate for you to say “No one, they knocked themselves over”. You would be the cause and thus you would bear the responsibility of each domino’s fall! It would not simply be enough for you to appeal to your superiority over the dominoes. Despite their obvious inability to hold you accountable, you have not displayed justice in holding them accountable for anything, since they cannot resist your initial action.
A very similar example and refutation to it is given in “Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview”:
“Suppose we have nine stationary cars lined up bumper to bumper and a tenth car runs into the first car causing each to move the next vehicle until car nine on the end is moved. …According to Aquinas, cars one through eight are not the real cause of motion for car nine. Why? Because they are only instrumental causes; each of these cars passively receives motion and transfers that motion to the next car in the series. The first car (called the tenth car in our example) is the real cause since in our example it is the first mover in the series.”
Finally in response to my Gratuitous Evil Dilemma, your response is not a direct answer to the question, but an appeal that this is the biblical view on the matter, thus I have no right to contend. There are two problems with this. First, you assume your interpretation of these verses is correct. This does not seem at all warranted since there is an evident disagreement between us. So long as an alternative interpretation is even possible, it does not follow that the verses you’ve presented refute the argument. Turning once again to “The Storms of Providence”, Michael Robinson notes the difficulty in doing this, stating the following:
“Even where doctrine is a main goal, writings are often expressed in narratives, parables, etc. While such writing is lively and has a way of drawing the reader into the worldview of the writer, it is not always precise or clear. In short, the scriptures do not attempt to articulate a clear, systematic exposition of doctrine, and as a result, multiple interpretations are often possible”.
A second problem with this response is that it ignores the logical problem in its appeal to Scripture. But logic is, again, is universal and logical coherence is essential to understanding Scripture as a whole. If your systematic theology has appears to render a concept incoherent, you must provide logic to defend it. Presenting more Scripture only seems to indicate a contradiction. Again, Robinson provides helpful thought:
“[S]cripture itself cannot be understood without appeal to logical coherence. In interpreting a statement in a biblical passage or book, it is common to assume that the author or authors do not contradict themselves. Some interpretations of a biblical statement are deemed unlikely precisely because such renderings would contradict other statements within the passage or book as a whole. Thus, appeal to the authority of scripture usually assumes an interpretative process that implicitly endorses the principle of non-contradiction.”
With this said, the Scriptural considerations seem unhelpful. I’ll continue to the logic you present. “Nothing forces God’s hand; He is bound only to Himself. As God, He cannot deny Himself glory.” The dilemma states that either God punishes persons to glorify Himself out of necessity, or He does so gratuitously. Which is it? Can God bring equal glory to Himself without the amount of wickedness there is, or does He require it? You seem to imply both, but if you answer either one, you affirm an untenable statement about God. I don’t just believe it is unnecessary; the rules of logic render it so.November 10 at 8:27pm
I’ll get back to you on the rest ASAP.
Remember, I have no problem whatsoever saying that God is the First Cause of evil. I have defined “author” as being an immediate cause of something, thus God is not the author of evil, although He is its First Cause. Now, in your mind, this may not “get God off the hook,” so to speak, but it should at least be sufficient to stop you from accusing me of saying that God is the author of sin, as I have clearly defined “author.” Let us not be distracted; the real issue is “OK, how is God’s being the First Cause of sin, any different from His being the author of sin? What difference does it make?” I believe that these questions are merely restatements of the questions that Paul was asked in Romans 9:14 & 9:19 (although that situation was specifically regarding soteriology, the principle of God’s determination is the same).
Note that Paul’s reply is not that God has nothing to do with the free will of men (which would be the perfect response if Paul was a Libertarian), but rather Paul emphasizes God’s sovereign control, and challenges his opponent for questioning God’s actions.
Yes, of course I assume my interpretation of Scripture is correct. Who doesn’t assume that their interpretation is correct? If my interpretation is incorrect, I await your correct interpretation.
I am also assuming that my view is logically coherent, because I am deducing from Scripture, which contains no contradictions. If you’re trying to prove that my view is incoherent, you’re going to have to do so by appealing to Scripture, not “Properly Basic” ideas, or a “common conception of goodness” or anything else other than Scripture. That is my entire point.
Your second quotation of Robinson seems correct to me. But again, I am assuming that my interpretation of the verses I have quoted does not contradict any other passages of Scripture. You have yet to show me how it does. So far, you have only articulated that it doesn’t make sense *to you.* OK, that’s fine, but that in itself is not a refutation. You must, absolutely must, disprove my interpretation by using Scripture. It is foundational. We cannot figure out our system, get it all straight in our head, and THEN go to Scripture and make sure our interpretation of specific passages lines up with what we already have presupposed.
“With this said, the Scriptural considerations seem unhelpful.”
I could not disagree more. We must begin with Scripture. It is the source of truth. Assuming that the conversation is between two Christians: If one wishes to assert a proposition, he must demonstrate that it is derived from Scripture. If one wishes to disprove the assertion of another, he must demonstrate that it is contradictory *to Scripture,* not commonly held ideas of his time.
Regarding your last paragraph, are you saying that God’s punishment of individuals to glorify Himself is unnecessary? Doesn’t that mean it’s gratuitous? And didn’t you just say that that is untenable? Perhaps I have misunderstood you.
I’ll try to explain again. God is God. He doesn’t have a “glory meter” by which He racks up glory points, if you will pardon the illustration. Thus, He doesn’t need us in order to be glorified. Even apart from all creation, He is still God. However, being true to Himself, He wills to reveal His attributes.
All of God’s actions are completely necessary, not because He is forced by a higher power, but because of Who He is.
Is it possible for God to make an unwise decision? No, because if He did, He would not be acting in accordance with His perfect nature. In other words, God making an unwise decision is pure nonsense.
Therefore, if God has made a decision, it is the wisest decision possible.
Therefore, creation was the wisest decision possible.
Therefore, if God had not created, that would have been a less wise decision, and we have already shown that this is logically impossible, God being Who He is.
Using logic and the definition of God, I have just shown that God’s actions are not purposeless, but they are absolutely necessary. All glory to God, there is none higher than He, and His will is perfect, and His ways are unquestionable!
Clifton Harris:Based upon your interpretation of Romans 9, you claim Paul has already dealt with my questions:
“I believe that these questions are merely restatements of the questions that Paul was asked in Romans 9:14 & 9:19 (although that situation was specifically regarding soteriology, the principle of God’s determination is the same).
Note that Paul’s reply is not that God has nothing to do with the free will of men (which would be the perfect response if Paul was a Libertarian), but rather Paul emphasizes God’s sovereign control, and challenges his opponent for questioning God’s actions.”
I agree that Romans 9 is talking about God’s sovereign control and not human freedom, followed by the question in v 19. But what is God exercising sovereign control of ? Is God controlling personal salvation and damnation as the Calvinist understands it? An alternative understanding of Romans 9 can be found in “The Storms of Providence”. Here, Robinson quotes Jack Cottrell at length, who gives one of four observations about the intent of Romans 9-11:
“First, God can choose or reject anyone he wants for the purpose of bringing about a divinely intended goal, including the aim of having individuals help bring salvation to the world through Christ. And so, God is free to choose Gentiles in the place of (or in addition to) Israel as the key instruments by which the gospel of Christ is now shared with the world. This is analogous to God’s choosing Isaac over Ishmael, Jacob over Esau, and even Moses over Pharaoh. In each case, the choice is not of an individual for personal salvation (or damnation) but of a person as an instrument to help bring about the eventual advent of God’s saving work in Jesus Christ.”
An interpretation is available that does not draw inferences to personal election to salvation out of the text. I don’t see Romans 9 as discussing the same subject you do, and so I don’t consider v19 to be a rebuke of my question. Rather, verse 19 presents a question as to how God can choose individuals as vessels for a larger plan of salvation.
It is possible to maintain Libertarian free will when viewing Romans 9 or Proverbs 16:4, as God may prepare individuals for a broader plan, or merely influence them. Robinson states more of Cottrell’s view again in this quote:
“[V]erses that speak of divine hardening of hearts should not be understood to refer to God’s deterministic denial of persons to salvation (and thus of God’s deterministic consignment of people to reprobation). Rather, in most if not all instances such texts speak of an indirect divine influence (which leaves the will free) toward actions that do not directly affect salvation or damnation. Presumably, then, God’s hardening of Pharaoh’s heart was an influence (1) that did not force Pharaoh to act as he did and (2) did not directly result in the eternal damnation of Pharaoh.”
Nonetheless, you may still object that Romans 9 indicates that God exercises control over human freedom due to verse 21. As for this verse specifically:
21Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use?
This verse is said to render Libertarian freedom unbiblical, because it explains that, as a general rule, God overrides the human ability to disobey. But is that the correct understanding of the biblical potter-clay relationship?
Consider a similar analogy in Jeremiah 18:3-6:
3Then I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was, making something on the wheel.
4But the vessel that he was making of clay was spoiled in the hand of the potter; so he remade it into another vessel, as it pleased the potter to make.
5Then the word of the LORD came to me saying,
6″Can I not, O house of Israel, deal with you as this potter does?” declares the LORD. “Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in My hand, O house of Israel (NASB).
The potter does not appear to make the vessel into its second model until the clay first spoils in his hand. Based on the analogy then, God does not make Israel a vessel of wrath because, all things equal, He is glorified by such a thing. Rather, it would seem as though this occurs as a result of the nature of the clay, which refused the initial molding.
None of the verses you’ve presented necessarily refute Libertarian free will. In fact, there seems to be biblical evidence in support of Libertarian freedom.
Examine Matthew 23:37 (NASB):
37″Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling.
Here the unwillingness of Jerusalem is the reason Jesus has not been able to gather them to Himself. There seems no more plain an understanding. Inserting references to God’s secretive and decretive will causes the makes for an interpretation that is strained at best. Robinson notes that “…these expositions are examples of theologians allowing their theological systems to overcome the rather clear meaning of the scriptural texts”.
It seems then that the primary reason for rejecting such a freedom is theological/philosophical, and not biblical. Calvinism’s philosophy is that God controls all actions; it is not the pure attestation of Scripture. Thus, the Calvinist philosophy is subject to critique.
Your closing analogy presents the problem exactly: God, on the philosophy of Calvinism must act in accordance with His nature, and so He must create the world in order to display His glory. Never mind that the notion of punishing someone for crimes you purposed them to commit is atrocious, this explanation falls victim to the first horn of the dilemma I presented. If God depends on the created order to display His glory (and thus be consistent with His nature), does this not make God dependent upon creation?
I find it bizarre that both you and Brian would insist on bringing up biblical data in support of one’s view without first explaining that the view is clear and avoids such horrible problems as those I’ve presented. My biblical responses should be fairly predictable anyway, as are yours. Appealing to your interpretation of Scripture will not solve the serious issued presented, as they are not necessary interpretations. It is possible to understand Romans 9 and others in a way that permits me to question your philosophy.November 12 at 10:25am
Since your answer dealt with a different point, here’s my reply to that. While I do believe that Romans 9 is referring to individual salvation, that is not the point. The point is God’s control. Robinson and I agree that God is choosing someone for a purpose. The question is, can the person reject God’s choosing?
I understand that it is possible for you to read Romans 9 in such a way that your system of Libertarian Free Will is safe. I do not mean to simply quote prooftexts to refute you; I only mean to bring them up as support of my position. Surely you can admit that the same passages can also be read in such a way as to support my position?
Now, what I’m asking you to do is to provide Scriptural support for your doctrine of Libertarian Free Will. This is obviously a very important doctrine to you, personally. Thus, I hope it is a doctrine that you have found in Scripture. You are proposing that Free Will exists, thus the burden is on you to prove it by deducing it from Scripture.
I could dogmatically propose that there is a leprechaun living in my backyard, and you couldn’t come up with Scripture to refute me, but the burden of proof isn’t on you, it’s on me to prove the positive. Thus, again, I’m asking, where do you find Free Will in Scripture? (I’m responding to your paragraphs in the order that you present them, so I’ll get to Matthew 23:37 in a sec.)
Your interpretive approach to Jeremiah 18:3-6 is backward. The analogy is meant to illustrate the plainly spoken truth that Jehovah can deal with Israel just as the potter does. We can’t start assigning meaning to the analogy that the passage doesn’t intend. To do so is to interpret the plain passage by the analogy, which is exactly backward.
You have misread Matthew 23:37. Read it again, starting at verse 13. In this passage, Jesus is pronouncing woe on the leadership of the Jewish people and exposing their continued wickedness throughout history. In verse 37, He continues to address the Jewish leadership, saying that (throughout history) He has “wanted to gather YOUR CHILDREN together… and YOU were unwilling.” The only thing this verse is saying is that the Jewish leadership’s goals were opposed to God’s. There is no indication that Jesus has been unsuccessful; indeed He has always reserved a remnant for Himself, gathering them under His wings (1 Kings 19:18; Isaiah 1:9; Romans 9:27). Thus, your assumption that “Jesus has not been able to gather them to Himself” is simply eisegesis, and Robinson’s quote stands against you, not me. John Gill dealt with this faulty reading of this verse back in 1738 (“The Cause of God and Truth”).
Let me emphatically state that God is not dependent in any way upon His creation. Apart from creation, He is still glorious, holy, just, etc. Sometimes I am not the best at explaining what I mean; let me try again:
1. God is is perfectly wise.
2. God cannot make an unwise decision; to do so would be against His perfect nature.
3. All of God’s decisions are therefore the wisest decisions possible.
4. God decided to create, in order to display His glorious attributes.
5. God’s decision to create was a perfectly wise decision.
6. Therefore, if God had not created, that would have been a less than perfectly wise decision.
7. Therefore, it was necessary for God to create, because He cannot act against His nature (2&6).
8. The necessity of God’s creation does not mean that God is dependent upon His creation.
9. We do not add to God’s ontological glory. He is still God, apart from creation.
10. God, “bound” only by His perfect wisdom, created, in order to display His attributes.
Perhaps that makes more sense. I should also point out that not all who claim the term “Calvinist” will agree with everything I’m saying in this discussion. This does not bother me, because I’m not here to defend Calvinism for its own sake, only so far as it represents the truth of Scripture. Even less, I’m not here to defend “Calvinists” who don’t understand Calvin.
You say that we can’t cite Scripture as evidence, because we have different interpretations of Scripture. But surely, you must believe that Scripture has only one meaning, and that that meaning is intended to be understood. We are not relativists or universalists. Thus, if we wish to demonstrate that our opponent’s interpretation is faulty, we must do so at the level of exegesis. This will show that our opponent’s foundation (their errors in exegesis) is non-existent. We can’t say “Well, people disagree about Scripture, so we can’t use it as support.” Rationalism (an appeal to logic alone) fails because one cannot derive the doctrine of God’s sovereignty, or the concept of “Free will” from the laws of contradiction, identity, and excluded middle. Thus, our axiom must be Sola Scriptura. This is not to say that Scripture is opposed to logic, God forbid! Logic is contained and assumed in Scripture, and must be applied in all biblical disciplines.
Clifton Harris:Starting with your last point first, the simple reason I think we should clarify our views and identify what problems they may have is so that we can determine what to look for in Scripture. I had a discussion with a Jehovah’s Witness recently, and her charge against the Trinity was that it could not be true since it stated that three persons were somehow one person. If that were in fact the doctrine of the Trinity, she would have been correct: a view which is logically incoherent needn’t be looked for in Scripture. I’m not claiming the same is true for Calvinism, but if in fact the view states that God controls all things, and this in turn means that God does not administer justice since He controls evil, a simple read of Scripture would render Calvinism false. If that weren’t enough, the notion that God controls all things may run contrary to a simple command, such as the Ten Commandments, since a command, by nature, implies that the individual has the capacity to obey. But if God has already rendered certain the actions of all persons, issuing commands is pointless, and thus a simple command may be understood as evidence against Calvinism. I have no inherent opposition to looking to Scripture.
It is certainly possible for you to read Romans 9 in support of your position. My point however, is that your position, not the text itself, is subject to criticism. Yes, I still understand Paul’s opponent to be asking if there is unrighteousness with God, but I believe the question is asked with respect to a different sort of control. If, as I have argued, Romans 9 is talking about the specific control of individuals for a broader salvific purpose, then it seems man has no right to question God’s control. If, however, the passage is meant to say that God personally rejects individuals for salvation, this seems to undermine justice so clearly that even the analogy of the potter and clay are unhelpful since clay is not a moral object, nor does it have the capacity to suffer.
You didn’t explain how I misinterpreted Jeremiah 18:3-6. You said the following:
“The analogy is meant to illustrate the plainly spoken truth that Jehovah can deal with Israel just as the potter does. We can’t start assigning meaning to the analogy that the passage doesn’t intend.”
It still seems as though the fact that the clay spoiled in the hands of the potter, influenced him to remake it as He pleased. This indeed means God is free to make Israel a vessel of destruction. But the analogy seems to support that the reason for doing so is that the clay was not fit to be a vessel of honor. The passage does not attribute responsibility to the potter for causing the clay to be spoiled. It seems best to conclude that one implication of the passage is that the clay spoiled on its own.
The fact that God has reserved a remnant for himself does not necessarily imply that He made them believe.
You’ve asked me to provide Scriptural support for Libertarian Free will, but that’s precisely what I’ve done by citing Matthew 23:37. Even if Jesus is referring to the scribes and Pharisees of Jerusalem, He still notes that the unwillingness of man prevents His gathering of them. So this passage still presents the most crucial aspect of Libertarian Freedom: that man has the ability to refuse God’s call. You’ve responded by my interpretation of this verse by saying:
“The only thing this verse is saying is that the Jewish leadership’s goals were opposed to God’s.”
That is my point exactly. The main contention of Libertarian freedom is the ability to be opposed to the will of God. Since they were opposed to God’s will, Jesus could not (or at least did not) gather them. But if God, by the secret council of His will, decreed that Jewish leadership ought to have such goals, then they are not opposed to God’s. To say other than what you have, namely that God has in fact secretly willed such a rebellion, is to present a strained view of the text.
The point of my dilemma is not about God’s creation to display His attributes in general, but specifically His justice. This dilemma was constructed not to display that God and Evil and incompatible, but that God and Gratuitous Evil are incompatible, on Calvinism. Can God display His justice without the destruction of persons, or at least as many persons? It does not seem obvious that creating such a vast multitude of persons who will suffer damnation is necessary for displaying His justice. Wisdom may render it necessary that God display His justice, but is it necessary to go to such a length in displaying it? Again, if the Libertarian is correct, God’s creative purpose is not merely to display His attributes, but to give man the opportunity to fellowship with God. In this case, the number of persons who suffer is necessary to both maintain their freedom and bring in a maximum number of saved persons. But if God’s purpose for permitting evil is simply to display justice, this has already been done. Why continue? It, in no way, seems wise to condemn the vast majority of humanity who could be made obedient. It doesn’t seem that God’s goodness would permit Him to enjoy such destruction. If God’s ontological glory is complete, persons are made aware of His justice, and God has received glory from them as well, it seems gratuitous to further punish humanity.
Even if your model did display that God causing so many individuals to suffer is compatible with His goodness, I still don’t find it evident that the Calvinistic model fits any comprehendible notion of justice. It still seems as though punishing persons for acts you’ve rendered certain that they do makes you the guilty party, not the person doing the act. God may issue any command so long as it ultimately conforms to a good plan fitting for His nature, but it does not seem that commanding the many human atrocities history has recorded could ever conceivably align with a good God’s character.November 16 at 11:37pm
“a command, by nature, implies that the individual has the capacity to obey.” Perhaps you should revisit your logic studies. An imperative command implies nothing; nothing can be inferred from an imperative. An imperative is not a proposition, it is not true or false, it cannot be believed nor disbelieved, and nothing can be deduced from it. Martin Luther dealt with this fallacy in “The Bondage of the Will.”
I’ll clarify my view: You mentioned Libertarian Free Will, and I claimed that it is a fiction, and challenged you to provide Scriptural evidence. That’s really all I wanted. The burden of proof lies with the one asserting a positive. If Libertarian Free Will can be known, then it can be deduced from Scripture.
Regarding the questions in Romans 9, it is irrelevant as to what prompted the questions in this case, as the questioner is questioning what he believes are the implications of Paul’s argument, not Paul’s argument itself. You are listening to my argument, and believe that it has the same implications as Paul’s. You then ask the same questions as the asker in Romans 9, about the same implications (that God is unrighteous & unjust), and I provide the same answer as Paul.
“If, however, the passage is meant to say that God personally rejects individuals for salvation, this seems to undermine justice so clearly…”
Yes, we know how it seems to you. The problem is that you still have not demonstrated how this is so. (It seemed that way to the other guy in Romans 9 too.)
I’ll try to clarify regarding Jeremiah 18:3-6. Nothing in the analogy states that God *had* to wait until the clay was spoiled, yet you arbitrarily assume that it does, because it fits your theology. But the analogy really didn’t have anything to do with the reasons why the potter formed a new creation; the point was spelled out: Jehovah is to Israel what a potter is to clay. Must a potter always wait for his initial creation to be spoiled? Does he not have the free will to do whatever he wishes? If a potter is thus free, is not God free? It seems that the Libertarian gives man more freedom than God, for God must wait and see what his creation will do before He can remake it. A potter does not plead with his clay to form itself into a pot; a pot is formed by the direct hand of the potter.
I’ll try to clarify regarding Matthew 23:37. The verse implies the following:
1. God has wanted throughout history to gather *the children of Jerusalem* under His wings.
2. Jerusalem (that is, the leadership of the Jews, as is made abundantly plain by context), wanted to prevent this at all cost.
Note well that *not a word* is said about your claim that “Jesus could not (or at least did not) gather them. Not a word. The success or failure of Jesus to gather the children of Jerusalem is not provided in this verse. (If you want to assume that Jesus failed, well…) Also note very well that I am not citing this verse as support for God’s meticulous sovereignty. Nowhere does the verse assert that God secretly willed a rebellion, and I am not claiming that it does, and I am therefore not straining the text. It is you that makes the verse say much more than it does, because you 1) are not distinguishing between Jerusalem and her children, as the verse does, and 2) you claim that Jesus didn’t gather the children of Jerusalem. The verses I quoted regarding a remnant prove that there have always been children of Jerusalem who have been gathered under God’s wings.
I agree that God & gratuitous evil are incompatible. I wonder, are you an annihilationist? Because, if you’re not, and assuming Libertarian Free Will, can’t one offer the same arguments against the reality of an eternal Hell? For example, “Can’t God punish someone for a specific period of time, then just annihilate them? Isn’t eternal punishment gratuitous?” Are you prepared to face these same criticisms, or have you adopted Annihilationism?
Regarding your last paragraph, I realize you’re not comprehending the definition of justice that I am arguing from. I understand how it seems to you. I’ve tried to explain how, logically, all of God’s actions are just, and that his wonderful control is as a potter’s over clay. Even more so, because God created His clay. At this point, regarding these questions, I can only recommend you read Clark’s “God and Evil: The Problem Solved.” This is not a concession, nor is it my ending the conversation, but just a sincere recommendation of a book whose author is a much clearer writer than myself. It is very possible that I have not laid out the argument clearly enough, and if that is the case, I appreciate your patience. I also appreciate the clash of iron. If nothing else, apologetic skills are being honed here.
Clifton Harris:First to defend and clarify my statement regarding commands.
“An imperative command implies nothing; nothing can be inferred from an imperative. An imperative is not a proposition, it is not true or false, it cannot be believed nor disbelieved, and nothing can be deduced from it.”
This is technically correct. However, let me clarify that issuing a command to a person implies that the person has the ability to respond. This is especially true if the individual giving the command has the sufficient authority to do so and punishes those who disobey. When, in Genesis 2:17, God commands Adam not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, followed by the consequence of death should he disobey, we assume that Adam has the ability to obey or disobey. Had God rendered it certain (as Calvinists often claim) that Adam would disobey, the command accomplished nothing. More evidently, the fact that God commands us not to sin and issues punishments in the event that we do informs us that He hates sin. Why then does He secretly will that we sin?
Perhaps Robinson is clearer on this matter. He writes:
“Throughout the Bible, God commands that humans not perform certain actions and issues warnings to those that do. This phenomenon is so common that a list of such passages need not be generated. And yet, the Calvinist system seems to imply that God is insincere in his demands that people not sin, for in fact God wills that some persons (indeed many persons) sin. God decrees and determines that they do sin. … [S]uch a perspective produces a logically incoherent view of God’s relationship with evil. It intimates that God desires that which he hates!”
Hopefully this clears up my previous statement. This seems to have the vast majority of Scripture contradict Calvinism.
Romans 9: indeed the essence of the question “is God acting unjustly?” and the answer “Who are you to talk back to God?” is the same. But we are each proposing remarkably different contexts. Sorry to play Burden of Proof Volleyball, but I’m serving it back to you. In order to justify your interpretation of Romans 9, it seems as though you must display that either your interpretation is necessary, or that your model of God’s sovereignty is plausibly just. My argument thus far against it is that we see no such model of direct and absolute control over persons, followed by a judgment of said persons as though they’d done anything of their own initiative and call it justice. Rather, in any such case, the person doing the controlling would receive the punishment, so long as it was displayed, as Calvinism states and you agree that the person displayed total control. God is indeed God and we are not, but if it is revealed in Scripture that He is good and yet Calvinism, not necessarily Scripture, is not able to provide a coherent picture of goodness, what use is the doctrine? What benefit is it to claim that God is good, then when pressed as to how in light of certain implications, respond by an appeal to the gap between ourselves and God without having answered the question?
It seems that Libertarian freedom is true by process of elimination, even if there were no direct Scriptural support.
Regarding Jeremiah 18:3-6: I never used the word ‘wait’ with regard to this verse. Further, I don’t believe God ‘must’ in any way limit Himself, but rather that He chooses to. I simply noted that the clay was spoiled in the hand of the potter. It seems plausible that God would have made Israel a vessel of honor, yet, due to their disobedience, forms them into a vessel of wrath. But even if this is not the case, the comparison between man and God with the clay and potter is only partial.
Robinson again on this subject:
“But such an exegesis fails to detect that the analogy is only partial, that God is only partly like a potter and humans are only somewhat like clay….For this very reason these passages blame the clay for its recalcitrance.”
“I’ll try to clarify regarding Matthew 23:37. The verse implies the following:
1. God has wanted throughout history to gather *the children of Jerusalem* under His wings.
2. Jerusalem (that is, the leadership of the Jews, as is made abundantly plain by context), wanted to prevent this at all cost.”
I’m fine with the two points you’ve said. Might I suggest a third? Can it not be implied that since Christ is pronouncing His woes upon the Jewish Leadership, and this is in that context, that Jesus is also condemned them for wanting to prevent the gathering of Jerusalem’s children? If so, it would seem as though condemning their unwillingness gives no suggestion, in fact contradicts, that their unwillingness was in fact His secretive will working through them.
Isn’t eternal punishment gratuitous? I’m glad to answer this question. I don’t think it is; I support the biblical doctrine Hell. There are two possible ways in which persons justly deserve Hell.
1. The individual commits an infinite number of sins.
2. The individual commits a single sin deserving infinite punishment.
The first may seem especially impossible, since no one commits an infinite number of sins during their lifetime. But this is entirely possible in the afterlife. It seems plausible that, after placed in Hell, persons continue to reveal the character of their heart: one that hates God. As they continue to bitterly resent God in their hearts and curse Him, they perpetuate their punishment. If this still seems implausible, Scripture supports the notion that men continue to curse God, even after receiving judgment.
Revelation 16:9-11 (New American Standard Bible)
9Men were scorched with fierce heat; and they blasphemed the name of God who has the power over these plagues, and they did not repent so as to give Him glory.
10Then the fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and his kingdom became darkened; and they gnawed their tongues because of pain,
11and they blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores; and they did not repent of their deeds.
Second, how might one commit a sin deserving infinite punishment? Certainly lying, stealing, or even murder alone seems fit for only a finite punishment. What about one who rejects Christ’s atonement for these sins? William Craig puts it this way in his book “On Guard”: “To reject Christ is to reject God Himself. And in light of who God is, this is a sin of infinite gravity and proportion and therefore plausibly deserves infinite punishment.” In light of this, as well as the fact that all persons are without excuse for knowing that God exists in their earthly life (see Romans 1:20), it is fair to conclude that even if such persons were to cry out for mercy, this would merely be an attempt to relieve their pain, not to repent.
For the reasons given above, I accept the doctrine of Hell, yet consider God directly creating persons to suffer Hell without the ability to refuse to be gratuitous.
Since we are honing apologetic skills, I hope you’ll consider using the justification for Hell’s fairness above. While not an argument against Calvinism per se, I find it unfortunate that I seem to lose several counter-arguments on such a view, such as a response to the Problem of Gratuitous Evil and Religious Pluralism. I’m the different notion of freedom does not leave you without responses, but I’m curious as to how you all go about apologetics.Saturday at 8:14am
My approach to epistemology/apologetics is sometimes known as Scripturalism. This means that I accept the 66 books of the Bible as the axiom of all knowledge. All propositions must be deduced from Scripture, or else they are man’s imaginings. Thus, in conversations with both believers and unbelievers, I try to follow the method of Christ & Paul, always adopting 2 general approaches. First, direct logical deduction from Scripture. Second, using ad hominem (not to be confused with abusive ad hominem) arguments; temporarily adopting my opponents’ view to show that it is self-refuting.
“However, let me clarify that issuing a command *to a person* implies that the person has the ability to respond.”
Let me emphatically restate that it implies nothing.
Let’s leave Adam aside for the moment, and restrict our conversation to fallen man. You are claiming that for God to command man to perform an act, it follows that man is able to perform that act. Yet this would mean that when God gave Israel the Mosaic law, any one of the Israelites possessed the ability to uphold each command. But we know that one of the purposes of the law was to expose sin. This is why none can be justified by our works: because we are unable to keep God’s commandments. Remember, the Mosaic law was given after the fall. Surely God was aware of man’s fallenness. Yet you are forced to say that the recipients of the Mosaic law hypothetically possessed the ability to respond in obedience to each command and therefore keep the entire law.
Leviticus 19:2 says, “Be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.” Do you really think that the recipients of this command possessed the ability to fulfill it?
Again, all these difficulties aside, the laws of logic dictate that an imperative implies nada, zip, zero, thus your argument from this approach fails; it’s not even an argument in the technical sense.
“Had God rendered [Adam’s response] certain, the command accomplished nothing.” Wrong, it would have accomplished the beginning of the flow of history that God had planned to bring glory to Himself.
As for Robinson, “[S]uch a perspective produces a logically incoherent view of God’s relationship with evil. It intimates that God desires that which he hates!”
Robinson presupposes that to desire is the opposite of hate. Yet unless he defines his terms, we are unable to know what he means by “desire” and/or “hate.” It is not logically incoherent to say that God decrees acts of men which are opposed to God, in order to show His holiness (set-apart-ness).
Regarding Hell: In response to your first possibility, does this mean that, in Hell, one no longer has a Free Will? Assuming for the moment that man *ever* has a Free Will, what’s your basis for assuming that it is removed in Hell?
Regarding your second possibility, and assuming you hold the view that Christ paid for every sin of every individual ever, then wouldn’t the sin of rejecting Him be the one sin He didn’t pay for?
Regarding Romans 9: I laughed at the Burden of Proof Volleyball image 🙂 In response, I’ll first quote you: “My argument thus far against it is that we see no such model of direct and absolute control over persons, followed by a judgment of said persons as though they’d done anything of their own initiative and call it justice.”
This is not your argument, it is your position, which you have asserted several times. I’m still waiting for a real argument, that is, exegesis of Scriptural propositions, proving man’s Libertarian Free Will. You placed the burden of proof on me to prove God’s meticulous sovereignty. I provided an interpretation of Romans 9 which supported my view. You cannot “refute” my interpretation by merely restating that “we see no model…” etc., because *that is the very point under debate.*
I would appreciate if you stuck to arguing against my own statements and not the statements of “Calvinism.” I have many disagreements with many Calvinists. I have a couple of Calvinist friends who have been silent observers of this exchange and I know for a fact that they would disagree with many of the statements I’m making.
You have repeatedly stated that my view does not present a coherent picture of goodness. I am challenging that you are imposing your own idea of what “good” must be like onto God. I mean no disrespect, only to point out that this is one of our main disagreements. For all our typing, your response continues to be essentially “That doesn’t fit with my idea of a good God.” But I must ask, how are you defining “good” at all? It must be from Scripture. You and I both agree that whatever God does is good. Therefore, the question is not “how does that square with my (or any) idea of goodness,” but rather, “Does God actually act in the way you describe?”
I understand what you’re saying about Jeremiah 18:3-6 and the spoiling. What I’m saying is that the passage does not intend to speak to the purpose of God’s recreation, merely that He is able to create as He sees fit. I’m not using it to support my view (although as a demonstration of God’s limitless power, it lends itself to that end); I’m only demonstrating that it can’t/doesn’t prove yours.
You ask, regarding Matthew 23:37, “Can it not be implied that since Christ is pronouncing His woes upon the Jewish Leadership, and this is in that context, that Jesus is also condemned them for wanting to prevent the gathering of Jerusalem’s children?”
“If so, it would seem as though condemning their unwillingness gives no suggestion, in fact contradicts, that their unwillingness was in fact His secretive will working through them.”
No. Again, this is the very point we are debating. I am arguing that God is free to punish sin, while He also is the First Cause of it. I know it doesn’t make sense to you at this point, which is why we’re even discussing it.
All these simultaneous points of argument are getting confusing and a little too much to handle in one “chunk” of responding. If I recall, you stated your belief in Libertarian Free will, and I challenged it on the basis that it cannot be derived from Scripture. Even though I asked a lot of questions in this post, hows about we kind of start over. For the purposes of anyone else who’s still reading this argument, I ask that you provide a definition of “Libertarian Free Will,” and show how you have derived this definition from Scripture. Should be easy, right? Sound good?
Clifton Harris:I agree with the definition of Libertarian Free Will, called Libertarianism, written by William Craig and J.P. Moreland in “Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview”. They write:
“Real freedom requires a type of control over one’s action-and, more importantly, over one’s will-such that, given a choice to do A (raise one’s hand and vote) or B (leave the room), nothing determines that either choice is made. Rather, the agent himself must simply exercise his own causal powers and will to do one alternative, say A (or have the power to refrain from willing to do something).”
This would not mean that in all situations man has this freedom. Obviously, if a man finds himself falling off a cliff, no amount of causal powers he possesses will stop this. That would be an instance of what is called local fatalism. Also, certain factors will influence the person making the decision. If A in the quote above were replaced by eating, one’s hunger will play a considerable role in whether one decides to eat. It will, nevertheless, be up to the individual to choose. Also, on Libertarianism, God does not causally determine all human acts, but rather permits the agent to exercise his own free will.
There is no passage of Scripture which demonstrates the truth of Libertarianism. I would argue, however, that many verses seem to endorse the view that God does not directly will certain things which come to pass. As we’ve seen, there is a great deal of back and forth on Matthew 23:37, and there would surely be more of the same for any other verses I might present. (Jeremiah 18:3-6 was not meant to be support for Libertarianism). While your interpretations of verses used to support Calvinism appear powerful and persuasive, they can be disputed. It is unlikely that we will agree that the Bible supports only one view. We have each held that the other must display his set of interpretations is more valid than the others, while maintaining that his own is plausible. My Burden of Proof Volleyball analogy has proved true. (Actually, I must credit Louis Antony for this phrase from her debate with William Craig on the necessity of God for objective moral values.)
For this reason, Scripture is helpful for setting boundaries as to what one may consider a Christian view, but not helpful in absolutely deciding which of these two plausible Christian views is correct. This is not to relativize truth’s ontology, but to highlight our epistemic uncertainty. In other words, Scripture and its authors undoubtedly held to a view similar to one of ours, but it is not unambiguously clear as to which view that is. This is why I stressed that we appeal to philosophical issues regarding our views to see which is more plausible. This has been met with objections that we must derive the answer purely from Scripture. I’ll challenge that once again.
Sola Scriptura can mean one of two things. It could mean, as you’ve stated Scriptural-ism to mean, that the Bible is “the axiom of all knowledge”. Pious as this may sound, it is unfortunately self-refuting. If Scripture is such an axiom, then the statement “Scripture is the axiom of all knowledge”, or something virtually identical, ought to be found in Scripture. But no such statement exists in the biblical canon, and therefore the statement must be false. (I’m aware of 2 Timothy 3:16 in case you believe that this is said virtually identical statement.)
The second meaning is actually plausible. It roughly states that Scripture is the sole source for revelation of divine authority. Unless the Triune God of Scripture reveals new information and verifies it through signs and wonders, I accept the second definition as true. The Bible, as opposed to some prophet or even the church, is the sole source for revelation of divine authority. But this does not mean that other truths may not be discovered from other sources. I don’t look for a verse to tell me what the weather will be like today, to tell me how to start a car, etc.
Michael Robinson’s statement about the nature of Scripture, which I’ve quoted before, bears repetition:
“Even where doctrine is a main goal, writings are often expressed in narratives, parables, etc. While such writing is lively and has a way of drawing the reader into the worldview of the writer, it is not always precise or clear. In short, the scriptures do not attempt to articulate a clear, systematic exposition of doctrine, and as a result, multiple interpretations are often possible”.
Thus, to demand that one ground his entire response solely on Scripture seems to be a misuse of the intent of the Bible. If you find this to be false, your interpretation of the text must be necessary, not just plausible. This is not to take Scripture to have less authority than it actually does. I believe we must verify that all that we do or say is in accord with God’s Word. Yet, when the answer is not exhaustive, we may turn to other fields for information.
Similarly, you’ve stated “But I must ask, how are you defining “good” at all? It must be from Scripture.” I’m not aware of any exhaustive definition of the word “good” in Scripture. If you are able to provide one that coheres with your view, you are welcome to present such a verse. As I understand it, Scripture simply uses the word good, assuming we already understand its meaning. I’m using this definition from Dictionary.com:
Morally excellent; virtuous; righteous; pious: (example) a good man.
This leads me to my philosophical rejection of your view, namely that I’ve yet to see how it renders God good according to the above definition since it posits that God wills the horrible evil that occurs in the world. I’ve also yet to see how humans are genuinely responsible for the actions on such a view, and how the evil God wills is not gratuitous.
To sum up, I have:
1 .Defined/explained Libertarian Free Will
2. Provided Matthew 23:37 as Scriptural support (I can provide more, but see #3)
3.Argued that Scripture will not provide an exhaustive answer, thus turning us to the philosophical considerations
4.Re-stated my objections to your view (see my previous comments for further details on them)
With this said, you must either 1) demonstrate that an exhaustive answer can be found and only in Scripture or 2) defend your view against the philosophical objections raised. I realize you’ve attempted 2), but the objections have not been refuted.
If neither 1) nor 2) can be done, it seems wisest to end our discussion to study the issue further.Sunday at 6:18pmClifton Harris:Btw, some quick responses to a variety of questions you’ve asked:
My last two statements? You answered them without realizing it. I basically wanted to know how you do apologetics.
“Leviticus 19:2 says, “Be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.” Do you really think that the recipients of this command possessed the ability to fulfill it?”
Deuteronomy 30:11 (New American Standard Bible)
11″For this commandment which I command you today is not too difficult for you, nor is it out of reach.
This is with respect to all of the commandments written in the book of the law (see v 8-10). This suggests that it was theoretically possible. I think that about covers this one.
“Wrong, it would have accomplished the beginning of the flow of history that God had planned to bring glory to Himself.”
This seems uninformative. Couldn’t God simply accomplish goals without issuing commands since they don’t have to influence the individual’s actions?
1. I’m confused as to how you see this as an elimination of free will. I’m only suggesting that such a response is plausible, and the individuals in Hell would not be forced to respond by cursing God.
2. You assumed wrong regarding my view. The way you’ve stated Christ’s atonement sounds universalist. I deny that forgiveness is applied to the person until they accept it. The person who does not accept forgiveness pays the penalty of their own sins, which then includes rejecting God.
I hope you don’t take offense to me answering the questions you’ve posted, given that you suggested we restart.Sunday at 6:46pm
I’m also willing to temporarily give you the last word on all subjects, in order to focus on a discussion of Scripturalism. In reading your last two posts, it has become clear that you and I are standing on different epistemological foundations. Thus, it is impossible for us to ever arrive at the same conclusions. If this is true, then continuing to “volley” back and forth will certainly be fruitless.
Let me know what you think about these two proposals. If you agree, I’ll set up a post on my blog containing our conversation thus far. (I’ll restrict it to just Clifton’s and my own comments directed toward each other.) Then, I will respond to your comments regarding Scripturalism, and attempt to offer a clearer explanation of my view. -November 22
Clifton Harris:I didn’t originally comment on this post to discuss Scripturalism, nor have I studied much for it, but it is certainly an important disagreement between us. I agree that we should move away from this page, as I’m sure Brian never intended to start a conversation lasting this long. I’m not a big fan of having the last word since I also had the first, but so be it.
Let’s move to your blog. -November 22 (an hour later)
Let me begin by saying again that I’m only going to concern myself with the issues of Scripture and how it relates to epistemology. While the so-called problem of evil is important, it is not as foundational as the question of how we know truth.
You have summarized our disagreement thusly:
If I may reword this, to make sure I understand your approach: I (Patrick) am arguing that any assertions made must be demonstrated from Scripture, using deductive logic alone. You (Clifton) are arguing that Scripture is ambiguous on the subject of Meticulous Sovereignty vs. Libertarian Free Will, thus neither you or I will ever be able to prove our respective positions from Scripture alone. Therefore, you claim that extra-biblical philosophy must be consulted in order to discover the truth of the matter. Is this a fair assessment?
First, I’ll answer your objections. An axiom is an unproven first principle; by definition, it cannot be proven, and must therefore be assumed or “presupposed.” All worldviews must begin somewhere. My axiom is simple: “The Bible Alone is the Word of God.” Each of the words in this axiom is pregnant with meaning.
By the word “Bible” I refer to the 66 books of the Protestant Canon, in their original autographs.
By the word “Alone” I mean that the Bible stands apart from all imaginings and philosophies concocted by men. Only Scripture is infallible, thus the Pope is excluded.
By the word “Word” I mean that the Bible is a revelation of true propositions.
By the word “God” I mean the Being revealed in Scripture to be, as the Westminster Divines defined Him in questions 7-9:
Now that the Axiom has been explained, you challenge that it is ultimately self-refuting, because the Axiom itself is not found in Scripture. But again, that is the nature of axioms. I need not try to prove the truth of the Axiom, for if I were able to prove it, it would not be an axiom at all.
Thus, the only way that the Axiom could be self-refuting is if Scripture provided a statement which contradicted the Axiom itself.
You are aware, of course, that Satan can also perform signs and wonders. How then could you be sure that the new information was from God, unless you appealed to the authority of Scripture? For example, the Roman Catholic Church-State has documented many instances of “Marian Apparitions” in which Mary is said to have appeared and spoken to people. These apparitions are often accompanied by miracles of healing, etc. What is your basis for rejecting these “revelations?”
It is impossible to discover truth by any means other than Scripture. Can you provide an example of how one might discover truth by another method?
Now, what I’ve just written is the primary part of this post. But since you asked how I define “good” from Scripture, I’ll use it as an example. We know from Ex. 33:19; Ps. 31:19;107:1; Hos. 3:5; Nahum 1:7; Matt. 19:17 etc. that God is good. We can deduce from this that anything God does is good. Therefore, “good” is that which corresponds to God’s character. We can only know God’s character from what He has revealed in Scripture. I imagine that this explanation still doesn’t sit right with you, and this is because we haven’t cleared up our epistemological foundations yet. Again, I’d appreciate if we stayed away from discussing the problem of evil for now; I was just demonstrating how I would define good from Scripture.
We seem to be misunderstanding one another again, so I’ll try to clear up some things about what I’ve posted.
In your rewording of my view you’ve stated the following:
This isn’t quite correct. I’ve already clarified what I mean when I use the term ‘philosophy’. A quote from me earlier:
And so my argument against your view was the following:
Note that my argument and use of the term ‘philosophy’ has referred to the soundness of the concepts for which we argue. In other words, what Scripture does not exhaustively cover, we may assess its plausibility using logic.
Your view that “The Bible Alone is the Word of God” seems clear enough until you pose the following question:
I must be misunderstanding you. If not, this is trivially easy. Here is another truth I have discovered apart from Scripture: I am currently typing at my computer. Scripture did not tell me this, my five senses did. Now, I would agree that there is no true proposition which contradicts Scripture, but that does not seem to be what you’ve said. Could you clarify this for me?
With regard to Sola Scriptura and possible negations, it is likely, if not certain, that an appeal to Scripture would be necessary to determine if some revelation were truly from God or not. I was not giving a full criteria for verification of such a thing; I was simply stating that if it had been verified to be revelation from God, the 66 books we currently have would not constitute all knowable divine authority. It was purely hypothetical.
Your last comment illustrates a point I made earlier as well:
Your deduction constitutes what I have called philosophy throughout this conversation. The problem is that I may, and already have, critiqued your reasoning. My goal in our conversation has never been to attack Scripture, but to assess (and refute) the validity of the deductions you make from it. My concern with Scripturalism, namely that we affirm many true statements without an immediate appeal to Scripture, seems to stand at this point. Even if we continue under that axiom, it seems your interpretation of free will is still rendered implausible due to the ‘philosophical’ considerations, or deductive logic as you’ve called it.
Hopefully I’ve at least clarified my view.
So you’re defining philosophy as logic. If that’s the case, we might want to stick to using the word “logic,” since that’s what it means. I’ve not heard anyone use the word “philosophy” in the way that you are. Allow me to add some clarifying comments as well:
If something can be logically deduced from Scripture, I am considering it to be in Scripture. Also, just because an idea is logically coherent does not mean that it is true. Also, your issue with my view is that it does not fit logically with *how you define good*. I understand and sympathize, but I’m returning the argument that you are not basing your idea of good on God, but rather your idea of God on your idea of good.
You have not misunderstood me. One cannot discover truth through sense experience. I believe that I am typing at my computer right now as well, but it is my opinion, I do not know it to be true. It has not been revealed to me by God. Perhaps I am dreaming; a few hours ago I woke from a very realistic dream in which our family cat died. In the dream, I used all five senses. But then I woke up to discover our cat alive and well. Or possibly I’m having a vivid hallucination due to the cold medicine I’m on. Or maybe I’m in the Matrix. My senses cannot tell me any of these things.
Have you ever been to a magic show? Looked at a book of optical illusions? Used audio headphones which make it sound as if the music is coming from inside your own head? Heard an echo? Anyone who has done any of these things should understand that the senses are not reliable, and are quite easy to fool.
I do not say this to be facetious or trivial. We make decisions every day based on what we see, hear, etc. But we cannot possibly place sense experience on the same level as God’s revelation as a source of truth. I know, you would subject your sense experience to Scripture. I mean on the same level, meaning as an alternate source of truth.
Another problem the evidentialist must face is the question of how electrical impulses traveling from the eyes or fingertips to the gray matter in their head magically turns into an immaterial thought in a person’s mind.
I’m not going to address your last paragraph, as it leads directly back to where we started. Suffice to say that I have defined “good” from Scripture, while you have not attempted to do so yet. Don’t worry about it for now, focus on epistemology.
I hope it is fair to say that your last statement only 1) challenged my definition of philosophy and 2) defended your axiom “The Bible Alone is the Word of God”. Assuming this is the case; in this response I will do the following:
1. Defend/clarify my use of the word philosophy
2. Critique your axiom
3. Erect a superior strategy for both apologetics and this discussion which will allow us to properly separate and analyze the philosophical and biblical evidences for the nature of free will.
“So you’re defining philosophy as logic.” Close, but not quite. I understand philosophy as “the study of general and fundamental problems regarding knowledge, values, reason, etc.” (Wikipedia) This study relies on deductive logic to function. So I do not consider deductive logic to constitute *all* of philosophy, but it is central to it. When I have used the term philosophy and you have discredited its use, and countered by appealing to the need for deductive logic, I have stressed the relationship between the two, bordering on implication that they are one in the same to communicate the validity of the discipline which, in part you seemed to endorse. Sorry for the confusion this has caused.
“If something can be logically deduced from Scripture, I am considering it to be in Scripture.”
Is this perhaps from Gordon Clark’s presuppositionalism? He is noted for understanding Logos (the Word) as meaning logic in John 1 correct? If this is the case, I understand the difficulty in our conversation thus far. You have not shied away from the logical questions I’ve presented, and have simultaneously demanded an appeal to Scripture, while I have considered the two to be independent.
Having studied it a bit, the problem with identifying the statement “The Bible Alone is the Word of God” as an axiom is that the statement is not self-evident. Several sources, including Answers.com which I’m quoting, define axiom in the following way:
1. A self-evident or universally recognized truth; a maxim
Since your proposed axiom is neither self-evident nor universally recognized, it is invalid. No non-believer, upon hearing such a statement will regard the Bible as God’s Word. Thus, one fairs better upon approaching conversations of this sort using Classical Apologetics. This also means that, since it is based upon this axiom, your rejection of my appeal to a source of truth outside of Scripture is not warranted.
“Another problem the evidentialist must face is the question of how electrical impulses traveling from the eyes or fingertips to the gray matter in their head magically turns into an immaterial thought in a person’s mind.”
I’m not an evidentialist, so I hope this problem was not directed at me. If it was, I should first note that I do believe in the immaterial soul, and second that my reason for doing so would be that which may truly serve as an axiom: Foundationalism. This is also considered the notion that certain beliefs are Properly Basic, as I mentioned earlier. Yet again Answers.com proves helpful:
“In epistemology, the view that some beliefs can justifiably be held directly (e.g., on the basis of sense perception or rational intuition) and not by inference from other justified beliefs….Foundationalists have typically recognized self-evident truths and reports of sense-data as basic, in the sense that they do not need support from other beliefs.”
There are certain beliefs which cannot be proven, and thus we must assume that they are true. You’ve stated this to be true of axiom:
“I need not try to prove the truth of the Axiom, for if I were able to prove it, it would not be an axiom at all.”
If I can provide an argument for your axiom, this serves as a second reason, according to your words, that it is not an axiom. William Lane Craig presents some interesting thoughts on the nature of Scripture on his reasonable faith website. Hopefully these not only provide a deductive argument for biblical inerrancy, but also support the notion that it should not be our starting point. He writes:
“(I)nerrantists have maintained that belief in biblical inerrancy is justified as a deduction from other well-justified truths. For example, the late Kenneth Kantzer, Dean of the seminary I attended, argued for inerrancy by means of the following two syllogisms:
1. Whatever God teaches is true.
2. Historical, prophetic, and other evidences show that Jesus is God.
3. Therefore, whatever Jesus teaches is true.
4. Whatever Jesus teaches is true.
5. Jesus taught that the Scriptures are the inspired, inerrant Word of God.
6. Therefore, the Scriptures are the inspired, inerrant Word of God.
The claim here is that we have good reasons to think that the Bible, despite its difficulties, is the inerrant Word of God and therefore we should accept it as such. As Friedrich Schleiermacher once put it, “We do not believe in Christ because we believe in the Bible; we believe in the Bible because we believe in Christ.”’
Given the validity of this argument, your axiom is provable and not properly basic. I may, however, take as a Properly Basic belief that I have experienced God personally since I cannot provide any outward evidence of the experience. I may also affirm the reality of my sense experiences, such as my typing at this computer on the same basis. It is hypothetically possible that such beliefs may be incorrect, and I must answer these defeaters, but the simple proposition that they could be false in no way threatens my experience.
This approach permits me to believe the truth of Scripture independent of argument and evidence, yet provide both argument and evidence in support of its claims. It also allows me to examine secular fields such as philosophy and science, accepting their fallible yet relatively trustworthy history, and gather universally accepted information as evidence for God. I presuppose Scripture and nature to be in agreement, but this belief is falsifiable. Nonetheless, it seems reasonable to conclude that if an interpretation of Scripture is both exegetically and philosophically plausible, it is superior to an interpretation that lacks one of these.
You probably won’t see any response from me tomorrow, as I’ll be spending time with family. I pray you’ll do the same regardless of whether you reply. It may almost seem harsh to say such a thing after giving making such a post, but I genuinely mean it: Have a Happy Thanksgiving.
Happy Thanksgiving to you as well.
I’ll try to be concise.
The difference between you and I is very simple, and by now should be evident to any readers:
For definitions, you go to Answers.com, and I go to Scripture.
I accept ideas on the basis of Scripture alone, while you accept Scripture on the basis of “Properly Basic” beliefs. I wonder, what is more properly basic than a Word from God?
The irrationalist Friedrich Schleiermacher traded logical reason for religious feeling. His quote is ridiculous; the only way we can know who Christ is is from the Bible. Thus a belief in Scripture must come before a belief in Christ. But again, Schliermacher was hardly interested in applying logic to theology.
Regarding what an axiom is, check out dictionary.com and look at the 3rd definition, the one used in the fields of logic and mathematics. That is the one I’m using, since this entire conversation is about logic. No truth, let alone axiomatic truth, let alone God’s Word, is dependent upon what is “generally accepted.”
Interesting that Christ and the Apostles never used a “Classical” approach. Not once did they try to prove the truth of Scripture or the existence of God, things that modern “apologists” are obsessed with. Instead, Christ answered His opponents by either quoting Scripture or using his opponents’ assumptions against them. Someone should have told Paul that he should have spent more time finding common ground with the unbeliever using “Properly Basic” notions, instead of simply pointing out that they were wrong, and using Scripture to support his position.
I’ll start with a quote from your last statement:
“Interesting that Christ and the Apostles never used a “Classical” approach. Not once did they try to prove the truth of Scripture or the existence of God, things that modern “apologists” are obsessed with. Instead, Christ answered His opponents by either quoting Scripture or using his opponents’ assumptions against them.”
At least three things are remarkably different between the Apostles and Christ and us:
1. Christ and the Apostles received direct divine revelation.
2. These individuals were able to authenticate their ministries through the working of miracles.
3. The Apostles and their generation were eye witnesses to the events of the life of Christ.
For these reasons, one should expect their apologetic approaches to take on different characteristics. These facts are frequently implemented in the ministry of Christ and the Apostles, though certainly they use other methods. It should also be noted that they preached Christ and His Kingdom for the first time. It would be more accurate to say that their methods are exactly like neither of ours.
Even regarding mathematical and logical statements, Answers.com, borrowing from Columbia Encyclopedia states the following:
“The axioms should also be consistent; i.e., it should not be possible to deduce contradictory statements from them.”
Due to the deductive argument given before, I do not accept that there are actual contradictions in Scripture. Nonetheless, it is not so evident that the Bible is God’s inerrant Word that it is appropriate to use as an axiom. When the skeptic raises questions as to Scripture’s reliability, the Burden of Proof falls on us to defend it. We ought not to dismiss their accusation because they cannot explain ethics, logic, or the purpose of their existence without God. On such arguments alone, adopting Scripturalism upon entering the conversation, it may just be coincidence that only Christianity appears true, since no argument or evidence is provided. This leaves the skeptic with unnecessary freedom for unbelief; he may still say there is no evidence for Christianity, and a wealth of evidence against it. Furthermore, since you stated that if an axiom was provable, it would not be a true axiom at all, and since I have proven your axiom, the statement “The Bible Alone is God’s Word” is not an axiom.
Finally, let’s suppose you’re right. What is the problem with implementing problem solving skills based upon logic to validate an interpretation of Scripture? Would that not be a simple inference from the available sources of truth? You define “axiom” apart from Scripture, what is the problem with defining “good” apart from it as well? Again, it should be noted that you cannot actually obtain definitions from Scripture. Simply ignoring my point about this will not help.
It sure has been interesting reading the discussion between you two. As you both know all too well, if all do not begin with the same first axiom, an argument or debate will forever go around in circles.
1. We have received divine revelation: Holy Scripture.
2. How do you know, without appealing to Scripture? The rest of the world does not seem to agree with you.
3. Irrelevant. Why would that change their apologetic toward those who were not eyewitnesses? Why didn’t they first try to establish some common, properly basic, ground with the unbelievers?
Could you please define “self-evident”?
For anyone to accept the burden of proving his own axiom is foolishness. As I have said, axioms are unprovable by definition. You claim to have “proven” my axiom, but you have only done so by beginning with other axioms that you feel are more foundational than God’s Word, such as the reliability of sense experience and so-called properly basic ideas. You have also watered down the meaning of “proved,” to mean something like “very probably likely.” When I use the word “proved,” on the other hand, I mean that something has been correctly deduced from Scripture alone.
Regarding your last paragraph, do you really mean to say that Scripture is not sufficient to obtain a working definition of “good?” Scripture? The rule of faith & practice? Scripture, God’s Word, cannot tell us what “good” is? Also, Scripture presupposes the existence of axioms. “I AM that I AM” assumes that A=A, which is an axiom of logic. In our language, the word “axiom” is used, but it doesn’t matter what word is used, the concept is present in Scripture.
I’m not entirely sure why we’re continuing the conversation, you have already admitted my original point, that Libertarian Free Will is not deducible from Scripture. In order to arrive at this notion, one must appeal to sources outside Scripture, be they the words of philosophers, electrical signals, properly basic ideas, or whatever. The point is, my point has been made: Libertarian Free Will is not found in Scripture. Thus again I’m forced to echo Luther: Unless I’m convinced by Scripture (The 66 books of the protestant canon) and plain reason (the laws of logic applied to the propositions of Scripture), I’ll stick with my rejection of Libertarian Free Will.
@John: You’re absolutely correct, which is why I shifted the conversation from a discussion of man’s will to a discussion of axiomatic truth: to demonstrate Clifton’s view of Scripture as insufficient as a source of truth, necessitating looking to philosophy to discover “properly basic” ideas. Now that this has been made quite evident, readers can decide for themselves which is the more solid foundation on which to stand.
At what point did I admit that Libertarian Free Will is not deducible from Scripture? I said the following:
“There is no passage of Scripture which demonstrates the truth of Libertarianism. I would argue, however, that many verses seem to endorse the view that God does not directly will certain things which come to pass.”
What I meant here is that no passage unambiguously spells out such freedom. If I truly thought there were no biblical support for Libertarian Free Will whatsoever, why did I propose Matthew 23:37, with the claim that I could produce more passages in support of it? (This passage was never decisively settled).
I also charged, not that Scripture is not God’s Word, but that it is not a dictionary or an exhaustive book for systematic theology. To truly honor Scripture, one must accept what it is written for. I feel that Scripturalism is an over-extension of the text.
I won’t cover any more points made at this time, since your last statement appears to be a plea to end the conversation, but I can answer any questions related to my previous statements if you wish to continue.
I thought Matthew 23:37 was settled, as there is no evidence that Jesus is prevented from accomplishing His desire, and the verse was about how the Jewish leadership didn’t like the idea of Israelites actually listening to the prophets.
“Scripture… is not an exhaustive book for systematic theology. To truly honor Scripture, one must accept what it is written for.”
I know you said you’re aware of the existence of 2 Tim 3:16-17, but perhaps we should look at it again, paying special attention to all the universal statements it contains:
“ALL Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be COMPLETE, THOROUGHLY equipped for every good work.”
So, in this verse we see that Scripture is given for the direct purpose of providing doctrine, instruction in righteousness (goodness, anyone?), so that you and I might be COMPLETE, and THOROUGHLY equipped.
This is a far cry from Paul. He says “complete” and “thoroughly,” but you say that it’s “not an exhaustive book for systematic theology.” If theology is the study of God, how else can we learn about God than by His Word? Paul says that Scripture contains a complete system of doctrine.
In Colossians 2:2-3, Paul writes that “ALL the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden” in Christ. Note the “all” and the “hidden.” Christ, the Word of God, possesses ALL knowledge, and Paul says that it is hidden. Paul does not say that knowledge is all around us, or available from many sources — no, ALL knowledge is HIDDEN in Christ, and thus is only available through His revelation, Holy Scripture.
1 Tim 6:20 — Timothy is to guard the doctrine that has been given to him (Scripture), the flip side of which is to avoid that which is called “knowledge” or “science” but is actually no such thing.
2 Peter 1:19 — Peter refers to Scripture as a light which shines in a dark place, not a dim place. Only Scripture contains the light of knowledge.
What, according to Scripture, is “properly basic?” Prov 1:7 — “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge.” Prov 9:10 — “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” Ps 111:10 — “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom.”
Scripture is emphatic and unequivocal. The only way one can see room for other sources of truth is if one already presupposes them. Amazingly, many Christians think the same way you do. They may not realize it, but they are so attached to their notions of truth & understanding that they read the plain words of Scripture and think to themselves, “It can’t possibly mean that Scripture’s doctrine makes a man complete,” or “Surely some other basic principles must come before God.” So they introduce other sources of knowledge (falsely so called). It does not stop there. They read Scripture concerning God’s control over man’s decisions and think, “It can’t mean that God actually determines man’s choices! That doesn’t fit with how the world understands ‘good,’ and it does away with my ideas about how my will works!” And thus, eisegesis becomes common practice.
I’m not pleading for an end to the conversation, but I am pleading for an end to placing any ideas/philosophies/opinions at the level of God’s written revelation. If you’re unwilling to do so, there is no point in continuing, because as I said, you and I are standing upon different foundations of truth, thus cannot agree. I’m not interested in the ideas of philosophers, or how any man defines “good” or “free will,” I’m only interested in what Scripture has to say on the subject. If that means I’m too narrow-minded, I’ll take it as a compliment.
It was quite clear that you attempted to answer the philosophical objections I brought up before, and only dismissed them because your answers were easily dealt with. The explanation of first/second causes was ineffective. You simply cannot answer how God causing evil is an example of justice, and so you’ve requested that we drag this conversation around in every direction but the original topic which I commented on and you challenged me; the different views of free will.
There is no direct evidence that Jesus could not save Jerusalem’s children, but we agreed that in Matthew 23:37 Jesus was condeming the Jewish leadership on account of their unwillingness. But I charged that this makes no sense if God willed that they be unwilling. You did not reply with further reason to think our agreed upon interpretation was compatible with God having predetermined the unwillingness of Jerusalem’s leaders.
I never stated that philosophy, science, or anything else stands on equal ground with Scripture. With regard to properly basic beliefs, my only point was that certain beliefs must be assumed before approaching the biblical text. How can one assume Scripture is true if it is not evident that one can trust his own sight to see it? This was not to say that my senses contain all truth.
I challenged Scripturalism on multiple accounts. First, I stated that certain words, such as “good”, are not actually defined in Scripture, and thus we ought to turn to a dictionary to derive its meaning. The reply was not an actual definition but various uses of the word throughout the Bible. Second, I presented the following argument to prove the axiom, which by definition is supposed to be unprovable:
1. Whatever God teaches is true.
2. Historical, prophetic, and other evidences show that Jesus is God.
3. Therefore, whatever Jesus teaches is true.
4. Whatever Jesus teaches is true.
5. Jesus taught that the Scriptures are the inspired, inerrant Word of God.
6. Therefore, the Scriptures are the inspired, inerrant Word of God.
This is a deductive argument, meaning that if the premises are true, the conclusion follows naturally. Which premise dare a Christian reject? Even premise 2 includes prophetic evidences. Are we to deny that prophetic evidence from Scripture proves that Jesus is God? It seems then that the argument is valid, and thus proof was provided for the axiom, proving it to be no true axiom at all.
Obviously, many more points were made on both sides, but I defended the core of my claims for Libertarianism over Calvinism and challenged that the foundation of your view sits on very shaky ground. I see no further need to continue since I don’t intend to agree to the proposed axiom.
I thank you for your time and thoughts; hopefully this was mutually beneficial to some extent. I also intend to refrain from further posts on this discussion so that you may have the final word.
I cant help but wonder that the problem with such conversations as these is that either one or both sides of the discussion are not willing to change their view if another view is proven correct. Scripture should ultimately be the deciding factor in such discussions and we should always be willing to let Scripture and the Holy Spirit (these go hand in hand) to guide our viewpoints on the issues presented. This is something I struggled with a few years back, I was decided in my mind on the issue presented but then God worked on me and gave me a very high view of Scripture and I went searching. After a while God guided me to the Scriptural view rather than the view I wanted!
So all that to say, why in the world would you have such a discussion or even research a topic if you don’t intend to let the evidence guide you (ultimately, Scripture should be the evidence that is held in the highest regard)???
I am kind of saddened by this statement by you:
“I see no further need to continue since I don’t intend to agree to the proposed axiom.”
Scripture should be our guide and both sides of the discussion should be willing to change their view as Scripture and the Holy Spirit guides!
It is folly to try to understand God with philosophy and logic. God is far beyond that… He is too big.. He is infinite, what folly it is to try to understand Him with finite minds?!?!? I would even say that would be an insult to Him, for He knows we cant understand Him and His ways with our minds, but He has given us the perfect way to understand Him, which is His divine revelation! If we have the key, why try another way? Is it our pride that makes us do so?
I really hope that you guys can continue the discussion, but if not, I think many things were presented well, and hope you read back through it! Looking forward to reading more.. 🙂
God Bless y’all!
Even if we covered Scripture and nothing else, it is not evident thus far, nor do I think it would be, which view is correct. I can see the discussion now: I bring up Ezekiel 33:11, Patrick brings up John 6:44, I bring up John 12:32, he brings up Acts 13:48, and so on, with no agreed upon absolute resolution to any verse. The reason I have not made this central to the discussion is because these passages are famous for each side; not because I’m trying to avoid Scripture. Were this an age of the earth debate, for example, my primary goal would be to prove that my view were biblical because it would not evidently be.
The suggestion that God is too grand for our finite minds is true, but this does not mean that the person presenting his theology may claim absurdities and leave it at that. We must still use our minds to teach the things which God has revealed to us.
I am trying to understand this view, and would change my mind on the matter were it shown that I’m wrong. The question is, is anyone truly trying to understand where I’m coming from? Aside from simply rejecting the plausibility of my arguments, can anyone refute them? Can’t we understand that at certain times our interpretation of Scripture steps into other fields such as Philosophy and Science? In part, I want to end the conversation out of the frustration of my view being misunderstood and immediately rejected, rather than considered. I might continue the conversation if it can be displayed, not just asserted, that only Scripture deserves consideration in this matter. I’ll try to keep an open mind.
I challenged you to prove Libertarian Free Will from Scripture. I did so because I assumed that you would agree that one’s assertions about such things as God’s sovereignty & Man’s will must be proved from Scripture. Over the course of the conversation, I realized that you were not relying on Scripture alone, and thus shifted the conversation to make that point very plain.
It does make sense, unless someone introduces extrabiblical ideas of God’s justice, Man’s will, and Man’s responsibility. Remember, the conversation began with me challenging you to prove Libertarian Free Will. At what point did it become about me proving my view?
Exactly, which places “certain beliefs [which] must be assumed” as higher authority than Scripture, because one can only interpret Scripture in light of these logically prior “certain beliefs.” I realize you may not intend to place your own beliefs above Scripture, but nevertheless that is what you’re doing when you say such things.
If the definition of ‘good’ is in dispute, why must we trust a dictionary’s definition? If I found a dictionary that define ‘good” as “a dark shade of yellow”, would you accept it? No, because that dictionary is not an authority. Sorry to break it to you, but Merriam-Webster, Oxford, & Dictionary.com are not authorities on truth, Scripture is. If your reply is that we understand the definition of ‘good’ by what is commonly understood by a majority, then your ideas of truth need to be realigned, because popular opinion does not make truth. If it does, then the world used to be flat.
You provided the following syllogism as part of your argument to “prove” the Axiom of Scripture:
Isn’t it painfully obvious that your FIRST premise is derived from SCRIPTURE? You may have studied logic, but I don’t think you understand how deduction works.
I’ll go further: #2 cannot be relied upon, because just because something *appears* true does not mean that it is. Thus #2 cannot be used as a “proof” without redefining what a logical “proof” actually is.
There are more problems with your “deductive argument,” but these two should be sufficient to show that your reasoning is bogus.
My foundation is Scripture alone… that’s shaky ground? If you think dictionary.com must be consulted before approaching Scripture, and you think that’s a stronger foundation than mine, good luck to ya.
I’d be happy to discuss Ez 33:11 and Jn 12:32. The problem with these somewhat cloudier verses is that I would use clearer Scriptures to help us interpret them, but you’re cool with just asserting “that doesn’t make sense” over and over, without showing why (from Scripture).
I agree that a person presenting his theological views may not claim absurdities. This is why I’ve been trying to demonstrate my views from Scripture, which is not absurd.
Tell me, what would you consider a “refutation?” When I bring Scripture to the table, you reject my plain exegesis because of your extrabiblical presuppositions. When I try to demonstrate that relying on Science for truth is logically fallacious, and that sense experience provides us with ZERO truth, you claim you’re not an evidentialist or empiricist or whatever. In fact, it’s very difficult to pin down your view; you tend to shift to whatever source of truth is convenient for your view. You say that you can prove that Scripture’s true, but then you use Scripture to do so… what’s that about?
As long as you mean we cannot understand God with logic apart from Scripture (i.e. Rationalism), then I agree with you wholeheartedly.
My view is that Scripture contains the highest and most necessary truth. It is not evident, however, how to best interpret Scripture at all times. Exegesis is an important tool; we must make sure that we are doing justice to the biblical texts and Scripture at large. But it may be possible to arrive at a multitude of interpretations, even if one employs exegesis. Thus, it seems proper to turn to other fields dealing with the same issues to see what the implications are of adopting a certain view. If one of these fields declares a certain view implausible, then we have an additional reason not to adopt it. At the bottom of this ladder of truth, so to speak, are foundational beliefs one must adhere to in order to even begin such a study. I cannot do exegesis if I do not exist, or my cognitive faculties do not work properly, etc. I consider the inner witness of the Holy Spirit to be at this foundational level. Philosophy is a fallible tool, and many use it inappropriately, but if it is properly put in submission to Scripture it can prove helpful. Hopefully this is clear; Scripture is the main goal; multiple sources may be employed for proper interpretation.
With regard to the Axiom to Prove Scripture, #1 need not be derived from Scripture, as this would be Begging the Question. The premise that whatever God teaches is true is based upon the attributes of God as taught in classical theism, which could be just as easily derived from reading the Quran. I needn’t appeal to Scripture; it is implicit that God’s attribute of moral goodness entails that He will not teach false propositions. It should be noted that, if conversing with a non-believer, I would first argue for God’s existence and the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection before moving to this argument. #2 is perfectly compatible with the fact that it “appears” to be true. This is a premise of the argument, not the argument itself. A premise need only be more plausible than its negation; it needn’t be proven. Unless you are going to argue that #2 is less plausible than its negation, you’ve yet to refute this premise or the argument.
It should be noted that while the statement “The Bible Alone is God’s Word” is not an axiom (as an apologetic tool it simply Begs the Question), the statement “One’s Five Senses are Reliable” is. Unlike the former statement, the latter actually cannot be proven, for any argument used to display the truth of it would be less obvious than the statement itself and would even presuppose it. Also, the statement “One’s Five Senses are Reliable” cannot be rationally rejected. If I cannot affirm my five senses, what can I know? I cannot even know if a discussion is taking place. One would literally have to be insane to deny the validity his or her senses entirely. One may occasionally be deceived by them, but this provides no reason to think they are wholly unreliable.
I consider a refutation to be some line of reason that suggests that an argument is fallacious. In this case, you must refute that Calvinism makes God the author of evil. When you brought Scripture to the table, I provided plausible alternative interpretations. I’ve yet to see that your exegesis, whoever plain it might appear, is necessarily correct. Besides, I could raise the same objection with regard to Matthew 23:37; if exegesis shows us that Christ condemned the Jewish leadership for their unwillingness, it is not immediately obvious that He secretly willed that they be unwilling.
I consider John 12:32 part of a counter to John 6:44 as many Calvinists interpret it. I do consider Ezekiel 33:11 as evidence for Libertarianism though. It reads:
Ezekiel 33:11 (New American Standard Bible)
11″Say to them, ‘As I live!’ declares the Lord GOD, ‘I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live Turn back, turn back from your evil ways! Why then will you die, O house of Israel?’
Given that God says “As I live” and pleads with the house of Israel to turn back from their evil ways, I see nothing “cloudy” about this passage. In case one wants to dismiss this passage as an oddity, the same language is used in Ezekiel 18:23:
Ezekiel 18:23 (New American Standard Bible)
23″Do I have any pleasure in the death of the wicked,” declares the Lord GOD, “rather than that he should turn from his ways and live?
This seems utterly incompatible with a God who wills that individuals sin, and is in fact glorified by it.
Clifton, in your last post, you said:
What about the countless religions which feature evil gods? I can’t believe what I’m reading…
So you begin by defining God how you want, then proceed to prove the truth of Scripture. Wow.
With apologetics like this, it’s no wonder atheists think Christians are foolish. No argument can prove the existence of the Christian God. And good luck convincing someone of the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection without using Scripture.
With all sincerety and due respect, the anti-Scriptural epistemological foolishness of this statement is so evident that I refuse to waste any more time arguing it. You’re not stupid, you’re a better thinker than this Clifton.
Also let me point out that I don’t think our senses are useless, only that they cannot be relied upon to furnish us with knowable truth.
As for your impositions onto John and Ezekiel, I see no reason to debate the proper exegesis of Scripture with one who believes the Quran can be used in proving the validity of Scripture. This is why I shifted to the subject of epistemology in the first place.
This is going nowhere. I’ll let Scripture have the last word:
And finally, the entire chapter of 1 Corinthians 2:
Comments reopened, due to the convincing of an observing friend.
I recently discovered that the comments were reopened. I want to clarify a previous statement I made:
“The premise that whatever God teaches is true is based upon the attributes of God as taught in classical theism, which could be just as easily derived from reading the Quran.”
Your perception of this statement was that 1) this could apply to evil gods in other religions 2) that I believed the Quran could be used to prove the Bible. Neither statement is true. By classical theism, I meant capital G God, which Merriam Webster’s dictionary defines as the following:
the Being perfect in power, wisdom, and goodness who is worshipped as creator and ruler of the universe
All of the Abrahamic religions would agree to these attributes. Obviously, God has more attributes than those given by the above definition, and I’m aware of your dislike of any definition not found exclusively in Scripture. But my point was that the Bible could be shown to be true by starting with a definition of God which, while compatible with Scripture, needn’t be derived from Scripture to make the argument. Even if that point is false, it is not obvious to me that Scripture is or ought to be our epistemological starting point.
Again, if my previous statement appeared to endorse the absurd things you understood it to; I apologize for lack of clarity. Frankly, I never expected the conversation to take such a turn, and I had never encountered such a view before. I have made it a priority to study these matters more in depth, and perhaps we’ll discuss them again.
Thanks for the clarification.
“…the Bible could be shown to be true by starting with a definition of God which, while compatible with Scripture, needn’t be derived from Scripture to make the argument. Even if that point is false, it is not obvious to me that Scripture is or ought to be our epistemological starting point.”
I think the problem with this approach is that if we first create an idea of God in our mind, then try to reason from that idea to the Bible, it becomes quite clear to observers that we would simply be accepting the Bible because it agrees with our own preconceived ideas. They’re thinking, “Of course they accept the Bible, it fits their system!” It also places a man’s idea in a more foundational place than Scripture. What we know about God, we know from Scripture. There can be no higher authority or foundational truth than a Word from God.
Pingback: Clark & Calvin on Determinism & Responsibility | Reformed TAP