This blog has moved to www.vox-veritatis.com. Please modify your bookmarks, links, and feeds accordingly.
This blog will stay up for reference purposes (as long as Google allows), but I'm not planning to add any new content. In addition, I'm planning to go through the archives, and revise and migrate a number of posts from this blog over to the new one. Insofar as I migrate a post over to the new blog, I will add a link to the post on this blog that points to the revised content there.
As a final note, I'd like to thank my readers for bearing with me through long droughts of new postings. Inasmuch as you have found this blog to be edifying, I hope and pray that you will find the new site to be so all the more.
Saturday, December 10, 2011
This blog has moved to www.vox-veritatis.com. Please modify your bookmarks, links, and feeds accordingly.
Tuesday, July 12, 2011
When we analyze any given situation, we often react in multiple, conflicting ways. For instance, we may rejoice in the fact that an evil tyrant or terrorist has been put to death. After all, the death of such individuals entails the cessation of the evils and hardships that they were intent on bringing upon others, and that is something to rejoice about. Yet, at the same time, we cannot rejoice fully, because we know that such people are created in the image of God, and because of that, death is an unnatural thing, to be approached seriously and reverently. As a result, we react ambivalently to some extent. We may openly celebrate the triumph of good and the downfall of evil, but yet there is a nagging reminder that death is not a good thing, and a serious matter to be addressed reverently, not flippantly. How are we to make sense of this seeming contradiction within ourselves?
Now consider God, who on the one hand "does not take pleasure in the death of the wicked" (Ez. 33:11), yet on the other hand boldly proclaims that He is "The One forming light and creating darkness, Causing well-being and creating calamity; I am the LORD who does all these" (Is. 45:7). The calamities of which God speaks certainly include the death of the wicked. But the problem is even further confounded when we see that "our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases" (Psa. 115:3). Ergo, God is pleased to bring calamity, which includes the death of the wicked. Ergo, God takes pleasure in the death of the wicked. This conclusion certainly does not seem right, but what are we to do with the logic? How are we to make sense of this seeming contradiction?
In this post, I argue that what appear, at a surface level, to be conflicting propositional attitudes concerning the same proposition are actually different propositional attitudes about different propositions that stand in a subsumption relation to one another. This understanding allows us to resolve apparent theological contradictions of the above kind, and helps us to make sense of our own ambivalent reactions to various situations.
Levels of Context and Propositional Attitudes
A propositional attitude is a relational mental state connecting a person to a proposition. Examples include what a person believes concerning a proposition, and what a person feels (or emotes) concerning a proposition. So, for example, God being pleased to create the world is a propositional attitude relating God's emotion of pleasure to the proposition of His creation of the world.
It is important to note that two propositions may be related, with respect to abstraction, but not be the same proposition. As an illustration, consider the propositions expressed by the following two statements:
P1: God creates man.
P2: God creates something.
The propositions expressed by these two statements are related, but they are not the same. The statement of P1 asserts something specific, while the statement of P2 asserts something more general. It could be the case that the "something" God creates per P2 is man, which God creates per P1. Given the meaning of the two statements, it is logically possible that both refer to the same act of creation. However, given the meaning of the two statements, it is not necessary that they refer to the same act of creation. The statement of P2 could very well refer to the creation of water, squirrels, or any number of other things. Because the statement of P2 can refer to the same act of creation as the statement of P1, as well as a number of other acts of creation, P2 subsumes P1. Put another way, a proposition X subsumes a proposition Y if and only if X is more general than Y - that is, all of the possible worlds in which Y holds true are also possible worlds in which X holds true. Two propositions stand in a subsumption relation if and only if one subsumes the other. Also, let X properly subsume Y if and only if the possible worlds in which Y holds true are a proper subset of the possible worlds in which X holds true. Two propositions stand in a proper subsumption relation if and only if one properly subsumes the other.
The apparent theological contradictions described above, as well as our own ambivalence towards some things, can be explained in terms of propositional attitudes towards two different propositions that stand in a subsumption relation. Consider, for example, the proposition expressed by the statement "A man kills another man" (K1). What are the appropriate propositional attitudes towards this proposition? On the one hand, it is impossible to make any sound moral judgment, since we don't have enough information to conclude whether or not this killing is sinful, or morally justified. However, we do know that since man is created in the image of God, death is an unnatural, horrible thing. Thus, even though we cannot make a sound moral judgment on this proposition, we ought to still express horror at the idea that a human being, created in God's image, is in the process of dying.
Now, consider this proposition, which is subsumed by K1: "A police officer kills an armed hostage-taking bank robber" (K2). Having that extra information changes things. Now, we can make a sound moral judgment on the matter: the man doing the killing (the police officer) is a hero, risking his own life to save the life of the person taken hostage. Not only is this a morally justifiable act, it is a morally commendable act.
Now suppose that a hypothetical person who always maintains appropriate propositional attitudes encounters K2, say by reading a newspaper, or watching the news. What would be his reaction? On the one hand, such a person would be glad for the life of the hostage that was saved, and would admire the heroism of the police officer displayed in saving the life of the hostage. He would take joy in the fact that tragedy was averted, and that justice and righteousness won the day. On the other hand, thinking about K2 also brings K1 to mind. Such a person then remembers that the hostage-taker was a human being as well, one who probably had friends and loved ones who will grieve over his death. Such is the horror of death, as a judgment for sin upon a fallen world. Thinking about K1 brings a measure of solemnity to the occasion. As a result, the person experiences ambivalence: joy for the triumph of justice and righteousness, tempered to some degree by solemnity at the horror of death, even for one whose death at the hands of another was morally justified.
What should be noted, however, is that the conflicting propositional attitudes (joy and solemnity) are not towards the same proposition, but towards two different propositions. However, because K1 subsumes K2, and inasmuch as thinking about K2 also brings K1 to mind, then one will experience ambivalence in thinking about K2, because the propositional attitudes regarding both propositions will be present.
Formulating things in another manner, K1 and K2 are at two different levels of context. As K1 is more general, it contains less information, and is at a "lower" level of context (because there is less contextual information contained within the proposition). As K2 is more specific, it contains more information, and is at a "higher" level of context (because there is more contextual information contained within the proposition). Now, when the one analyzes a proposition at a high level of context, the mind often simultaneously analyzes subsuming propositions at lower levels of context. Inasmuch as these more general propositions induce propositional attitudes that conflict with the propositional attitude induced by the high-level proposition, the individual will experience ambivalence, simply as a result of the simultaneous presence of two conflicting propositional attitudes. The two propositions are not the same, but they are related by subsumption, and because of this, it seems like the two conflicting propositional attitudes concern the same proposition. Hence the source of apparent contradiction in our own minds.
Apparent Theological Contradictions Resolved
Given this framework, the apparent theological contradictions discussed above can be readily resolved. Consider first the proposition, taken from Ez. 33:11, that
1: God does not take pleasure in the death of the wicked.
It should be noted that 1 is quite general. It doesn't contain any contextual information about the deaths of specific wicked individuals, or the circumstances of their deaths. Next, consider the proposition, taken from Is. 45:7, that
2: God brings calamity in certain contexts.
Now, the calamity that God brings often befalls the wicked, resulting in their death. Hence,
3: The calamity God brings results in the death of the wicked.
Next, consider the proposition, taken from Psa. 115:3, that
4: God does whatever He pleases.
It follows from 2 and 4 that
5: God is pleased to bring calamity in certain contexts.
From 3 and 5 it follows that
6: God is pleased, in certain contexts, to bring calamity that results in the death of the wicked.
Now, to arrive at a contradiction, one would also need the following proposition:
7: God is pleased in the death of the wicked.
However, there is no reason why 7 follows from 6. Remember that 1 is a general proposition, as is 7. However, 6 is more specific proposition, at a higher level of context. There are certain contexts in which, calamity being brought as a righteous and just punishment for sin, is a thing that is pleasing to God. Proposition 6 does not state that God is pleased in calamity, in and of itself, but that God is pleased in calamity being brought in certain contexts, which include the vindication of His holiness and righteousness.
To elucidate this point, consider the following two propositions:
E1: Some wicked men die.
E2: Some wicked men die in a calamity that God brings about in the context of vindicating His holiness and righteousness.
E1 subsumes E2. Yet, there is no reason why God's propositional attitude concerning E1 and E2 should be the same. Indeed, Scripturally, they are not. God propositional attitude regarding the lower-level proposition E1 is that of displeasure (per Ez. 33:11). However, God is pleased with the totality of what He brings to pass, in the context where everything is considered (per Ps. 115:3). Hence, God's propositional attitude towards the higher-level proposition E2 is one of approval.
Hence, when the different levels of context are taken into consideration, such apparent theological difficulties are easily resolved. From both these Scriptures and the examples of human ambivalence above follows the principle of the Non-Entailment of the Equivalence of Propositional Attitudes Induced by Subsumptive Propositions (NEEPAISP):
NEEPAISP: If two propositions p and q stand in a proper subsumption relation, it does not follow that the propositional attitudes induced by p are the same as the appropriate propositional attitudes induced by q.
When analysis of propositional attitudes is performed at a shallow level, one is likely to see contradictions in assertions concerning those propositional attitudes. So is the case with God, of whom contradiction is not uncommonly charged on the basis of such shallow analysis. Unfortunately for critics who employ such shallow analysis, lack of depth is not a ground of rational justification. When we take the time to analyze things to the level of exactitude of whom the Lord of Glory is worthy, we will find such claims of incoherence specious and the coherence of Scriptural truth affirmed.
Soli Deo Gloria!
Sunday, July 10, 2011
Some supporters of paedobaptism argue that the New Testament is silent on the issue of whether or not infants should be baptized. As a result, they turn to Covenant Theology to argue for the practice of paedobaptism. The issue of the veracity of Covenant Theology aside, the New Testament is not silent on the issue of whether or not infants should be baptized. While it is true that the NT does not address the issue directly, the issue is addressed indirectly, in the Great Commission, where one can only conclude that baptism is to be given to professing believers only.
The Great Commission
In the Great Commission, we have Jesus' commands to His disciples regarding how they were to take the Gospel to the nations of the World:
All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. (Matt. 28:18-20)
Though the Great Commission was given initially to Jesus' disciples, it applies to us today as well. Verses 19-20 contain Christ's command concerning the disciple-making process, including the directive to teach new disciples to obey the commands that Christ has given. Ergo, the Great Commission applies to us, and we are to teach those we disciple to obey it as well.
The Great Commission is the defining mission statement for what we are to be about doing in the work of advancing the Kingdom of God through the proclamation of the Gospel. There are three parts to the command of the commission:
- The nations are to be made Christ's disciples,
- Those that are so discipled are to be baptized, and
- Those that are so discipled and baptized are to be taught to obey everything that Christ has commanded.
This progression makes natural sense. A disciple is a student, one who would follow a teacher, learn his teaching, and put it into practice. Being a disciple is fundamentally possessing the mindset of following the teacher. A new disciple may know very little of the teacher's teaching, but by virtue of the fact that he is a disciple, he will seek to learn the teaching by following the teacher. So it is with evangelism - before one can follow Christ and learn to obey all that He has commanded, one must first repent of one's sins, and in faith turn unto Christ as Savior and Lord. The act of submitting to Christ as Lord is the essence of becoming a disciple - devoting oneself to Christ, in order to learn from Him and live as He directs.
All who become such disciples are to be baptized. This also makes sense, as the newfound disciple, through baptism, is publicly identifying with his Teacher, his Lord. After becoming a disciple of Christ, one is to be publicly identified as a disciple of Christ.
After being baptized, the new disciple is then to be taught to obey all that Christ has commanded. By learning to obey Christ's commands, the disciple becomes in practice what he is to begin with in principle: one who follows and seeks to obey the Lord Jesus Christ.
Finally, after becoming a disciple, being publicly identified as a disciple, and learning how to live as a disciple, the disciple then obeys a command he has learned, the Great Commission, and becomes himself a maker of disciples. That is the genius of the Great Commission, of God's plan and purpose to advance His Kingdom on earth through the proclamation of the Gospel.
Baptism for Disciples
The Great Commission is the only passage in Scripture where we, as followers of Christ in this present age, are given a command regarding baptism. And what is the command given here? Baptize one's children so that they may possess the covenant sign? Baptize one's children so that in this they might be saved? Not at all! Rather, the only command given to the Church concerning baptism commands us to baptize those that have become disciples of Christ. That is the totality of Christ's instruction to the Church concerning baptism - we are to baptize those that repent of their sins and turn in faith to follow Christ.
Now, can an infant be a disciple of Christ? Given that a disciple is one who learns from another, an essential requirement of a disciple of Christ is the ability to learn Christ's teachings. But the mind of an infant is undeveloped, and incapable of learning the teachings of Christ. Therefore, an infant cannot be a disciple of Christ. As we are only to baptize disciples of Christ, infants are not to be baptized.
If we read Scripture for what it says, and not for what it is made to say upon the imposition of alien presuppositions, we will find that Scripture does indeed address the topic of who is to be baptized, and that infants, whose minds are so undeveloped that they cannot be disciples of Christ, are not appropriate subjects of the ordinance of baptism. May we ever seek to follow Christ and understand His Word, so that we may be ever more faithful disciples of Him.
Soli Deo Gloria!
Wednesday, July 6, 2011
It is not uncommon for adherents of the pro-choice platform to claim that anti-abortion laws force women to give birth, and thus violate their bodily autonomy. Some even go so far as to claim such violations of bodily autonomy are equivalent to slavery, just as slavery in the antebellum South violated the bodily autonomy of those so enslaved. However, such claims are specious, as they rest upon an absurd notion of "bodily autonomy."
The notion of "bodily autonomy" conveys the idea of having the right to do whatever one wants with one's own body. As a consequence, no one has the right to impose conditions upon what a person can or cannot do with one's own body. There is a certain extent to which this idea is correct. Inasmuch as man is endowed with inalienable rights to life and liberty, there is a certain extent to which the autonomy of the individual is to be honored by others.
However, such autonomy is not absolute, as there are definite moral restrictions upon what a person may and may not do with his or her own body. Consider an example where one man uses his body to kill another man. God's moral law, as well as the laws of human societies, prohibit the use of one's body for the purposes of unjustifiably killing another human being. Thus, no human being possesses absolute bodily autonomy. Even more so, whatever autonomy a human being does possess is not inherent, but endowed by God. Thus, it is absurd to chafe at a certain moral regulation (such as the prohibition of murder) as a restriction of one's "autonomy," when it is the same God that made the moral proscription who has also given man his basic human rights in the first place.
In the end analysis, absolute bodily autonomy is equivalent to anarchy - the absence of laws. Inasmuch as there is a law that restricts people from doing things like stealing, assaulting, and murdering, then people in that society do not have absolute "bodily autonomy," since there are things that they can physically do with their bodies that are prohibited by law. If a law that "strips a woman of bodily autonomy" (in the absolute sense, as is generally intended in pro-choice rhetoric) is equivalent to slavery, then anything short of anarchy is equivalent to slavery. Laws prohibiting theft are "slavery." Laws prohibiting murder are "slavery."
A law that prohibits abortion is simply a law that prohibits murder. An act of murdering an unborn human being is no different in its moral essence than the act of murdering one's spouse. A law prohibiting a woman from hiring a doctor to unjustifiably kill her unborn child is no different, in essence, from a law prohibiting a woman from hiring a hit man to murder her husband. If laws of the former kind rob her of "bodily autonomy," then so do laws of the latter kind.
Tuesday, May 17, 2011
Nominal Christianity is a major problem for the American church, being a feel-good religion whose focus is on the comfort of the practitioner rather than the glory of God. Nominal churches dot the American landscape, and in providing a form of Christianity without the power of the Gospel, they are havens for false converts, and factories of false conversion. As such, nominal Christianity is deadweight, a hindrance to the Church universal. A number of authors have spoken out against nominal Christianity over the years, and addressing this problem is a good thing. Unfortunately, some have gone too far in their rebuke of nominal Christianity, advocating forms of "radical discipleship." With strong words, these teachers boldly condemn the nominal Christianity prevalent today, and present a form of self-denial that is unfamiliar to many in America. Yet, as I will argue here, such an emphasis often simply trades one form of self-centeredness for another. While nominal Christianity is self-centered, focused on one's individual comfort, "radical discipleship" is also self-centered, focused on the level of one's "radical" commitment to Christ, as opposed to being focused on Christ Himself.
The problem with nominal Christianity is self-centeredness - an emphasis on self and comfort, with only lip service paid to Christ. In nominal Christianity, Christ is a means to an end - He is a provider of fire insurance against Hell. He is a means of respectability within the (nominally Christian) community. He is a license to live however one wants without having to suffer eternal consequences for one's deeds. For everything that is said, self comes first, even if one's actions are externally couched in pious and Christ-serving language.
Now, suppose that you are a Christian who has come out of nominal Christianity. You are rightly incensed about the sinfulness of that religion, and are rightly motivated to speak out against it, and rebuke those who adhere to it. Suppose that you are a pastor, or a teacher, or one who has some influence over a body of believers. What would be your strategy for tackling the problem of nominal Christianity?
One approach might be to attack the accumulation of worldly possessions. After all, most nominal Christians seem more concerned with earthly possessions than with Christ. So you decide to extoll the practice of selling what you have to give to the poor, or leaving everything behind to go overseas. You emphasize self-denial, where self-denial (for you) involves parting with all unnecessary earthly goods. You lade your congregation with guilt over the unnecessary possessions that they own, and encourage them to become radical by focusing on ministry instead.
Another (complementary) approach might be to attack recreation, entertainment, and leisure time. After all, most nominal Christians seem more concerned with earthly pleasures than with Christ. So you decide to extoll the practice of giving up entertainment and recreational activities, and devoting one's leisure time to other ministerial pursuits. You emphasize self-denial, where self-denial (for you) involves parting with all unnecessary pleasurable activities. You lade your congregation with guilt over how they waste their time, and encourage them to become radical by focusing on ministry instead.
Perhaps another (complementary) approach might be to attack the lack of "radical" commitment to Christ. After all, most nominal Christians do not seem to have any deeper-than-surface-level commitment to Christ. So you decide to extol the practice of making radical and extreme commitments, and getting out of one's "comfort zone." You emphasize self-denial, where self-denial (for you) involves "stretching oneself" though making radical commitments. You lade your congregation with guilt over how uncommitted they are, and encourage them to become radical by instead strongly committing themselves to ministerial activities.
Now, these strategies might seem to work. If you are successful, they will be laden down with guilt for how poor of Christians they see themselves to be. And feeling guilty, they will be motivated to change - to do anything to get rid of the guilt that you have laid upon them. And how lucky for them, but that you have a solution for their problem - a penance whereby they may absolve their consciences of guilt. The solution is simply more: give more, sacrifice more, do more, commit to more. More, more, more. And the more they do, the more the realize that they cannot possibly do enough. And this will bring them into more guilt, from which they will be motivated to do even more of what you have set before them.
Before you know it, you have a congregation of hard-working, ministry-minded individuals who are making great sacrifices to (putatively) advance the kingdom of God. You've done a good thing right? You've cured them of their nominal Christianity, right? Or have you merely traded one form of self-centeredness for another? In reacting against nominal Christianity, have you brought your congregation to Christ, or have you simply converted them to another foul perversion of the truth? I would contend that such a congregation, while no longer nominally Christian, is no more "Christian" than before, for the simple fact that guilt-motivated, works-emphasizing legalistic Christianity is no more Christian than pleasure-motivated, comfort-emphasizing nominal Christianity.
A man who is motivated by guilt is not Christ-centered. He is still self-centered, because all of his actions spring from a desire to alleviate himself of the guilty feelings that he is experiencing. Just as a man who fundamentally pursues the satisfaction of earthly pleasures is self-centered, so also is the man who fundamentally pursues the alleviation of guilt. It is a tragedy that many people go from nominal Christianity to legalistic Christianity, thinking they have found something of spiritual value, when in reality they are no closer to the heart of Christ than before. The same Jesus who said "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me" (Lk. 9:23) also said “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:28-30). If, in seeking to deny yourself and take up your cross, you finds yourself weary and heavy-laden, you have missed what it means to deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Christ.
The problem with "radical discipleship" is that it primarily emphasizes the act of being radical - radical commitment, radical use of time, radical use of possessions. But the focus of Christianity is not the act of being radical - the focus of Christianity is Christ. The word "radical" literally means "of or going to the root or origin." If Christ is the root, or center, of Christianity, then radical Christianity is a focus on Christ. If "radical discipleship" is a focus on the act of being radical, then "radical discipleship" is really "radical radicalism," and as such has nothing to do with Christianity. Christianity simply provides a context in which to be "radical."
Christianity is Christ-worship, ascribing worth to Christ. But "radical discipleship" is self-worship, ascribing worth to oneself, conditioned upon how radical one has been in the use of one's time, one's possessions, and how radically one has committed oneself to ministerial activities. But in looking to oneself, one will never find oneself worthy - there will always be more things that could have been done, things that could have been done better, and ways in which one could have been even more radical. If one focuses on how radical one is, one will never find oneself radical enough. And that will simply create more guilt. And since the solution to guilt is being radical, that will only perpetuate the process of trying to be radical for Christ. This is no different than any other system of legalism, where righteousness and acceptability before God come on the basis of performance and works.
But Christ is different. He does not say "come after you have done," but rather "come, and then do." Christ, through His active and passive obedience, has made us completely acceptable to the Father. Not only are our sins forgiven, but Christ's righteousness is imputed to us, as if we had lived the righteous life of Christ Himself. As such, we are accepted by God not on the basis of our performance, but on the basis of Christ's performance. Thus, we can rest in Christ, for Christ is our absolution - we do not absolve ourselves of guilt through the penance of good works. Rather, Christ's sacrifice makes us clean (Heb. 10:10) and cleanses our conscience - something that performing the works of the law could never do (Rom. 3:20, Heb. 10:2). By trusting in Him, whose sacrifice once for all cleanses us from all sin, we have all that we need to be forgiven, and our have our consciences cleared.
The work of Christ enables us to have rest, for no longer are we under the condemnation of the law (Rom. 8:1). Rather, we have been justified through faith, and God's verdict of righteousness can never be overturned (Rom. 8:32-39). So what does this mean for us, in practice? What it means is that when our hearts are set free and given rest from guilt and condemnation, we are free to worship and serve Christ out of love and gratitude. It is only when our hearts are at peace in Christ that we can do good works - that is, good deeds with the proper motivation. And the proper motivation is not to gain God's acceptance, but out of love and gratitude to please Him who has already accepted us. This means that the Christian is free from guilt over not measuring up to someone else's standard for what a Christian should be doing with his life. For "The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one" (1 Cor. 2:15), and "None of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s" (Rom. 14:7-8). It is before Christ that each of us stands or falls (Rom. 14:4), not the pious proponent of "radical discipleship" who peddles his wares of guilt and legalism.
The Christ-centered disciple is focused on Christ in a simple and trusting manner (i.e. childlike - Mk. 10:15), seeking to know Him more fully, and follow where He leads. The self-centered "radical" disciple, on the other hand, has a morbid obsession with how "radical" he is (usually fueled by a guilt complex), and seeks to find ways to be "radical enough" to both satisfy the demands of his radical-discipleship community, and his own self-imposed standard of what Jesus expects of him as a "radical disciple." If a Christ-centered disciple is called to go overseas, he packs his bags and goes, for this is what his Lord requires. There is no pomp and circumstance, no self-congratulatory thoughts on how radical he is being for doing this. Rather, he simply sees himself as doing what His Lord has called Him to do. And more often than not, if this is what Christ has called him to do, it is what he has a heart-felt desire to do anyway. In all of this, he follows the command of Christ, who said "So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty’” (Lk. 17:10). On the other hand, the "radical disciple" goes overseas out of guilt, and a desire to measure up to the standards and expectations of "radical discipleship." He may endure hardship and persecution. He may speak strong words about the kingdom of God, and the necessity of repentance and self-denial. Yet, he is not unlike the Pharisee, to whom Christ said "You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are" (Matt 23:15).
Similarly, when the Christ-centered disciple is called to stay stateside and live a normal life, he does so, and serves God faithfully where he is. He does not seek to do less than what Christ requires, but at the same time, he is not concerned with doing more (such as going overseas). Like the disciple who faithfully goes overseas, the disciple who stays home is simply "doing his duty." On the other hand, the "radical disciple" who stays home feels guilty about it, for the simple reason that living a normal life is not nearly as radical as going overseas, or selling all of one's possessions, or doing something of the like. He spends his days feeling guilty about not doing enough with his life, always seeking ways to atone for his lack of radical commitment. Such a disciple makes a great church member, being there every time the door is open, participating in all of the events, and doing whatever is requested of him by the church leadership. But whether such a disciple makes a good follower of Christ is another question altogether.
The Antidote to Nominal Christianity
So, if not guilt-driven legalism, what is the solution to nominal Christianity? What is the pastor or teacher to do change the hearts of the congregation? The answer is simple: preach the Word. Proclaim the Good News. Proclaim and exalt the grace of God. Exalt Christ, and proclaim His excellencies. Feed the flock with the knowledge of God, for in this is the substance of eternal life (Jn. 17:3).
"But," the "radical" proponent might object, "how is this supposed to cure people of nominal Christianity?" Where is the pressure to get out of the easy chair and "put one's hand to the plow"? The simple answer is that such is not the emphasis of the message, for the simple reason that the motivation for good works should come ultimately from Christ, and not from men. This comes down to the difference between human wisdom and divine wisdom. Human wisdom says "put the people under a burden of guilt, for guilt is an effective motivator." Divine wisdom, on the other hand, says "Bring people to Christ, and let Christ change them, and provide them with proper motivation." Divine wisdom glorifies God because it keeps the pastor from getting the glory for the change in the hearts of the congregation. The proponent of "radical discipleship" can rightfully say "Look at what I have accomplished!" The true pastor of the flock, however, cannot take credit for whatever positive change God brings about, for he is merely the instrument though which God works to press His Word home to the hearts of His people, and effect change in them.
The cure to nominal Christianity, then, is Christianity. That is, the preaching and exposition of the whole counsel of God. In hearing and taking the Word of God to heart, one comes to know God. And in coming to know God, one develops a love for God. And in developing a love for God, one begins to do that which God would have one to do. If one loves God, obeying His commands is not a burden (1 Jn. 5:3), and if one knows God, one will listen for His voice and follow where He leads.
That is the solution, as simple as it is. Christ is the heart of Christianity. To have true Christianity, Christ must be exalted and placed at the center. The whole counsel of God must be proclaimed. If, on the other hand, "radical discipleship" is exalted and placed at the center, one will have Radicalism, not Christianity. When people focus primarily on how "radical" their walk with Christ is, they cease to follow Him, turning instead a standard of works-righteousness that they have set up for themselves.
May we see the things that are preached and taught for what they are, and never tire of contending for the "faith that was once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 3).
Soli Deo Gloria!
Saturday, May 14, 2011
It is often claimed that Calvinism is incoherent. As a compatibilist position, Calvinism affirms on, the one hand, the free will of man. On the other hand, it affirms the sovereignty of God over all things, including the will of man. The combination of these two positions, it is often claimed, is incoherent. For, as the critic would argue, a free choice requires the ability to do otherwise, and sovereign predestination requires that an individual choose precisely as predestined by God. Ergo, Calvinism is irrational. Such a line of criticism is as specious as it is popular, and as I will argue here, carries no force against Calvinism, properly defined.
The Modal Confusion
The root of this specious criticism, I believe, lies in a failure to distinguish between different modalities. For example, an certain event may be inevitable, though it is possible that other alternatives could have been made inevitable as well. Prophecy is a case in point. It is inevitable that Christ will return, because He has decided to do so at some point in the future. This is God's purpose, and He has promised to bring it to pass, ergo it cannot but come to pass. However, it is possible that in the beginning, God could have decided to bring about a different plan of action. God could have decided to simply destroy the earth and everything in it, without an actual return of Christ at the end of the age. Hence, an alternate future is possible, in the sense that God could have decided on a different plan, though now that God has decided on the plan that He has revealed to us in Scripture, an alternate outcome is not possible. Notice that there are two different modalities in play here - the first respecting what is possible, with respect to God deciding what to do with history, and the second respecting what is possible, now that God has decided what to do with history. And this doesn't even get into other modalities, respecting such things as logical possibility, physical possibility, metaphysical possibility, epistemic possibility, etc.
The above example illustrates that there are not simply one concept of possibility and one concept of necessity, but a multitude of such concepts. The failure to distinguish between the precise senses in which words such as "possibility," "necessity," "ability," and "inevitability" are used is a fertile ground for equivocation and fallacious thought. Such is the case with criticisms of Calvinism along these lines.
A Simple and Intuitive Solution
The critic of Calvinism can be answered by noting that when we speak of what a person has the "ability" to do, we do so in two different modalities, depending upon the context. The first modality concerns what is is possible for a person to do, considered as an agent with a certain set of faculties. The second modality concerns what it is possible for a person to do, considered as a person - an agent with a certain set of faculties, in addition to a set of personal likes, dislikes, beliefs, propensities, etc. - all of the things that distinguish us from one another in the immaterial aspect. When we speak of a person having the ability to do otherwise, we are expressing a proposition in the first modality. When we speak of a person being unable to do something (such as come to Christ, do other than what God has decreed, etc.), we are expressing a proposition in the second modality. Hence to conflate the two and claim an incoherence on the part of Calvinism is equivocal, and thus irrational.
The usage of the two modalities can be easily illustrated. Consider, for example, that a convicted murderer is about to be executed, and suppose that two people are discussing the merits of the death penalty. Suppose that the murderer was a young man when he committed the crime. One person might express disapproval at the death penalty, reasoning that the person should have a second chance at life. After all, he might say, we all make bad decisions when we are young, and aren't thinking very clearly. We have a lot to learn in life, he might say, and a person's life should not be taken away for a mistake made in one's youth. The other person might respond that the person did not have to commit murder. He had a free choice in the matter, and could have done otherwise. But now that he has committed the act, his life is justly required of him (cf. Gen. 9:6).
In this example, the second person is expressing a proposition in the first modality. The murder did not have to commit murder. Considering him as an agent with a certain set of faculties, no one is arguing that he was physically or metaphysically constrained in some way as to only have one choice before him. A paraplegic cannot walk - that is an action which he does not possess the faculties to perform. In the same way, to say, in this modality, that a person "doesn't have a choice to do otherwise" is to say that in the same way that a paralyzed man cannot walk, so also this individual does not possess the faculties being able to choose differently. Of course, such a proposition is absurd. No one who commits murder is physically or metaphysically constrained such that killing another human being was the only thing they could have possibly done. Inasmuch as one raises one's arm to point a gun, one could also simply remain still. The faculties of action are such that both alternatives are available. Hence, the criminal is responsible for his crime. On the other hand, suppose that an evil villain snuck into a man's apartment one night and implanted a chip in his brain, such that he could control all of the man's physical movements remotely. If such a controlled man were to fire a gun at someone, resulting in their death, would such a person be considered guilty of murder (given that all the facts of the case are known)? Or would the responsibility lie solely with the villain, given that the man with the chip in his head had no control over his bodily actions?
So, when we talk about responsibility for one's actions, or having the ability to do otherwise, we are speaking with respect to the faculties that a person possesses, and nothing more. We are not referring to that person's likes, dislikes, beliefs, propensities, etc. We are merely seeing them as an agent with some number of faculties available to them, and stating that they are responsible for which faculties are exercised. There is no notion of why or how a particular person decides to exercise various faculties, but only that those faculties are available to the person in a given context. In the first modality, then, inasmuch as a person has the faculties at his disposal for doing more than one thing, such a person has the freedom to do otherwise than whatever he decided to do at that moment. There is nothing that constrained him exercising his faculties in a different manner, if he had chosen to do so. Indeed, at this level of abstraction, there is no constraint upon him to keep him from making a different choice. Hence, the freedom to do otherwise.
However, people do not act at random. For every action that is made, there is a reason why it is made. Our choices are determined by something in us, else they are not our choices. This is where the second modality comes into play, for it concerns those things that determine our usage of our faculties. A good model for this determination is the principle of maximum expected utility - that is, one makes the choice to do that which one believes will produce the most likely result of the highest utility. Two different people placed in the same situation might make different decisions. If given a choice between chicken or steak, some will choose the bird, others the cow. For some, liking the taste of chicken results in a higher valuation of chicken than beef. For others, the opposite is true. Still, for others who are vegetarian, all meats have a negative valuation - they are to be avoided if at all possible. Our different likes and dislikes inform our actions and define what is of highest (or lowest) utility to us. In addition, our beliefs and epistemic propensities also effect how likely we judge different outcomes to be. A steak-lover (who is not suicidal) who saw someone inject poison into the steak would not choose to eat, judging that the expected utility of eating the steak is highly negative (he would expect to die if he ate), whereas a steak-lover ignorant to this act might go ahead and eat the poisoned food, judging that the expected utility is highly positive (getting to eat his favorite food, believing that it will only nourish him). It is easy to see how our beliefs, propensities, and preferences determine what we will and will not do in a given situation.
Now, as an example of the usage of the second modality, suppose that a person you know very well is accused of a crime that is completely out of character for that person. Suppose further that the case is completely circumstantial, with no direct evidence of culpability. It is (epistemically) possible that the person committed the crime, but to make sense of this, you would have to conclude that the person was either not in his right mind, or had some omnious "dark side" that you knew nothing about. Suppose, for the sake of this example, that you knew the person's character completely, and thus knew that they had no hidden "dark side," and suppose that you had good reason to believe that the person was in his right mind at the time that the crime was committed. What would be your response to the accusations? Would you be saying "well, he had a free choice, so he could have done it"? Or would you be pleading his innocence, saying "there is no way he could have done this!"? Many people respond in the latter manner when hearing that someone they know well is accused of doing something that is out of character for them. But why do they respond this way? Are they asserting that the person in question had no free will, and was somehow constrained, such that he could not have possibly done what he is accused of? Or are they asserting that the person's character, which they innately and intuitively know determines that person's actions (even if they will not admit it), would not have enabled him to do such a thing? Obviously, the latter is true of statements of this kind.
In the same way, when we say that a sinner is unable to come to Christ (as also Jesus says, cf. Jn. 6:44), we are expressing a proposition in the second modality, not the first. We are not saying that a sinner does not possess the necessary faculties to come to Christ, such as the ability to repent (i.e. change one's mind) and believe. With respect to the first modality, the sinner has a choice to repent of his sins and believe the Gospel. He has the faculties to perform these actions, if he would only exercise them. However, with respect to the second modality, he is unable to do so, because turning from sin to Christ is an action with a highly negative expected utility. As a person's beliefs, preferences, and propensities determines one's actions, so for the unconverted sinner, there will always be other alternatives of higher expected utility than that of coming to Christ. This is why regeneration is necessary - in changing our heart, God gives us a different set of preferences and propensities, such that turning to him is of higher expected utility than the alternative.
Similarly, when we say that a person cannot but fulfill God's decree, this does not say anything about the means by which God brings about the occurrence of the things He has decreed. His decree is a unified whole, so the decisions we make are in perfect concert with the beliefs, preferences, and propensities that God has given us, as well as the situations in which we find ourselves, that lead those beliefs, preferences, and propensities, applied to our current situation, to result in a particular choice of action on our part.
Calvinism is often criticized as incoherent because it entails both a free choice as well as God's total sovereignty. Yet, such criticism is often the result of modal confusion, and an inability (or refusal) to see distinctions between the different modalities that we use everyday. When speaking about responsibility for one's actions, we naturally speak in the first modality. When speaking about what a person would or would not do in a given situation, we naturally speak in the second modality. We naturally use these two modalities everyday, but yet, when it comes to Calvinism, the critic artificially restricts the notions of freedom and necessity to one modality only. Such a restriction is unnecessary and irrational, and serves to keep many from seeing the coherence of the system of truth found in the Word of God.
Soli Deo Gloria!
Wednesday, May 11, 2011
Eric has responded to my previous post in the comments section. Unfortunately, he has decided against answering the points and arguments that I have brought up, and instead resorted to mischaracterizing my response, and asking a series of further questions which are (putatively) designed to shake the Christian out of his faith-based stupor.
To the owner of the “Vox Veritatis” blog. Why respond to me with academic gobbledygook and hide behind 50 cent words?
To restate or ergo qua dim sum
Stated another way. When you say my arguments are “error, error” or when you say that my arguments are ergo qua dim sum multiplied by the modular equivalence of epistemological positivism over the square root of ontological metaphysics, how does this prove my arguments are valueless—to the average reader?
Eric is making it out as if my previous post was meaningless nonsense obscured by sesquipedalianism. I suppose that strategy has some appeal - rather than undertake the incredibly arduous task of actually dealing with another person's arguments, simply claim that they are "academic gobbledygook" and leave it at that. It's hard to tell if Eric is simply being lazy, or if he is intentionally mischaracterizing my previous post.
Writing in layman’s terms
Why don’t you simply write to me in layman’s terms? How are your philosophical red light warnings concerning my comments helping the average believer to understand what you are talking about?
Eric apparently has a very low view of the "average believer." None of the terminology I used is esoteric. All of the terms can be easily queried using a dictionary, Wikipedia, or a Google search. Never mind that if a reader has a question regarding the post, he/she is free (and encouraged) to leave a comment or send me an email about it.
Eric has it backwards - rather than being obfuscatory, using precise terminology allows one's point to be expressed concisely and unambiguously. This allows the heart of the matter to be addressed much more easily than it can be while mucking around with terminology poorly-suited for the topic at hand.
Your response to me is that I am in error because on page 3,849 in your Philosophy 101 text book, it says I’m wrong.
Another blatant mischaracterization. Once again, it's hard to tell if Eric is simply being lazy, or intentionally mischaracterizing my previous post.
The ultimate snob
Who’s really the snob? The people who don’t believe there’s any evidence for a “God” or those who claim they know a “God” personally?
It's hard to see how snobbery is relevant to the topic at hand...unless Eric is referring to my mention of Chronological Snobbery in the previous post, which far different from simply "being a snob."
But this question is also reversible. Who's really the snob? The people who take God at His Word, or those who use the faculties of communication that He provides in order to deny His existence? The latter is not unlike a child receiving a megaphone for Christmas from his parents, and then using it to loudly insult them in front of the whole neighborhood.
On divine revelation
Your plea is that divine revelation makes your religion, the only true religion—and all other religions are false.
Yet another mischaracterization. I nowhere said that divine revelation makes Christianity true. Divine revelation (and hence the truth claims of Christianity) is true because its propositional content corresponds with reality.
Since any religious follower—based on belief alone—can make the claim of receiving divine revelation as the absolute truth, how can any religion be true?
Eric is confusing ontology with epistemology. It may be the case that out of a large number of alternatives, one is true, even if it is not discernible which of the alternatives is true. But given that God has made His existence obvious to all, and that all know Him (Rom. 1:18-21), humanity is not stuck in the epistemological quagmire that Eric portrays.
On invisible friends
Why should I believe in your invisible celestial friend over the next guy’s invisible celestial friend? And another question: Why is it necessary for an adult to have an invisible celestial friend?
Invisible friends? Really? Does Eric want to have a serious interaction, or does he simply want to insult Christians by claiming their beliefs are childish? Does he really expect Christians to take him seriously when he compares the great and majestic I AM to the figment of a child's imagination?
If your “God” was able to create the entire universe and can do anything he wants—why not make himself into a physical form that we could see without burning out our retinas? And why doesn’t God have a website?
And so continue the vapid questions. If God does not conform to Eric's expectations, God must obviously not exist.
Such a question also reveals an ignorance (or willful mischaracterization) of Scripture, which records appearances of the pre-Incarnate Christ (e.g. Gen. 18, Dan. 3), as well as the Incarnation of Christ Himself.
Given that God has made Himself known to all (Rom. 1:21), and they still do not believe, there is no reason why Eric would change His mind if God ever deigned to conform to his petty demands.
Religions love promises of later
Why do religions love the promises of later. Just believe, because after you die, you’ll live forever. When? Later. Christ is coming back. When? Later. We will see “God.” When? Later. You do believe in my promises of “later,” don’t you?
This is yet another category error: simply because something is promised in the future does not mean that it will not come to pass. And it is not as if God has come up short on His promises - there is also fulfilled prophecy, which Eric has chosen to ignore.
You can’t prove that God does not exist.
Christians typically tell me, “You can’t prove God does not exist, so there, you, you… atheist.” Okay, since that’s the case, Christians can’t prove that Zeus does not exist. For that matter, Christians can’t prove that an infinite amount of gods do not exist.
Yes, it is true that the atheist cannot prove that God doesn't exist. More than that, the atheist, on atheism, cannot prove anything. Denying the existence of God entails irrationality, because without God, proof of anything is impossible.
However, it is not true that the Christian cannot prove the non-existence of other gods, for Is. 45:5-6 states this outright.
“God” of the gaps
I don’t think the religious believe in “God.” I submit the religious believe in the “God of the Gaps,” that is, the “God” who fills in the gaps found in science.
Yet another assertion in search of an argument.
How did this all begin? What’s our purpose? What happens when I die? Science does not know. Oops! A gap in science! Not to worry, “God” (of the gaps) did it and that’s all I need to know to be satisfied. And I hope you are satisfied because I’m satisfied.
Yet another category error. Eric is confusing knowing-that with knowing-how. The former does not entail the latter, nor vice versa. I believe that the ancient Egyptians quarried, moved, and raised some massive obelisks, though we don't have a good idea of how this was done. I guess I must believe in the Egyptians-of-the-gaps.
This, of course, is in addition to the mistaken belief that the scope of science concerns knowledge of things other than the natural world (a topic which I addressed in the previous post, and to which there has been no response).
How healthy is it for people in modern society to believe our scientific laws can be broken at will, by the testimony of Bronze Age and Iron Age religious texts?
How healthy is it for skeptics to persist in Chronological Snobbery, even after they have been informed of the fallacious nature of such thinking?
Either “God” made man or many men made many gods. I submit that ancient primitive men wrote the Bible in the culture and science of their day, trying to explain the world around them and they got it horribly wrong. All religions are man-made. Sin is a man-made concept.
And, we're back to Bulverism. More assertions in search of arguments.
Wishful thinking and self-delusion—not good for you.
Fallacious thinking and willful suppression of your knowledge of God - definitely not good for you. I urge you to repent of your sin and believe the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.