I’ve been asked to weigh in on a commenter (existdissolve) over at the Calvinist Gadfly. This is the thread:
ED: It is curious that you believe the claim that a denial of the concept of “unconditional election” is somehow tantamount to an equal affirmation that one “adds” something to their salvation. I see no reason that would make this statement either self-evident or logically necessary. The positing of the role of the human will in salvation is not indicative of a theology that suggests that humans must “add” something to salvation.
SH: If we define the will in libertarian terms, then salvation is contingent on the autonomous contribution of the sinner.
ED: Moreover, I would suggest that the very doctrine of “unconditional election,” which is built upon the necessary corolary doctrines of absolute predestinationism, is itself a denial of salvation. After all, if God has eternally determined those whom God will save, from what are we being saved? If we are honest in light of predestinationism, the only answer is that we are being saved from the God that has created the necessary conditions by which we required salvation in the first place. If God wouldn’t have eternally determined to cause our fall, there would be no need to save us.
1.How would this amount to a denial of salvation?
Suppose I’m bitten by a poisonous snake. The physician administers antivenin.
But it turns out that I’m allergic to antivenin, and I go into anaphylactic shock.
The physician then administers another medication to counteract the first drug.
The physician was responsible for my allergic reaction. But this doesn’t change the fact that his intervention saved me from dying of anaphylactic shock.
2.Yes, in Calvinism, redemption and the fall are both elements of an integrated plan.
Is that worse than treating redemption as an unplanned response to the unplanned occurrence of the fall?
ED: The fact that we must be saved, in light of predestinationism, reveals that 1.) God is either inept from keeping those whom God has eternally “elected” for salvation from sinning and even falling under God’s condemnation or 2.) God is truly neurotic in choosing to predestine those whom God has chosen to save to first become that which God despises, merely so that God can then save them… Of course, as their fall and sinfulness is predestined by God from all of eternity, we cannot literally say that God despises sinfulness and rebellion, for who despises that which one freely chooses?
1.What would be inept is if God were making things up as he went along rather than executing a premeditated plan of action.
2. God foreordained the fall, as well as redemption, to reveal his wisdom, grace, and justice for the benefit of the elect.
3.There’s a difference between the means, considered in isolation, and the means as instrumental to the end in view.
ED: I see no difference between choosing to “appropriate a salvation that is merely potential” and have the same sovereignly foisted upon one. In both scenarios, the category of salvation is commoditized and rendered entirely worthless. Salvation is not a commodity that is transferred between parties; it is the reality of existing within relationship with God. As relationships are not based upon sovereignty, but rather self-giving reciprocity, I see no reason why the concept of “unconditional election” is at all helpful in discussing that nature and actualization of “salvation.”
1.Existdissolve is indulging in a do-it-yourself theology that bears no resemblance to historical redemption.
2.When, for example, God delivered the Israelites from Egyptian bondage, this was an act of power.
No reciprocity. It’s not as if the Israelites did God a favor in return.
3.When a lifeguard saves a struggling swimmer from drowning, there is no reciprocity at work.
The lifeguard is a better swimmer. That’s why he’s a lifeguard. And he employs his superior swimming skills to save a struggling swimmer from drowning. In effect, he transfers his swimming skills to the potential drowning victim.
4.Not all relationships are peer relationships. There are many relationships between superiors and subordinates.
The relationship between a devoted father and his two-year old son is hardly symmetrical. The child depends on the father, but the father doesn’t depend on the child.
ED: The problem with your questions is that they are hopelessly locked up in wrong-headed assumptions about the nature of God’s relationship to that which is “other” than God. Because you view this relationship through the paradigm of determinism, your conception of God’s involvement in creation is thoroughly materialist–you cannot think of God apart from the causality and finitude of space/time. In doing this, however, you have posited an entirely false dilemma regarding God and evil, for to you God must be the material cause, either through decree or allowance. Until you get over this materialist understanding of God’s relationship to that which God has created, you will continue to ask the wrong questions.
1.We think of God according to God’s self-revelation in Scripture.
2.There’s no logical interconnection between materialism and determinism. An absolute idealist like Bradley or McTaggart can be a thoroughgoing determinist.
ED: Give me a break. If one is consistent to the necessary nature of the so-called “eternal decrees” of God, there is no reasonable or actual way in which to separate “necessary” and “sufficient” conditions. You can distract from the issue with semantics all day long–however, the reality is that if God has eternally decreed all that will come to pass, the means and ends are one in the same, for both are necessarily the object and content of the eternal decrees of God.
1.The decree doesn’t do anything. The decree doesn’t make anything happen—just as a blueprint doesn’t build a house.
The act of creation makes things happen. Providential causes make things happen.
God makes the world in conformity with his decree. But the decree is not a sufficient condition for anything to take place.
The decree must be implemented. And the decree does not, of itself, stipulate any particular mode of causality. That’s a separate question.
2.To say the ends and means are predetermined does not imply that ends and means are one and the same. This is nonsense.
If God has predestined the Israelites to occupy the promised land via a treck through the Sinai desert, then the promised land (end) and the Sinai desert (means) are hardly one and the same thing.
ED: Technically, the problem with “propositional truth” is not mine–the problem is inherent to the nature of propositional language, for in the exposition of such, humans are irrationally asserting that the finitude of humanly-qualified expression can encapsulate that which transcends human expression.
SH: If human finitude imposes this epistemic boundary on what we can know, then how is existdissolve in a position to know about the existence of transcendent reality beyond the range of human apprehension?
ED: Moreover, if “the only way” one can know the truth is through “propositional” language, we are screwed and cannot hope to ever engage truth. This is necessary, for as I stated above, propositional language is inherently self-deceptive, for it creates the allusion of correspondence between the divine and human (language).
SH: 1.No one is arguing that propositional revelation is the only way to know anything.
Rather, propositional revelation is the only way of knowing certain things undiscoverable by human reason or observation.
2.Christians believe in a correspondence between divine propositions and human language due to the self-witness of Scripture. Divine inspiration is when makes this correspondence possible.
3.Existencedissolve says “propositional language is inherently self-deceptive.”
His own statement takes the form of a linguistic proposition. So is the linguistic proposition that “propositional language is inherently self-deceptive,” itself an inherently self-deceptive proposition?
ED: Good–cutting the causal nerve is exactly what I wish to do. It is curious to me that you feel a need to locate a “causal nerve” betweent the divine and the created. Such, as I have asserted earlier, is a fully materialist conception of God, for the only way in which you can comprehend the relationship of God to the created order is on the basis of causality and finitude. If this is the base of God’s relationship to the cosmos, however, what we have in God is not the divine “other,” but merely the biggest “similar.”
1.To be a creature is to be created by something else—ultimately by one’s Creator.
That’s a causal relation. For God to be the Creator of the world implies a causal relation between the Maker and the cosmic artifact.
All that Calvinism adds to this affirmation is the belief that God had a plan. That he make the world according to a plan.
The world was not an unplanned event. It didn’t just happen. God had a plan, and he stuck to his plan.
2.According to Scripture, God is not absolutely “other.” He is similar in some respects.
If he were absolutely other, then existdissolve couldn’t make any positive statements about him. God would be ineffable.
ED: Believe me, I understand the semantic deflecton of “necessary” and “sufficient” conditions which are positing. However, in the complex of the propositional statements about God’s eternal, exhaustive, and efficacious decrees, there is no meaningful way in which to differentiate these “conditions.”
SH: Of course there’s a meaningful way to differentiate these conditions.
The decree does not effect the outcome. The decree renders the future certain, but the decree does not eventuate the future.
Predestination is not an agent or agency. Predestination is neutral on how the decree is instantiated in time and space. That’s a separate question.
The decree is not a substitute for creation and providence. According to Scripture, God is not the only agent. Human beings are also agents. There is a providential order of second-causes in play
A doctrine of agency must be consistent with the revelation of the decree, but agency is not synonymous with predestination.
ED: “There can be actual no difference between “material” and “efficient” causes in Reformed Orthodox thought, despite the semantic smokescreen that is raised by its adherents. For example, let us say that God’s eternal decrees are the efficient cause of all that exists.”
SH: Let us not say that God’s eternal decrees are the efficient cause of all that exists.
Rather, the decree is the final (teleological) cause of all that exists.
But the cause of all that exists is a nested relationship between primary and secondary causality. God made the world. And in making the world, he made another agents and agencies. People. Animals. Natural forces.
ED: Ok. What of material causes? As all things exist eternally within the decrees of God (the “all” being necessarily exhaustive), there is no reasonable ordus upon which to dileneate between efficient and material causes. Moreover, if these materially causes are necessarily existent within the eternally-decreeing will of God, we must come back to the conclusion of pantheism, for we must affirm (if the concept of eternal decrees is correct), that “Godness” makes up and defines that which is subsequently labeld “other-than-Godness.”
SH: The decree exists outside of time and space. But what the decree foreordains is a finite instance of the decree. Finite in space and time.
The world exemplifies the decree. The creaturely mode of subsistence is not identical with the decretive exemplar.
ED: A materialist view of God is one in which the eternal nature of God is defined exclusively by that which God has created.
SH: Since Calvinism does not define God by what he has created, this is a straw man argument.
ED: As a logical necessity of this, a material conception of God is one in which God’s involvement within or relationship to creation is defined exclusively through material mechanisms.
1.Calvinism doesn’t define God’s economic role exclusive lyin terms of material mechanism. Not all miracles employ secondary modes of agency.
2.That said, God does relate to us on our own level. Having made the world, he often employs the mundane medium he made to relate to us, viz. the Incarnation.
ED: Words do have meaning, but the meanings are not “objective” nor absolute.
SH: Is the verbal statement that “meanings are not ‘objective’ nor absolute,” objective or subjective?
How can existdissolve make assertions about objective or absolute meaning when he denies objective or absolute meaning?
How is he in a position to make claims about objective or absolute meaning when his claim denies objective or absolute meaning?
ED: By this very nature, though, human language prohibits objective and transcendent meanings in language.
SH: If “human language prohibits objective and transcendent meanings in language,” then isn’t existdissolve prohibited from making claims about objective or transcendent meaning?
ED: The most we can hope for (and it’s not a bad thing) is approximation of meaning.
SH: “Approximation” is a relative or comparative concept. Approximate in relation to what?
ED: Ok…it would appear that your modernistic pseudo-belief in the ability of humans to epistemically access and categorize the truth leads you to no better of a conclusion.
SH: if human beings are unable to access and categorize the truth,” then is the statement that “human beings are unable to access and categorize the truth” a true or false statement?
ED: I agree that the propositional forms are deployed to speak about the eternal God. However, these propositional statements are only pointers towards truth–in and of themselves, as linguistic formulations, they are not truth in an objective way, and only lead us to materialize the God about whom we are attempting to speak.
SH: How does existdissolve know that propositional statements are pointing us to the truth rather than away from the truth unless he has epistemic access to the truth to form a basis of comparison?
How does he know that there’s an unknowable truth? How does he know that there’s an objective, but unattainable, truth?
Existdissolve keeps telling us that there’s a wall beyond which we can’t see. Yet he also says there’s something beyond the wall.
Apparently, he took a peek over the wall when no one else was looking.
ED: And who would determine “sound exposition?” The reason I have not yet engaged the Scriptures is because we are talking about the assumptions and presuppositions that will determine the ways in which we read the Scriptures. Contra pilgrim, we all approach the Scriptures looking for “something.” There is no such thing as an unbiased approach to the Scriptures; rather, our interpretations will be driven by the presupposed conceptions of God which we assume.
SH: This is an overstatement. Many readers had come to the Bible with certain preconceptions about God, but change their views as a result of reading the Bible.
We have many provisional, operating assumptions which are subject to change.
ED: But the thing you are not getting is that within the complex of the “eternal decrees,” there is no meaningful way in which to differentiate between these “wills.” After all, if God has eternally, efficaciously, and exhaustively decreed “all” things that shall come to pass, that God’s law should be broken is not contingent upon the volitional choices of free or even compatibalist agents. Rather, it is based upon the eternal decree of God, for God has not only decreed from all of eternity that God’s law should be broken (which seems odd in light of the fact that God damns humans for doing what they’ve been eternally decreed to do…), but has also eternally decreed the multifarious ways in which it should be broken.
SH: Yes, there is a meaningful way to differentiate the two. It’s a means-ends relation. The preceptive will is subservient to the decretive will. The law of God is instrumental to the realization of a particular end.
ED: This merely proves my point about the way in which Calvinistic philosophy leads to a materialist conception of God. After all, the cop-out for absolving God of sin is to say that it is for a “great good.”
SH: How is that a copout? Either God had a reason for evil in the world, or he didn’t. Is it better to say that God had no a reason for evil in the world?
How does that absolve God of culpability? Wouldn’t that make it worse? To have horrendous evil for no good reason?
ED: “If this is so, it must be questioned why God needed (or desired) to bring about this “great good” by means of that which God supposedly “hates.”
SH: God has no needs. But human beings are needy. And the elect are the beneficiaries of the greater good.
ED: Now back to the divine decrees: If we say that God eternally decreed the existence of evil for the accomplishment of the divine will, we must assert that the very nature of evil is inherent to the will of God. Moreover, as the will of God is essential with the eternal nature of God, we are forced to conclude that if the ordination and execution of evil proceeded from the eternal will of God, the same also found its origin in the very nature of God, for how can God will that which is contrary to God’s very being? Therefore, not only is God the source and author of evil, but God, according to a consistent Reformed orthodoxy, is, in fact, evil. Inasmuch as God is spoken of as hating evil, such leaves us with a pretty interesting picture of God, the eternally self-hating deity.
SH: This confuses ontology with teleology. The will of God, and what he willed, the attribute and the object, are hardly interchangeable. Existdissolve has a simplistic notion of divine simplicity.
ED: However, we must also grapple with the conclusion that though God is holy in whatever God does, the constructs of the so-called “eternal decrees” leads us necessarily to the conclusion that God does that which God apparently hates. So therefore, we have 2 possible conclusions: 1.) Either God is truly self-conflicted in what God desires or 2.) our beginning assumptions about the eternal decrees of God are wrong. Regardless of the rhetoric which you have supplied above, the issue still comes down to the veracity of the eternal decrees.
SH: We merely draw some elementary distinctions between means and ends, divine and human motives, primary and secondary causality.
ED: As DM said, God is glorified in whatever God does, whether or not a single human is saved or damned. It is interesting, however, that you link God glorifying Godself with that which occurs in space/time. Is God not glorified apart from creation?
SH: This misses the point. The elect are blessed by the revelation of God’s glory.
ED: If God has eternally, efficaciously, and exhaustively decreed ALL which comes to pass, it is an unavoidable conclusion that God is both the author and doer of evil.
“Author” is a metaphor. And an “author” is not the doer of what his storybook characters perform.
ED: “So you think truth can be encapsulated by a propositional statement?”
SH: Why should we frame the question is such a roundabout way?
Instead of asking, “Can truth be encapsulated by a propositional statement?” why not simply ask, “Is the statement true or false”?
ED: My point is that many overestimate the power of words to communicate truth about the infinite and eternal nature of the divine.
SH: Would existdissolve apply this disclaimer to his own disclaimer? Does he disclaim his disclaimer?
ED: No, I do not agree at all. The problem with your perspective, IMO, is that you hold to this falsely dichotomous view that there has to be some kind of “choosing” happening? Why is this so? Why does the issue of salvation have to come down to power relationships?
SH: When God delivered Israel from Egypt by the ten plagues, by drowning Pharaoh’s army in the Red Sea, and by sustaining the children of Israel in the wilderness by miraculous provision of food and water, I’d say the issue of salvation quite often came down to power relationships.
ED: The Scriptures present God’s relationship with the creation (and specifically humanity) as one of reciprocity and love. As love is, by nature, self-giving, we cannot speak of over-power in the relationship that occurs between God and the creation.
SH: This is a highly selective and one-sided reading of Scripture. What about the Flood? What about the Exodus? What about Sodom and Gomorrah? What about the fall of Jericho?
ED: Rather, if anything, we should speak of the under-power which God exhibits in relationship to humanity, constantly wooing, pleading, even becoming INcarnate in weakness and humility in order to restore and reconcile that which had been destroyed and estranged. I think it’s funny that Calvinists and other Reformed are so intent on making sure that God has all this “power,” when God, in ultimate self-revelation, ABANDONS this very power in order to reconcile humanity to the divine.
1.If existdissolve is going to deny propositional revelation and objective meaning, then why does he believe in the Incarnation?
2.God Incarnate was the most powerful person who ever walked the earth. He performed many miracles. These were a fixture of his mission and ministry.
And unlike the prophets and apostles, who were empowered by God to work wonders, Jesus performed miracles by his intrinsic power.
3.The work of Christ doesn’t begin and end at Calvary. There’s the session of Christ. Existdissolve disregards the royal office of Christ.
Consider the way in which Ps 110 figures in NT theology.
4.Christ is not only the paschal Lamb. He is also the Judge of mankind.
5.In his exorcisms, Christ demonstrated his power over the dark side.
ED: Therefore, if God’s will is essential with God’s being, it is necessary that that which belongs to God’s will also properly belongs to God’s being. To separate the two, or to place them in opposition would be quite absurd, for how could one desire that which is contrary to one’s nature? If such contradiction exists, it is only on the level of appearances to the observer. As God’s will is essential with God’s nature, to say that God eternally wills the existence of evil reveals that the existence of evil is essential with God’s nature. The same is true, ironically enough, of any conception of God’s eternal decrees. If humans, ducks, pianos, or orange sherbert are objects of God’s “eternal decrees,” then by nature of their location in the eternal will of God, they are also necessarily essential with the being of God. As I have mentioned several times now, this is precisely the means by which Calvinism and Reformed orthodoxy create a philosophical pantheism, for that which is the object (material) of the divine will, by virtue of its eternality (as within the will of God), is necessarily essential with the very being of God.
SH: Bracketing the question of the decrees, the will of God is a divine attribute.
Does existdissolve believe that God willed the world into being?
Does the world exist because it was the will of God to bring the world into being?
Did God create the world willingly or unwillingly?
Assuming that existdissolve regards God as the Creator of the world, and assuming that God willed the world into existence, does this make the world consubstantial with God?
ED: I do not understand why true love needs an antithesis to be known.
SH: Love takes many forms. Consider the soldier who risks his on life to rescue a fallen comrade.
ED: Would this not require an everlasting dualism between God and the evil which God created (so that “love” could be known)? After all, if the evil is no more, how will one know what “true love” actually is?
SH: Memory, for one—and hell, for another.
ED: Let’s break this down: How are you going to define “perfect”, “sure”, “right” “pure,” “clean” “true,” and “righteous?” In defining these propositional statements about God, you are going to have to appeal, semantically, to some comprehension of “perfect,” “sure,” etc. that you have. But where have you gotten these perspectives? From your experiences, presuppositions, etc. Therefore, in interpreting this passage, you will take the semantic domain provided and apply to it those qualities, assumptions, etc. which cohere with your paticular methodological predispositions. HOwever, do not miss what is also happening: By claiming, propositionally, that these concepts encapsulate “absolute truth” about God, you are constraining the nature and truth of God to the semantic range of the language you deploy. In other words, you are delineating the “perfection” of God by that which your presuppositions determine to be “in keeping with perfection.” This creates an independent, necessarily self-existent quality, entity, etc. by which one adjudicates the various facets of God’s nature.
SH: This is a very muddle-headed paragraph:
1.It fails to distinguish between the way we learn about concepts and the way we learn about words.
I learn the concept of a “dog” by observation.
And I learn the meaning of the word by observation as well.
But these are quite distinct. For example, when I learn a new language, I learn new words for old ideas.
2.Likewise, even if words are ambiguous, this doesn’t mean that ideas are ambiguous.
We use words to encode ideas. We can understand a statement, even if the words are ambiguous, because certain ideas go together.
3.God is the author of human language.
4.God is the exemplar of the words we use about God. We may learn about the ideas and associated words through human experience, but human fatherhood (to take one example) is an ectypal instance of the God’s archetypal fatherhood.
ED: As such does not exist, our only conclusion must be that one is submitting the infinite God to the constraints of a finite concept.
SH: If our finite concepts are a boundary condition on what we can know, then how does existdissolve know about an infinite God?
ED: While this is potentially unavoidable with human language, things get seriously distorted when one goes further to assert that this very propositional statement is somehow “objective,” encapsulating within itself the “absolute truth” about the nature of God.
1.How does existdissolve know that our statement is distorting the true nature of God if the true nature of God is unknowable?
2.For that matter, why do we have to add an adjective to truth? Why must we always frame the question in terms of “absolute” truth or “objective” truth?
Why can we just ask if a statement is true or false?
ED: Yes, I am denying that humans can have epistemological access to absolute truth.
SH: Why does existdissolve insist on a dichotomy between relative truth and absolute truth? If absolute truth is inaccessible, how does he know where to draw the line?
ED: Yes, I am also saying that truth, as expressed through the semantic medium of human language, is not “objective” by any stretch of the imagination.
SH: Once again, if this were true, how could he possibly know it to be true?
ED: I hardly see what is more infantile that believing that the human mind has epistemological access to the eternal and infinite truth of God in an objective manner.
SH: I can see what is more infantile. And that is making categorical claims about the infinite and eternal truth of God in the very process of disclaiming any objective knowledge about the infinite and eternal mind of God.
ED: The blatant polemics against non-Protestantism aside, I hardly see how either the Incarnation nor the Scriptures are “propositional” and “objective.”
SH: File away this disclaimer for future reference.
ED: “As this author himself admitted, the texts are ocassional–they take place within particular contexts.”
SH: The fact that the NT writers are occasional writings is irrelevant to their objective or propositional character.
ED: Therefore, this fact, coupled with the fact that they are ultimately human communication, reveals that this whole rhetoric of “propositional truth” is ultimately phantasmic.
SH: And is the linguistic proposition that ““propositional truth is ultimately phantasmic,” itself a phantasmal statement?
ED: No, I affirm the concept of election, just not in the deterministic way that you do.
SH: So God chooses, but his choosing doesn’t determine anything? In that event, what’s the difference between choosing or not choosing?
ED: Your perspective makes God simply the most powerful force in creation
SH: God is more than “simply” the most powerful agent in the world, but he’s no less than such.
ED: yet a force that is entirely reducible in desciption to the parameters of space/time and causality.
SH: No, there’s a traditional distinction between God’s absolute and ordinate power. The world does not exhaust divine omnipotence.
ED: Because the self-revelation of God reveals that God is not about “power.” Calvinism wants to attribute something to God (absolute, deterministic power) that God specifically eschews in the cross of Christ.
Because a power which is “over-power,” which dominates and compels absolutely is, paradoxically, no power at all. The message of the cross is that God accomplishes salvation not through over-power, but through weakness.
i) As I’ve said before, this is a very truncated version of NT Christology, not to mention the Bible in general.
ii) As I’ve also said before, existdissolve is poorly positioned to invoke Scripture given his corrosive nominalism and Kantian epistemology.
ED: Let’s say we have the statement, “God is Love.”
If we say that we can speak propositionally about the divine (that is, that we can make statements that can be verified or falsified), what would be required for such to attain reality? It would require the same as was required of determining the value of “blue”–we would have to be able to transcend the context in which the object of our study exists. The very nature of our language necessitates this if we are to truly speak propositionally. After all, if we say that God “is” love, we are necessarily positing the existence of “love” apart from the existence of God, such that we are able to compare God to “love” and affirm that God, indeed, fulfills the requirements of “being” (is) “love.” As orthodoxy Christian belief affirms that God is self-existing and the source of all else that exists, our very propositionalizing about the eternal nature of God moves us well into heterodoxy, for we must assert not only that there are qualities that transcend the divine nature (for they become our truly propositional descriptors), but also that we transcend even these descriptive transcenders, for not only are we able to positively affirm that God is absolutely correlative to that which we posit as having existence above and beyond God, but we are able to even further affirm the truths of these divinely transcendent realities (for we correlate God to them as “truth”).
So then, while we may attempt to speak propositionally, on a philosophical level the attempts are completely empty and counterfeit. The only possible way of speaking propositionally about the divine would be if we were to actually transcend the same.
1.The short answer is that existdissolve is confounding the order of knowing with the order of being.
2.He is also confusing perception with conception. Color perception and the concept of love are hardly analogous operations.
ED: In my understanding, human communication, whether in regards to divine truth or other truths, is on the level of metaphor and approximation.
1.If the statement that “human communication metaphorical” itself a metaphorical statement?
2.A metaphor is a relative or comparative concept. A metaphor of what? In relation to what? To something literal.
ED: The self-revelation of God came is the person and work of Christ Jesus, not in the words of Scripture. The Scriptures testify to the self-revelation of God in Christ–they are not in themselves revelation. If they were, they would be consubstantial in nature with God, for that which self-reveals God is that which is God–the Logos.
SH: This is an unscriptural doctrine of Scripture. It disregards the self-witness of Scripture.
ED: Not if one does not assume that the Scriptures are meant to communicate “absolute truth.” By positing that they do this, you have subjected the Scriptures to a measure to which they will never linguistically attain.
SH: “Absolute” truth. Let’s drop the otiose adjective and ask if they’re true or false.
ED: If you want “direct” revelation, look to Christ. It is Christ, the eternal Logos of God, who is the revealer of the divine nature.
1.Unless we have a true record of who he was, what he said, and what he did, there’s nothing to look to.
2.Does existdissolve believe that Jesus “objectively” reveals the divine nature?
ED: I hardly see that this is a necessary conclusion. Again, the value of Scripture lies not in its “objective” or “absolute” nature, but rather in the fact that it proceeds from the life and witness of those who have definitively experienced the inbreaking of God in the history of humanity through the self-revelation of God in Christ.
SH: Their experience was “definitive,” but not “objective.”
ED: I completely eschew any conception of sinfulness that is forensic and occurs on the basis of imputation.
SH: Which disregards exegetical studies to the contrary.
ED: In that they testify to the self-revelation of God in the person of Christ, the Logos and revealer of God, yes, they are special revelation (in a reflective, testimonial sense). They are not themselves, however, the revelation. If they were, they would be consubstantial in nature with God, which would be idolatry.
SH: “Objectively” idolatrous?
ED: Again, you are tripping up on the language. To what extent can one “know” God–to what extent can the finite epistemologically access that which is infinite? If the will of God is eternal, how can temporal reasoning “know” it (in the sense of absolute-ness which you insinuate is possible in the category of knowledge)?
SH: We can know it because God disclosed it. Human reason didn’t discover it.
ED: I believe the Scriptures are authoritative, not because they are divinely emanated, but rather because of the place which they have occupied within the rule of faith of the people of God, as well as because they contain the testimony of the people of God to the self-revelation of God in Christ.
SH: In other words, the Bible has no intrinsic authority. Its authority is assigned to it by human authorities.
ED: I have already spoken of my opinions re: inerrancy, but I hardly see why the notion of “divine inspiration” necessitates the notion of “inerrancy”…
SH: So God inspires error?
ED: For example, you assume that when I use the word “approximation,” there has to be some referential truth by which to determine that an “approximation” really is an approximation (in relation the that which is “exact”). But I don’t share this assumption. In your methodology, an “approximation” is a reasonable resemblence to that which absolutely “is.” In mine, an approximation is a shadow of what could be…
SH: An “approximation” is a relative or comparative concept. Existdissolve tries to unpack this by appealing to the concept of a shadow. But a shadow is also a relative or comparative concept.
ED: …of that which we have only scarcely brushed with our epistemological abilities before it explodes our capacities for comprehending. It is a deliberately self-deconstructing utilization of langugage.
SH: Wow! That’s like, deep, man—real deep.
At this point, existdissolve is hiding behind a lot of words.
ED: But the point about metaphor in human language still seems, to me, to be valid. You must remember, of course, that I am not using the word “metaphor” in an intentionally absolute way, as if there was a standard against which to judge it. What I am saying is that the meaning which one would place upon metaphorical language in relation to “literal” language is, in fact, the very constitution of our forms of speaking. After all, how does one determine if one is speaking “literally” or “metaphorically?” How would you know if I was speaking “directly” about something, or “indirectly?” These values would require that there is a value outside of them that exists against which to adjudicate their nature and function. But as I pointed out in my last response, even attempts to speak directly about the word “blue” inevitably fail to attain absolute referentiality.
SH: The onus is on existdissolve, and not his opponent, to distinguish between literal and metaphorical.
He’s the one who’s constantly resorting to comparative distinctions between subjective and objective, metaphor and literal, relative and absolute.
If, by his own admission, he has no standard of reference to justify his implicit distinctions, then he has failed to meet his own burden of proof, and all his scepticism about God-talk crumbles under its own dead weight.
ED: You seem to think that the absolute-ness of divine truth can be revealed through propositions of human language. I do not.
SH: Existdissolve engages in linguistic racketeering by shifting the debate from the noun (“truth,” “meaning”) to a gratuitous adjective (“absolute,” “objective”).
ED: Did it reveal something of the divine to us? Perhaps. However, I think it was more self-revealing of human language, its functions, nature and potential (or anti-potential, as it may be) for speaking beyond itself.
SH: Notice how quickly he went from the self-revelation of God in Christ to something revealing about a human language game.
ED: Is this really true? Such a statement would seem to indicate that words have an absolute value that can be transcendently and categorically applied to all contexts. Look—words are not used in wrong ways; they are just linguistic symbols to which meanings are applied. Therefore, if there is a “wrongness” involved in human communication, it is not that words are missused (for words, it seems, are to be supplied with meanings, which inevitably happens whenever they are utilized), but that the meanings which are infused to the words are misused. Yet even this does not get at the issue, for to the person using the words (meanings), the act of communication is successful–they have communicated the meanings which were supplied to the words they uttered. However, from the perspective of another, the meanings which were supplied by the speaker to the words under consideration were different than the meaning which they normally apply to the same linguistic symbols. So then, on which end is the “misstatement” occurring, or is it even occurring at all, in an absolute sense?
SH: Now he’s getting to be silly.
ED: I am not saying that God cannot be revealed through human language. My issue is with the nature of supposed “propositional language.” While God may be able to reveal the divine in human language, human language, even when speaking within the parameters of that which is fully proper to the human experience, is inadequate.
SH: And is the statement that “human language is inadequate” itself an inadequate statement on the inadequacy of human language?
ED: Therefore, although the divine may be able to be revealed through human language, it would seem that because of the finitude of human epistemology, any revelation would be categorically unable to be quantified and qualified by human language (propositional statements).
SH: Assuming, for the sake of argument, that this self-refuting statement is true, it would falsify his appeal to the revelation of God on the cross.
ED: If you noticed in my original response, I was very careful to qualify my language. I did not say that revelation, generically, has to be consubstantial in nature with God. I have been speaking of “self-revelation,” a very important distinction. This is why I stated that Christ is the only self-revelation of God.
SH: This is arbitrary. A person can reveal himself in various ways or varying degrees.
A painting by Rembrandt reveals a lot about the painter. That he was a painter. A very talented painter. That he lived at a certain place and time. His paintings tell us what he cared about.
A self-portrait by Rembrandt is, in a way, more revealing about the painter.
And if Rembrandt paid me a personal visit, that would also be a self-revelation.
But these are all different modes of self-disclosure.
ED: I would assert that the Scriptures and the apostolic tradition form the dual-nature of the regula fidei, the rule of faith of the universal church.
SH: And where’s the supporting argument?
ED: It depends which “authorities” one is talking about. I would put the ecumenical councils of the historic church on the same level of “authority” for faith and practice as I would the Scriptures. All orthodox Christians do, in fact, whether or not they admit it.
SH: And what authority authorizes one council over another? Who decides which council is ecumenical or not?
ED: The grounds is that they are opposed to the regula fidei of the universal church which is built upon Scripture and apostolic tradition.
SH: His appeal to “the universal church” is a historical fantasy.
ED: They adjudicate the various texts–even as they did with the Scriptures originally, BTW–on the basis of the tradition which they received from the apostles.
SH: How did Jews interpret the Bible in OT or Intertestamental times without church councils to “adjudicate the various texts”?
ED: Such would be impossible, for the determinations of the ecumenical councils are that which determine the boundaries for biblical interpretation in the first place.
1.What a magnificently tendentious assertion.
2. And not only does it beg the question, but it only pushes the question back a step. What determines the boundaries of conciliar interpretation?
3.Notice how backwards this is. The Bible comes first. Then the councils. But we can’t interpret the Bible apart from the councils.
No one could interpret the NT before the Council of Nicea?
ED: I have already mentioned by primary objection to Reformed theology several times throughout this post. If one begins from the foundation of the “eternal decrees of God,” I see no way in which one can avoid a thoroughly materialist conception of God’s relationship to creation. Related to this, I object to the way in which the Reformed crowd explicates the “sovereignty” of God. As the language which the Reformed crowd utilizes betrays, the Reformed conception of God’s sovereignty is utterly materialist, for it proceeds from the basis of phenomenological investigation. In other words, my experience (and actually the necessary conclusions of Reformed confessionalism) of Reformed sovereignty-speak is that God’s sovereignty is ultimately expressed through expression in the temporal/causal sphere. However, by doing this, Reformed theology has ultimately (although perhaps not consciously) reduced God’s sovereignty to that which exists—but if this happens, there is no way in which to separate that which is created from the being of God, for the very description of the nature of God is based upon creation. While I will be the first to admit that it is difficult, if not impossible to speak about God’s sovereignty apart from that which is created (for our language is ultimately linked to our createdness), I also do not believe that this admission requires the gross reduction of God’s sovereignty to causality and over-power which I understand Reformed theology to advocate.
It is this fundamental presupposition which leads to the rest of the errors which I see within Reformed theology, whether one is speaking of Christology, atonement, soteriology, etc. They can all be traced back to this fundamental assumption about the nature of God’s relationship to creation, a relationship which I cannot but see as a philosophical pantheism.
SH: Wrong on several counts:
1.Reformed theology is not an axiomatic system.
2.We do not form our conception of divine sovereignty on the basis of “phenomenological investigation,” but on the basis of Biblical exegesis.
3.If we lack access to “objective” or “absolute” truth, then existdissolve is in no position to reject the sovereignty of God.
He could only reject the sovereignty of God if he were in a position to know that Reformed theology is false.
But, by his own admission, he lacks epistemic access to the “truth-in-itself” about God.
4.Likewise, his scepticism is a universal acid which, if “true,” would have the same corrosive effect on every other theological tradition.