The jist of the story [...] was that the elephant was too big for any one man to comprehend, and that the collective view of the elephant was much closer to right than the individual viewpoints of the elephant.
The collective view was closer to the right (or, true) view. Note four things:
1) This assumes one has the truth and so can say when something is closer to the truth, or not. The story actually presupposes, for its force to work, that one has the entire truth. If this were not stated then the story wouldn't be all that interesting. Let's re-tell it without revealing the whole truth: 6 Indian men were told to report what they were holding. One said a snake. The other, a spear. The other, well he felt a wall. One said he was holding a rope. Another reported that he was feeling a large fan. And the last one said he felt a bush. Now, is there anything here problematic? No(!), it's only when we know the whole entire truth that the story makes an impression.
2) The collective view was not closer to being right than any one particular view. Put the above together and you have a single entity made of wall, spear, rope, snake, bush, and a fan! Call this being a whatchamacallit. I dare say that if any of us saw an elephant standing next to a whatchamacallit there would be no mistaking one for the other. Or, stated another way, say that there was a math test. The teacher only asked one question to his students. That question was, "What does 2 x 2 =?" Now, say he received 6 answers: 2, 6, 10, 14, 18, and 22. Would anyone say that these combined answers were collectively closer to the truth that one wrong answer? (There were some similarities, just like with the elephant. For instance, all the answers were even - so was the correct answer, etc.)
3) Another option has not been presented, namely, they were all wrong. Now, one could say that they were correct metaphorically, but then this would remove the critique against truth and objectivity, which this argument serves to attack. But, I doubt even this move. At best, they were correct metaphorically about part of the elephant. If they were to say that their metaphor was in line with the whole enchilada, they'd be mistaken.
4) This is the moral attempted to be drawn from this poem:
So oft in theologic wars,
The disputants, I ween,
Rail on in utter ignorance
Of what each other mean,
And prate about an Elephant
Not one of them has seen!
But notice that the author can only make this critique (about others being wrong, etc.,) because he has knowledge (or has seen) the entire elephant. So, it is he who has the entire truth. If the moral is intended to critique those who say that they have the whole truth, it is self-refuting. Or, perhaps it is the critique of a man who believes that only he possesses the whole truth of the matter and all of the other people (theologians) in the world are blind to the truth, merely acting a fool. In this case, the one who uses the critique is something of a megalomaniac. A narcissist.
In other words, systematic theology asks what the entire Bible has to say about the various loci. That is, the systematic theologian asks, "What does the entire Bible teach about X," where X is a biblical concept: God, man, ethics, salvation, eschatology, etc. Thus the elephant story only makes sense because one has the whole picture and can put the facts together and see how each one makes sense and fits together within the whole. And so it appears that an appeal to this story is actually self-refuting!
"Each of us can interact with the elephant to feel and experience it, but we also have a very limited frame of reference. Unfortunately, like the blind men in the story, we treat our frame of reference as the only valid frame, where everyone else is mistaken and must be feeling something other than the real elephant.
The key mistakes that each of us tend to make are 1) assuming we have the only valid frame of reference, and more importantly; 2) we place the entire elephant inside our frame of reference! We then build our entire systems of theology around our single view of the elephant, all the while mocking/cajoling/condemning the other blind men who are busy doing the same thing with their limited view."
Here we see that Lyons just misunderstands what the systematic theologian is doing. Systematicians do not say that they know the entire truth of the matter. Rather, they take only what the Bible says about a matter and seek to show what the whole Bible says about the matter. Surely Lyons doesn't disagree that we do have Bibles! So we take them (our Bibles) and seek to see what it teaches us about the loci presented therein. Also, note my point above: The story works because we do have access to the whole. If we didn't, the story wouldn't work. So for Lyons' critique to be consistent, he must say that he has access to the whole of the matter! I should also point out that there are Reformed theologians who agree that we need to make sure we are looking at doctrine from all angles. Vern Poythress' Symphonic Theology is case in point. Men like Poythress and Frame have sought to point out that Arminians, Dispensationalists, etc., make some valid points that we would do well to incorporate into our system. Similarly, I, as a Presbyterian, have learned much from my Reformed Baptist brothers. Some of their ideas have been invaluable to my theological development. So Lyons is simply inconsistent with the facts, here.
"Some of us, primarily of the Calvinist persuasion, read parts of scripture which emphasize God having foreknowledge and predestining people or events. Everything else about God and time is then forced through this filter of ‘preknowing’. This ends up ignoring or reinterpreting other wide swaths of scripture which make it evident that God allows man to choose certain things, or that show that God has changed His mind (I guess He was just fakin’ it), or - worse yet - having a man, be it Abraham, Moses, Hezekiah or other prophets/kings, convince Him to change his mind. It also puts Jesus in a bizarre kabuki dance in the garden of Gathsemene, in which Jesus is God but he prays to God to change His mind, but He does not. In the end, God comes out being something much less than God, where fatalism trumps love."
I'll end with this one since I'm not here to defend Arminianism or Open Theism (his next targets).
For someone who rails on making sure the whole truth is represented Lyons sure revels in his ability to misrepresent a position. No Calvinist I know would give Lyons' characterization of our position their seal of approval. We don't recognize ourselves in this critique. Perhaps rather than railing against systematic theology (which he has clearly misrepresented their project), he should spend time studying his opponents' position. Surely proper representation is just as important at not putting the facts of the Bible into a "box?"
Furthermore, having read countless books by Reformed theologians, I have not noted that "everything is filtered through this preknowing." Now, it may be true that everything is filtered in though soli Deo gloria. Or sola Christo.
I also have no clue why he believes that Calvinists think men don't choose things. We don't believe men are forced, against their will, to select the options that they do. It's not as if the Calvinist thinks that, say, a man really wants an apple pie but as he reaches his hand for it an invisible hand comes down and forces his hand towards the rhubarb pie, a brief struggle ensures, the mans hand shakes, but ultimately it is forced to grab (and eat!) the rhubarb pie.
As far as God changing his mind, that would depend on what Lyons means by that claim. We certainly allow for and can explain the biblical data that represents God as "changing his mind." One example can be found in Pratt: Historical Contingencies and Biblical Predictions. Another sense can be found in judicial categories. Many times "forgetting" and "remembering" have reference to God delaying or fulfilling the terms of his covenant (whether blessings or curses). Much of the so-called "Divine ignorance" passages appear in judicial contexts. When God asked Adam and Eve, "Where are you?" he was not admitting ignorance, as if he couldn't see them hiding behind that bush (or was it an elephant leg!?), he was asking for an admission of guilt.
It seems that Lyons thinks he can just assert that some passage which teaches ignorance should be taken literally (for that's the only way we have a problem). But then if this is his approach, then why stop with Christian theologies? What about Christian heresies like Mormonism? Maybe they have a corner on truth too. When Genesis 11:5 teaches us that "the Lord came down to see" the building of the tower of Babel, why not take this as Scripture teaching that God bodily descended to earth? Walked down from heaven. Perhaps if Lyons wasn't so reticent or hostile towards systematics, he wouldn't make these blunders? And, yes, Jesus, the Son, prayed to the Father. Lyons' critiques are based on lazy reports of half-truths which aspire to draw a whole-truth contradiction.
Moreover, fatalism teaches that the ends happen regardless of the means. This is not the Calvinist position. To call it Greek fatalism is to simply slander a fellow Christian.
Lastly, let me point out a main error in Lyon's thought. People cannot both be right about contradictory things (save the dialetheism discussion fo another time!). So, it is not as if we deny choice qua selection from options, we deny libertarian choice. Thus it cannot be that the libertarians and the Calvinist each have a corner on the truth in this instance. If the Calvinist holds to something that contradicts, say, PAP, then it cannot be true. If ~PAP is the case, then PAP is not the case. What sense would it be to say that we have libertarian free will, and that we never have it too, at the same time and in the same sense, and both are true? If that is possible, then why won't God send us to both heaven and hell at the same time and in the same sense?
I thus judge that Lyons' critique fails miserably.