I’m going to comment on a recent post by Craig Blomberg:
Blomberg is a fine NT scholar. He’s written a number of useful books on the historical Christ and the historicity of the NT.
“If either pure five-point Calvinism or its consistent repudiation in pure Arminianism were completely faithful to Scripture, it is doubtful that so many Bible-believing, godly evangelical Christians would have wound up on each side.”
There are quite a few problems with this statement:
1.Consider the force of social conditioning. If the only thing you’ve been exposed to during your formative years is one theological tradition, then that can be quite prejudicial to the alternatives. And, yes, this cuts different ways.
2.Many anti-Calvinists are quite explicit about why they reject Calvinism. They find it repellent. They have a visceral reaction to Calvinism.
3.Blomberg teaches at a confessional seminary: “Each year trustees, administration and faculty are required to affirm and sign Denver Seminary's doctrinal statement without mental reservation.”
Let’s take three examples:
“This body expresses itself in local assemblies whose members have been immersed upon a credible confession of faith and have associated themselves for worship, instruction, evangelism, and service. The ordinances of the local church are believers' baptism by immersion and the Lord's Supper.”
That’s standard Baptist theology. Yet surely Blomberg will grant that many godly, Bible-believing Christians have come down on different sides of this issue. So does he think this article of the doctrinal statement, which he signed, is not completely faithful to Scripture”?
Take another example: “We believe that each local church is self-governing in function and must be free from interference by any ecclesiastical or political authority. We also believe all men and women are directly responsible to God in matters of faith and life, and they should be free to worship God according to the dictates of their consciences.”
Once again, that’s standard Baptist theology. But isn’t this another issue over which godly, Bible-believing Christians have differed? So does he think this article of the doctrinal statement is not completely faithful to Scripture?
To take a final example, I believe that Craig is a historic premillenialist. Indeed, he recently edited a book defending that very position. Yet this is another issue over which godly, Bible-believing Christians differ. So does he think historic premillennialism is not completely faithful to Scripture?
4.Another reason that godly, Bible-believing Christians can disagree over the five-points of Calvinism is a lack of clear thinking. Indeed, Blomberg will be furnishing some examples.
“The former wants to preserve the Scriptural emphasis on divine sovereignty; the latter, on human freedom and responsibility. Both are right in what they want and correct to observe in Scripture the theme that they stress. Both also regularly create caricatures of what the other side believes. Straw men are always the easiest to knock down.”
Ironically, we could say that this is a caricature of Calvinism, as if Calvinism is only concerned with the sovereignty of God, to the detriment of human responsibility. So the way that Blomberg just framed the alternatives is itself a straw man.
“When one discovers a position that Alvin Plantinga and William Lane Craig, two of the world’s leading evangelical philosophers, both endorse, even though the former is Calvinist and the latter is Arminian, it is worth taking a closer look. The position is often called middle knowledge.”
The fact that Plantinga subscribes to middle knowledge should already tip him off to the fact that Plantinga is not a Calvinist. Calvinism rejects Molinism. Moreover, Plantinga is the most philosophically astute proponent of the freewill defense. That’s a libertarian argument.
“Simply put, middle knowledge affirms, with classic Arminianism, that God’s predestining activity is based on his foreknowledge of what all humans would do in all possible situations that they could find themselves in.”
That wouldn’t be “foreknowledge.” Foreknowledge is knowledge of the future. Advance knowledge of what will happen–not what would happen.
“But it also observes that God’s omniscience is so great that it is not limited just to what all actually created being would do but to what all possibly created beings would do in all possible situations.”
Here Blomberg is confusing middle knowledge with counterfactual knowledge. They’re not interchangeable. While middle knowledge presupposes counterfactual knowledge, it’s not the case that counterfactual knowledge presupposes middle knowledge.
Calvinism has no problem affirming the fact that God has counterfactual knowledge. The Westminster Confession attributes counterfactual knowledge to God while, at the same time, rejecting middle knowledge (WFC 3:2).
In Reformed theism, God’s knowledge of hypotheticals is grounded in his knowledge of hypothetical decrees. God knows what human agents would do in all possible situations because he knows what would happen in case he decreed alternate scenarios.
“Because God creates only a finite number of persons between the beginning of the universe and Christ’s return, his sovereign choice is preserved, because he must choose to create some beings and not others. Thus, with classic Calvinism, his sovereign, elective freedom is preserved.”
In doesn’t preserve God’s sovereignty. Rather, it’s as God though must choose from a mail-order catalogue. In Molinism, God is confronted with a set of options. He can choose from these options, but the options are autonomous.
“There are countless passages throughout Scripture that, seemingly paradoxically, affirm at one and the same time God’s sovereignty and human freedom (with accountability).”
We need to draw a firm distinction between what the Bible teaches and the impression that makes on some readers. Does the Bible teach a paradoxical relation between God’s sovereignty and human responsibility? Is the (alleged) paradoxicality of that relation part of the Biblical teaching itself? Does Scripture assert that this relationship is paradoxical?
Or does it simply strike some readers as paradoxical? The fact that some readers can’t harmonize the two doesn’t mean that Scripture itself is affirming a paradox. This is not a Scriptural claim.
“Philippians 2:12-13 commands us to work out our salvation in fear and trembling, but only because God is the one at work in us to do his good pleasure.”
How is that paradoxical? Doesn’t that present a cause and effect relation? God causes us to work out our salvation. Our activity is the result of God’s agency. A reaction to God’s action. What’s the least bit paradoxical about that?
“Isaiah 10:5-13 finds God using Assyria as an instrument to punishment faithless Israel but then promising to turn around and punish Assyria because of her evil motives in conquering God’s people.”
Blomberg finds that paradoxical, but does Isaiah find that paradoxical? Does Isaiah indicate that these two truths are in tension with each other? Does Isaiah say that we need to limit divine sovereignty to make room for human accountability?
Blomberg is a skilled, experienced exegete. As such, he surely recognizes the need to distinguish between the mind of the author and the mind of the reader. The fact that some reader may (or may not) find this paradoxical doesn’t mean Isaiah intended the reader to come away with that impression. Is that any part of what Isaiah is trying to convey in this passage? Did he mean this passage to be paradoxical? Or does it simply have that effect on certain readers, given their extraneous preconceptions?
For example, when a ufologist reads Ezk 1, he takes this to be a description of a flying saucer. He comes to the passage with those cultural categories and expectations. As a result, the ufologist is filtering the passage through an artificial grid.
“But perhaps the text that says it best of all is the first one in the canonical sequence, Genesis 50:20, quote above. Joseph has been reunited with his brothers, but now that their father is dead they fear that Joseph may at last exact vengeance on them. Joseph allays their fears by explaining that he understands that God had different, good purposes in mind with their action of selling him into slavery in Egypt, even though their purposes were evil. Two separate agents, two separate wills, at cross purposes with each other, neither described as logically or chronologically prior to the other. Neither is said to cause the other; they occur simultaneously.”
That interpretation cuts against the grain of the narrative arc. Gen 50:20 represents the long-range fulfillment of a prophet dream which took place at the onset of the cycle. Gen 50:20 completes the cycle.
Because his brothers resented the dream, they tried to thwart the prophetic outcome by selling their brother into slavery. The point of the intervening narrative is to underscore the providence of God. Their attempt to advert the outcome is, unwittingly, the very means by which the outcome is realized.
They intend one thing, God intends the opposite. Yet their actions are unintentionally instrumental in achieving the outcome which God intended all along.
As such, their will is subordinate to God’s will. Indeed, the very point of the narrative arc is to illustrate the sovereignty of God by showing he how fulfills the prophetic dream he gave to Joseph despite the subversive efforts of his siblings. Unbeknowst to them, that’s precisely the way in which God was going to fulfill his prophetic dream. And that’s the most dramatic way you could underscore the sovereignty of God. God declares the outcome in advance of the fact. God achieves his purpose in spite of human intransigence.
It’s like issuing a challenge. Announce the future. Implicitly dare an individual to prevent it from happening. Then bring it to pass by using his resistance as the unwitting means. His brothers bring it about by trying to hinder it.
Why does Blomberg think this is at odds with Calvinism?