Tuesday, August 11, 2009

On the rabbit trail

steve said...

Are you posing an exegetical question or a philosophical question? As Peter Davids points out in his standard commentary on the Greek text, James isn't offering a theodicy. "His focus is practical rather than theoretical" (p81).

You're not going to find an answer to you question in Jas 1:13–since your question moves beyond exegetical theology into the realm of philosophical theology. If you want a philosophical answer, then we can engage the question at that level.

As Dominic pointed out, the Bible distinguishes between divine agency and intermediate agency, viz. sending an evil spirit to mess with Saul.

You might find that Biblical "buffer" philosophically unsatisfactory, and at a philosophical level you might be right–since it wasn't meant to offer a metaphysically profound harmonization.

August 09, 2009 6:10 PM

steve said...
Victor Reppert said...

“And God does not cause the elect to sin? That would mean that the elect would never be caused to sin. But they do sin, so if God causes everything, he causes their sin as well.”

Depends on how you define “cause.” If you’re using a counterfactual theory of causation, then in Calvinism, Molinism, Arminianism, universalism, and open theism, God is the cause of sin. The mere act of creating the world is a sine qua non of sin.

If you think Jas 1:13 rules out divine “causation” of sin (thus defined), then Jas 1:13 rules out Calvinism, Molinism, Arminianism, universalism, and open theism. What’s left?

“But if a text has philosophical entailments, and you buy inerrancy, then those philosophical entailments have to be true, even if the text is not aimed at establishing these.”

You mean like predestination texts of Scripture, whose philosophical entailments exclude libertarian freewill?

August 10, 2009 5:48 AM

steve said...
Victor Reppert said...

“Further, the concept of love, even if it includes the infliction of suffering, is always aimed at a good final result for the person who is loved. Otherwise, the word love doesn't make sense.”

i) That’s not an objection to Calvinism, per se. That’s an objection to any position short of universalism.

ii) It also disregards the concept of justice. You act as if Scripture only uses a remedial theory of justice rather than a retributive theory of justice.

iii) It also commits a basic semantic fallacy by confounding sense and reference. What loves means and who is loved are separate issues.

“It looks very clear from Scripture that God loves every person and wants them to be saved. The case for this is strong that many Calvinist exegetes agree.”

I can quote non-Calvinists who offer interpretations of Arminian prooftexts which are consistent with Calvinism (e.g. Lincoln in Jn 3:16, Towner on 1 Tim 2:4, Bauckam on 2 Pet 3:9, &c.).

August 10, 2009 5:57 AM

steve said...
Victor Reppert said...

“Look, the Calvinists in this debate are saying that they have a proof from Scripture that their view is correct. This requires exegetical arguments that predestinarian passages are consistent only with Calvinism and that passages apparently showing a difficulty for Calvinism have explanations that are consistent with Calvinism. That is what it takes to satisfy a burden of proof here.”

That’s just plain silly. Every Protestant theological tradition which lays claim to sola Scriptura as its rule of faith has the same burden of proof. So your contention is clearly reversible:

Look, the Arminians (universalists, Molinists, open theists, &c.) in this debate are saying that they have a proof from Scripture that their view is correct. This requires exegetical arguments that their (allegedly) libertarian prooftexts are consistent only with Arminianism and that passages apparently showing a difficulty for Arminianism have explanations that are consistent with Arminianism. That is what it takes to satisfy a burden of proof here.

Why do we even have to explain that to you?

“I should say that IF you think you can settle the debate by what I call narrow biblical arguments, then you have to not only have Calvinist proof-texts, but you also need good answers to difficult passages.”

Once again, the reasoning is patently reversible:

I should say that IF you think you can settle the debate by what I call narrow biblical arguments, then you have to not only have Arminian (universalist, Molinist, open theist) prooftexts, but you also need good answers to difficult passages.

“I don't think that Calvinists have that. James 1:13 and John 3:16 are good examples why this is the case.”

I’ll have more to say about Jas 1:13. For the time being, I’ll note that this isn’t the first time you’ve cited Jn 3:16. I responded to your appeal by citing a standard commentary on John by a commentator (Lincoln) who is not, to my knowledge, a Calvinist–whose interpretation is consonant with Calvinism. Did you offer a counterargument? No. As usual, you simply repeat yourself as if no one every replied to your appeal.

“If the biblical case is good that God wants people not to sin, is genuinely grieved by their sin, wants them to be saved from their sin, etc., then the only reasonable explanation for the fact that they do in fact sin is a doctrine of libertarian free will.”

If you really think that God doesn’t want anyone to sin, then why do you think he created sinners in the first place? Do you think creation was a metaphysical necessity? Are you a necessitarian? Isn’t that a self-defeating way to defend libertarianism?

And if libertarianism is true, then why didn’t God instantiate a possible world where free agents freely choose to do good rather than evil? If you think free agents have the freedom to do otherwise, then isn’t there a possible world which samples their good choices?

“Calvinists tend to overestimate our ability to make Scripture transparent, but leave us with a God whose intentions toward humanity are completely opaque.”

That’s a rather idiosyncratic accusation. Critics of Calvinism normally complain that Calvinism is only too clear on God’s intentions towards humanity (either you’re elect or reprobate), and they reject it because they think it’s clearly wrong.

August 10, 2009 2:14 PM

steve said...
Victor Reppert said...

“Do we really need reprobates over in hell so that the blessed can appreciate the graciousness of their salvation? God can't impress it on them any other way? You've got to be kidding me.”

Which is exactly what the Bible says. For example “What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory (Rom 9:22-23).”

Moving along:

“Is it a favor to the damned, that they receive the just punishment for their sin?”

Why do you think punishment is supposed to do the offender a favor? Should we be doing Charles Manson a favor?

Maybe we should lock you up with Charles Manson overnight to see if that has an effect on your moral intuitions.

“But it turns out God has chosen, before the foundation of the world, to frustrate the sincere prayers of people who want their loved ones saved.”

Once again, Victor, that objection is hardly confined to Calvinism. It’s not as if God answers the prayers of everyone who wants their loved ones to be saved under Arminianism, Molinism, Lutheranism, Catholicism, open theism, Eastern Orthodoxy, &c.

Why don’t you have the simple honesty to stake out one consistent position, then defend it against every opposing position?

Instead, you pretend to be noncommittal, then deploy every opposing position against Calvinism. I’m flattered that you think Calvinism is the creed to beat, but it’s duplicitious to play theological hopscotch the way you do.

“God might love me, but hate my daughter. Or vice versa.”

Yes, God might love Charles Manson’s mom, but hate her precious son. And what you do find so outrageous about that, exactly? Do you love Charles Manson, Victor?

“When I ask this question, I get the mystery maneuver.”

From whom? Not from me.

“God's will is the eternal good of everyone, that good can be achieved only if the creature responds freely, many pains are used by God to induce us to freely obey him.”

Suffering frequently turns people against God. Take the street girl who’s gang-raped. Do you really think that’s the best way to induce her to freely obey God? And you presume to talk about coherence, do you?

“If I graded my classes like a Calvinist, I wouldn't be able to keep my job. That is, if all the tests I gave were so hard that everyone failed by merit, but then I had mercy on some and not on others because, after all, I was the teacher and could do that, the students I ‘reprobated’ with Fs would be in the dean's office complaining about capricious grading. And with good reason.”

Well, Victor, that comparison is quite revealing. So you grade like a Pelagian rather than a Calvinist. Fine. Nothing wrong with a meritocracy in higher education. (I take it that you oppose affirmative action.) But if you think that analogy carries over to soteriology, then you’re a simon-pure Pelagian.

You also need to explain how you harmonize your Pelagianism with your universalism. Does universalism operate according to the merit system?

August 10, 2009 4:00 PM

steve said...
Well, Victor, you say that as if, in a pinch, you can throw the Bible overboard to keep the ship afloat and save the champagne. But if you jettison the inerrancy (or reliability) of Scripture, it’s not as that you can save the cargo or the passengers by that expedient.

Christianity claims to be a revealed religion. God reveals himself in history by what he says and does. Words which interpret his deeds. Captions which decrypt the picture.

The reason Protestants affirm sola Scriptura is not because we have a fetish for paper and ink. Rather, it goes to our source of knowledge. Are we in a position to know that what we believe in or hope for is true? That’s only as good as our source of information.

You keep invoking the love of God. And you try to use that as a wedge issue to leave the door wide open for universalism. You also invoke the love of God to ditch the retributive theory of punishment in favor of the remedial theory of punishment.

If, however, we have no reliable revelation from God, then how do you know that God is love? How do you know that God loves everyone? How do you know that God will save everyone, or intends to save everyone, or intends to save anyone at all?

Without a reliable revelation, what are you left with, Victor? If we were to judge the outcome by the world, the world is not a very loving place. How would you extrapolate from our sublunary experience to universal salvation–or anything remotely approaching universal salvation?

Unless you can prove universalism from Scripture, you have no reason to believe that universalism is true, or probably true, or plausibly true.

Apart fro revelation, the nature of the afterlife is, at best, a blank. And if we were to extrapolate from this life to the afterlife, we’d expect the hereafter to be an extension and intensification of the disparities and asperities we find in the here-and-now.

August 10, 2009 5:41 PM

steve said...
Victor Reppert said...

“The problem with the ‘Calvinist grader’ is he's got two different systems for two different set of people with no reason for selecting one group for one kind of treatment over another.”

Well, Victor, if you wish to press that metaphor, then according to the Reformed version, all the students were cheaters. Every student cheated on the exam.

The next question is, what should be done? The teacher could flunk the whole class. That would be a just and justifiable course of action.

He could also pardon every student and give every student an “A”.

Or he could pardon half the students to give them a second chance, a chance to learn from their mistake–while he flunks the other half to send a message, a warning to the other students not to be presumptuous.

However, your metaphor trivializes the issue. And that’s what I like about opponents of Calvinism. When we tediously peel back the layers, the core objection always comes down to the fact that opponents of Calvinism don’t take evil seriously. They can’t bring themselves to see evil as truly culpable.

If everyone is guilty, then there’s no injustice in treating offenders unequally. Inequity is only unjust in case the parties have just claims. Claims to better treatment.

If no one deserves any better, then God wrongs no one by giving some offenders their just deserts while showing mercy to others.

You fail to grasp either justice or mercy. That’s why you remain a stranger to the Gospel.

“That's what I would call a ‘respecter of persons,’ which, last time I read the Bible, it said God was not.”

Which you conveniently rip out of context. Rom 2:11 makes the point that Jews are not exempt from the principle of retribution according to works. You have completely subverted Paul’s point. Paul is not stating that God must be indiscriminate in whom he forgives. The passage is about the basis of judgment, not salvation.

August 10, 2009 6:45 PM

steve said...
Victor Reppert said...

Regarding the Amalekites, you’re conflating two distinct issues: the veracity of Scripture and the interpretation of Scripture. So I’m not clear on where you think you’re going with that example.

At the interpretive level, the Bible says that event happened, and it says God gave the orders. I don’t think any OT scholar, whether liberal or conservatives, denies that. What the Bible claims to be the case is not in doubt. The point at issue is whether we’re prepared to believe the claim.

Your previous position had been: “All I need is to show that Scripture is inconclusive.”

That would be a hermeneutical position. Since the Bible is “obscure,” it doesn’t single out Calvinism to the exclusion of alternate ways of reading the Bible (e.g. open theism, universalism).

When, however, you shift to inerrancy, and use the case of the Amalekites to illustrate your point, you’re using as argument which is at odds with your previous argument. The “problem” with the case of the Amalekites is not due to the “obscurity” or “opacity” of Scripture. It’s not as if any interpretation of that account is “inconclusive.”

Rather, it’s a question (for you) of whether the claim is true or false. Did it happen the way the Bible says it happened” Did it happen as a result of a divine command?

That is not a hermeneutical question. Rather, that’s a factual question.

If you don’t think the Bible is a reliable source of information, that unreliability doesn’t make room for universalism–or whatever view you’re promoting. Rather, if God hasn’t disclosed the nature of the afterlife, then we have next to nothing to go on regarding our hopes and fears and expectations for the life to come.

If you distrust the Bible, then what are you left with, Victor? Your life experience? But how is your life experience sufficient to underwrite your belief in a loving God? Much less universalism?

At best, you’d be in a situation like Ecclesiastes where, if you could only judge by appearances (“under the sun”), it would be hard to discern any consistent moral pattern in history.

August 11, 2009 6:07 AM


  1. Steve Hays: "If you distrust the Bible, then what are you left with, Victor?"

    This is an important question. I should like to know how and whether Victor Reppert responds.

    If it were posed to me, I would say that God's Word is my ultimate Authority.

    I would also say that God's Word is totally true and trustworthy or inerrant. And that it's sufficient.

  2. Steve: "On the rabbit trail"

    It's an elusive rabbit. But you're relentless, Steve!