Here's a response to Randal Rauser from his colleague Jerry Shepherd, OT prof. at Taylor Seminary:
Jerry Shepherdsays: Wednesday, November 30, 2011 at 4:05pm
Hello Randal, my good friend and colleague,
Let me point out here some real problems with your article. First of all, it is important to note that the passage you quoted from Revelation 5 does not exist. Oh, it exists all right, but not in the somewhat manipulated form in which you presented it. You left out the very start of this song of praise, where the living creatures and angels start this worship session by proclaiming, “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals . . .” The song starts by praising Jesus that he is worthy to open the seals — seals which when opened will pour out horrors, devastation, and death-dealing destruction on the wicked of the earth. Therefore, when the rest of the angels and “every creature in heaven and on earth” join in the worship service, they are praising the Lamb precisely because he is about to pour out this destruction on all his wicked enemies, and they fully recognize and declare that the result will be “honor and glory and praise” for the Lamb. Thus, in context, when this destruction is poured out in the following chapters on people who call out to the mountains and the rocks to “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?” this does in fact result in great honor and praise and glory for God. In no way can we see that the wicked who say these things are part of “every creature in heaven and on earth” in Revelation 5. So we cannot take that phrase to be absolute. The creatures who praise God in Revelation 5 are those who have allied themselves with the Lamb and the one who sits on the throne, and they are praising God for what he is about to do to those who are not so allied. In fact, your attempted caricature of the Calvinist “revised scenario” is, indeed, not a revised scenario, but the original scenario! And one which you apparently do not like, and therefore cannot join in on the praise session (sorry). The worship in Revelation 5 is of the Lamb, and more precisely, the Lamb who is about to display his great wrath.
Second, as far as the contrast effect is concerned, let’s just go ahead and admit that, as far as this present world is concerned, it is an effect that is woven into the very “warp and woof” of the universe. And, if not the universe, at least the Bible and the history of redemption. God receives glory and praise, not only because he redeems the Israelites, but because he hurls the Egyptians into the sea. He receives glory, not only because he spared the life of firstborn Israelites on the night of the Passover, but also because he “struck down the firstborn of Egypt.” And despite your praiseworthy introduction of Rom 9:22-24 into the set of data that needs to be reckoned with in the debate, you did not deal with the force of the passage: God has, indeed, prepared objects of wrath for destruction, and this brings him glory. And, of course, there are even more explicit scenes in Revelation where God receives glory and honor or praise because of how he repays those who “curse the God of heaven.” And despite the translation difficulties of Psalm 76:10, whether it is the wrath of men that brings God praise, or God’s wrath against men that brings God praise, either way God gets praise. Will this contrast effect be done away with in eternity? I don’t know. But it cannot be denied that it is here now, and God receives glory through it.
Third, I’m not all that concerned about interacting with your use of “maximally” and necessary.” I know many Calvinists use this language, ones that I respect, but for my part I think it’s unfortunate. I’m very comfortable, biblically, talking about what God did or does. Talking about what God has to do, or positing some “maximal” position to which all of God’s attributes have to measure up seems to me to be too much like Paul’s pot talking back to the potter.
Finally, though I appreciate your perspective on what is often trotted out as a debate stopper, the “unsatisfactory nature of the appeal to mystery,” at times this trotting out is necessary in order to keep a datum from either being denied or relegated to a corner of the theological room where it is never dealt with. In fact, I have found this appeal to be used far more by Arminians than Calvinists. But they end up using it, not to preserve the tension, but rather to ignore and not have to deal with one side of the tension. This is why I find Calvinism so much more intellectually rigorous and honest than Arminianism. The Arminian arbitrarily believes half the Bible and can’t be bothered to deal with the repercussions of contrary data. The Calvinist believes the whole Bible, and when the data seem to be contradictory, tries to make sense of it, admitting all the while that some contradictions cannot and will not ultimately be resolved in this existence. I agree with you that many times this appeal to mystery is trotted out way too conveniently. But I would also go further and say that sometimes this appeal is, in fact, sometimes where an obedient theologian has to land, confessing that God’s judgments are unsearchable, his paths beyond tracing out, and the only “responsible response” is doxology.