Monday, February 11, 2008

The Heavenly Doorman

Genesis 20

Abraham and Abimelech

1 From there Abraham journeyed toward the territory of the Negeb and lived between Kadesh and Shur; and he sojourned in Gerar. 2 And Abraham said of Sarah his wife, "She is my sister." And Abimelech king of Gerar sent and took Sarah. 3 But God came to Abimelech in a dream by night and said to him, "Behold, you are a dead man because of the woman whom you have taken, for she is a man’s wife." 4 Now Abimelech had not approached her. So he said, "Lord, will you kill an innocent people? 5 Did he not himself say to me, 'She is my sister'? And she herself said, 'He is my brother.' In the integrity of my heart and the innocence of my hands I have done this." 6 Then God said to him in the dream, "Yes, I know that you have done this in the integrity of your heart, and it was I who kept you from sinning against me. Therefore I did not let you touch her.

Trying to draw more out of this passage.

Last time I tried to show that it appeared that the passage presupposed that blame could have been (read counterfactually) ascribed to Abimelech even if God had "kept him" from not sinning. And, secondly, the passage assumed Abimelech's freedom by referencing that he should not be blamed for what he did, even though out of the two paths, to sin or not to sin, one was closed off to him. Thus he was a morally responsible agent, who did what he did out of the integrity of his own mind, while having one of the options, out of two, closed off to him and thus no genuine alternative possibility.

But what of this notion of being "kept from" doing something. I think the Calvinist notion of decree fits best here.

If we do not assume that God had decreed Abimelech's actions from the foundation of the world, then perhaps God, in this case, was something like a bouncer in front of a door.

Abimelech could go into either door. The sin door or the not-sin door. If he tried to go into the sin door, God, the bouncer, would "keep him" from getting in. In this case Abimelech would have both, following Fischer, regulative and guidance control.

If this metaphor of God "keeping" Abimelech is close to the mark, then Abimelech retains his libertarian freedom. If the "keeping" takes the form of antecedent the divine decree, and if Abimelech is morally responsible, then he does not have libertarian freedom.

The problem I see it is that Abimelech says that he is "innocent" and has acted in an upright and morally virtuous way.

Now, perhaps he is wrong. He is fooling himself. The problem here would be that God agrees with Abimelech's judgment.

Since God does not praise or encourage mere moral formalism, why would he intimate that Abimelech was innocent? Would Abimelech really be innocent had he tried with all him might to enter the sin door only to be stopped after a struggle with the bouncer?

Continuing with the bouncer analogy. Say you had a hard day at work and you want to go out for a beer after work, before you go home. Enjoying a nice ale is just the thing you need before you go home and to your real job---that of husband and father! Now, you happen to run into some of your fellow construction workers at the bar, 'One More That's It,' is the name. You don't have too many beers, but enough to get a buzz, say, 4. Now, you inform your buddies that it's time for you to go home. After some slight ribbing about being whipped, they let you go. Now, on your way to your car you notice a strip club (no, not a steak house!). You have a moment of weakness (replace the story about the construction worker with a philosopher instead and you would call it 'akrasia'). You debate it with yourself for a couple of minutes and you convince yourself that it would be just the thing you need to forget about your worries (perhaps you're behind schedule and the foreman is really pushing you). (How to get the perfume off your close doesn't cross your mind at the time, chalk that up to the 4 beers.) So off you go.

When you get to the door the bouncer informs you that the club is at full capacity. You query as to why. He informs you that Misty Mountains is there, everyone wants to get in. You remember that before you got married you had quite the thing for Misty, but marriage, kids---not to mention that alter call you went down for at last year's rally at the stadium when you and 500 other people stood crying in front of the preacher who pulled all the right heart strings---had turned you around. Your wife would kill you. And you promised her you would never do anything like this. But it would be just a peak, you tell yourself. You had to see Misty. So, you formulate a plan. As soon as the bouncer turns his back you will try to do a low crawl into the building, bypassing the bouncer. The time comes and you go for it. The bouncer hears some scraping and shuffling down below, turns around, and sees your sorry self trying to commando crawl into the building. He picks you up by your belt and tosses you into a row of trash cans. Since he outweighs you by about 75 pounds, and you don't feel that tough with coffee grounds in your hair and a banana peel on your lap, you decide to go home. After you arrive home you wife asks where you've been, you simply tell your wife that you went out with some of the guys. She knows the pressure you're under, and fully understands. She tells you to sit down, put your feet up, and she'll get your dinner. She’s a good wife, what were you thinking, you say to yourself. So you resolve to keep her in the dark. No harm no foul. And besides, it would only hurt her. You technically didn't do anything wrong, you tell yourself. You strengthen your resolve. This will never happen again, you tell yourself.

It is three weeks later and you barely remember what happened. You take your wife out to dinner and a movie. Your mom is watching the kids. As you're out with your wife a couple of guys walk by and start laughing. They try to give you a high five. They're obviously drunk. You don't have a clue what's going on, and your wife looks a bit uncomfortable. They kept saying, "Dude! That was awesome. You made my night. That was the funniest thing I'd seen in a while." Just then a light goes on, you have a pretty good idea what they're referring to. You just hope they leave, playing dumb in from of your wife. She then begins to talk, you cringe. She asks them what they're talking about. One guy says, "This guy tried to sneak into a strip club a few weeks ago to see Misty Mountains. The bouncer totally trashed him. [Group laughs] Trashed him! Threw this guy [points to you] into the street and into a row of trash cans." "We got to hand it to you though," he turns to you, "that was one of the most daring moves I've seen in a while. Chopper, the bouncer, is a maniac. You're lucky he didn't gut you!" They laugh and walk away. Your wife stares at you. "What!?," she asks. "Is this true?" The rest of the story gets R-rated from here! Hell hath no furry, 'n all.

Given the above scenario, would the wife have felt better if you had said, "Yeah, but did you hear those guys? They said that the bouncer 'kept me' from getting in. I didn't see a stripper and therefore I'm innocent." Seems to me that doesn't make the man innocent of all charges. Thus we cannot view Abimelech or God this way.

The position that best makes sense of the Biblical data here is that of the Calvinist. God decreed what would happen, thus not allowing for for alternative possibilities, while Abimelech was a morally responsible agent. If only in this one instance we can have determination and moral responsibility, then the Christian libertarian's case crumbles. I say 'Christian' because I don't see this passage convincing atheistic libertarians, at least pre-consummation.

So, we cannot have God "violating" Abimelech's freedom since that wouldn't get a verdict of innocence if Abimelech had tried to sin yet was strong armed from accomplishing his task (similar to the question: Would Eve still have sinned if she had not eaten the fruit out of desire to keep her figure? The answer is: Yes). We have Abimelech as morally responsible, the subject of moral praise or blame. We have only one option as a live possibility for Abimelech (he was "kept from" the other), thus not allowing alternative possibilities to become geneuine. The "keeping" that God does is best seen as his prior, eternal decree which determined all events which take place in the actual world (possible worlds are different ways God could have decreed the events). I find this the most satisfying reading.


  1. Excellent, excellent post, Paul. I've had more of my lingering questions about Refomed theology answered here than anywhere else, books included. I really appreciate the time and thought you guys put into this blog. It's been a real blessing.

    I have a couple quick questions, if you don't mind -- one somewhat related to this post's topic, the second not so much.

    1: Have you ever thought about addressing any of Glen Miller's various pieces on Calvinism? What you've written here actually counters some of his points, -- but not all of them. At any rate, his seem to be some of the better critiques on the net, in my opinion, and I thought they might be an interesting "target" for you or one of the other T-bloggers in the future.

    2: Do you know which publisher is considered to make the better production of Berkhof's Systematic Theology? I know of two that print it: Eerdmans and Banner of Truth. I once heard someone say that the Eerdmans version is rubbish and that is should be avoided, but I'd be interested to hear a second opinion.

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  3. Thanks Anonymous,

    1: I have not even seen them. I searched his site and only saw one post under both labels: 'Calvinsim' and 'Reformed Theology.' He didn't seem to be critiquing Reformed Theology in that one. Perhaps you can leave a link our two. His posts are typically very long and I am moving right now so I wouldn't have the time to respond in any detail.

    2: I have the Eerdmans edition. I have no clue what the people you reference are getting at. I'll tell you this, though, I live right up the street from Westminster Theological Seminary, a reputed Reformed Seminary, and they only carry the Eerdmans edition in their book store.

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. Glen Miller is also a friend of J.P. Holding. Perhaps anon has in mind some of the stuff over at Tektonics.

  6. Either that or he's referring to this guy:

  7. Well, if he's referring to Holding, Steve has already interacted with him.

  8. (I am the anonymous poster from earlier)

    Hello Paul,

    1: I have not even seen them. I searched his site and only saw one post under both labels: 'Calvinsim' and 'Reformed Theology.' He didn't seem to be critiquing Reformed Theology in that one. Perhaps you can leave a link our two. His posts are typically very long and I am moving right now so I wouldn't have the time to respond in any detail.

    AActually, you know what, I was mistaken. Those articles I read, I thought they were by Glenn Miller, but I went to his site and didn't see them either. I've read so many articles on so many sites over the years, the memories of them sometimes seem to mesh together in my head! Anyway, the author I had in mind was actually J.C. Thibodaux. But I did a search of him here, and I see that you guys have already dealt with him extensively and decisively.

    2: I have the Eerdmans edition. I have no clue what the people you reference are getting at.

    I should have been a little more specific. The problems this person (as well as a few Amazon reviewers, as well) cites is that the text of the Eerdmans production sometimes runs into the binding, and that the text also seems to fade from dark to light here and there, as if the ink ran low during printing. I didn't know if the fellow I know just happend to get a bad egg, or if this was common.

    I'll tell you this, though, I live right up the street from Westminster Theological Seminary, a reputed Reformed Seminary, and they only carry the Eerdmans edition in their book store.

    Westminster, huh? Lucky dog... :) My local "Christian" book store sells things like WWJD T-shirts, Precious Moments figures, "Testa-mint" breath candies, cross-shaped pencils, and God Is My Co-pilot stickers. Its "doctrine" section is filled with books by people like T.D. Jakes and Joyce Meyer. Berkhof? Anathema!

    But I digress...

    Yes, the fact that WTS's store carries it alone is a very good endorsement of the Eerdmans edition. I think that settles it for me.

    But while I am at it, would any of you guys recommend any other systematic theologies that are close in quality to Berkhof's? I own Grudem's and have read Reymond's, but I understand that there are quite a few others out there.

    I appreciate any help and thanks again.


  9. Hi Zory,

    Yes, we've dealt with Thibodaux. As far as I recall, ball's still in his court.

    I have not noticed any of those problems with Berkhof's book, at least in my copy.

    I enjoy Berkhof, Grudem, and Reymond, too. I also recommend Murray's collected writings, Bavinck's 4 (for now) volume Dogmatics, Turretin's Institiutes, Calvin's, Shedd, Hodge, etc. I'd also recommend Frame's intro to the subject in his Slavation Belongs to the Lord.

  10. Thank you, Paul. I will look into those others (and I might have to look into some overtime, too :).

    There was one more thing I wanted to throw out there, if you and the other don't mind. (if you do, then know that I wouldn't be at all offended if you delete this post)


    I've been reading posts over at Debunking Christianity lately,. keeping tabs on a new argument (new to Loftus, anyway) that Loftus has been pushing for the past few weeks. He calls it the "argument from the scale of the universe." I'm sure at least one of you guys have seen it. If not, here is a link to a post that which links to the original argument, as well as a subsequent defense:

    Now, here is my question, if I may (and I do ask it seriously): Is this an impossibly bad argument against the existence of God, or is there some loftier (no pun intended) insight within it that would normally only be apparent to someone well-versed in philosophy? To me, Lofty, with all the subtlty of a dump truck, wants to pin what seems to me a host of wooden and mistaken definitions onto orthodox theology, as well as onto various Biblical texts themselves.

    Further, Loftus said, "I like defending arguments I find persuasive that others don't. I have convinced several skeptics of the force of the problem of evil. Let's see what I can do with Everitt's argument...I'll learn from others how to best defend it, and others will learn from how I do." [emphasis mine]

    That last sentence almost sounds like a challenge; it really looks like Loftus wants to polish this one and put on his shelf (next to his old T-ball trophies, no doubt). Now, some bloggers have addressed the argument with what I think are really good points. However, I believe the most devastating blow could come from the Reformed standpoint, as the assumptions he's trying to force on Christianity (things he says are natural to it) are the most demonstrably foreign to our theological understanding.

    Given all that, I thought one of you guys might want to take him up.

    All the best,

  11. Zory,

    I haven't seen his post. I never go over to DC, unless someone sends a link to me for some reason...which nearly never happens. I think John is a first-rate hack.

    I notice that he claims this:

    "Why is it that until the very recent findings of modern cosmology that no previous theist believed the universe is billions of times bigger and billions of years older than they had understood it to be in their day?"

    Many *theists* believed the universe to be eternal.

    Also, many *atheists* didn't believe the universe to be "billions of times bigger and older" than it really is (allegedly).

    His argument is based upon an odd conception of man being the apex of God's creation. An overly literal, Appalachian mountain fundamentalist understanding.

    His argument is based upon the acceptance of a subjective premise, namely, I wouldn't have expected this kind of universe if God really made it. Well, I would. Or, I didn't/don't have an expectation either way.

    It also doesn't take into account the fall. Why think unfallen humans wouldn't have had easy access to the entire universe? better technology. Or, why think the universe is only for us now. What about glorified saints. What, does he think we'll just be floating on clouds and playing harps? Typical of his Snake River Mountain theological community he grew up and flourished in.

    And, his argument is subject to a devastating tu quoque: This universe, earth, creation, isn't what I'd expect given Mommy Nature did it.

    The only difference is that my side has an actual pedigree of arguments to that effect. He bases his on questionable exegesis and faulty hermeneutics. John can't EXEGETE his premises from the Bible. I believe I can, and others have, given arguments against the probability of the type of world we line in on naturalistic evolutionary assumptions. In fact, the arguments on my side (whether you agree with them or not) are just as good, probably better, than the arguments John has from his understanding of Christian theism and the text of Scripture. Therefore, if he is consistent, he must think my tu quoque provides him reasons for being agnostic about evolution.

    Since he must be agnostic about this, he must be agnostic about the purpose and origin of our cognitive faculties. He then walks into Plantinga's EAAN. he would have a defeater for all his beliefs, including his Scope of the Universe belief.

    Thus if John's scope of the universe is persuasive to him, then my tu quoque must be, and then he has a defeater for his Scope argument. In other words, if his Scope argument is cogent for him, then he should reject it.

  12. Harrruuummpphhhhh!

    1. I wouldn't have expected a universe this big if God was real.

    2. I wouldn't have expected wingless men if God existed.

    3. I wouldn't have expected an ocean so deep if God existed.

    4. I wouldn't have expected 6 billion people on our planet. Three, tops, if God existed.

    5. I wouldn't have expected my ego to be this bif if God existed.

    6. I wouldn't have expected deep canyons, like the Grand, if God existed.

    7. I would have expected bigger heads, so we could rest even bigger cow boy hats on them, if God existed.

    8. I wouldn't have expected such a big God if God existed.

    9. Nor such a big book, the Bible. That's too big. he should just write, "I exist stupid people," in the sky every morning.

    10. Ergo, God probably doesn;t exist.


  13. Zory,

    Charles Hodge's work comes in three volumes. It can be a bit difficult if you don't read Latin. Those 19th century and earlier men had a tendency to assume their readers could read it. Of course, they could then because learning Latin was required. Today it's not. You can still get Hodge's work by reading James Boyce's Abstract of Systematic Theology . Dr. Boyce was one of the founders of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He studied under Dr. Thornwell while growing up in SC and then went to Princeton, where he studied directly under Dr. Hodge. He follow's Hodge's method and there is, for obvious reasons, a great deal of overlap between them. It's also all in English. You can order a copy from through Founders Press or you can read it online for free in their library section.

    I would recommend Dr. Reymond's current volume as one of the best modern systematic's available right now. The only major weakness is his presentation of opposing views on baptism. My copy is noted there, "We don't believe that." (I'm Baptist). I think his presentation there isn't so much unfair as too brief, which I understand, given he follows the outline of the WCF for the structure of his book. Note: IMO, in a future edition, I think somebody like Greg Welty could write a section for Baptists. That way, this volume would be useful for both Presbyterians / Dutch Reformed and Reformed/Sov. Grace Baptists.

    Wayne Grudem's volume is probably the most accessible from a Baptist perspective.

    As to your questions about the Eerdman's edition, I own this one myself, and I haven't seen any of the publication errors. I think the reviewer you cited may have a bad copy or they released a bad batch. There were some page problems with the edition of Reymond's I received when I ordered it.

    One more set might be the one by Dr. John Frame. His intro volume is good, and the longer 3 volume series is excellent.

  14. Paul Manata: "... He then walks into Plantinga's EAAN. ..."


    Have you read Fitelson and Sober's rebuttal to Plantinga's EAAN? If so, what did you think of it?

  15. Anonymoys,

    Yes, and I think I agree with Plantinga's assessment of it in his 2,000 edition of WPF. He grants one of their main points, and then repairs his argument.

    S&F argue that Plantinag thinks his argument to work on all *possible* varients within a breeding population. But Plantinga has specifically answered this; he doesn't believe that.

    Anyway S&F put that paper out in 97, much has been done since then. What, has the debate not advanced and moved in qo years?

    Not only would I recommend revised copies of Plantingas books, then, I'd also recommend his 2003 paper on defeaters, as well as Beliby's edited book, Naturalism Defeated, as well as Troy Nunely's doctoral dissertation, where interacts specifically, and in depth, with that S&F paper.

    I wonder if you know whether S&F have responded to these rather piercing criticisms? I have not found their replies, but then I don't have easy access to all the special publications.

  16. P.S.

    F&S's argument also doesn't help *John.* So, I find mention of them irrelevant to what I stated.

  17. Zory,

    "But while I am at it, would any of you guys recommend any other systematic theologies that are close in quality to Berkhof's?"

    In addition to those that Paul and Gene have mentioned, I would also recommend Michael Horton's "Covenant and..." series.

    While they aren't systematic theologies, they interact with the latest theological fads and end up explaining better and refining Reformed theology, something that always needs to be done given Semper Reformanda. I've only read his "Covenant and Salvation", but since then, I have added his "Lord and Servant" to my Amazon cart. Good stuff.

  18. Thanks a lot to all of you who offered your book recommedations to me. I will definitely look into them all.

    And thank you, Paul, for taking a look at Loftus's new pet arguemt. I knew it was absurd, but you made quite a few great points against it that I didn't think of. In fact, you took a much better route of refutation all together; mine was much less focused, centering mostly on the cumulative weakness of more tangential issues.

    Best wishes, all.