Thursday, April 24, 2008

Reppert's Ruminations on Reformed Roughage

Bnonn can speak for and defend himself. He doesn't need my help. I'm just going to make a few quick observations of my own on Reppert's latest:

I pointed out previously that Reppert is shooting from the hip in his debate with Calvinism. He is evidencing that he has not taken the time to study those he is critiquing. He would expect this of someone who tried to refute his arguments in C.S. Lewis' Dangerous Idea, why is it any different here?

Where does Romans mention anyone’s eternal destiny? Where? Even where individuals are mentioned (Jacob and Esau, and Pharoah) they are elected for historic roles, not for heaven or hell.
Reppert could, for starters, read N.T. scholar Dr. Douglas Moo's article "Paul on Hell" in Hell Under Fire: Modern Scholarship reinvents Eternal Punishment, (eds. Morgan and Peterson) Zondervan, 2004, pp. 91-109.

"Calvinism attributes to God actions which in any parallel human context would be considered wrong by anyone."
Of course I've offered a detailed theodicy in response to Reppert that has went unanswered.

My answer stood mainly in the line of contemporary responses to the problem of evil as offered by such non-Calvinists as Alston, Bergmann, Geivett, Rea, Wykstra, etc.

It also stood in line with many Calvinists such as: Frame, Helm, Welty, etc.

"The supreme good, according to Calvinism, is God’s glory." (emphasis supplied)
Let me quote respected Arminian scholar, Jerry Walls:

"[God's] ultimate purpose of glorifying himself by demonstrating his love to all persons is fully achieved even in the event that some persons persist in rejecting it . . . [this is because] If we accept his love, he is glorified in our flourishing; if we persist in rejecting it, he is glorified when it becomes utterly obvious that we cannot be truly happy apart from him." --Jerry Walls, "Reply to Talbott" in Contemporary Debates in Philosophy of Religion, (eds. Peterson and Vanarragon), Blackwell, 2004, p. 288, emphasis supplied.

Thus Reppert's claims that it is solely the Calvinist that says God's glorifying himself is the supreme good, or ultimate telos, seems disingenuous. Thus, his arguments about what follows for the Calvinist here must follow for this mainstream and respected brand of Arminianism.

Reppert also asks what Calvinists mean by this talk of God's glory? He could read some Calvinists, I suppose. One place to start would be John Frame's Doctrine of God, pp.592-595.

"There’s no uncertainty about predestination so long as you focus on certain passages. If you focus on others, you come out an Arminian or a Universalist. In Romans it says whoever believes and confesses is saved, in Philippians it says that eventually every knee shall bow and every tongue confess. Put those two verses together and you get a case for universalism."
The logic isn't as tight as Reppert would like:

i) He's confusing subjugation with salvation (indeed, salvation isn't even the topic of ch.2).

ii) Note the only time we read of salvation and a confession by mouth, the confession is a conjunction with a heart-belief that Jesus was raised from the dead (Rom. 10:9). Philippians 2 does not say these people will believe in their heart that Jesus was raised from the dead. So, it is not enough, with Philippians 2 alone, to get to the conclusion Reppert wants. And, let's note that Reppert needed to cut off half of his Romans verse to even try at his argument. Let's debate under the assumption that both parites are doing full exclosure.

iii) The oneness of God was tied to his Lordship. James says that even demons believe that God is one. Will they be saved?

"What I am perhaps good at is the analysis of the meanings of terms, of asking whether a term is used consistently across contexts. If you use words in ways that do violence to their ordinary meanings, then I start objecting. What does it mean to say that God is good? Is it just a way of saying “God is bigger than you are, and can beat you up forever if you don’t obey him?” If that’s what it means, then the term just doesn’t mean anything."
i) There's a huge tradition that views terms as relating to God only analogously. Thus you can't trace the words, in a one to one fashion, as used of man and God. Do we mean the exact same thing when we say God is good as when we say Plato is good? If so, is Plato perfectly good?

ii) The idea of "goodness" as it relates to God isn't as simple as Reppert seems to want to make it (cf. Paul Helm’s article, "Goodness," in A Companion to the Philosophy of Religion, eds. Quinn and Taliaferro, Blackwell, 1999, pp. 243-249).

iii) If Reppert wants to know how we view God's goodness, he could, for starters, consult some of our literature (as he would expect those who question his position without studying it to do), e.g., John Frame, Doctrine of God, P&R, 2002, pp. 402-445.

"Are you a theological voluntarist? Your friends over at Triablogue, especially Paul, want to distance themselves from theological voluntarism."
I actually showed that the distancing was not of my "wanting" to, that just is the position of Calvin. I cite this as exhibit A:

In response to the above Reppert tried to come up with a quote from Calvin that "contradicted" the above paper. All this showed is that he didn't read Dr. Sudduth's paper since Sudduth's interacted, at length and in context, with Reppert's quote mined piece.

We can, and do, bend and grow our conception of goodness in the light of Scripture. But what do we do when we encounter a reading of Scripture that breaks our ordinary moral conceptions, rather than just bend it?
i) Without dealing with my theodicy, these comments fall flat.

ii) I've also shown that Scripture repeatedly breaks our moral conceptions. Indeed, this is somewhat relative since one may have a strong moral conception at a place where Victor doesn't. There have been atheists, plenty of them, that think the atonement breaks our moral conceptions. Or, take the society that believed being a traitor was a moral virtue. When missionaries read them the Bible, they thought Judas was the hero! The missionaries had to turn this around. The Bible "broke" their deep moral conceptions.

iii) This objection is dubious. Victor's been raised in the Christian west. His moral conceptions are founded on the Bible, whether this is conscious anymore or not. Thus, it would be something of a contradiction to believe the Bible violated our moral conceptions since our moral conceptions have, at least in the west, been taken from the Bible.

What makes God God? Is it just His omnipotence? Or we might ask, what makes Scripture Scripture? Remember, there are lots of candidates out there. The Qu’ran, the Book of Mormon, the Hebrew Scriptures without the NT, the Bhagavad-Gita. A connection with my own conceptions of good is what makes the Christian God and Scripture valid for me.
i) One could, for starters, try B.B. Warfield's masterpiece.

ii) Appeals to goodness don't work anymore in light of my theodicy and my counter-examples that prove we ask people to accept things that go against their conceptions of goodness, all the time.

Whatever infallibility God may have, whatever infallibility Scripture may have, cannot be transferred into the hands of fallible exegetes, however expert they may be. Our salvation may be in God’s firm hands, our understanding of that salvation, even with the assistance of Scripture, is in our hands.
i) Same with fallible moral intuitions.

ii) Again, Reppert misses the argument: If Scripture is infallible/inerrant in what it teaches T, and if my moral intuitions are fallible and tell me ~T, then ~~T.

If I am strongly warranted in believing the Scripture teaches something that my current moral intuitions deny, it is fully rational to re-think my moral intuition.

This is an especially strong argument in light of Scriptures teaching about the fallen moral condition of man.

Romans 8:6 The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; 7 the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God's law, nor can it do so. 8 Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God.

Ephesians 4:17 So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. 18 They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. 19 Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more.

Romans 3: 10 As it is written:
"There is no one righteous, not even one;
11there is no one who understands,
no one who seeks God.
12 All have turned away,
they have together become worthless;
there is no one who does good,
not even one."
13 "Their throats are open graves;
their tongues practice deceit."
"The poison of vipers is on their lips."
14 "Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness."
15 "Their feet are swift to shed blood;
16 ruin and misery mark their ways,
17 and the way of peace they do not know."
18 "There is no fear of God before their eyes."

Thus the Christian worldview provides resources for casting a suspicious eye when our ideas of "good" contradict the Bible.

Indeed, Adam and Eve illustrate the problems that could befall us if we seek to usurp God's word with our own notions of what is right and wrong:

Genesis 1:1 Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, "Did God really say, 'You must not eat from any tree in the garden'?"
2 The woman said to the serpent, "We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, 3 but God did say, 'You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.' "

4 "You will not surely die," the serpent said to the woman. 5 "For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil."

6 When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. 7 Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.

8 Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden. 9 But the LORD God called to the man, "Where are you?"

We can see that Adam and Eve believed God couldn't have meant what he clearly said since they believed what he said contradicted their intuitions, viz., "Surely God would want us to know good and evil."

Thus Victor has not undermined the argument from Scripture. But, even if he does, I have fully satisfied my burden by providing a theodicy that has not been answered and have also shown that his claims about the Bible not "breaking" moral intuitions is not a necessary principle since the Bible can and has done so, on numerous occasions.

Lastly, it seems intuitive to me that when a Christian sides with the likes of Bertrand Russel in matters of moral condemnations of Christianity, one might want to re-think his moral condemnation. Bertrand Russel said in Why I am Not a Christian that, "There is one very serious defect to my mind in Christ's moral character, and that is that be believed in hell. I do not feel that any person who is profoundly humane can believe in everlasting punishment." In regards to these speculations, Arminian Jerry Walls stated that, "...Christianity is a religion based ultimately on revelation, rather than philosophical reasoning and speculation." And so our the teachings of the Bible, even if initially conflicting with our moral intuitions, "[come] as part what Christians accept as normative revelation" (Walls, Eternal Hell and the Christian Concept of God, ibid, p. 269). But this is not all, the Calvinist has the resources to show that this version of the problem of evil doesn't land. As I've said before, Victor is free to reject Calvinism, preferably for exegetical reasons, but he really should drop these latest arguments.


  1. Thanks Paul. Victor originally posted this in the comment stream of my second response to him, so I have replied briefly there. I don't personally feel that much will be gained from more discussion until he interacts with what has already been presented, so I'm not planning to keep chasing the goalposts as he moves them. There is only so much I can say, and so much time I can invest. God willing, Victor will continue to think on what has been said so far, and perhaps gradually adjust his views to reflect a more careful consideration of the issues.