Sunday, May 18, 2008

God 'Gut' Said It, That Settles It

Reppert's latest:

An issue that has come up in the exchange with Calvinists here deserves a closer look. Suppose we come to our study of Scripture with a set of ideas as to what it is for God to be good. What this amounts to, for at least many of us, is that for God to be good, God must at least attempt as best he can to save everyone.
Sure, some people might think this way. Some atheists also think that a good God wouldn't allow his son, his only son, a truly innocent person, to be murdered. Some atheists think a good God would visit each and every one of us, personally, and perform all sorts of feats and wonders before their eyes so that they would believe. Some atheists have thought that a good God wouldn't have made us susceptible to things like aids and cancer. In fact, I once read an atheist say that a good God would have made us with wings so that we wouldn't fall to our deaths.

That's what a loving God is expected to do.
I actually think its unfathomable that a just God would save any of us. Punishment is what a just God is expected to do.

"This cashes out either into classical Arminianism, in which God knows the fate of all but does not cause the free choices that result in damnation, whether this cashes out in open theism, according to which God must limit His own knowledge in order to insure that our acts are free, or whether this results in universalism, where God successfully converts all souls and fits them for eternal life with God, is surely open for discussion, but the concept of what it is for God to be good in all these systems is the same."
Victor forgot one. According to the testimony of many atheists, beliefs based on conceptions of goodness cashes out into atheism.

"On the other hand, Calvinists here have said that this is based merely on moral intuition,"
Not "merely." As Steve said, we questioned the intuition itself. Furthermore, I gave 5 or 6 arguments showing that you do the very same thing. You hold to all sorts of things that don't fit with our intuitions. I argued that we ask non-believers to believe all sorts of things that they don't intuit. Heck, read the Bible. The Greeks laughed and scoffed at what Christians asked them to believe. Same with the Jews. Christianity was never the poster child for walking lock-step with mankind’s intuitions (religious, rational, or ethical).

"I will concede that the discovery that something is taught in Scripture could result a reasonable Christian's changing their minds about what it is for God to be good."
Good, 'cause that's what I argued you should concede.

"But wouldn't this be a matter of how strong a moral intuition one had as opposed to how sure we are that we are able to read an answer to the Calvinist question off Scripture."
It very well may be a matter of how strong their belief in the authority of Scripture is.

"The question I have is first that is it not the case that we sometimes have to accept an interpretation of a passage that we would not have accepted just examining the passage itself, simply because it conficts with what else we know."
There is nothing we know that contradicts what Scripture teaches. There are some things we think we know that might affect how we interpret a passage. But, we cannot know that the passage teaches X, and also claim to know ~X.

"For example, a perfectly good inerrantist like J. P. Moreland suggests that although an exegetical study of the book of Genesis suggests that it is offering a comprehensive genealogy and therefore grounds for saying that the heavens and the earth came into existence in 6 literal days somewhere around 6000 years ago, scientific evidence suggests that if that is what is in text, either the text is errant or is being misinterpreted. Moreland therefore accepts a "second choice" interpretation of the Genesis genealogies, one that is consistent with an ancient earth."
That's fine as far as it goes. But notice that Moreland also gives a reading of the text, supported by exegesis, such that the Bible is not teaching that the earth is in fact 6,000 years old, created in 6 literal, 24 hour days, etc.

I would wager that if Moreland was fully persuaded that the text taught, inerrantly, the young earth view, he would be a young earth creationist. Or, he might give up inerrancy. But one could not hold both - inerrancy and ~X - consistently.

This is why I've repeatedly challenged Reppert to an exegetical debate.

Now, if he grants inerrancy, and he is shown that the best arguments support the Calvinist reading, and it would be irrational to deny the force of the exegesis, then Calvinism goes through. He would have to believe God had a good reason for all those things the Arminian Reppert thought were nasty.

Or, he might say that he doesn't want to debate the text, but is persuaded by other exegetical arguments. Okay, but in an argument with a Calvinist, if he's not going to engage in the exegetical debate, then if my exegesis is correct - or if I have good reason to believe it is, then he must grant that, for me, the position in the paragraph above is the most rational thing to believe. And, he must admit that all his intuition arguments mean diddly. He must admit he has not done what he needs to do in order to persuade the Calvinist that the Calvinist should give up his beliefs. Perhaps he has persuaded like-minded friends, but that is easy. I could stand on my soap box, use premises my side accepted, preach my talking points into the megaphone, and be greeted by cheers from my like-minded constituency at the close of my speech. Therefore, Reppert must admit that he's not given any reason, any good or persuasive reason, for the Calvinist to drop his Calvinism. On Calvinist assumptions, then, Reppert must hold that God is not evil for what he has done. Perhaps he is on Arminian assumptions. But as I said time and time again: I GRANT THAT, GIVEN ARMINIANISM, CALVINISM HAS PROBLEMS.

Now, Reppert could try to give some cogent argument against the Calvinist by showing that the Bible doesn't teach what we say. Or by showing that, given our theological premises, we still have ethical or philosophical problems. For example, I don't think God can commit an evil act, i.e., be the actor who commits evil. So, show me that given all my other beliefs I still have to believe God is the actor who commits evil.

"Second, don't we sometimes have to accept a "second choice" interpretation based on what else we know from Scripture itself. Does God repent? Some passages say he does, but Christians usually interpret those passages in light of a wider doctrine of God according to which God is not really repenting."
"[A] common ground assumption [between most professing Christians is] that biblical teaching is from God and is to be taken as true and trustworthy; interpretation and application are singled out as the areas of dispute. Now the proper key principles here are, and always will be, that interpretations must be context-specific, author-specific, and focus-specific. That means, first, that passages must be exegeted in terms of the thought-flow of which they are a part and not have their meaning extrapolated beyond the manifest perspectives, limits, and boundaries of that thought-flow; otherwise, we will be reading into them what cannot be truly be read out of them. It also means that writers must not be assumed to contradict themselves, but must be respected as knowing their own minds; thus, what they write in one place must be treated as cohering with what they write elsewhere. And it means, finally, that in seeking the writers meaning, we must never loose sight of the immediate point he is making, the persuasive strategy of which that point is part, and the effect that he shows himself wanting to produce on his readers. The way into the mind, meaning, and message of God the holy spirit in the biblical text is always through the mind, meaning, and message of its human writers. Though many passages in their canonical context carry greater weight of meaning than their divinely human writers knew, none carries less meaning that its human writers actually expressed, and none should ever be treated as if the three guidelines set out above do not apply to it.

Therefore, all impressionistic selectivity that discounts some things Scripture specifically says while claiming to detect and affirm the Bible's general thrust, overall view, basic perspective, sustained trajectory, or whatnot - as if the Bible is partly out of sync with itself, and its writers sometimes vacillate and speak out of both sides of their mouths - are false trails" (J.I. Packer, Universalism: Will Everyone Ultimately Be Saved?, in Hell Under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents Eternal Punishment, eds. Morgan and Peterson, Zondervan, 2004, p. 177).

"But a third suggestion might be that one might refrain from accepting what would otherwise be a "first choice" interpretation of a passage because it conficts with our conception of what is would be for God to be good."
Does the person believe in inerrancy? Does the person believe that the best way to read the Bible, the best arguments for a particular reading, the interpretation with the best credentials, etc., is in a way that teaches X? Is he saying, "It looks like it teaches X, but really doesn't?" Or, does he admit that it does, in fact, teach X? If he believes that it does in fact teach X, yet refuses to believe it, while also holding to inerrancy, then he is irrational. Or, if he simply says, "I don't know what it teaches, but it can't be teaching X!" Okay, is this person resolved to find another interpretation? Doesn't he have a responsibility to find out what God's word is saying? Isn't the verse(s) inspired? Given so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped (II Tim. 3:16)? Or, will he just be content to remain in ignorance? Is that appropriate? And, if he does not have answers like I gave for expecting mystery, or silence, or reasons beyond our ken, then this position would fall right into criticisms Victor has given regarding appeals to ignorance or mystery! Thus if this out was taken, it would be inconsistent with other arguments Reppert has given.

"You see, I am to be humble about my moral intuitions about what it would be for God to be good, but I have to be supremely confident in my ability to figure out whether 1 John 2:2 really teaches a universal atonement or not."
But has Reppert even tried?

"I say "I am surer that a predestinating God would not be good than I am that Scripture teaches predestination" am I sticking my fingers in my ears and sticking out my tongue, refusing to consider the evidence? That's what the Triabloggers would have you believe."
As Steve pointed out, you are the one who chose to use the wagging fingers and tongue line.

As I pointed out above, that depends.

You see, right now you're just speculating. Sitting in your armchair. You have the luxury of saying this because you haven't put in the time to look and study the text.

When you do, though, notice that you'll have the respectable (but wrong, in my opinion) position of saying the Bible doesn't teach predestination and reprobation and limited atonement, and so that's primarily why I don't believe it, let alone all the philosophical and ethical problems with it.

To me that would be a respectable position for you to take in this debate. That's why I can respect the reasons, say, Dan from Arminian Chronicles gives for not holding to Calvinism, over against the ones you do. Though I do think he brings in a lot of philosophical baggage, he is attempting to be faithful to the text. And, if he was convinced by our exegesis, he would say, "To hell with my moral intuitions on the matter!"

Does that make sense?

"This issue seems to have been extensively debated by exegetes over the centuries. Even if I had a good exegetical argument that Romans 8-9 is teaching predestination, is that necessarily better evidence that this would not be good for God to do."
For a Christian, who believes in inerrancy, and the authority of the Bible, yes, it would be.

As I've indicated time and time again, much of this debate and how I would answer is person relative.

If you don't believe in inerrancy, then I don't expect the exegesis of Romans 9 to be a cogent reason for you to believe God was good and a predestinator (whether it should be is different matter).

If you do, then it is a good reason. One of the best.

So, where are you coming from? Do you want to affirm or deny inerrancy?

"Now it is quite true that some things are in God's secret counsel, that he has left unrevealed. That's true, and so there may be some things I do not understand."
Right, which is what I've argued for weeks with you.

"The answer could be that Scripture is God's way of communicating with us and, as such, God has given us the tools to understand Scritpure and to answer the question of predestination from Scripture. On the other hand, we have to derive our concept of what it is for God to be good on the basis of what it is for humans to be good, but the analogies are too weak to get us anywhere. Therefore, exegetical arguments always trump moral intuitive arguments."
A point of clarification - secret things are not revealed things.

For revealed things, yes, God has made us able to understand them. One place to start would be: Is There a Meaning in This Text: The Bible, The Reader, and the Morality of Literary Knowledge, Zondervan, 1998.

I also would offer arguments from testimonial models of warrant, rationality, and knowledge.

"If Scripture really does give us a clear answer to all these questions (there are others which are frequently debated amongst evangelical Christians, such as the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, infant baptism, etc.), why is the evangelical community so divided on these matters?"
The doctrine of perspicuity is not that all things are clear, that's a Catholic straw man:

WCF 1.7:

"All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all: yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation are so clearly propounded, and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them."

Indeed, as Peter said of Paul: 2PE 3:16 As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things: in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.

So, predestination may not be as obviously clear as how one is made right before God. But that means that you need to apply yourself and study harder. Have you done that? Can we examine your exegesis? Or is your picture of the Bible and its teachings a naive one? Just whatever "pops off the page as obvious" is what it means?

Furthermore, notice that some of what we debate is "what it means for God to be good." So, our "intuitions" are not clear either!

And, as Steve said, some of the issues were not important to the Apostles so they didn't wax theologically about it.

But this doesn't mean we can't have a warranted belief that, say, the Bible teaches paedo (or credo!) baptism.

So, if we can, then that's all one needs, I'd say.

But it's not always something to take a bullet for. I could be wrong about my belief in paedobaptism.

But I sure as heck wouldn't argue against it by saying: "sprinkling babies makes no sense to me."
Now, take Calvinism, if I believe the Bible teaches it, and that belief is warranted, then what's wrong with how I’ve been responding to Reppert's arguments.

If the Bible does teach it, and if you believe in inerrancy, who cares what your moral intuitions say? Now, you can either drop inerrancy, or you can offer your own exegesis.

Also, Victor, remember, you gave arguments against us. We are telling you how your arguments don't defeat us.

"I am linking to an article by Dave Armstrong criticizing the perspicuity of Scripture. Armstrong is a Catholic, and I am not endorsing his Catholicism here, but only raising some issues about how confident we should be in biblical arguments as opposed to moral arguments."
I already debunked the straw man now didn't I?

Also, it's not as if I've only used biblical arguments. In fact, most of my time has been used by arguing and defending a theodicy, showing that your very arguments against me work on you, and showing my position is internally consistent, and showing that what you think is intuitively wrong, isn't; or, at least, you can't spell out how it is.

Also, does disagreement about X mean that we shouldn't or can't be confident in an interpretation of X?

If so, enter self-excepting argument # 200. I cite as evidence the multitudinous debates in ethics!

I could make a list 10 times as long as Armstrong’s, documenting all the areas where moral philosophers disagree.

Hoisted by your own petard!

"Could it not be rational for a person to say that they have more reason to believe that a predestinating God would not be good than to believe that Scritpure teaches predestination even if, upon the study of the Scripture, they discover that, so far as the biblical evidence is concerned, it is more likely than not that Scripture teaches predestination."
Depends. Not if you're a professing Christian who claims to believe in inerrancy. Who claims to submit to the authority of Scripture. Who is a Berean. Searching the Scriptures to see if the things said by Paul were true.

If you believe the Bible teaches X, and you believe what the Bible teaches is inerrant, and you believe ~X, then you're irrational.

So, you'd have to be claiming here that you deny inerrancy.

And thus I say: Step up to the microphone and tell everyone where you had to go in order to avoid the arguments by Calvinists.

(note: this still wouldn't be enough given the loads of non-exegetical arguments I've given.)


  1. No. The following statements are consistent:

    1) Scripture is inerrant.
    2) Given biblical evidence alone, it is more probable than not that Scripture teaches predestination.
    3) It is reasonable for a believer to believe that predestination is false.

    It doesn't follow from inerrancy that all the reasons for believing something come from Scripture. We can conclude that our best exegesis gets the wrong answer, then we perhaps should conclude that our exegesis is in error. Just as, for example, our best science could conclude something false. That's not a knock on science, that's recognizing the limits on the abilities of scientists to draw correct conclusions from limited evidence.

  2. No what?

    Aren't you leaving out a lot of what I said?


    1) I believe Scripture is inerrant.
    2) I believe Scripture teaches X.
    3) It is reasonable for me to believe X is false.

    Notice 2 and 3 contradict given 1.

    Addressing this argument involves you with the many points in my post.

    I never said, and do not belive, that *all* the reasons "for believing something" come from Scripture.

    If you believe that "our best exegesis gets the *wrong* answer" then you believe:

    1*) I believe Scripture is inerrant.
    2*) I do not believe Scripture teaches X.
    3*) I believe X is false.

    Now *that* is consistent.

    The argument is that: (a) If you believe that Scripture is inerrant on what it teaches, (b) and if you believe it teaches X, then (c) you cannot believe ~X *and* continue to hold (a) or (b), or both.

    So, if you don't deny (a), then you must deny (b), i.e., that it teaches X.

    But at *this point* YOU DON'T NEED moral intution to beat a fellow Christian who holds to (a) and (b) but won't drop (a). If the text doesn't teach Calvinism, so much the worse for Calvinism!

    So, I'm waiting for your argument to the effect that Scripture doesn't teach Calvinism.

    But, if you *grant* that you hold (a), and that you (for sake of argument) believe (b), then you *cannot* believe ~X.

    If you're not granting that you believe X, then why bother with the moral intution argument? Wouldn't it be simpler to say that you don't believe Calvinism because it isn't taught in the Bible, and something not taught in the Bible (implicitly or explicitly), isn't worthy of Christian belief?

    Do you see my point?

  3. Paul, hemeneutics is a human (not divine) enterprise and the history of hermeneutics is a history of errors (as is the history or ethics itself). I would think the most reasonable thing to do is to be humble in light of such a history. But I see none of this coming from you. When I see people affirming the things you do with complete confidence I see people who are indoctrinated. Vic is merely cautioning you about such assuredness and he is being reasonable on these issues, even if I also disagree with him in the end.

    Here's the rub. There are several interpretations of the texts you use to establish your case. Vic is saying you cannot be that sure of your interpretations when compared to your interpretation of the problem of God eternally damning the reprobate forever. Both views are interpretations of the evidence (one a text which is disputed by other Christians, the other a moral conviction which nearly everyone else shares).

    Biblical scholars interpret the Bible in tandum with what they learn from science, philosophy, archaeology, and experience, for these things are a check on proper biblical exegesis. Experience, for instance, has always been a check on biblical exegesis, whether it comes to Wesleyan perfectionism, perseverance of the saints, second coming predictions, Pentecostal claims of miracles, the status of women and questions about divorce. The whole science/religion discussion is an attempt to harmonize the Bible with what scientists have experienced through empirical observations of the universe. While experience is not supposed to be the test for deciding what the Bible says, the Christian understanding of what the Bible says must be able to explain personal experience.

    So to say that your personal moral experience should not be useed to interpret the Bible is simply wrong. You cannot do otherwise.

  4. John,

    Hermeneutics can be given an explicitly Christian understanding (cf. the book by Vanhoozer I cited in my post).

    I don't know what you mean by "be humble." I don't know what you mean by "not seeing it coming from me." And I'm not sure any of that even affects the *arguments* I offered against Victor (my (1) - (3) arguments seems sound). Did they go wrong? Where? How? And, are you affirming with complete confidence that I can't affirm things with complete confidence? Seems like it. If you're not, how was your assertion any more "humble" than they way I argued in my post? If you are not completely confident about my inability to be completely confident (even though I have no idea what you mean by 'complete confidence'), then why can't I have it? Seems to me you impale yourself on either horn. Your comment also implies that I am acting arrogant or cocky. But can you show examples of this? Your comment is really just an attempt to use question begging epithets to undermine the quality of my *arguments*.

    About your rub: What do you mean by "sure"? Why can't I be sure? I gave arguments to the effect that I could *know* what the text teaches in certain instances. Victor never bothered to respond to my argument. I know Victor intuits that reprobation is wrong. But that's what we've been debating for the past month. I have given arguments undermining his intuitional argument. I've advanced 3 or 4 independent lines of argumentation against his prima facie intuitional argument. I'm totally unclear as to what you're even trying to argue. You are showing no familiarity with the debate. You pop your head in every one and awhile, offer your sage advice, and then post something about how obnoxious I am. For someone so concerned with honestly dealing with a position, for being humble, you arrogantly trample over my position and act supremely confident that it can't be right.

    I never denied that my situation is involved in my exegesis. I never denied that we use extra-biblical knowledge or evidence to help with our exegesis. So I'm not clear on how you think you're arguing against my position, at all.

    I also said in my 2nd or 3rd post that I am not denying the use of moral intuitions, per se. But I have said much, much more about this. If you're not going to familiarize yourself with all of my arguments, then don't post comments in the comboxes. All you're doing is refuting yourself because you're acting 'so confident" that you know my position such that you don't even need to read all of my arguments. You don't need to because it's just "obvious" that I'm wrong. This is highly ironic given your approach in this comment of yours, and many of your posts.

    This is a serious question: What would you say of a person who didn't bother to read another's arguments and explanations and qualifications of their position, but still went ahead and jumped right into critiquing them?

    That kind of person seems, to me, to be so supremely confident in their own view and in the falsity of the other side that they don't even need to familiarize themselves with the opposing argument. I don't think that's intellectually virtuous, do you?

  5. PM Did they go wrong? Where? How?

    You would not be convinced if I tried to show you, correct? Come on now, you know this is true. So why bother.

    PM And, are you affirming with complete confidence that I can't affirm things with complete confidence?

    Yes I am, because the evidence is that you could be wrong when affirming a correct interpretation of a text, or in affirming an event took place in the past exactly as specified. Why? Because there are other alternatives accepted by reasonable interpreters, and there are philosophers who argue we cannot even know what the original intent of an author is anyway. Even if you think these philosophers are wrong, they make good points and should give us all pause when claiming to know what an ancient text like the Bible says, right? How can you continue to deny this? And even if you come to a perfectly reasonable conclusion about some event in the past, it is always possible that you are wrong, if for no other reason than that the evidence leading to an alternative conclusion was lost, didn’t survive or was destroyed.

    PM You are showing no familiarity with the debate.

    This is true. I didn’t even read this long post of yours. But I don’t have to. Even as a Christian I disagreed with your exegesis and I don’t think you have stated anything I didn’t already consider. I have done a considerable amount of work in this area. You’ll surely disagree. But I no longer bother to get involved between Christians about which interpretation is correct. I agree with Vic because it suits what I believe, and then the next week I’ll also disagree with Vic. I am consistent with you both. But who is correct over the Bible I could care less. It’s your conclusions I want to deal with, both yours, and also Vic’s. For now I side with Vic. Later I’ll apply the same arguments Vic does against you against him.

    PM This is a serious question: What would you say of a person who didn't bother to read another's arguments and explanations and qualifications of their position, but still went ahead and jumped right into critiquing them? That kind of person seems, to me, to be so supremely confident in their own view and in the falsity of the other side that they don't even need to familiarize themselves with the opposing argument. I don't think that's intellectually virtuous, do you?

    You’re correct here, except that I am indeed familiar with the Cavinist/Arminian debate. But let me emphasize exactly what it is I am confident about, okay? I am confident that you are wrong in what you affirm. I’m so confident I don’t always take the time to read what you write. We are all confident about that which we reject. The rejection is the easy part. We all do it. You and I are probably equally confident that militant Islam is wrong. Neither you nor I need to consider their arguments except to show them wrong.

    Now take a look at what I affirm. I affirm first and foremost that I don’t know why something exists rather than nothing at all. No answer seems reasonable to me. One of them is probably right since we exist. And if there is a God I deny a full blown triune God who became incarnated to save me from my sins by dying on the cross who will return from heaven and punish those who don’t believe forever in hell. That’s an extremely large positive knowledge claim, which is denied by some professing Christians to varying degrees. I am confident that that belief is wrong. The best I might affirm is that there is some spirit type God, a creator of a quantum wave fluctuation which produced this universe; whether or not this God cares I don’t know. But the philosopher’s god might indeed exist. I just don’t think so. But again such a god might exist after all. I admit this. I just don’t think so. Now, what is it that I affirm here? I am first and foremost an agnostic who thinks the evidence tips the scales in favor of atheism. Ask me to defend atheism and I’ll not take up your challenge, because I might be wrong in that which I affirm.

    You see, the difference between you and I lies in the confidence about that which we both affirm. What I affirm I do so tentatively. I admit that I could be wrong. What you affirm you do so with apparent complete confidence.

  6. John,

    That's one reason I'm not an atheist. I don't want to hold self-excepting views like you. You are hypocritical in how you apply your arguments. You are dishonest in how you debate Christians. Since you admit you haven't read my arguments or my posts in this debate, then there's not much to say to you. In my limited time, I'm looking for responses that actually deal with the substance of what I've written.