Sunday, May 18, 2008

Submission to intuition

“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. That's what a loving 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.”

i) This, of itself, exposes the utter inadequacy of intuition as a substitute for revelation—as Reppert runs through several mutually exclusive alternatives: classical Arminianism, open theism, or universalism. If intuition can’t pick out one coherent alternative, then it’s pretty unreliable.

We lack a univocal, intuitive definition of divine goodness if we oscillate between divine goodness as defined by Arminianism, open theism, or universalism. So his example falls to the ground on its own grounds.

ii) Universalism isn’t based on intuition. Can Reppert cite a single pagan philosopher who was a universalist? No. That’s because universalism is a Christian heresy. Can Reppert cite a single pagan philosopher who was an Arminian? Obviously not. If Reppert had been born in Outer Mongolia in the 10C BC, would he be a softhearted universalist? No.

Reppert is so conditioned by historical theology that he’s oblivious to the degree to which his “intuition” has absolutely nothing to do with pure reason and everything to do with his acculturation.

iii) I’d add that Christianity is a revealed religion, not a Turkish bazaar. An event, not an idea. A theologian is not a novelist, writing a happy ending.

“On the other hand, Calvinists here have said that this is based merely on moral intuition, that this our moral intuitions are not infallible, and therefore it should be possible, upon a close study of Scripture, to discover that this conception of divine goodness is not taught by God's revelation and should be abandoned in favor of a view that says that God unconditionally elects, effectually calls, and sanctifies some persons, but others are left in sin and condemned eternally even though God could have chosen to give irresistible grace to everyone.”

i) Well, that’s not all I said. I challenged the operating premise. I don’t think there’s a conflict between Scripture and intuition on this score.

For example, I don’t equate love and goodness. Therefore, I don’t assume that a good God must do the loving thing.

Intuitively speaking, I think that justice is just as much a defining property of goodness as love. Absent justice, love is evil.

ii) As I’ve also said, “intuition” is often a euphemism for prejudice. A snap judgment. A first impression.

Intuition should be subjected to philosophical scrutiny as well. Intuition is often superficial. Overstated. Intuition frequently loses its slick appeal as soon as you begin to introduce a few counterexamples.

“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. 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 tot he Calvinist question off Scripture.”

How does one measure a moral intuition? Does moral intuition comes in ounces or inches?

“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.”

If, in fact, it conflicts with something else we *know*. But Reppert isn’t talking about something he knows to be true. Rather, he’s appealing to his vague moral intuitions.

“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.”

True, but a fallback interpretation must still to do justice to a passage on its own terms. It can’t cut against the grain of the text. It must appeal to genuine textual phenomena, such as the context, cotext, flow of the argument, intertextual allusions, narrative cycles, and so on. And this has nothing to do with intuition.

“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.”

At this point Reppert has abandoned all pretense of doing exegesis. It’s a Bible-optional brand of Christianity—which isn’t Christianity at all, but a syndicated theism which is hired out to the highest bidder.

“If 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.”

Actually, that’s how Reppert chose to frame the issue, not us. We simply acceded to his framework.

“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.”

Notice how he makes a mockery of Biblical authority.

“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?”

i) If he doesn’t think the Bible furnishes a clear answer on predestination, why is he resorting to this escape clause?

ii) I never said the Scripture gives clear answers on everything. Mind you, that is ambiguous. It could either mean scripture is unclear in what it reveals, or else that scripture is unclear because it’s left many things unstated. One reason we have debates over infant baptism is not because the Bible has a lot to say on the matter, yet with a lack of clarity, but because the Bible has said precious little on the matter.

iii) This is also a matter of ongoing debate because it’s far more important to some Christians than was to the authors of Scripture. Many Christians have a vested interest in infant baptism.

“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.”

Notice that this ultimately comes down to a question of whether or not we should we Christians, rather than whether or not we should be Calvinists.

Victor Reppert really has no clue about what it means to be a Christian. A Christian is a follower. He doesn’t call the shots. God takes him by the hand and leads him.

Reppert’s Bible-optional brand of Christianity would be alien to Moses and the prophets, to the psalmists, to the Apostles, and to Jesus Christ himself.


  1. You concept of what it is to be a Christian strikes me as more Islamic than Christian. If you were Abraham, you would never have even tried to get Sodom spared.

    This is not Bible-optional theology. This is just a recognition that our theological convictions are conditioned by a lot of things including the Bible, and that it is sheer pretense to suggest that one's beliefs are taken from the Bible alone.

  2. But Sodom wasn't spared. So do you equate Yahweh with Allah?

    Abraham didn't challenge God's authority. Abraham didn't question the fact that God was the speaker. And he never questioned the right of God to exact judgment on the wicked. His only question was whether God would spare Sodom for the sake of the innocent minority—assuming there were any.