Monday, May 19, 2008

Who blinks first?

Victor Reppert wants to play a game of chicken. Who blinks first?

Fine. I’m prepared to call his bluff. The first thing I’ll do is to remark on Reppert’s tactics. Reppert is a philosophy prof., but when he gets cornered, he resorts to sophistry and demagoguery. This is a case in point.

He’s resorting to the argument from authority. He’s invoking C. S. Lewis and John Wesley. “Steve, I dare you—I double dare you—to challenge the Christian credentials of C. S. Lewis or John Wesley!”

Tell me, now: is this a philosophically cogent argument? Is this the sort of argument you’d expect from a philosophy prof.? No.

It’s a patent fallacy. Reppert retreats into these blatant sophistries and fallacies whenever he’s cornered.

Not only is it philosophical rubbish, but it’s theological rubbish. Take this statement which he quotes from Wesley:

“This is the blasphemy clearly contained in the horrible decree of predestination! And here I fix my foot. On this I join issue with every assertor of it. You represent God as worse than the devil; more false, more cruel, more unjust. But you say you will prove it by scripture. Hold! What will you prove by Scripture? That God is worse than the devil? It cannot be. Whatever that Scripture proves, it never proved this; whatever its true meaning be. This cannot be its true meaning.”

To begin with, if I, as a Christian, have to choose between God and Wesley, who do you think I’m going to choose? Hmm.

If push comes to shove, then Wesley walks the plank. If Reppert insists on forcing the issue, then Wesley loses the bet. No question.

It says something about Reppert’s humanistic orientation that he imagines anyone should choose Lewis or Wesley over God or Scripture.

And, yes, I also happen to think the reverent and deferential attitude of Moses and the prophets, psalmists, Apostles, and Jesus Christ himself towards the authority of Scripture takes precedence over the insubordinate attitude of Wesley and Lewis. How dare I!

This is the second time that Reppert is quoted a juice statement by Wesley. In both cases, Wesley’s statements were laden with invective. I don’t have a problem with that myself. But Reppert is a bit like a man in a tuxedo who hires the muscle to rough up his business rivals. His doesn’t ruffle his own suit and tie. He leaves that to the beefy guys in the backroom while he sips his Bacardi on the rocks.

Not only are we dealing with theological rubbish, but hermeneutical rubbish as well. Would Reppert approach any other text the same way? Would he stipulate in advance that Plato or Aristotle or Hume or Locke or Quine cannot possible mean what he seems to mean because we can’t stand the consequences if he meant what he seams to mean? Would Reppert accept such a willfully defiant and prejudicial approach to the meaning of any other historical text?

When is Reppert going to grow up and start acting like a professional philosopher? The funny thing is that Reppert is more evangelical than Bill Vallicella. But Vallicella takes philosophy far more seriously. Vallicella doesn’t jump in and out of philosophy the way Reppert does. Vallicella doesn’t reason like a philosopher on just those occasions when it happens to suit his purpose, only to take refuge in the most glaringly fallacious antics when he finds himself in a bind.

One more point on Wesley and Lewis. There’s Wesley on a good day, and Wesley on a bad day. If all I had to judge Wesley by were his intemperate outbursts against the doctrines of grace, then, indeed, I would doubt his salvation. But there’s another side to Wesley, just as there’s another side to Lewis. So I simply chalk it up to sin. To their historical circumstances. To their upbringing. And so on.

At the same time, it’s funny that Reppert thinks I should be so charitable towards Wesley, according him every benefit of the doubt, when Wesley goes out of his way to be so utterly uncharitable towards Calvinism, going out of his way to reach for every scorched-earth adjective which his rhetorical talents can muster. It’s not as if he’s trying to leave himself an out.

Apparently, Reppert thinks that I should step over the line that Wesley drew in the sand and drag him across the line against his will—kicking and screaming. Kinda like tackling a suicidal bridge-jumper who’s off his meds. Should I first secure a waiver from Wesley lest he sue me for violating his inviolable freewill?

“They haven't quite said that I am not a Christian, but they have suggested that my devotion to Christ is massively deficient.”

That’s because, as Reppert himself has made abundantly clear in the course of this debate, Calvinism isn’t limited to Calvinism. The debate inevitably spills over into related issues: the doctrine of Scripture, the final judgment, penal substitution, and ultimately the doctrine of God himself.

Reppert is quite correct to draw attention to the fact that a debate over Calvinism implicates other core doctrines of the Christian faith.

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