Friday, January 21, 2011

Preliminary review of Horton's systematic theology


  1. In the linked article, the author says

    Reformed thinkers today are met with a blistering set of powerful [analytic-philosophical] criticisms against the Calvinist scheme, and simply quoting Genesis 50 doesn’t cut it [in] today’s world.

    I don’t know anything about the author, but I detect the stench of liberalism, with this allusion to “powerful criticisms” of, well, Christianity. Could any of the Triablogue crew at least summarize these philosophical accusations and their merits, if any?

  2. I wonder what it means to detect a stench of liberalism. My take is that the author of the linked article is referring to the hundreds of articles and books that either directly or indirectly challenge Calvinism, and not Christianity per se. For instance, in my hand I hold a copy of the journal, Faith and Philosophy, 20.3 (July 2003). This journal is published through Calvin College. This does not mean that the authors therein are all Calvinists, or even Christians at all. Katherine Rogers has a paper here called, "Does God Cause Sin? Anselm of Canterbury Versus Jonathan Edwards on Human Freedom and Divine Sovereignty". According to Rogers, Edwards loses this fight. Presumably, the author of the linked article, Paul Manata, would say that most Reformed theologians are wholly unaware of the fact that there are able critics of Reformed theology, such as Rogers. Maybe worse: they are not even in a position to show the flaws papers like this. Maybe worse: they wouldn't even understand them. Maybe worse: even if they could, they would write it off as 'speculation'. Rather than engage these people, the main contenders to Reformed theology are the usual players who offer the weakest arguments: Dave Hunt, Chuck Smith, etc.

    There are a lot of philosophical accusations and it would be difficult to begin to summarize even a portion of these in a brief way that gets you to feel their force. But you could start with the article to which I referred above. Read that. Then read the response by Hugh McCann in a later volume of this journal. Then read Rogers' response. The beat goes on.

  3. Alan, thanks for the comment. I just took a shower. I scrubbed with Axe, Orthodox scent, and now I am so fresh and so clean.

  4. Perhaps I need to clarify my comments.

    It’s my impression that Triablogue is a Reformed site. But, as far as I can tell, the linked article claims that certain of the Reformed distinctives have been invalidated, or at least made doubtful, by certain findings of analytic philosophy. As a Reformed Christian, I’d certainly like to know if this is true.

    Since the article is linked with no comment, I do not know what opinion of it is held by the Triablogue authors. So I’d like to know what opinion of the claim is held by the philosophically sophisticated Calvinists of Triablogue.

    Before I undertake an arduous journey, I’d like some information about the trail from someone who’s been there before. And please don’t just tell me to go read so-and-so. I’m busy. And one who has a good understanding of a position can easily summarize it. So I’d appreciate it if someone can supply some brief answers to the following questions:

    If the Reformed distinctive have been made doubtful, what alternate views have replaced them? What views do the analytic-philosophic critics of standard Reformed thinking have of predestination, free will and limited atonement?

    What is the argument of the analytic philosophers, in a nutshell?

    Since, as Thomas Sowell has said "for every expert, there is an equal and opposite expert," I'd like to know how philosophically sophisticated Calvinists have evaluated the general nature and force of these objections.

    Thank you for your time.

  5. 1. If Calvinism is true, then God causes every event.
    2. Agents making choices are events.
    3. Some agents choose to sin.
    4. Suppose Calvinism is true.
    5. So God causes some agents to choose to sin.
    6. But one cannot be caused to make a choice.
    7. So one cannot be caused to choose to sin.
    8. So it is false that God causes some agents to choose to sin.
    9. Line 5 contradicts line 8.

    Now after line 9, there are various ways one can go. We can reject 4. But we could also reject other lines: line 1, or line 6, for example. But any way you go, there is a complicated story to unravel. This is just one of the many issues. I do not present this as really arriving at a firm conclusion other than that anyone who understood the premises and followed it up through 9 can see that something has to give.

    If you think that any premise can be easily given up, then I will refer you to further reading. I am also a busy person. But there you have one problem, stated in such a way that someone without formal training and/or immersing in the literature can understand.

  6. Alan,

    "Powerful criticisms" of some Reformed distinctives doesn't mean those distinctives have been"invalidated" or "at least made doubtful" (the latter is vague insofar as it seems to suppose some infallibilism about any Reformed distinctives). So you're over reacting.

    As far as the arguments, James gave a good example. But there's also exegetical arguments from serious exegetical scholars that need to be addressed with seriousness. These are the objections of a Geisler, for example.

    As far as Reformed authors dealing with them, that's part of the problem. Many Reformed have stuck their head in the philosophical sand for so long that there's a dearth of responses to the various challenges, at least in scholarly publication. Paul Helm was a lone gunfighter for a long while. Now, there are many younger Reformed thinkers who are trained in the analytic tradition and I suspect to see a better representation from Reformed thinkers in the future. Take my post as more of a clarion call.

    In any case, since I am a triablogger, and since Steve linked to it, it's safe to say he agrees with what was posted. I think Hays thinks that a good ST will not have the lacuna Horton's has. Given that Hays frequently posts and appeals to both friendly and unfriendly analytic thinkers, it's safe to say he's congenial to using that model when most appropriate.

  7. I meant that these are *NOT* the objections from Geisler, for example. Yikes!

  8. Thank you James and Paul for your further clarifications.

    So far, I don’t think I’m overreacting, for the following reasons. James shows a chain of reasoning that casts doubt on what is arguably the central Calvinist distinctive: that it is true both that God chose us in eternity past (e.g., Ephesians 1:4,5) and that we have free will in what might be called the “ordinary” sense of the word (one that describes our immediate sense of our own mind), that nobody is holding a gun to our head or manipulating us like a robot.

    (I’m using “casts doubt” in the ordinary sense of the phrase: to become aware of a reasonable argument against.)

    This is important pastorally: Calvinist doctrine is a comfort to the believer, for it assures him that the Bible describes a God who is powerful enough to save all those He chooses to, and a God who, as far as we are directly aware, does not manipulate us in order to achieve his purposes. (Somehow, behind the scenes, as it were, in ways we cannot know, He makes his decrees come true.) The Calvinist doctrine that is most controversial is also, in my book, the greatest comfort: We continue to have free will in what could be called the ordinary sense of the term (we feel free in our choices), but God saves (and keeps saved) all those He wants to save.

    But James’s reasoning casts doubt on all this. I presume “classical” Calvinism would reject his point 6, but we still have a problem. Reasonable doubt has been raised, and James says that it will be difficult to reject point 6.

    A non-Calvinist philosopher who makes arguments casting doubt on Calvinism is not obligated to resolve the issue. But it seems to me that a Calvinist philosopher making these arguments is so obligated. Reasonable arguments have been raised against some elements of Calvinism, and the Calvinist philosopher, it seems to me, ought to make one of the following three statements: Either

    1. Calvinism must be adjusted, in the following ways and for the following reasons…

    2. Calvinism survives the challenge, for the following reasons…


    3. Calvinism is under investigation. Stay tuned for further developments.

    The one thing the Calvinist philosopher ought not do is simply refer or allude to these objections and leave it at that. Something important is under way.

  9. Alan,

    Much of my effort here, as well as Steve Hays' and Peter Pike's, has been to defend calvinism against just those sorts of worries. But in the post you refer to, it's not like I can list all the arguments and then respond to all of them, that wasn't the purpose of the post. If you want just a taste of how I have handled some of these problems, search the archives for my response to Roger Olson's _Arminian Theology: Myths and Realitites_.

  10. I think this is the link Paul is referring to: