Monday, December 05, 2011

Kittens, ninjas, or exegesis?

Here's a follow-up response from Randal Rauser's colleague:

Jerry Shepherd says:
Monday, December 5, 2011 at 7:55am
“Boo, Boo, Hiss, Hiss, I’m gonna get me a Calvinist!”
(My feeble attempt at punning back at you, though I do think it’s kind of clever!)
OK, good neighbor, I’m really much more interested in your responses to my first two points of contention, but I’ll attempt a rejoinder to your responses to my third and fourth points.
My third point had to do with objections to the use of the terms “maximally” and “necessary.” I’ll elaborate and perhaps clarify the nature of my criticism.
As far as the “maximally” is concerned, I may not have read some of your previous posts carefully enough, so perhaps you can clarify for me why you have been referring to the concept of a “maximally loving” God, or a God who is “maximally glorified.” Are these terms used by Calvinists and you’re trying to show how in a Calvinistic system these states are not demonstrated as being achieved, or are these your own concepts and you yourself believe that God must be maximally loving and obtaining maximal glory for himself? If it is the latter, then I think it must be pointed out that the Arminian fares no better here than the Calvinist, unless you’re prepared to argue that you could not possibly come up with any better ways in which God could have maximalized his potential in these areas. Or, in other words, whether you’re a Calvinist or an Arminian, kitten-fueled furnaces are problems either way. In fact, why is there a furnace at all? That’s as much a problem for you as it is for me; indeed, I would argue that it’s a bigger problem for you. I say God designed it; what do you say – God allowed it? Someone made the darn thing when God wasn’t looking? God knew it was being made but was powerless to prevent it?
But my larger concern in this regard has to do with the presumption that one has either the right or the ability to so finely tune a definition of a particular attribute of God, or come with a quantifiable “maximal” number to which that attribute has to measure up, to the effect that scriptural revelations of God’s character or actions that seem to conflict with those definitions or measurements may now be safely ignored or explained away by exegeses that amount to no more than special pleading. Let’s take your example from James 1:13. I’ll take for granted your declaration that this is a modal statement, though I admit that I don’t quite understand how “modal” is being used here (but I defer to you; after all, I know that you can run philosophical rings around me with two legs tied behind your back!). In any case, it seems to me that James’s statement is nothing more than the negative flip-side to saying that God is holy, righteous, pure, just, etc. God has, himself, revealed himself to be so. If there is any analysis being done here, it is certainly very minimal. It isn’t so much a modal analysis as it is a modal restatement or paraphrasing. James’s purpose in saying this is make short work of anyone who would try to argue that if they fall to temptation, it’s God’s fault because he was the one who tempted him. So James goes on to cover both sides of temptation with regard to God – he can’t be tempted and he doesn’t tempt. My objection here is to defining apeirastos so finely (or, perhaps, so “philosophically”), or to quantify it with words like “maximally” to the point where one can simply ignore or explain away the import of the temptation narratives in the Gospels, or Hebrews’s statement that Christ was “tempted in all points as we are.” With regard to that other clause, “nor does he tempt anyone,” that statement should not be used to negate passages where God hardens people’s hearts, directs the mind and heart of a king like a watercourse, goads Satan into making bets that result in Satan’s evilly bringing calamities on Job and his family, puts stumblingblocks in front of people to see whether or not they will follow him, or tests Abraham’s obedience by commanding him to sacrifice his son, etc. Evidently, in some respect, God can be tempted, and he does tempt. Evidently, in some respect, he cannot be tempted and he does not tempt. So what I am denying here is not the making of a modal statement; rather, I am denying the right of anyone to so define “untemptability” or to hold God up to some “maximal untemptability” standard such that one ends up negating other biblical passages which one wishes were not there.
So when you say that,
Perhaps Jerry could concede that we can make modal claims about God but only insofar as we are echoing the modal claims scripture makes about God. Does scripture say somewhere that we are limited in our modal reflections on the nature of God to statements made by the writers of scripture? Of course not. So then why accept this curious middling position?
you’ve loaded the paragraph with too many variables to give a single answer, but here goes. (1) Yes, I believe our modal claims about God should be limited to ones that are made by Scripture. I also believe that two or more modal claims can be put together to form other modal claims that are not explicitly stated in Scripture – but no one theologian acting alone has the right to do so; that’s where the creeds come in. In other words, I trust neither your nor my ability to do so. (2) No, nowhere does scripture limit our modal reflections. But modal reflections are not modal claims. So, while I may appreciate your modal reflections, I am not likewise appreciative of your modal claims. If you replace the word “reflections” with the word “claims” in that second sentence, then my answer would be, “yes,” scripture does limit us. (3) I believe my “middling” position is, therefore, the biblical one.
Finally, on this third point, you say,
Jerrry ends this comment with his sober warning about idolatry. What bothers me about that warning is that it places the threat of idolatry solely on the shoulders of the individual who engages in modal reflection on God, as if the person who refuses to engage in any modal reflection is somehow free of the same tendencies. This is strikes me as a dangerous position to take. The minute we isolate idolatry on the other side of the conceptual fence we undermine our ability to identify the idolatry present in our own “philosophical” or “biblical” or “practical” theology. A theology that eschews modal reflection can be just as idolatrous as one that embraces it.
Again, I am not opposed to modal reflections, but modal claims that are intended to drown out other biblical modal claims. I’ll try to make my statement even more pointed. When the pot tells the potter that the potter better conform to the pot’s conception of what the potter ought to look like, and threatens to withhold worship if the potter does not so conform, yes, that is idolatry. Yes, Calvinists do sometimes speak about what God had to do in order to bring maximal glory to himself. And, as I already stated, I find that to be unfortunate. However, I do not find those same Calvinists then trying to dictate what God’s actions have to be. I do, however, find this to be the case with Arminians and with theologians whose theology is more philosophically than biblically informed and normed.
I’ll try to be shorter with regard to your objections to my fourth point. I can’t really make the concessions you’re looking for, because I simply don’t believe the evidence allows for them. When it comes to fairly dealing with the biblical text, being rigorous in careful exegesis, preserving the tensions that exists in the biblical witness – I’ll just go ahead and say it – I think Calvinists win hands down. There are, of course, exceptions. There are bad Calvinist exegetes, and there are good Arminian exegetes. But they are still exceptions. As I examine the exegetical offerings of Calvinists and Arminians, I find the Arminian ones far more likely to withhold, ignore, or cover up biblical evidence that is contrary to the position at which they want to arrive. Again, Calvinist exegetes, just like Arminian exegetes, are capable of constructing a too confining modal statement, overloading a metaphor, or jumping too quickly to an exegetical conclusion; but, I still believe, that they are largely far more responsible in their handling of scripture. So, no, I was not merely engaging in “nothing more than rhetoric” when I made those judgments. I truly believe it to be the case.
An example. In your original post, you mentioned that “If there is a biblical locus classicus for the contrast effect as an explanation of Calvinistic election it is surely found in Romans 9:22-24.” And I would say that you are pretty much correct on this. But the way in which you dealt with this locus classicus was, in effect, not to deal with it. You went on to talk about kittens, war vets, and ninjas, but never got around to discussing this text. Then based, on these three analogies, and some specious reasoning about what God could or could not do, then triumphantly declared, “ . . . God could enable us to perceive his glory apart from the reprobation of some as well. Consequently it must be that insofar as any are reprobated, they are not reprobated for anything like the contrast effect.” So, in essence, your reasoning amounts to this: God could get glory for himself without reprobating for the sake of the contrast effect, therefore, he shouldn’t get glory for himself by reprobating for the sake of the contrast effect; and furthermore, I don’t really care what Paul says. Or, perhaps it was more on the order of “Paul said this, but I’ve got these three analogies which prove that he couldn’t possibly have meant it.” Whatever happened to Barth’s first rule about how to do theology: “exegesis, exegesis, and yet more exegesis. Keep to the Word, to the Scripture that has been given to us.”? Three manipulative analogies doth not an exegesis make. The exegetical rigor just wasn’t there. Sure, maybe it wasn’t intended to be. But that becomes a problem in itself.
The seminary which I attended, Westminster in Philadelphia, has in its official seal these words, pasa e boule tou theou, “the whole counsel of God.” Behind this is the idea that the whole Bible is the text with which we have to do – the whole text, the whole Christ, the whole counsel of God. And there is certainly some polemic there, an expressed perception that those who are not Calvinists tend to work with a canon within the canon. The essence of my reply in this post is that this perception is essentially correct. There are exceptions, but they are just that, exceptions.

1 comment:

  1. Given that Dusman, Manata, and Steve Hays have refuted Rauser's arguments in the past to no avail, I have no doubt that his colleague's Jerry Shepherd refutation will have no effect in mitigating the vapid emotionalism in Rauser's writings.