Friday, December 22, 2017

Lennox polemics

This is a sequel to my initial post on John Lennox's new book:

In the first installment I focussed on general ideas and largely ignored his exegetical arguments. That's in part because I've been over this ground before. For instance:

However, in this post I'd like to sample some of his exegetical arguments. 

It is a serious matter to deny the plain teaching of Scripture in the interests of maintaining a theological paradigm, or to try to get round it by special pleading... (179). 

Using our God-given moral judgment is very important. For instance, the most elementary moral logic surely tell us that, if someone is going to be condemned because they personally failed to do something (in this case, to believe), then they must have been capable of doing it in the first place. Otherwise no guilt could attach to their action, and their condemnation would be unjust  (145). 

So which is it? Do we defer to the "plain teaching of Scripture," or does our moral judgment override the "plain teaching of Scripture"? 

Some take recourse in the exotic notion that God has two wills: his: his so-called "prescriptive will", by which he says to Adam that he should not eat; and his "decretive will", by which he has determined that Adam should eat the fruit. However, the second makes the first completely disingenuous and unreal, and negates any form of true freedom. And with freedom goes responsibility (157).

i) One issue is semantic. If the same word has more than one meaning, then it's easy to generate verbal contradictions. But that doesn't mean the underlying concepts are contradictory. It's just a linguistic convention that the word "will" is used in different ways, with distinguishing adjectives. yet there's no reason we must denote both by the same noun. We can just distinguish between what God predestines and what he commands or forbids. That avoids a facile verbal contradiction.

ii) Is this an exotic notion? Consider Exod 7:2-5, where God intends for Pharaoh to disobey his command. There's God's public command, and then there's God's ulterior design, in which disobedience to the command is instrumental to God's ultimate goal. Another classic example is God commanding Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. 

The list of Scriptures in which the Greek terms related to predestination occur is short and the topics are few…In light of this it seems well-nigh incredible that the doctrine of predestination has been extrapolated to become an all-encompassing divine determinism that know no bounds (112).

That commits the word=concept fallacy, as if a concept is only present when a word denoting the concept is present. But the exegetical basis for "divine determinism" is far broader than a few verbal data-points. For instance:

In other words, the passage [Eph 1:4] is not concerned to tell us how they first came to hope in Christ but what God intended for those who are in Christ. It is noticeable that when some authors quote the above passage in Ephesians they tend to omit the words in him (118).

i) The passage can't be about those who are already, actually in Christ since they didn't even exist at that stage. That's the point of saying God's choice was made before he made the world. So this is referring to God's antemundane plan for the world. 

ii) They are chosen in Christ because election is coordinated with redemption. Christ is their Redeemer. Salvation is mediated through the atonement of Christ on their behalf. That's entirely consistent with Calvinism. Indeed, that's required by Calvinism. Christ died to save the elect.

On pp157-158, Lennox misunderstands a passage he quotes. When it says Adam wasn't acting "under external compulsion or determination", that's explicitly defined in the next sentence: "There was no necessity arising from his physical condition, nor from his moral nature, nor from the nature of his environment, why he should sin."

There was external "determination" in the sense of predestination, but that's not the kind of determination the denial was referring to. Moreover, predestination isn't coercive. 

The deterministic idea held by some, that Adam's sin was caused by God's decree, and therefore Adam could not have done otherwise, is grotesque. Morality would thereby be emptied of all coherent meaning, and the problem of evil would cease to exist (because we could simply blame God for everything). We have seen that Calvin calls his deterministic view "horrible," but if his view were true, a moral concept would have no meaning (161).

i) As a linguist, Lennox ought to be sensitive to the fact that cognate words in Latin, French, and English don't necessarily have the same denotations or connotations. 

ii) Notice that Lennox doesn't provide a reason to justify his claim. He simply informs the reader that determinism has this baleful consequence, but there's no supporting argument.

Yet he references some high-level works on the freewill debate. If he actually read them, he'd be aware of the fact that his facile objections are philosophically jejune. He doesn't even attempt to engage the arguments some philosophers advance for determinism/compatibilism or raise in objection to libertarian freedom. 

The objector [Rom 9:19] raises the moral problem: if God's will irresistible, there is no reason for God to judge that anything is wrong. 

There are only two possible logical responses to this. Either the premise (God's will is irresistible) is correct, and the deduction (God has no right to find fault) is false; or the premise is incorrect and so the argument collapses. Scripture gives adequate support for the latter. Our Lord once wept over Jerusalem [Mt 23:37]. Here it is the will of the Lord to gather the people under his protection, but they resisted his will, and the resistance was not broken by an arbitrary display of power.

The climax of Stephen's speech [Acts 7:51-54] to the Sanhedrin at Jerusalem demonstrates that resistance to God has been a sad characteristic of the people of Israel throughout their history. Once again, their resistance was not overcome by irresistible force. It was allowed to stand, and Stephen was murdered. 

Therefore we must read the story of Pharaoh in such a way as to challenge the objector's deduction that God's will is irresistible (258-59).

Several problems:

i) He's not construing Paul's argument on its own terms. His interpretation doesn't arise from the flow of argument in Romans. Instead, Lennox appeals to two extraneous passages that have nothing to do with Romans. Not only do they fall outside the scope of Romans, but they fall outside the scope of the Pauline corpus. Yet it's hermeneutically illicit to (re-)interpret Paul's statement by appeal to something which has no reference to Paul's statement. Instead of showing how his interpretation derives from the inner logic of Paul's argument, Lennox interjects something irrelevant to Paul's argument. Something that disrupts the continuity of Paul's argument. 

ii) When Stephen talks about resisting God's will, what does he mean? In context, refers to hostile reception to God's prophets. Disobedience to God's word. That, however, is entirely consonant with Calvinism. To say sinners have the ability to resist God's word is very different from the claim that they have the ability to resist God's will (in the decretive sense). 

iii) Mt 23:37 raises a number of complex issues. Since Jesus was human as well as divine, he has natural human empathy. 

iv) Should we always take divine statements at face value? Consider paradigm examples where Abraham and Moses intercede for others. On the face of it, they talk God out of doing what he originally intended. Yet Lennox affirms divine foreknowledge and counterfactual knowledge. So in what sense can God change his mind? Not due to new information. 

v) Scripture sometimes depicts God in all-too human terms. Unless you're a Mormon or open theist, you must make allowance for anthropomorphic representations. Otherwise, Yahweh is hard to distinguish from the mercurial, short-sighted gods of Greco-Roman and ancient Near Eastern mythology. 

vi) We need to distinguish between performative language, which is designed to elicit a reaction–and constantive language, which is designed to convey propositional information.

vii) In the Synoptic parallel (Lk 19:41-44), Jesus uses the divine passive ("hidden from your sight") to indicate that God spiritually blinded them. 

viii) Once again, Lennox thinks God has complete foreknowledge and counterfactual knowledge. But in that event, why does his God so often back himself into a corner? He's like a chess player who makes a losing move. At the time, he didn't realize it will lead to checkmate. 

Lennox believes that God often intervenes in OT history, and God knows the long-range effect of his interventions. So why, according to Lennox, does God so often find himself in a bind? Shouldn't a God who's equipped with foreknowledge and counterfactual knowledge be able to avoid that train wreck by acting in ways that trigger a different chain reaction? In open theism, divine dilemmas are generated by God's lack of distance vision. By the time things come to a head, it's to late to forestall it by diverting traffic up the road. Lennox's God is very much like humans who must improvise on the fly because they didn't see it coming.  

If God's will is irresistible and human behavior is determined, then, logically, any apparent resistance cannot be real since that too is predetermined. If it is impossible to resist his will, then it is pointless to ask questions such as: is God unjust? But the expected answer to this question is no. God's will can be resisted, as we have already pointed out in connection with Christ's weeping over Jerusalem (266). 

i) To begin with, that's not an exegetical argument but a personal appeal to his sense of fairplay. Not based on what the text says or implies, but a reader's preconceived notion of justice. 

ii) He conflates two different questions. The answer is "no" to what question? "No" to "Is God unjust?" rather than "no" to "Is his will resistible?" 

Moral logic and common sense demand that, if no one is responsible for accepting the Gospel, then no one is responsible for rejecting it (277).

i) That overlooks the asymmetry between justice and grace. We're not responsible for accepting the Gospel in the sense that acceptance is due to God's grace rather than our natural receptivity. Believing the Gospel is not an independent contribution we make, but the efficacious outcome of God's grace. It is God's prior action rather than our resultant reaction that's decisive. By contrast, rejecting the Gospel is deservedly culpable. Now, Lennox denies that theological paradigm, but there's nothing illogical about it. 

ii) In addition, justice is getting what you deserve whereas mercy is getting better than what you  deserve, in spite of what you deserve. That's the Gospel in a nutshell. 

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