analytic theology

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Review of “Love Wins” by Rob Bell: Chapter 2

love-winsI have been going through Love Wins chapter by chapter and will continue my series here with Chapter 2. As I noted in the first post:

There are many other looks at Love Wins available online, both critical and positive. What do I hope to offer here? I will analyze Rob Bell’s arguments in three primary ways: in light of historical theology, in light of methodology, and in light of analytic theology. I believe this will offer a thorough look at several of Bell’s claims. I hope to offer as even-handed an analysis as possible.

Rob Bell’s argument will be examined for historical accuracy and philosophical rigor. Furthermore, I will examine how Rob Bell makes his argument, because method is often one of the primary ways that people err in their theology. I begin with an analysis of the Preface and Chapter 1. I am hoping to release one post a week as I analyze this text. I will post each section with an outline of the arguments followed by my analysis.

For other posts in the series, view the links below.

Chapter 2

Outline

Rob Bell begins with imagery of heaven, followed by a series of questions about the nature of heaven. He notes the cultural picture of heaven: “harps and clouds and streets of gold, everybody dressed in white robes” (24). Heaven leads us to ask questions like “What will we do all day? …What will it be like? Will there be dogs there?” (24-25). Bell uses these questions as a bridge into another question: “who will be there and who won’t be there” (25). He discusses a young woman who contemplates heaven and realizes her family won’t be there, based on a pastor’s answers to this question:

When she asks the pastor afterward if its true that, because they aren’t Christians none of her family will be there, she’s told that she’ll be having so much fun worshipping [sic] God that it won’t matter to her. Which is quite troubling and confusing, because the people she loves most in the world do matter to her. (25)

This leads Bell to ask the question:

Are there other ways to think about heaven, other than as that perfect floating shiny city hanging suspended there in the air above that ominous red and black realm with all that smoke and steam and hissing fire?

I say yes, there are. (26)

Bell then turns to an analysis of Jesus’ interaction with the rich man in Matthew 19:16-30. He notes that Jesus’ answer to the rich man’s question about “eternal life” restates his question as “Enter life” (28ff). He argues that “Heaven, for Jesus, was deeply connected with… ‘this age’ and ‘the age to come'” (30).

The Greek word aion is analyzed, and Bell concludes that it has multipple meanings such as “age” with a beginning and end, or “forever” (but not in the way we understand forever, he adds).  He then surveys a number of passages in the Bible which discuss about the new creation/age, concluding by pointing out “Life in the age to come. If this sounds like heaven on earth, that’s because it is. Literally” (33).

Bell insists upon focusing on life now as opposed to in the future. “Jesus takes the man’s question [in Matthew 19:16] about his life then [in eternal life] and makes it about the kind of life he’s living now. Jesus drags the future into the present…” (41). This raises the question for Bell: “What does Jesus mean when he uses that word ‘heaven’?” (42).

Bell answers the question by noting a number of meanings for the word “heaven” in Jesus’ day. He concludes that heaven is “The day when God’s will would be done on earth as it is now in heaven. The day when earth and heaven will be the same place…. Life in the age to come” (43). This entails that “Taking heaven seriously… means suffering seriously, now. Not because we’ve bought into the myth that we can create a utopia… but because we have great confidence that God has not abandoned human history and is actively at work within it, taking it somewhere” (45). He notes that our beliefs about the future shape our actions now (46).

The analysis of heaven continues, as Bell notes that “the confusion [about heaven]… comes from the idea that in the blink of an eye we will automatically become totally different people who ‘know’ everything. But our heart, our character, our desires, our longings–those things take time” (51). He returns to aion and argues that “heaven is not forever in the way that we think of forever, as a uniform measurement of time…” instead, translators use the word “‘eternal.’ By this they don’t mean the literal passing of time; they mean transcending time, belonging to another realm altogether” (58).

Based on his understanding of heaven as heaven on earth, Bell suggests that “Eternal life doesn’t start when we die; it starts now. It’s not about a life that begins at death; it’s about experiencing the kind of life now that can endure and survive even death” (59).

Analysis

Bell’s critique of cultural notions of heaven should be well-received. The way that pop-culture has portrayed heaven is extremely inaccurate and perhaps even dangerously wrong. Harps and wings and the like are pop imagery, not necessarily Biblical imagery. We must look to the Bible to determine what it is that heaven will be like. It seems that Bell is correct to note that heaven will be a New Creation and that the notion of heaven and earth coming together is a theme in the Bible.

Furthermore, he seems spot on when he notes that there are confused notions of heaven which constitute humans suddenly, miraculously, entirely changing into all-knowing spirit creatures. I have yet to find anywhere in the Bible that it says anything at all about humans suddenly knowing everything in heaven, yet it is a claim that persists in everyday conversation.

Bell does once more commit a minor methodological error when he simply notes that there are other views on heaven as though the simple existence of other views about heaven somehow validates these other views. The context in which he says this was in his argument against the pop view of heaven, and so it seems he is correct in favoring a view of heaven that is closer to the Biblical account, but it remains an issue that Bell argues in this fashion. The mere existence of differing views on a topic does nothing to validate any or all of said views.

Furthermore, it seems that some of Bell’s conclusion go beyond the Biblical text. For example, his suggestion that eternal life is “about experiencing the kind of life now that can endure and survive even death” (59). It seems that at this stage Bell drifts dangerously close to a kind of works-righteousness. After all, who exactly is it that needs to live this kind of life? You, dear reader. According to Bell, it is each person’s task to live a kind of life which is capable of surviving death.

In fact, Bell illustrates this through his example from Matthew 19. He notes that the rich man does not live eternal life now because “The man can’t do it, and so he walks away” (41). It is hard to think about a view of eternal life more contrary to what Jesus did and what is taught in the Bible about salvation. Eternal life does not come because we are capable of living a life that somehow transcends our current reality. That is impossible for us to do.

It is truly unfortunate that Bell’s interpretation of the text he makes key for his point (Matthew 19) illustrates another methodological error. Namely, ignoring context. The entire section on the need for living eternal life now is based upon Bell’s reading of Jesus as reinterpreting the rich man’s question as asking about “enter[ing] life” (27ff). He takes two words from the middle of a phrase Jesus says and then bases what seems like his entire discussion of the doctrine of heaven around it. Yes, he cites many prophetic passages about the new creation, but instead of taking these to provide a broader commentary on the notion of eternal life, he reads them all through the filter of those two words: “enter life.” He therefore commits a serious methodological blunder, and it seems that it is this blunder which leads him to a doctrine of heaven which becomes tied into what it is that we do to get to heaven.

Conclusion

Overall, it seems that Bell has done a great job of providing some critiques of the “pop culture” view of heaven which is decidedly unbiblical. He even gets many things right about heaven, including the notion that it will be a new creation and that it will be tied to the creation we experience now.

In light of these positives, it is sad to say that Bell’s discussion of the nature of salvation seemingly turns upon an idiosyncratic reading of two words ripped from their context and used to reinterpret every other passage he references. It is even worse to note that Bell’s doctrine of heaven wavers right on the edge of works righteousness, if it does not step over into that camp altogether. The fact is that Bell discusses eternal life as something which we have to do. It is something which we can do if we just live a life that is capable of transcendence.

It is hard to imagine a doctrinal stance more removed from the notion of salvation by grace through faith. Sola gratia.

Next week, we will look at Chapter 3: Hell.

Links

Review of “Love Wins” by Rob Bell: Preface and Chapter 1– I discuss the preface and chapter 1 of Love Wins.

Review of “Love Wins” by Rob Bell: Chapter 3– I look at Chapter 3: Hell.

Review of “Love Wins” by Rob Bell: Chapter 4– I look at Chapter 4: Does God Get what God Wants?

Review of “Love Wins” by Rob Bell: Chapter 5– I analyze chapter 5.

Love Wins Critique– I found this to be a very informative series critiquing the book. For all the posts in the series, check out this post.

Should we condemn Rob Bell?– a pretty excellent response to Bell’s book and whether we should condemn different doctrines. Also check out his video on “Is Love Wins Biblical?

Source

Rob Bell, Love Wins (New York: HarperCollins, 2011).

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Review of “Love Wins” by Rob Bell: Preface and Chapter 1

love-winsI know I am late to this party. It has taken me a while to get around to reading Love Wins by Rob Bell. There are many other looks at Love Wins available online, both critical and positive. What do I hope to offer here? I will analyze Rob Bell’s arguments in three primary ways: in light of historical theology, in light of methodology, and in light of analytic theology. I believe this will offer a thorough look at several of Bell’s claims. I hope to offer as even-handed an analysis as possible.

Rob Bell’s argument will be examined for historical accuracy and philosophical rigor. Furthermore, I will examine how Rob Bell makes his argument, because method is often one of the primary ways that people err in their theology. I begin with an analysis of the Preface and Chapter 1. I am hoping to release one post a week as I analyze this text. I will post each section with an outline of the arguments followed by my analysis.

Before I begin, one more note on this analysis: I have not read the book yet. My reason for  this is I want to have it fresh in my mind as I do the analysis instead of coming to the text with a preconceived notion of what I remember it saying. Thus, these analyses will be based on a reading of the book chapter by chapter. I will end with an overall  review once I wrap up the book. See the end of the post for links to other chapters.

Preface- “Millions of Us”

Outline

Rob Bell begins his book with a fairly simple statement “I believe that Jesus’s story is first and foremost about the love of God for every single one of us” (vii). Bell asserts that “Jesus’s story has been hijacked by a number of other stories… it’s time to reclaim it” (vii-viii). He points out that some teachings about Jesus have caused people to stumble, and that others do not discuss the issue of hell for various reasons.

Analysis

Bell is to be commended for taking on an issue that many are afraid to discuss. It is true that some people and even churches will not delve into the topic of hell. It is important to talk about this doctrine, as it has been part of Christian teaching from the beginning.

Unfortunately, it seems that Bell has already made a methodological mistake. He implored readers to “please understand that nothing in this book hasn’t been taught, suggested, or celebrated by many before me. I haven’t come up with a radical new teaching… That’s the beauty of the historic, orthodox Christian faith. It’s a deep, wide, diverse stream that’s been flowing for thousands of years…” (x-xi).

There are actually two errors here. First, simple diversity on a topic doesn’t somehow automatically validate all positions. Just because there was diversity about the doctrine of the Trinity doesn’t mean that the Arian position is somehow a valid theological perspective. Thus, it seems that Bell’s point here is moot. Diversity does not mean validity.

Second, historic, orthodox faith is not a diverse array of beliefs. The historic Christian faith has been define in universally acknowledged creeds which state what the universal church teaches on various essentials for the Christian faith. In fairness to Bell, he may be using “orthodox” to mean a denominational perspective, wherein the wider spectrum of beliefs is what may be considered “orthodox.”

Chapter 1: “What About the Flat Tire?” 

Outline

Bell starts with a story about a quote from Gandhi, which prompted someone to write “Reality check: He’s in hell.” Bell reacts to this with a series of questions: “Really? Gandhi’s in hell? He is? We have confirmation of this? Somebody knows this? Without a doubt?” (1-2). Elsewhere, he  focuses in on the individual again, asking whether it is true that the Christian message for someone who claimed to be an atheist during life has “no hope” (3).

He goes on to ask: “Has God created millions of people over tens of thousands of years who are going to spend eternity in anguish? Can God do this, or even allow this, and still claim to be a loving God? Does God punish people for thousands of years with infinite, eternal torment for things they did in their few finite years of life?” (2).

After focusing on the case of an individual’s salvation and whether there is an age of accountability, Bell focuses on the nature of salvation. “[W]hat exactly would have to happen… to change [an individual’s] future? Would he have had to perform a specific rite or ritual? Or take a class? Or be baptized? Or join a church? Or have something happen somewhere in his heart?” (5). Bell notes that some hold that one has to say a sinner’s prayer or pray in a specific way in order to get saved.

Bell continues to contemplate what it is to be saved, and points out that some believe that it is about a “personal relationship” but that that phrase is never used in the Bible. He asks why, if it is so central to salvation, would such a phrase not be in the Bible? (10-11). Bell asks whether “going to heaven is dependent on something I do” and then asks “How is any of that grace?” (11).

Then, Bell looks at various Biblical narratives, including the faith of the centurion, the discourse with Nicodemus, Paul’s conversion, and more, providing a constant stream of questions and noting apparently different things said about faith and salvation (12-18).

Analysis

Bell is right to focus on the notion of one’s personal fate. It is indeed impossible to declare with certainty that a specific person is in hell. It is always possible that God called them to faith in Christ before they died, even at the last moment. We should never say with 100% certainty that someone is in hell.

Bell is also correct to raise doubts about various things that people allegedly need to do in order to “get saved.” His critique of such theologies is again based around questions instead of head-on arguments, but even that is enough to poke holes into works-based theologies.

There seems to be a rather major methodological error in Bell’s analysis of a “personal relationship” with God.” His argument against using this notion to discuss salvation is to say that the phrase is not used in the Bible anywhere. As noted in the outline, he asks a number of very pointed questions regarding this and notes that the phrase isn’t in the Bible. But there are other phrases not used in the Bible which are central issues for Christianity, like “Trinity.” A phrase not appearing in the Bible does not automatically mean it isn’t taught by the Bible. Things can be derived from Biblical teaching without having the exact phrase we use to describe that teaching appear in the Bible. Just to hammer this home, let me point out that the phrase “Love Wins” nowhere appears in the Bible. One using Bell’s methodology here might come to the conclusion that his book is unbiblical.

Just as an aside, I found it a bit of a methodological problem that Bell begins the book with a chapter that is almost entirely questions. He promises answers later, but for now it seems like all the reader is left with is a bunch of–make no mistake about it–leading questions. I think that leading questions are appropriate for teaching, but not so much for defense of a position.

Conclusion

So far, we have seen that Bell makes a few methodological errors, each at a central part of his chapter. First, he made the assumption that diversity of views means validity of all. We have seen that such is not the case, diversity of views does not put them all on a level playing field. Second, he argued that because a phrase isn’t in the Bible, it doesn’t seem to be Biblical. We pointed out that this would collapse Bell’s own work  because “love wins” is not found in the Bible. Even if it were, however, we noted that the mere absence of a phrase does not entail its falsehood or unbiblical nature.

However, we have also had several good things to say about Love Wins. In particular, his analysis of works-based systems of salvation was helpful. The fact that Bell is willing to discuss a controversial topic and ask the hard questions is also commendable.

Next week, we’ll analyze Chapter 2, which is about heaven. I look forward to your comments!

Links

Review of “Love Wins” by Rob Bell: Chapter 2– I review chapter 2.

Review of “Love Wins” by Rob Bell: Chapter 3– I look at Chapter 3: Hell.

Review of “Love Wins” by Rob Bell: Chapter 4– I look at Chapter 4: Does God Get what God Wants?

Review of “Love Wins” by Rob Bell: Chapter 5– I analyze chapter 5.

Love Wins Critique– I found this to be a very informative series critiquing the book. For all the posts in the series, check out this post.

Should we condemn Rob Bell?– a pretty excellent response to Bell’s book and whether we should condemn different doctrines. Also check out his video on “Is Love Wins Biblical?

Source

Rob Bell, Love Wins (New York: HarperCollins, 2011).

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

The Consolation of Counterfactuals: The Molinism of Boethius

Whence comes this powerful understanding
That all things sees and all discerns?
…This is a cause more powerful
More forceful and effectual
Than that which passively awaits… (Boethius, The Consolation of Philosophy, Book V, section IV)

Molinism is holds that God has counterfactual knowledge of every situation. What this boils down to is that God knows conditional statements for every possible situation, such that God knows statements like “If J.W. has free time, then he will read.”

One prominent challenge to molinism is the notion that such counterfactuals about future choices cannot exist or that God simply couldn’t know them. I was startled as I read Boethius’ (480-525 AD) work, The Consolation of Philosophy, to see that he had anticipated this objection and provided the outline of an answer to it about 1500 years ago.

Boethius wrote the work as a dialog between himself and Philosophy, a woman who represented, well, philosophy. The last book focuses upon God’s foreknowledge and human freedom.

Writing as philosophy, Boethius states

All those things which happen without happening of necessity are, before they happen, future events about to happen, but not about to happen of necessity… But this, you will say, is the very point in question–whether there can be any foreknowledge of things whose occurrence is not inevitable. (Book V, section IV)

Again, it was amazing to see that Boethius had anticipated an objection to molinism–a system of theological thought which hadn’t been conceived fully yet (and wouldn’t be for about 1100 years!)–and provided an answer. The objection was seen above: many modern philosophers and theologians contend that God could not know that which is not necessitated to happen.

Yet Boethius answers the problem in a unique way:

The cause of this mistake [believing that God couldn’t know things that will not happen by necessity] is that people think that the totality of their knowledge depends on the nature and capacity to be known of the objects of knowledge. But this is all wrong. Everything that is known is comprehended not according to its own nature, but according to the ability to know of those who do the knowing. (Book V, section IV)

Before developing this argument, it is important to note that it rests squarely within Boethius’ later reflection upon the eternity of God–a being who has “the complete, simultaneous, and perfect possession of everlasting life” (Book V, section VI). Because Boethius holds that God is eternal in this sense–timeless–he can reasonably hold that God’s capacity to know is not limited by temporal constrictions.

Thus, we get back to the nature of his response to the counterfactual objection to molinism. Boethius, holding that God is eternal and therefore not limited by time, grounds the knowledge of counterfactuals not in their own inherent ability to be known or not known, but rather in the ability of the knower to know them.

It is worth emphasizing how radical and powerful this response is to the modern argument against molinism. If God is indeed timeless in the sense Boethius presses, then God would have access to the entirety of time as far as knowledge and action are concerned. Thus, by grounding knowledge not in the objects of knowledge themselves but in the capacity of the knower, Boethius grounded counterfactual knowledge.

Objection

Now, modern opponents of molinism would take this in stride and argue either against the contention that God is timeless or against the contention that knowledge is based in the capacity of the knower rather than the known. Exploring either of these objections is beyond the scope of this post, but it is worth noting that Boethius’ rebuttal to the problem of counterfactual knowledge works if both of his contentions are true. The question is, of course, whether they are.

A Final Objection and Response

Another way to attack Boethius’ defense of God’s knowledge of counterfactuals is to argue that even if it is the case that God is eternal and that His knowledge is grounded in the knower rather than the known, then it still would only mean that God knows what will happen, not what would happen if something were to happen. In other words, one could hold that Boethius’ answer doesn’t actually apply to counterfactual knowledge.

It seems possible, however, to modify Boethius’ defense to counter this argument as well. One could note that because God is eternal, any event that would happen, God would know about it. In other words, if x were z instead, then God’s knowledge would simply be z instead of x. This response turns the counterfactual into a counterfactual about God’s knowledge rather than about freedom. The response offered turns the question from whether God could know that “If x, then y” about John Smith into a question of “If z instead of x, then God knows z.”

Conclusion

It seems clear to me that there is much to develop yet in the objections and responses offered above. The last critique offered and my response certainly opens a number of areas of inquiry. However, for now it seems clear that Boethius has offered a unique way to look at the problem of counterfactual knowledge. Whether his perspective is correct remains a matter for further inquiry.

Boethius offered a unique and stirring defense of molinism over a thousand years before it was fully articulated by Luis de Molina. It is worth looking into his answer, even if it fails, simply for the foresight it provided. But Boethius’ work is known as an astounding discussion of divine eternity as well, among other things. Thus, I encourage readers to look into his short work, The Consolation of Philosophy. Who knows, you may even find the consolation of counterfactuals therein.

Edition Used: For this post I used the Penguin Classics edition of The Consolation of Philosophy (New York: Penguin, 1999).

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Book Review: “Salvation and Sovereignty: The Molinist Approach” by Kenneth Keathley

Molinism is a topic hotly debated in theological circles. There have been several books on the topic published just in the past few years, which, for a topic of analytic theology, is extraordinary. Kenneth Keathley’s work, Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach focuses on the theological usefulness of molinism.

Keathley’s central position is that the Calvinistic “TULIP” (Total depravity; Uncondtiional election; Limited atonement; Irresistible grace; Perseverance of the saints) is the incorrect approach to salvation. Instead, he endorses the “ROSES” approach (Radical depravity; Overcoming grace; Sovereign election; Eternal life; Singular redemption).

The contrast is laid out in detail through the book, but to sum up, Keathley provides a comparison in the introduction. Radical depravity allows for free will while still emphasizing the fallen nature of people. Overcoming grace emphasizes “God’s beckoning that overcomes our wicked obstinacy” (3-4); sovereign election is the affirmation that God desires salvation of all; eternal life is to note that believers “enjoy a transformed life that is preserved and we are given a faith which will remain” (4); finally, singular redemption emphasizes that Christ’s atonement is not limited to the elect (4).

Keathley seeks to wed these concepts of salvation and sovereignty with the analytic theological concept of molinism. Molinism, Keathley argues, is a “middle way between Calvinism and Arminianism” (7). Molinists can affirm that God controls all things, that “man does not contribute to his salvation,” that the believer is eternally secure in Christ; further, they can affirm that “God is not the author of sin” that “God desires the salvation of all,” and that “At crucial times, humans have the ability to choose” (7).

Keathley then turns to a defense of molinism. Here, he touches briefly on some of the philosophical aspects of the molinist account. There are three “moments” of God’s knowledge: natural knowledge, middle knowledge, and free knowledge. These are not to be understood as temporal moments but rather moments of logical priority. The first moment, natural konwledge, is God’s knowledge of all possibilities. God’s middle knowledge is the knowledge of everything that “would” happen in given circumstances. Between this “moment” and the next,  God chooses a world to actualize. Finally, God’s free knowledge is that knowledge of everything that will happen, given the created world (17). Keathley distinguishes these moments as “could” (natural knowledge), “would” (middle knowledge), and “will” (free knowledge) (17-18).

Next, the Biblical account is expounded. Before going into depth with individual verses, Keathley argues that the Bible teaches that God exhaustively knows all things (including the future), that God is holy and righteous and does not cause sin, and that humans do have freedom–contingent choices are placed before people (20). Keathley then turns to exegetical studies of various aspects of God’s knowledge and human freedom. First, he argues that God has exhaustive knowledge of all things (including the future),  meticulous providential control, freedom, and righteousness (20ff). He then turns to a defense of the notion of human freedom in the Bible through a study of “contingent choices” put before people. He draws on both Old and New Testament examples to make his case. [In the interest of length I’ll not go through these arguments, but I would like to note that he utilizes over 30 separate verses in the first two pages of the Biblical evidence sections alone.]

The second chapter covers a side topic: Does God desire salvation for all people? Here, Keathley outlines 4 major positions regarding this. First, there is universalism–all are saved; second, there is double predestination–God chooses who will be saved and who will be reprobate; third, God has two wills–a revealed will in which God desires salvation and a decretive will in which, for unknown reasons, He passes over some; fourth, God has a consequent and antecedent will–“God antecedently desires that all be saved, but He consequently wills that faith is a condition to salvation” (42-43).  Keathley argues that the fourth option is the most defensible (43ff).

Next, Keathley turns his work towards a specific defense of the “ROSES” position discussed above. This defense encompasses the rest of the book.

Radical depravity is a rejection of determinism along with an affirmation that humans are in bondage to sin and fallen (63). Keathley endoreses “soft libertarianism,” which affirms that people’s characters can determine the range of choices, but also that they are the “origin and source of their choices” and that they are genuinely free to reject or choose specific actions (70ff).

Overcoming grace holds that while grace is monergistic–God is the only worker in salvation, it is resistible. “God’s grace is truly offered and available. The difference between the saved and the lost is the continued rebellion of the unbeliever” (105). This is an “ambulatory” model, which basically means that God is drawing all people to Him at all times, such that the only way to not be saved is to resist belief in Him.

Keathley holds “sovereign election” in which “God ordains the salvation of the elect but only permits the damnation of the reprobate” (142). Keathley follows this chapter with “Eternal Life” in which he argues that believers can feel certainty about their salvation. Finally, “Singular Redemption” is the notion that “redemption is provided for all, but applied only to those who believe” (194). This reflects the “penal substitutionary atonement” view (ibid). Thus, God provides salvation to all who believe, and applies it to those who do.

Salvation and Sovereignty is not unique simply because of its emphasis on the theological utility of molinism. The book is also written at a level that general readership will find accessible. Considering the extreme nuances and significant philosophical groundwork which must go into an explication of molinism, Keathley does a simply phenomenal job making the concept accessible to readers who are not philosophically trained.

However, it should be noted that because of this simplification, several of the philosophical issues related to molinism drop off. Not only that, but it seems that Keathley is operating under very slightly different views of what molinism entails. For example he states that molinism is a kind of “compatibilism” (5). This is false for most molinists, because most molinists defend libertarian freedom in conjunction with God’s foreknowledge. Thus, it is not compatibilism but libertarianism. Finally, many philosophical objections to molinism are left untouched. Due to the focus of the book, however, these seem minor flaws for the overall work.

Keathley’s work is exciting in many ways. It brings the molinist discussion to a more general readership. It provides a significant challenge to theological determinism. Finally, and perhaps most interestingly, it provides an account which shows the theological fruitfulness of the concept of middle knowledge. Readers interested in any of these topics should immediately get the book and read it. For those who have engaged with molinism on a philosophically developed level, it provides an interesting account of how to apply those studies to a theological framework. For those who know little or nothing about molinism, it provides an excellent introduction. While readers may not agree with all of Keathley’s theological positions, his work will challenge and inform anyone who reads it. It comes highly recommended.

Source:

Kenneth Keathley, Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2010).

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Mormonism and God: A Philosophical Challenge to Mormonism

Central to discussions about God is the very concept of God itself. What does one mean when they refer to “God”? Suppose one is debating about the existence of God and in the course of that debate, one finds out that the other, when using the term “God” is thinking of a contingent, powerful but limited, and embodied deity; yet the other person has been trying to argue for the God of classical theism–infinite in power, wisdom, love, etc., omnibenevolent, omniscient, and omnipotent, transcendent, and the like. Clearly, there is a difference over who “God” is. Now talk about God can be meaningful between these two because they can choose to use “God” as a title, similar to that of “King” (this is suggested by Paul Moser in The Evidence for God, 22ff).

That said, for this post I will not assume that “God” refers exclusively to the God of classical theism. Rather, I’m going to turn to the Mormon concept of God and examine its coherence. If Mormonism’s concept of God is incoherent, then Mormonism faces a serious philosophical challenge. (As has been argued elsewhere, coherence is a central test of a religion’s truth claims.)

It is important to note that there is no single “Mormon concept of God.” As with Christianity, there is an array of beliefs about specific attributes of God. Thus, for this post, I’ll focus on just two concepts of deity within Mormonism.


Monarchotheism (Also Known as Henotheism)

Explication

Stephen Parrish and Carl Mosser take Mormon teaching to expound the concept of God known as Monarchotheism, “the theory that there is more than one God, but one God is clearly preeminent among the gods; in effect, he is the monarch or ruler of all the gods” (Parrish and Mosser, 195, cited below). This concept of God is embodied (see Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith cited in P+M, 201). Furthermore, this God is contingent, the organizer of a world that was originally chaos, and one of many gods (Ibid, 201). Furthermore, Joseph Smith himself taught that this “God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man…” (TPJS 345, cited in P+M, 202).

Critique

There are many difficulties with this Mormon concept of God. Perhaps most crucial is the inclusion of contingency in the concept of God. If God is contingent, then it does indeed beg the question “Who Made God?” Consider this against classical theism, which holds that God exists necessarily. Classical theists can respond to this question by simply saying, “No one made God, because God, as necessarily existent, never came into being.” Yet Mormons who hold God is contingent must answer this question.

That’s not the only difficulty with God as contingent either, for holding that God is contingent removes several of the reasons to believe that such a deity exists. Consider one of the classical arguments for the existence of God: that contingent things have all come into being, so there must be something which has always existed in order to terminate the infinite regress. Of course, if this deity which terminates the regress is, itself, contingent, then one must continue the regress to the next step. Thus, this Mormon concept of God provides no grounding for the universe itself.

Further, this Mormon concept of deity has no way to ground objective morals. While Mormons tend to hold that God is all good/omnibenevolent, they have no way to ground this goodness in God Himself. Rather, because God is contingent, there must exist some measure by which God is judged, and so one is left with all the difficulties of grounding morality without God. If, instead, morality is still to be based upon God, then it could only really be some form of extreme occamism/voluntarism–whereby things are moral just because God says so. The difficulties with such a view are extreme.

Of course, once more classical theism can explicate objective morality by grounding them in the nature of God. Because God is necessarily the greatest possible being, God is necessarily the source of all goodness, and therefore the grounds of morality are found in God.

Finally, there is the question of the problem of evil. Classical theism has a number of answers to this problem, but none of them are effective upon a monarchotheistic view of God. First, because there can be no grounding for objective morality on Mormonism, there remains the difficulty of explaining how actions could truly be evil to begin with (Parrish and Mosser, 215, see similar difficulties with naturalism here). Second, because evil is part of the universe and God himself is part of the eternal universe, evil can be seen as a natural part of the order of the cosmos (ibid, 215). Third, and most poignantly, because God is contingent and part of the universe, it seems that there is great difficulty with the notion that God would one day overcome evil. Because evil is part of the universe, and has therefore existed eternally rather than as a corruption of the goodness of nature, it seems that there is no way to finally overcome evil. Thus, the problem of evil is exacerbated exponentially on Mormonism (ibid, 216).

So, to sum up, monarchotheism appears to be one plausible interpretation of the Mormon concept of God. This concept is expounded by Joseph Smith in his Teachings and is also found in various theological works of Mormons (cf. McMurrin, Theological Foundations; Ostler, “Mormon Concept of God”; Paulsen, “Comparative Coherency”–these are noted in P+M, 457). However, this concept has been shown to be riddled with difficulties. It cannot explain many of the central features of our world, such as the existence of objective morality. Furthermore, it undermines reasons to believe in the existence of a God. Finally, this Mormon concept of God fails to even explain the existence of the universe itself. Thus, it seems to me this concept of deity is incoherence.

Polytheism

So much for Monarchotheism. But what about other Mormon concepts of God? There is one other concept which is attested in Brigham Young’s writings along with other Mormon writers. This view can fairly be referred to as polytheism.

Explication

Once more we find that the eternal existence of the universe is central to this view of Mormonism. Matter is eternal. God the Father organized the universe, but at least some laws of nature are outside of god’s control (see the discussion in  Francis Beckwith and Stephen Parrish, See the Gods Fall, 99ff, cited fully below).

Furthermore, the notion that there are innumerable contingent “primal intelligences” is central to this Mormon concept of god (P+M, 201; Beckwith and Parrish, 101). That there is more than one god is attested in the Pearl of Great Price, particularly Abraham 4-5. This Mormon concept has the gods positioned to move “primal intelligences along the path to godhood” (Beckwith and Parrish, 114). Among these gods are other gods which were once humans, including God the Father. Brigham Young wrote, “our Father in Heaven was begotten on a previous heavenly world by His Father, and again, He was begotten by a still more ancient Father, and so on…” (Brigham Young, The Seer, 132, quoted in Beckwith and Parrish, 106).

The rest of this concept is similar to the Monarchotheistic view, although rather than God the Father being a “monarch” over the others, he is more like one of many. As already stated, he is just one of a string of “Fathers.”

Critique

The logic of the Mormon polytheistic concept of God entails that there is an infinite number of gods. To see this, it must be noted that each god him/herself was helped on the path to godhood by another god. There is, therefore, an infinite regress of gods, each aided on his/her path to godhood by a previous god. There is no termination in this series. Now because this entails an actually infinite collection of gods, the Mormon polytheistic concept of deity must deal with all the paradoxes which come with actually existing infinities (for some problems with the actual infinite search “infinite” and check out the problems Craig points out in his Q+A’s section).

Now, polytheistic Mormonism would also seem to have to deal with all the difficulties of Monarchotheism, for this concept also carries with it the contingency of deity and eternity of the world.

Finally, it seems polytheistic Mormonism has a difficulty at its heart–namely the infinite regress of deity. While on Monarchotheism, the infinite regress was merely hinted at (and still extremely problematic), polytheistic Mormonism has infinite regress at its heart and soul. Each god relies upon a former god, which itself relies upon a former god, forever. Certainly, this is an incoherence at the core of this concept of deity, for it provides no explanation for the existence of the gods, nor does it explain the existence of the universe. Polytheistic Mormonism, it seems, fares even worse than its Monarchotheistic counterpart.

Addendum: The “Standard Works” and Classical Theism

It is worth noting that those who wish to adhere to a strict “Standard Works only” approach to Mormonism may object to the critiques I’ve given above. The reason being that in the Standard Works, it seems like a view much closer to classical theism is expounded. For example, God is referred to as “Lord God Omnipotent” (Mosiah 3:5 [and “Lord Omnipotent” in 3:17-18]; Mosiah 5:2). Further, God’s infinite goodness and mercy are affirmed (Mosiah 28:4, Moroni 8:3, 2 Nephi 1:10).

It is indeed the case that were one to only operate from this explication, one might come to believe in a God very similar to classical theism. There are three responses I would offer: first, I’d be very happy to welcome any others who do affirm mere classical theism. In that case, I’d like to discuss the finer points of differences between Christianity and Mormonism.

However, I think it is the case that many who object by showing a Standard Works reading of Mormonism do not themselves hold to a “Standard Works only” belief. Any who holds that, for example, humans can be exalted to godhood must accept the implication that God the Father would therefore be contingent, and would then most likely fall into one of the categories listed above. Second, I already noted how in Abraham 4 and 5 it seems quite apparent there are many “Gods” (any who disagree, feel free to simply read the Pearl of Great Price, Abraham 4… literally any verse between 5-31; it explicitly states “the ‘Gods'”). Because classical theism holds that there is only one who can occupy the title “God,” this places even the Standard Works alone reading outside the realm of orthodoxy regarding classical theism.

Finally, I’ve already quoted Brigham Young and Joseph Smith in other writings outside the “Standard Works” both affirming that God the Father is an exalted man and that God the Father was preceded by another Father. If Mormonism is to be conceived in a form akin to classical theism, Mormons must reject these writings, and with it discredit their prophets.

Conclusions

Central to the Mormon faith is God, just as God is central to any theistic religion. Yet, as has been seen, two of the major explications of the Mormon concept of deity fall victim to insurmountable philosophical problems.   The third, closer to classical theism, must contend with the fact that other Mormon writings (and indeed, even the Pearl of Great Price) are contrary to their position. The fact that Momonism’s concept of God is incoherent strikes a major blow to the truth claims of the Mormon faith. Without coherence in that which is central to the religion: God, the entire theological system falls apart.

Links/Sources

Check out other posts in my series on Mormonism:

The Book of Mormon: Introduction and Importance– This post is pretty self descriptive.

Genetic Evidence and the Book of Mormon: Did any Native Americans come from the Middle East?– Argues that the Native Americans are not Middle Eastern in ancestry. Because the Book of Mormon claims they are, the Book of Mormon is false.

Sources

Stephen Parrish with Carl Mosser, “A Tale of Two Theisms” in The New Mormon Challenge: Responding to the Latest Defenses of a Fast-Growing Movement ed. Beckwith et. al, 193-218 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002).

Francis Beckwith and Stephen Parrish, See the Gods Fall: Four Rivals to Christianity (Joplin, MO: College Press, 1997).

[I have edited this post to put back in several references to Mormon scriptures that I initially omitted for length. Further, I modified it to make more clear the difference between “finite” in mathematical terms and “contingent” in philosophical meaning.]

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Women in the Ministry: The philosophy of equality and why complementarianism fails

The argument advanced in this post will make the following claim:

If women are excluded from the ministry solely due to their nature as women, then women are ontologically inferior.

The argument entails:

If complementarianism (the position that women should not be in the ministry) is true, then women are ontologically inferior to men.

Some may note that this doesn’t necessarily imply that complementarianism is false, but astute readers will note that there is one further implication, namely:

If complementarianism holds that women are ontologically equal to men, but the position entails that women are inferior to men, then complementarianism holds contradictory propositions to be true.

And this would entail that complementarianism is false.

The Argument

Argument 1:

The argument is directly from Rebecca Groothuis, “Equal in Being, Unequal in Role,” 317 (full citation below). She writes,

P1: If the permanent, comprehensive, and ontologically grounded subordination of women is justified, then women are inferior persons.

P2: Women are not inferior persons.

Conclusion: Therefore, women’s subordination is not justified.

Premise one is contentious. Complementarians often anticipate such arguments and counter by asserting that women are “equal in being, unequal in role.” Groothuis has cogently argued that this is merely a semantics game. First, she notes that “functional differences often are compatible with personal equality…” (“Equal in Being…” 315). The problem for those who wish to exclude women from the ministry is that the role of women is not simply functional. Rather, it “differs from functional subordination in its scope, duration, and criterion” (316). Women’s subordination is permanent, because women are subordinate throughout their life, and it applies to all women at all times (Ibid). The subordination is comprehensive in scope because everything a woman does must be done in submission to males (if one disputes this they need only browse complementarian literature: see John Piper, cited below, 50ff). Finally, the criterion for women being subordinate is not analogous to functional subordination (wherein the subordinate member enters the functional relationship either willingly or through need) because the subordination is based merely on the woman’s unalterable female being (Groothuis, 317).

P2 is almost universally acknowledged as true. Unless the complementarian is willing to swallow the pill and affirm that women are inferior persons, they must grant P2.

The conclusion follows from P1 and P2. Therefore, it seems that women should not be made subordinate to men. There are, of course, many objections to this argument. We shall turn to these below.

Objections

Objection 1: The argument above is all well and good, but it is a philosophical argument. We all know that it is Sola Scriptura, and your argument assumes that philosophy can trump the Bible, which it doesn’t.

There are a number of clarifications required to respond to this objection. First, those who assert Sola Scriptura are themselves making a philosophical claim: that Scripture alone is the basis for our faith. Second, if one wishes to jettison philosophy because they hold a position which is philosophically untenable, then they cannot coherently assert “My position is true.” Why? Because when one throws philosophy out the window, one throws logic out the window. Thus, the principle of non-contradiction would also be false. If that is true, then when one says “My position is true” they could be both right and wrong, and therefore their position could also be false. This is absurd, and it undermines every single truth claim. Those who reject philosophy must also reject truth.

Finally, even those who argue that philosophy and logic must have a “ministerial role” implicitly accept that their claims are governed by logic. I can think of at least two extremely plausible reasons for this to be true. First, those who want philosophy to occupy a “ministerial” place argue that because they have come to the logical conclusion that the Bible must govern reality. Here’s the problem: they also seek to reconcile contradictions in the Bible and draw out its claims–and this is a philosophical endeavor. Thus, those who argue in this fashion are, themselves, doing philosophy and logic. Second, those who argue that philosophy must be “ministerial” often do so because a position they hold is logically untenable. But if philosophy (and, by implication, logic) must function underneath Biblical truth, why reject logic to begin with? If philosophy and logic don’t apply to Biblical teaching, then there’s no reason to reject it, because things can be true and false!  Yet those who argue this way realize that their claims are philosophical (without using that word), and so reject the counterarguments by trying to make the logical move of throwing philosophy out the window. It’s incoherent.

Objection 2: P1 is false because ontologically  grounded subordination does not imply inferiority.

Clearly, this objection is more thought out than objection 1. Those who object in this way accept that logic governs these disputes, and instead set on rejecting a premise of the argument so that the conclusion will not follow.

I cannot answer this objection without a bit of philosophical development, so my readers will have to forgive me.

Adam Omelianchuk addresses this objection head on in his article “Ontologically Grounded Subordination” (full citation below). He writes that “the central metaphysical concern is over whether subordination is essential to the personal identity of woman” (169). He goes on to introduce the notion of “proper function” (well known in philosophy due to Alvin Plantinga’s series on “Warrant”). Proper function “means something is functioning properly if it is doing what it is supposed to do” (170). Now, on complementarianism, women are designed in such a way as to be subordinate to men, while men are designed to be the leader. Thus, the woman’s proper function is to be subordinate by nature, while the man’s function is to be leader by nature. When a woman tries to become a minister, she is violating her proper function. She is, by nature, only functioning properly when subordinate. Now, we’ve already addressed the notion of unequal roles, but here we are trying to establish that a woman is, in fact, ontologically inferior if complementarianism is true. Omelianchuk writes:

[I]t is not plausible to believe that men and women are ontologically equal, because manhood and womanhood are not ontologically equal. Obviously, manhood and womanhood are “different,” so they are not equal in the sense that they are not identical. But if we differentiate manhood and womanhood by hierarchical features essential to manhood and womanhood themselves, and if we maintain that God designed men and women to fulfill these functions of manhood and womanhood, then we have a prima facie reason to believe that women are essentially inferior to men. Hence, complementarianism fails. (174).

In other words, the very nature of manhood and womanhood is such that man is at a greater position on the hierarchy of authority than woman. They are not equal. Again, as Omelianchuk writes, “[Women] simply are not equal in being, and their ‘role’ obtains just because their being is fit for subordination” (176-177).

Finally, those who continue to object may assert that I have not yet made explicit how women are inferior to men.  It seems to me to have already been made fairly explicit–men, by nature, are higher in authority than women–but some persist in this objection. Perhaps a thought experiment may help illustrate my point. Complementarians hold that women should also be subordinate in the home to their husbands. Consider Jackie and Jim. Jim gets a job offer in Alaska which pays about the same as Jackie’s current job, but is something he would enjoy (as opposed to the job he currently has, which he hates and pays much less). Jackie loves her current job, but would have to work at a job she didn’t like were they to move to Alaska. They argue about whether or not to move to Alaska. Finally, they get to the point where they are at an impasse, and neither is willing to budge. Jim, on complementarianism, is the leader of the home, and Jackie is subordinate. So, when push finally comes to shove, Jim decides they will move, and Jackie, on complementarianism, should submit with all due respect and go to Alaska without further debate. Jim has asserted his role as the leader of the home, and therefore they must move.

It seems clear to me that this story may not make explicit how subordination entails inferiority, but it does seem to show that the woman has a clearly inferior position. If an argument comes to the point where neither side will go one way or the other, the man always gets his way. Now I realize that complementarians often argue that men should be loving leaders, should not use their leadership role to trump their wife all the time, etc., but when it comes down to the nitty-gritty details, Jim in the above story was acting in his role as the leader in the home. His decision is the one which must be followed. Perhaps Jim later grants Jackie’s requests to visit friends and family “back home” and does all sorts of other things for her to make her comfortable in Alaska, but that doesn’t change the fact that her position is inferior to his–at least in the sense that whenever a decision is made about which they are split, his choice wins out.

Conclusion

[Thanks to one reader who was kind enough to point out I hadn’t properly drawn my points together, I have added this conclusion a few hours after this post originally went up.]

The argument I have written above shows that on complementarianism, women are ontologically inferior. Why should that entail that complementarianism is false, as noted in the introduction? Well, there are few (if any) who actually assert that women are inferior. In fact, the Biblical teaching on this topic is extremely clear. God, throughout His Word, affirms the equality of man and woman. Galatians 3:28 is one oft-cited example, but one can also look at Genesis 1:26-28, wherein male and female are created equally in God’s image. Groothuis addresses the notion of Biblical equality more in her chapter, so I won’t expand much more.

We therefore have issued a major challenge to complementarians: Women, according to Scripture (and essentially universal affirmation of all involved), are equal to men in being. Yet complementarianism entails that women are inequal in being–they are, in fact, inferior. If that’s true, then complementarianism affirms contradictory truths: women are equal and inequal, equal and inferior. Thus, complementarianism is false.

Sources

Adam Omelianchuk, “Ontologically Grounded Subordination,” Philosophia Christi 13-1, 2011, p. 169-180.

John Piper, “A Vision of Biblical Comlementarity: Manhood and Womanhood Defined According to the Bible” in Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood ed. John Piper and Wayne Grudem, 31-59 (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2006).

Rebecca Groothuis, “‘Equal in Being, Unequal in Role’: Exploring the Logic of Woman’s Subordination” in Discovering Biblical Equality ed. Ronald Pierce and Rebecca Groothuis, 301-333 (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Academic, 2005).

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

A Denial of Theological Determinism

It was not too long ago that I read a book by John Frame, a respected Calvinist theologian, entitled No Other God: A Response to Open Theism. In my review of that book, I wrote, “Interestingly, while I went in reading this book looking for some good arguments against Open Theism, I came out with the realization that theological determinism is a far more dangerous doctrine indeed.” It is time to address theological determinism more fully.

The Debate

There are many sides to the debate over the content of and/or level of determination entailed by of God’s omniscience. Briefly, I will summarize what I see as the four major positions:

  1. Open Theism- Open Theists hold that the future is, in some sense, “open” to the extent that even God doesn’t know for sure what will happen. God knows everything that might happen, and so can plan for every contingency.
  2. Theological Determinism- Essentially, the view that God, in His sovereignty, has determined everything which will happen. It is generally paired with compatibilism, the view that, despite God’s determining of creaturely action, those creatures are still responsible for their behavior.
  3. Molinism- The “middle knowledge” perspective holds that God knows counterfactuals of creaturely freedom–God knows what anyone will do in any situation–and so comprehensively knows the future. However, molinists hold that God does not determine what will happen, He merely foreknows it.
  4. “Bare Omniscience”- Those who hold this view basically fall into a combination of the previous three categories–mixing and matching as they will.

The Biblical Evidence

I’m only briefly going to operate under a claim which I’m sure will be quite contentious for all involved, so I will qualify it heavily:

P1: The Biblical data about God’s omniscience lacks the philosophical development to settle the issue. 

Now, this claim is very qualified: essentially I’m claiming that any one of the four positions discussed only briefly above can claim some kind of Biblical justification. Do I personally think they are all equal? Not at all, actually. But I do think that each position can put forth at least a few passages to try to justify their position. Thus, my suggestion is that the issue needs to be settled philosophically, not exegetically.

Some may latch onto this claim and rejoice, arguing that “J.W. has clearly rejected the Bible! [insert series of Bible verses]!” Such a strategy is wrongheaded for a number of reasons, foremost among them is the forcing of [cited verses] into a preconceived philosophical paradigm. I’m not arguing that the Bible cannot or does not reveal philosophical development. Rather, my argument is that on this issue, the Bible does not present a specific picture. Certainly, there are those who will disagree and say, “Well J.W. is just wrong! The Bible clearly states [favored position]!” It is not here my purpose to enter into a proof-text vs. proof-text argument. Rather, I wish to argue that determinism cannot be true and therefore one of the other positions must be the case. Given that most theologians grant there at least a few verses to support any of the previous positions, I think this is a safe qualification.

Against Determinism

I have argued extensively elsewhere for molinism and against open theism, and it is high time I turn my sights against determinism. I feel that theological determinism is, at best, philosophically untenable. At worst, it is incoherent. I shall put forth three theses to press my claim:

P2: Theological determinism’s only way to preserve creaturely responsibility (and thus save God from responsibility for causing evil) is compatibilism, which is incoherent.

Compatibilism, essentially, is the claim that God determines all things, and people are responsible for their actions.

I confess that, on the face of it, I struggle to understand compatibilism of any sort. But rather than giving in to a lack of imagination, I will seek to understand how theological determinists present compatiblism. Paul Helm, a Calvinist philosopher for whom I have great respect, writes “…God, though responsible, is not to blame for bringing about an evil act on the part of a human being if he has good reason for bringing such an act about, which he must have” (Helm, 164, cited below). Helm argues that God is the sufficient cause for all actions, but not the necessary cause of them. Because of this, Helm holds that “God may be ‘responsible’ for evil in some sense, but this does not mean that he is morally culpable” (Ibid, 164).

Again, I don’t see any way for this to work. First, if God really is the sufficient cause for evils, then it is extremely difficult to see how God would not be culpable. Sufficient causation implies exactly what it seems to: that God’s action alone is sufficient to bring about the evil. Yet Helm seems to think that because he holds that God is not a necessary condition for the evil actions, this removes God from responsibility.

Again, this seems to be exactly backwards, for at least a couple reasons. If God is the sufficient cause of all things, then that means that for any evil I can imagine (let’s say the Holocaust), one need only to refer to God to reveal its cause. Now Helm would hold that humans are the necessary conditions for this evil to occur. In other words, while God may have determined it to be such that the Holocaust would occur, it would not have occurred had there not been creatures to bring it about. But if this is the case, then it seems God is indeed squarely to blame for such evils because, after all, God is not only the sufficient cause of the events, but He also created the necessary conditions and set them up in such a way that these events would occur.

Other theological determinists take two supposedly different approaches to the problem. Some argue that because of total depravity, human wills are in fact free. In other words, humans are incapable of choosing good, but that does not mean they are not free or responsible because they continue to freely choose evil. This tactic does not seem to work, however, because theological determinists must also hold that God made humans in such a way that they would not desire good. In other words, God made these people totally depraved to begin with. Thus, those who disagree with determinists could counter by once more asking, “But isn’t God responsible for causing humans to only be free to choose evil anyway?”

The other tactic is to argue that while God is cause of all things, people themselves are the secondary cause. So while God might sustain my existence and even determine that I should do evil, it is I who do evil, not God. I am a creature, and I bring about the evil. God and I are separate entities, so it follows (on this view) that God is not the cause of evil. Now this view is really no different from Helm’s view explained above, but with less philosophical terminology. The problems with it are the same. Suppose we grant that it is the secondary causes, not God, which bring about evil. Whence these secondary causes? Why do these secondary causes act as they do? According to theological determinism, God created, ordained, and sustains these secondary causes. When a being brings about evil, that being acts secondarily–they are not themselves God. But God ordained and caused the world to be such that theses secondary causes would act in exactly the way in which they do. The secondary causes themselves are caused to act by God. So we have only pushed the problem back one step. Why would God cause secondary causes to do evil? It seems God would certainly be culpable for such evils.

Finally, a brief survey of those theological determinists who take the determinism seriously seems to confirm that God is the cause of evil. John Frame, for example, writes:

“The uniform witness of Scripture is that the evils of this life come from God” (Frame, cited below, 140).

“…[I]t is important to see that God does in fact bring about the sinful behavior of human beings, whatever problems that may create in our understanding” (68).

John Calvin himself wrote, in the Institutes:

When, therefore, they perish in their corruption, they but pay the penalties of that misery in which ADAM FELL BY THE PRDESTINATION OF GOD , and dragged his posterity headlong after him. Is he not, then, unjust who so cruelly deludes his creatures? Of course, I admit that in this miserable condition wherein men are now bound, all of Adam’s children have fallen BY GODS WILL. And this is what I said to begin with, that we must always at last return to the sole decision of God’s will, the cause of which is hidden in him.

It seems, therefore, that theological determinists, when consistent, acknowledge that God causes evil, and indeed wills it. The main reason given is some kind of mystery or hiddenness. I conclude this section with the observation that, despite attempts to the contrary, theological determinism must hold that God causes evil.

P3: Theological determinism is not a “lived” philosophy.

One of the tests for a philosophy–and I should think a theology in particular–is whether it is livable. If something is true, it should reflect reality. Theological determinism holds that every action I take is determined by God. I have found that in practice, I have not yet run into any theological determinist who agrees that they live as though their lives are determined. When bad things happen to them, they are distressed; when relatives are in danger, they pray for the danger to pass without harm; etc. Yet if theological determinism is true, none of these things would matter–all things are determined already. Even were one to pray, that prayer itself would have been determined, along with the outcome. Therefore, theological determinism seems to be unlivable.

P4: If theological determinism is true, I cannot know that it is true. It is therefore self-refuting.

Finally, even if none of the above arguments seem convincing, P4, at least, seems devastating to theological determinism. The argument itself is remarkably simple:

1) If I am determined by non-rational factors to have belief x, then I cannot rationally hold x.

2) On theological determinism, I am determined by non-rational factors to have any given belief.

3) Therefore, on theological determinism, I cannot rationally hold any given belief.

4) Therefore, if theological determinism is true, then I cannot rationally hold that theological determinism is true.

It seems to me that this argument is quite powerful. If theological determinism is true, then my beliefs are determined by God. That includes the belief I currently have that theological determinism is false. However, suppose I believed theological determinism were true. In that case, I have been determined by God to believe theological determinism is true. In fact, my act of deliberating and coming to believe that determinism is true would, itself, be determined. Thus, I cannot rationally hold theological determinism to be true (this argument can be attributed to a podcast from William Lane Craig, though I can’t track down the reference).

Given these reasons, it seems that there are some quite sound objections to theological determinism. Given that there are other positions with at least some Biblical support, it seems theological determinism should be abandoned. The position makes God the author of sin (contrary to the objections of its supporters), it is unlivable, and it is incoherent.

Sources

Paul Helm, Eternal God: A Study of God Without Time (New York, NY: Oxford, 2010), 2nd edition.

John Frame,No Other God: A Response to Open Theism (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2001).

Image Credit: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Caen_palaisdejustice_peristyle.jpg

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Is God just lucky?: Possible Worlds and God’s Providence, a Defense of Molinism

Knowing all the possible circumstances, persons, and permutations of these, God decreed to create just those circumstances and just those people who would freely do what God willed to happen. (William Lane Craig, 86).

I’ve argued previously that molinism allows for human freedom and God’s perfect knowledge of the future. One objection which has been raised to my argument is that, granting all of it, it would seem that God is just really lucky that the world He wants to actualize is possible. Looking back, we can see that the argument flows from the logical priority of God’s knowledge. Central to my defense was the notion that the possible worlds are full of the free choices of creatures. The objection therefore argues that God must simply “get lucky.” There must be a possible world which God actually wants to actualize.

The argument would look something like this:

1) God can only create that which is possible

2) The set of possible worlds covers all possibilities.

3) Therefore, if there is a world which God wants to create, He would have had to be simply lucky–there would have had to be a possible world that contained the outcomes God desired.

The objection is quite thoughtful. It is not easy to resolve. Before rebutting this objection, it is important to note that the set of all possible worlds is the same whether one is a determinist, open theist, or molinist. Granted, open theists deny that this set would include future contingents, but for now that is irrelevant. All the positions agree the set of possible worlds includes no contradictions. Thus, any position must account for the “God got lucky” objection.

I believe that molinism offers a way around this difficulty, and it does so by again focusing upon logical priority. William Lane Craig’s  quote above illustrates this. God’s will is at the forefront. I suggest that God’s will is logically prior to the set of possible worlds. Consider the following argument, which focuses upon the redemption (as one of the outcomes God would desire):

1) God only wills what is possible
2) God wills the redemption
3) Therefore, the redemption is possible (modus ponens, 1-2)
4) Whatever is possible exists in the set of possible worlds (tautology)
5) Therefore, the redemption exists in the set of possible worlds (3, 4)

From this argument, it wouldn’t be too difficult to draw the inference that God isn’t lucky in regards to the possibilities–God’s will would have some kind of determining power over the set of possible worlds, because anything God wills would have to exist in a possible world. In other words, God’s will is logically prior to the set of possible worlds. That which God’s will must be possible, so it is not the set of possible worlds that determines what God can will, it is rather God’s will which determines the set of possible worlds.

A potential objection I could see is that this argument just moves the debate up another level–does God will things because they are possible or are they possible because God wills them? My response would again point to logical priority, and I would say that God’s nature (will) is logically prior to the set of possible worlds.

An objection could then be raised: “Why doesn’t God will for a world without evil?” Answer: Free will defense would work here also. God could clearly will for a world to have the redemption without destroying free will for all persons, but to will a world without evil would (possibly) impinge on all persons’ free will.

Therefore, it seems that only molinism can adequately account for both human free will and God’s omniscience and providence. Whatever God wills will occur. God is not lucky, rather, God is sovereign.

SDG.

Sources

William Lane Craig, “God Directs All Things: On Behalf of a Molinist View of Providence” in Four Views on Divine Providence ed. Stanley Gundry and Dennis Jowers, 79-100 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011).

Image Credit: I took this picture at Waldo Canyon near Manitou Springs, Colorado on my honeymoon. Use of this image is subject to the terms stated at the bottom of this post.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

The New Defenders of Molinism: Reconciling God’s Foreknowledge and Our Free Will

God has both complete foreknowledge concerning how… creatures will act and great control over their actions, in the sense that any act they perform is either intended or permitted by him. Yet because the knowledge which generates this foresight and sovereignty is not itself a product of free divine activity, our actions remain genuinely free, not the robotic effects of divine causal determinism. (Thomas Flint, 44, cited below)

Middle Knowledge–God’s knowledge of counterfactuals–is under attack from all sides. On one side, theological determinists argue that God’s foreknowledge necessitates all states of affairs. On the other side, open theists and process theists argue that foreknowledge limits the free will of creatures. That said, there are some extremely powerful philosophical defenses–and defenders–of the doctrine of middle knowledge.

Logical Priority and Creaturely Freedom

Essential to a correct understanding of molinism is an investigation of creation. Here, however, the discussion is not over the temporal nature of creation or the steps God took in creating. Rather, the focus is upon the logical priority within God’s creative act. By drawing out the logical priority involved, molinism solves the objections of both determinism and open theism.

The logical order of events is different from the chronological order in which they occur. Determinists focus only upon the chronological order: 1) Future contingents are true or false, God knows those which are true. 2) The events which are true occur (Craig, 128). From this, determinists (and open theists who deny God’s foreknowledge in order to preserve freedom of the will for this reason) conclude that everything is determined. The problem is they have ignored the contribution middle knowledge can make to reconciling free will and foreknowledge.

The logical priority of events occurring is quite different from its chronological order: 1) Events occur; 2) Statements about the events are true or false; 3) God knows the true statements.

By drawing out the logical priority of events’ occurring, one can then apply this to creation. William Lane Craig points out “The Three Logical Moments of God’s Knowledge”: 1) Natural Knowledge- God’s necessary knowledge of all possible worlds; 2) Middle Knowledge- God’s knowledge of creaturely counterfactuals. Here is the pivotal point: the third “logical moment” (again, note the distinction between chronological priority and logical priority) occurs only subsequent to God’s decision to create a world. God uses His natural knowledge to peruse the possible worlds, and His middle knowledge to determine how to best bring about His divine plans. Then, He chooses which possible world to create, and this brings about the third “moment” of God’s knowledge: 3) Free Knowledge–God’s contingent knowledge of the actual world (Craig, 131).

Note that God’s free knowledge is contingent–it is based upon actualizing a world from the set of possible worlds. Combining this with the facts of logical versus chronological priority, the resolution of the alleged difficulties from both determinists and open theists is revealed. Determinists ignored the fact that God, upon creating, is selecting from the set of possible worlds–included in each possible world is the set of free creaturely choices which will occur. God, therefore, does not determine which events will occur, but selects a world full of free choices. Open theists, on the other hand fail to recognize that the choices are free. The point must be emphasized: the choices themselves are logically prior to God’s knowledge of them. In other words, there is a set of possible worlds, each of which features various states of affairs. Middle knowledge reveals the free choices made by the individuals which can populate the possible worlds. God’s knowledge does not determine the choices–God simply chooses to actualize one of the worlds full of free choices. It is only the “free knowledge” of God which is determined by God (Flint, 42).

The Theological Superiority of Molinism

Reconciling God’s foreknowledge and creaturely free will is not the only reason to accept molinism. The doctrine has a number of theological advantages over both open theism and theological determinism. First, the doctrine undermines the extremely untoward idea within theological determinism that God causes evil. John Frame, for example, says quite simply “…[I]t is important to see that God does in fact bring about the sinful behavior of human beings, whatever problems that may create in our understanding” (Frame, 68). Molinists, on the other hand, acknowledge that God accounts for evil within His plan but they can rightly argue that evil is due to the free acts of creatures.

Molinism also provides a grounds for Biblical Inerrancy. Open theists have great difficulties providing any grounds for this doctrine (and often end up abandoning it). The reason for this is because open theists don’t believe God knows what free creatures will do. Thus, free creatures–the authors of the Bible–could be fallible. Middle knoweldge, on the other hand, shows that God knows what the creatures will do in whatever circumstances they are placed in. Thus, God would have known who, what, where, when, why, and how to bring about His infallible Word.

Most notably, prophecy perhaps only makes sense on a molinist account. While determinism allows for the truth of prophecy, it undermines the creature-creator relationship inherent in prophecy (and found in accounts like that of Jonah). God simply foreordains that His prophets come forward and prophecy, then He unilaterally brings about the truth of their prophetic utterances. Open theism, on the other hand, must force prophecy either into God’s luck or argue that it is one of the “unilateral” actions of God (which undermines the core of open theism–human freedom). Molinism, however, allows for human freedom and the truth of prophecy. Thomas Flint points out that prophecy on a molinist account could be brought about in two ways–either through God acting to bring about the truth of the prophetic utterance, or through God’s foreknowledge of the free actions of creatures (Flint 197ff).

Again, prayers and their answers may only make sense upon a molinist account. Determinists, in particular, have difficulty with prayer. God seems quite narcissistic–He foreordains that His creations worship Him, and then chooses to bring about their requests. Open theists, on the other hand, have left God hog-tied. I may pray for a friend to come to the faith, and God can only hope with me that that friend might change his/her mind. God doesn’t know what will happen, on open theism, so He, like me, can just try His best. Conversely, molinism allows for creaturely freedom to choose to pray, while also allowing God to bring about the states of affairs prayed for (Flint, 229ff–Flint specifically is discussing praying “for things to have happened”).

Conclusion

Molinism provides a wealth of theological insight. Not only that, but it also reconciles God’s foreknowledge with our free will. Molinism avoids the difficulties of both open theism and determinism, while making sense of theological and philosophical truths. The defenders of molinism have won their case.

Sources

William Lane Craig, The Only Wise God (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 1999).

Thomas P. Flint, Divine Providence: The Molinist Account (Ithaca, NY: Cornell, 1998).

John Frame, No Other God: A Response to Open Theism (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2001).

Image Credit: Bdpmax http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Baitou_Mountain_Tianchi.jpg

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

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