calvinism

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Book Review: “The Great Divide: A Lutheran Evaluation of Reformed Theology” by Jordan Cooper

tgd-cooperThe Great Divide: A Lutheran Evaluation of Reformed Theology presents a broad-spectrum look at Reformed theology from a Lutheran perspective.* Cooper breaks this analysis up into three parts: Predestination and Free Will, Worship and the Sacraments, and Salvation. These parts are intended to show the greatest dividing lines between Reformed and Lutheran thought.

It is really quite exciting to see how well-read Cooper is on both Reformed and Lutheran thought. On the Reformed side, he frequently cites Calvin (of course), Bavinck, Edwards, Piper, Grudem, and more. On the Lutheran side, he draws from Luther, Chemnitz, Melanchthon, Kolb, and more. This thorough use of sources on both sides helps shield against bias, as Cooper continually cites the words of prominent theologians of each tradition.

Cooper provides in each chapter a presentation of Reformed thought on the topic, drawing extensively from prominent Reformed thinkers past and present, as well as various Reformed Confessions. Then, he provides a look at the Lutheran perspective, often quoting the Lutheran Confessions as well as prominent Lutheran thinkers. After providing this comparison, Cooper argues for the Lutheran position, noting the points of divergence along the way. At many points, this analysis is fairly robust. However, at other points Cooper does swiftly move from one point to another before providing enough to establish each point.

One of the things that comes to the front most clearly in the book is just how close Reformed and Lutheran thought are on a number of issues. Unfortunately, as close as the two traditions come on many areas, the chasm between the two remains vast. This is particularly clear in regards to the Sacraments and Predestination. I was also pretty surprised to see how different the Reformed and Lutheran view regarding worship is. The regulative principle within Reformed thought–that whatever is not commanded in Scripture ought not to be done in worship–was something that startled me. I hadn’t considered such a position, but Cooper showed the arguments for and against this position, coming down on the side of Lutheranism (again, he’s coming from that perspective), which sees worship as something that God allows for more leeway in than do Reformed thinkers.

It is truly amazing how much information Cooper manages to convey in just 200 pages. Readers are introduced to both Lutheran and Reformed perspectives on a number of important theological topics, treated to both exposition of those views and offered critique of the Reformed position all in a very clear style and form.

There are two minor critiques I’d offer of the book. The first is the continued use of the archaic “man” to refer to all people. There were, in fact, a few places in which I had to work to discern whether Cooper meant all people or just men when it came to what he was writing. A second critique is that because of the books relatively short length, some of the arguments on either the Reformed or Lutheran side seem extremely brief, leaving some of the arguments inconclusively demonstrated.

Jordan Cooper’s The Great Divide: A Lutheran Evaluation of Reformed Theology is a vast trove of information and analysis. Extensively researched and well-reasoned, it will provide readers unfamiliar with either Reformed or Lutheran theology (or both) an introduction to each tradition as well as a look at how they may interact with one another.

The Good

+Engages with prominent theologians from each group
+Historically informed
+Treats Reformed thought fairly
+Vast wealth of information

The Bad

-Continued use of archaic “man” etc. as inclusive
-Some points are breezed through very quickly

*It is worth noting my own bias here: I am a Lutheran who was raised Lutheran and, though I wandered a little bit, have become quite convinced of Lutheran theology in recent years.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of the book for review by the publisher. I was not required to provide any specific kind of feedback whatsoever. 

Source

Jordan Cooper The Great Divide: A Lutheran Evaluation of Reformed Theology (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2015).

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

Eclectic Theist– Check out my other blog for my writings on science fiction, history, fantasy movies, and more!

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) 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: “Karl Barth’s Infralapsarian Theology” by Shao Kai Tseng

kbitShao Kai Tseng’s Karl Barth’s Infralapsarian Theology is a thorough examination of Barth’s lapsarian position. There are two major positions in Reformed circles regarding how God ordered the divine decrees. Supralapsarianism teaches that God decreed election (who would be saved) and reprobation (who would be condemned) prior to the Fall, while infralapsarianism teaches that God first decrees the Fall, then election and reprobation (among other things). Not all Reformed thinkers hold to one of these two positions. For a fuller explanation, see here, or look more deeply at the book. Barth, historically, has been understood as a supralapsarian, and even at times explicitly claimed that position for himself. Tseng argues, however, that Barth’s position is truly infralapsarian.

Tseng argues for his thesis through an examination of Barth’s developing thought. He begins with Barth’s earliest works and then traces his thought on problems of atonement, decree, and redemption throughout his life. Tseng interacts with numerous interpreters of Barth, utilizing them to support his theory or showing where they are mistaken.

The two greatest difficulties with the book are linked. Tseng’s tone is relentlessly even, such that there are few breaks for readers to pause and consider the contents, and few examples of application of the texts are given. This means that there is little reason given to investigate the central topic of the book: Barth’s lapsarian position. Why, exactly, does Barth’s lapsarian position actually matter to us now? Other than scratching a curious itch, what application does it have? Surely, for historical reasons, it is good to know where Barth ought to line up, but beyond that Tseng doesn’t give much of a reason for seeing why this impacts broader theological studies.

Of course, that doesn’t mean the book is without merit. Those deeply interested in Barth will want to engage with it and debate its contents. Moreover, because Tseng looks deeply at Barth’s developing thought, it provides some analysis of Barth’s overall theology.

Karl Barth’s Infralapsarian Theology is dry and fairly esoteric. For those who are deeply interested in Barthian thought, however, this will be necessary reading, particularly if one wants to engage in Barth’s doctrine of election. If one wishes to delve deeply into Barthian thought and Reformed disputes over lapsarian positions, this is a good read, but its audience is limited to that group.

The Good

+Exposes readers to large amounts of Barth’s thought
+Utilizes interpreters of Barth well
+Detailed look at the central topic

The Bad

-Little reason offered to pursue central topic
-Tone doesn’t put much “life” in the text itself

Disclaimer: I was provided with a review copy of the book by the publisher. I was not required to provide any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.

Source

Shao Kai Tseng, Karl Barth’s Infralapsarian Theology (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2016).

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

Eclectic Theist– Check out my other blog for my writings on science fiction, history, fantasy movies, and more!

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) 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: “The Reformation Study Bible”

ref-sbA few months ago I was sent a review copy of The Reformation Study BibleGiven the title, I kind of expected there to be study notes from Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, and the like. I mean, it’s the “Reformation” Study Bible, right? What it actually is is a Reformed Study Bible. I’ll be reviewing it from that perspective as well as I can, but I wanted to be sure readers wouldn’t be confused, as I was.

The Bible is extremely robust, with notes often taking up half or more of the actual pages of the text. Each book has a brief introduction that does a good job outlining key details and theological themes. There are extensive maps and additional notes found throughout the text. Notes range from theological exposition to apologetics-oriented. At times they focus on a pastoral perspective or draw out inter-canonical readings of the texts. There is little that passes without comment.

I received the edition pictured here. The cover is beautiful and also very solid. The binding clearly will hold up quiet well under lengthy use. There are, of course, other bindings available including leather. The pages are extremely thin, however, and it is easy to see the text through the page. The font is small, though readable. As with most other modern study bibles, there is very little space in the margins for writing notes (apart from sections of biblical poetry).

The extent to which readers will enjoy this Bible is going to be almost entirely based on how much they align with Refromed theology. In some places (such as interpretation of Genesis 1), there is leeway granted in the notes for a spectrum of views. In others (such as the discussion over men and women in the church), a specific perspective (complementarianism) is heavily endorsed. Discussions of sacraments, foreknowledge, predestination, election, and the like are all explicitly Reformed in their perspective. This is not a strike against the study Bible–it is, after all, effectively a Reformed Study Bible–but readers must realize that they will get exactly that.

In order to write this review, I went through several books in their entirety, along with reading the notes and the like. These included Ruth, Genesis, John, and 1 Corinthians. In addition, I read selections from every other book. The tone and notes are consistent throughout.  As already noted, the notes are also fairly extensive.

The bottom line is that you’re going to get out of The Reformation Study Bible exactly what you would expect from a conservative Reformed study Bible. It is excellent in that regard–and could even serve as a resource if you are interested in researching Reformed perspectives on various passages–but if that is not what you want, you should look elsewhere for a study Bible.

The Good

+Extensive notes with deep discussion of inter-related texts
+Good format
+Readable introductions with inter-canonical perspective noted

The Bad

-Confusing title
-Lots of notes will be largely disregarded if you have a different theological bent

Disclaimer: I was provided with a review copy of this book by the publisher. I was not obligated to write any specific kind of feedback whatsoever. 

Is Middle Knowledge Uncontroversial?

luis-de-molina-2I was reading a recent blog post at one of the sites from which I read every post–the Pastor Matt blog–and discovered a point of some importance for those interested in the debate over omniscience and divine foreknowledge. His post “Middle Knowledge Misunderstood” is a brief introduction to the concept of middle knowledge. My focus is not going to be on that topic so much as on a claim made in the article: that middle knowledge is uncontroversial. Simply put, this claim is mistaken. Middle knowledge is the subject of much debate to this day.

Middle knowledge is God’s knowledge of counterfactuals of creaturely freedom: specifically, God’s knowledge of “If x, then y” in regards to human and other created beings’ freedom. It is more than that, and yes I am simplifying this quite a bit.

Middle knowledge has been the subject of no little amount of my efforts in studying, and when I read the claim that it is uncontroversial, I was taken aback. Frankly, to say that middle knowledge is not controversial is just entirely mistaken. I shall now demonstrate that point.

First, middle knowledge is controversial among those who deny that God has absolute knowledge of the future, namely, open theists. William Hasker, John Sanders, Clark Pinnock, and other open theists each explicitly deny the existence of these counterfactuals that make up middle knowledge. Greg Boyd, another prominent open theist, argues in multiple places that the “would” counterfactuals of middle knowledge (i.e. in situation x, person would do y) should instead be “might” counterfactuals because “would” counterfactuals can have no truth value (see, for example, his response to William Lane Craig in Divine Foreknowledge: Four Views (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity, 2001).

Second, middle knowledge is controversial among Calvinists. Paul Helm, a noted Calvinist philosopher, writes:

Since the Reformed held that all that occurs is unconditionally decreed by God and that men and women are responsible for their actions, they saw no need for a third kind of divine knowledge, a middle knowledge, which depended upon God foreseeing what possible people would freely do in certain circumstances.

In other words, middle knowledge is superfluous. Helm goes on to state as much:

Not only is middle knowledge unnecessary to an all-knowing, all-decreeing God, but the Molinists’ conception of free will makes it impossible for God to exercise providential control over his creation. Why? Because men and women would be free to resist His decree.

I would contend that most any theological determinist should hold to a similar belief regarding middle knowledge. On such a position, middle knowledge is unnecessary and indeed contrary to their entire system. Certainly Calvinists in general would deny that middle knowledge is necessary or uncontroversial.

Third, Thomists, I believe, would also reject middle knowledge–and historically have–for a number of reasons, including the notion that it entails potentiality in God. The reason it would do so is because of the whole structure of modality–including possible worlds–which advocates of middle knowledge tend to put forward as well. If the assertion is that there is a different way that things God could have created, then that implies that there is a potential there–something that any Thomistic view of the world would deny. I believe the same point would go for Scholastic thinkers in general, but I’m not familiar enough with the range of scholasticism to say that is for sure.

All of this is not even delving into things like whether those who hold to simple foreknowledge would endorse middle knowledge. David Hunt, for example, in the aforementioned Divine Foreknowledge: Four Views, also argues that counterfactuals of freedom required for foreknowledge are illogical. Frankly, I think any position of simple foreknowledge would have to deny middle knowledge because on simple foreknowledge the whole concept is just as superfluous and contrary as it is for theological determinists. After all, if we contend that God just knows the future, then there is little room for things like God’s knowledge of what creatures would do in varied situations: God just knows what the future is going to be. Again, I don’t know the range of thought within the simple foreknowledge position to say for sure, but I suspect the majority position would be to deny middle knowledge.

Now when I shared some of these thoughts with Pastor Matt, his response was to grant that open theists deny middle knowledge, but then later he also granted that some Calvinists do. My point is that even were these the only ones who denied middle knowledge, that would not qualify as being “uncontroversial.” But now, having demonstrated that it is theological determinists, Calvinists, some who hold to simple foreknowledge, open theists, and Thomists (and possibly others?) who would deny middle knowledge, I think that the point has carried: middle knowledge is not uncontroversial.

I say all of this as someone who thinks middle knowledge does exist. But I think that we need to confront the reality that Molinism–the position which most closely endorses middle knowledge–is itself highly controversial and hardly above criticism.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Middle Knowledge Misunderstood– Pastor Matt’s post on middle knowledge.

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) 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: “To the Ends of the Earth” by Michael Haykin and C. Jeffrey Robinson Sr.

tee-haykin-robinsonThe question of “Why evangelize?” is one which is often leveled against Calvinism. After all, it is reasoned, if people are fore-ordained to be elect or one of the damned, then why bother to go out and evangelize them? Interestingly, this is a charge which I think may be leveled against virtually any view of foreknowledge, so the Calvinist answers given in To the Ends of the Earth: Calvin’s Missional Vision and Legacy have relevance for those of other backgrounds (like me, a Lutheran).

Contents

The book begins with a survey of the arguments made to suggest that Calvinism would not endorse evangelism or makes evangelism pointless. Clearly, the charge has come from many fronts throughout the history of the church. Then, Haykin and Robinson introduce the primary reason for others’ concerns about Calvinism’s evangelical prospects: that Calvin believed God had ordained some to be elect, and others to be damned, before the foundations of the world.

The authors defend the doctrine, taking on many of the key “all” passages which some argue make explicit the openness of salvation to all individual people. Calvin is brought to his own defense alongside a number of modern Calvinist theologians, ably presenting the Calvinist case for exegesis of these key passages, which basically is that when “all” or “world” is used, it is referring to the breaking open of salvation for all tribes and nations as opposed to merely the chosen people of Israel. The book goes beyond these basics and also outlines how other passages might be understood in this context.

Next, the authors turn to an exposition of Calvin’s theology of missions. Part of this theology was the notion that a Christian life lived was a profound witness to the Gospel. Word and deed were central to Calvin’s missions theology. This missional activity was to be for all people (Kindle location 993). Prayer was also central to Calvin’s theology, as he believed that it might be used by God to bring about change in persons (rather than change in God).

Historical Reformed missions are surveyed in the next sections. Calvin taught many going into France and certain torture and death if discovered, and even made significant efforts towards (ultimately failing) missions into Brazil. These efforts showed that through his actions, Calvin himself valued global missions.

Later Calvinist traditions and persons also demonstrated the urge to missions that the Reformer’s theology compelled. The Puritans sought to evangelize and frequently prayed for the same, though they may not have had the success of other contemporaries. Calvinist Baptists in England feverishly evangelized and planted churches, while also demonstrating concern for global evangelism (Kindle loc. 1420ff). Jonathan Edwards, contrary to some opinions, was also focused on missions by developing his own missional theology and also going on a mission to Native Americans himself.

The book closes with thoughts on “developing missional passion” through observations about Samuel Pearce, a theologian known in his time for fervent prayer and love of missions. Central to Pearce’s theology was the cross; Christ crucified was “his darling theme from first to last”; while the other primary theme of his life was a “passion for the salvation of his fellow human beings” (Kindle loc. 1978).

Evaluation

To the Ends of the Earth is a great, pithy read on a topic that should be of interest to many from a diverse array of backgrounds. It has appeal which goes beyond Calvinism in the way it demonstrates missions ought to be of central importance and also in its justification of missions even in light of the notion that there really do exist an elect people. Of course, the thrust of the book is to demonstrate that Calvinist theology does not undermine the need or motivation for missions. Those interested in that topic will find the most to benefit from the book. Regardless of one’s level of interest, however, the book generates its own avenues for exploration by introducing several little-known figures and historical events for further reading. It is short enough to enjoy in a single afternoon (as I did), yet deep enough to keep one’s mind occupied for some time afterwards.

Perhaps the greatest weakness of the book, however, is its length in that there is little ultimate exposition of the counter-arguments to those who would fault Calvinism with lack of evangelical fervor. That is, readers are often left to tie the arguments off themselves instead of having them drawn out and defended. This, however, is a minor fault in what is an otherwise excellent book, regardless of one’s position on the arguments made therein. It was well worth the read, in my humble opinion.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Source

Michael Haykin and C. Jeffrey Robinson, Sr., To the Ends of the Earth: Calvin’s Missional Vision and Legacy (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2014).

Disclaimer: I received a review copy of the book through Crossway. I was not obligated by the publisher to give any specific type of feedback whatsoever.

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) 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: “Chance and the Sovereignty of God” by Vern Poythress

Chance_comps.inddWhen I saw the title  Chance and the Sovereignty of God: A God-Centered Approach to Probability and Random Events, I pounced on the opportunity to review it. This is a topic I’ve been considering for doctoral work so I was extremely excited to dive in.

The book starts off well, with discussions on the nature of chance and exploration of the biblical material for anything dealing with seemingly random events. Poythress ably shows that the Bible clearly presents God as in control of all these events. Numerous verses suggest that God is in control over “all” events, while verses which explicitly mention seemingly random or chance occurrences also attribute such events to divine knowledge and control. Poythress’ look into these topics is detailed and broad. He addresses the weather, random events like the toss of a die, human free choices, the life and death of the smallest creature or plant, and even gambling! These things are all argued to be ultimately, biblically under the sovereignty of God.

Another area the book excels in is the discussion of chance in rival worldviews. Any view which denies the centrality of God is one which suppresses the knowledge of God (Romans 1). Poythress notes that this means that “chance” may become a God-substitute. Chance is seen as being not only the explanation of events but their actual cause:

People are implying that [Chance] has the power to bring about events… The word chance first gets associated with events that we as humans cannot predict or explain… Then, in a second step… [Chance] becomes a label that we offer as the new explanation for the unpredictable event… We say “Chance brought it about”… (Kindle Location 1707)

Chance as an explanation, Poythress argues, is ultimately empty. For chance is substituted to become whatever we cannot predict or explain, and is then used itself as the explanation. I found Poythress’ comments here interesting and very insightful. His application of this concept to other worldviews later in the book makes it worth the read for these sections alone.

One difficulty with the book is the question of audience. At times, the discussion of probability theory becomes complex and very scholarly, but the earlier sections of the book speak broadly and with words that seem aimed more at a general readership. This mixture of technical and general writing makes it hard to pinpoint the audience. Who is supposed to read this book? What is it supposed to be used for?

Another problem I saw in the book is the lack of thorough argumentation for many points. No complaint of this nature may be lodged against the book’s discussion of probability theory, which is well fleshed-out. But on God’s relation to probability theory and how that relates back to sovereignty, there are often only a few sentences at a time to make a claim about the nature of the interrelationship. For example, throughout Section IV on “Probability and Mathematics,” there are lengthy discussions of probability theory with passages on how it relates back to God seemingly tacked on throughout. Near the beginning of this section, one sample is representative:

Both of these [mathematical] principles [discussed above] have their foundations in God… The separations within this world have their ultimate foundation in the distinction among the persons of the Trinity… The unity and diversity in outcomes rest… on the original pattern of unity and diversity in God. God has caused the creation to reflect his glory and wisdom. (Kindle Location 3346)

Poythress does make some earlier references to this argument, but it just never seems to be fully established and surely a statement about mathematical separations for probability in the world being a reflection of distinction among persons in the Trinity may cause some skepticism. It is a point which begs for more argumentation than was dedicated to it here. Where Poythress does address it (Chapter 11), we find more detail to the arguments, but even more questions left unanswered. For example, granting that God is revealed in all things which are made, why think that a sequence of flipping coins is explicitly a revelation of the Trinity instead of simply a revelation of God’s imbuing the universe with order and regularity so that seemingly random events are possible? But Poythress takes it as the former–a revelation of the Trinity–without so much as a comment on alternative possibilities.

Perhaps more problematic is that Poythress never seems to tackle the broader implications of his biblical argumentation. Yes, he put much work into showing God is sovereign over the weather, chance events, free will, and the like. But I kept thinking, “And now what?” What does it mean to say God is in control over natural disasters? What does it mean to say that the roll of dice I make in a game of Risk, for example, is controlled by God? What are the implications of the biblical data Poythress has set before me? Topics like these are taken up at points, only to be quickly set aside by a paragraph or even just a sentence or two.

Overall, Chance and the Sovereignty of God is an interesting look at an oft-neglected topic, but its scope is too broad and its argumentation at times too vague to be helpful. On biblical issues Poythress has offered much to consider. His outline of probability theory is helpful but technical. What I found after reading the book is that I continued to hope for a more detailed discussion on how sovereignty would interlink with chance. Yes, the book makes it plain that God has sovereignty over seemingly random events, but exactly how does that work? What does that mean for everyday life? At times these topics are taken up, only to be set down after but a few sentences. At times helpful and stunningly insightful, at other times frustratingly vague and broad, it’s a book that will leave you longing for more.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Source

Vern Poythress, Chance and the Sovereignty of God: A God-Centered Approach to Probability and Random Events (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2014).

Disclaimer: I received a review copy of the book through Crossway. I was not obligated by the publisher to give any specific type of feedback whatsoever.

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) 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: “From Heaven He Came and Sought Her”

hs-gibsonFrom Heaven He Came and Sought Her: Definite Atonement in Historical, Biblical, Theological, and Pastoral Perspective is an extremely in-depth look at the doctrine of “definite atonement” (more commonly known as “limited atonement.” The editors define the doctrine in the introduction: “The doctrine of definite atonement states that, in the death of Jesus Christ, the triune God intended to achieve the redemption of every person given to the Son by the Father in eternity past, and to apply the accomplishments of his sacrifice to each of them by the Spirit. The death of Christ was intended to win the salvation of God’s people alone” (Kindle location 463).

Due to the length of this book, I will split my review into broad comments on positives and negatives of the book, with a few specifics. It should be noted I didn’t simply reduce the positives to areas I agreed or negatives to disagreements. Rather, I have tried to be as fair as possible and show several areas of interest for this uniquely important work. I look forward to any comments you’d drop off with your own thoughts.

Positives

The most obvious positive of the book is its magisterial scope. From Heaven He Came and Sought Her is a simply huge study which touches upon multiple avenues of research related to the topic of definite atonement. The book touches upon almost every conceivable aspect of the doctrine of limited atonement, from church history to biblical theology to pastoral implications and evangelism. As Daniel Strange comments in the chapter on “The ‘Uncomfortability’ of the ‘Unevangelized’ for a Universal Atonement”: “No doctrine is an island” (Kindle location 14696).

The portions of the book which deal with specific authors are extremely interesting. The chapter on Calvin, for example, shows (in my mind) beyond a reasonable doubt that Calvin–at the least–would have found definite atonement a logical path for his theology to take. The chapter on “Blaming Beza” highlights some interesting aspects of the development of the doctrine which were fascinating.

Many chapters could be held up as “highlights,” but I particularly would say that Strange’s aforementioned chapter, which provides an argument that any view which holds that at least some are not saved is a form of limited atonement was a major highlight of the book. Whether one agrees or disagrees with Strange, his argument forces those who disagree with him to contend with it. Other major highlights are the chapters on Calvin by Paul Helm (an author whose previous work I have enjoyed), the chapter on John Owen (which highlights some aspects of Owen’s teaching I found particularly interesting), and the chapter on “The Triune God” and definite atonement by Robert Letham.

To say that these are “highlights” is to do injustice to the work as a whole, however, which simply provides a comprehensive argument for definite atonement. Even as one who does not hold to the doctrine, I was impressed by the incredible scope of the work and very interested in the historical development of the doctrine as it was highlighted therein. This book is a good read, even if you ultimately disagree with its conclusions. And, if you do disagree, you will be forced to think long and hard about your disagreement.

Negatives

Perhaps the biggest issue is that at multiple points, conclusions drawn from evidence seems overstated. One example, drawn from the chapter on Definite Atonement in Church History, states that Justin Martyr fairly clearly held to definite atonement. Now, I’m not claiming to be a patristic scholar by any stretch of the imagination, but it seems to me the passages cited are hardly a resounding endorsement of definite atonement. Indeed, Martyr said that “[Christ] was going to endure, cleansing through his blood those who believed in him” (Kindle Location 1088). I’m not at all sure why this would be taken as evidence for definite atonement, because apart from universalists, anyone who believes Christ died for the salvation of humanity would also hold that Christ’s death ultimately cleanses the elect; those who believe. None who disbelieve are ultimately cleansed, for the application of Christ’s atonement was not brought about. Now the point is not to demonstrate this latter view is correct; my point is merely that the conclusion drawn here is actually overstated.

Going with the same section, one could just as easily take the passage cited from Martyr about how Christ “ransomed” us as allegedly pointing to the ransom theory of atonement. The problem is this latter case would also be a clear overstatement. Only by starting with a paradigm and reading Martyr through that lens does the alleged evidence turn out to support that conclusion.

Another example comes from the chapter on “Problematic Texts” by Thomas Schreiner. There, in dealing with 1 Timothy 2:1-7, he states “The immediate [contextual] reference to ‘kings and all who are in high positions’ (v. 2) suggests that various classes of people are in view” (Kindle location 9564). For support, he cites further context and a commentary. However, on face value alone, if 1 Timothy 2:2 is indeed that which limits the scope of the passage, one would have to wonder how “kings and… high positions” could be comprehensive in the way required by “all.” I don’t know about you, dear reader, but I by no means rank among kings or those in high places, but I do think that I am part of “all” or at least “various classes of people…” Moreover, Schreiner seems to think that v. 2 is the limiting factor, but the flow of the passage seems to fit more with the notion that all people includes those who are kings and those in high places and that Paul is simply emphasizing the latter group as particularly worth praying for (after all, leaders are those most in need of God’s guiding hand). Schreiner goes on to argue based upon this that the best reading is, again, “all kinds of people” not merely “all people.”

Apart from the fact that Paul could have simply said “all kinds of people” to make it clear that that were his intended meaning, the text itself again goes against Schreiner’s view, because its context is not “all kinds” but rather “kings” or “those in high places…” In any case, I would think this passage would lead to caution about the conclusion, not the absolute conclusion given later: “[T]he pastorals… focus on salvation being accomplished for all without distinction, both Jews and Gentiles…” (Kindle location 9989).

Unfortunately, examples like this may be easily multiplied. Throughout the book, conclusions seem to be drawn prior to the evidence, and so evidence is made to neatly fit with the conclusion. Conclusions often seem to be overstated throughout, without much caution for some of the more difficult passages or acknowledgement that there is diversity among even those who hold to definite atonement on the interpretation of various biblical passages or authors.

Conclusion

Looking back over the review, I can’t help but think that it is inadequate. The scope of From Heaven He Came and Sought Her is so massive that it simply cannot be adequately covered in a review of readable length. Anyone who wishes to deny the doctrine of definite atonement must contend with this work and engage with it critically. Those who hold to definite atonement will find their view ably defended. As a reader, I was challenged as much as I was engaged. I recommend the book highly for those interested in this doctrine, though I do wish there were perhaps some more acknowledgement of the real difficulties on various points.

Disclaimer: I received a review copy of the book through Crossway. I was not obligated by the publisher to give any specific type of feedback whatsoever.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Source

David Gibson and Jonathan  Gibson, eds., From Heaven He Came and Sought Her: Definite Atonement in Historical, Biblical, Theological, and Pastoral Perspective (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013).

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) 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.

James White on Molinism- Confusion about middle knowledge

luis-de-molinaRecently, James White (a theologian and apologist) did a review of the debate on the Unbelievable? radio show between Paul Helm and William Lane Craig [accessible here; audio will begin immediately]. I thought that White did a decent job critiquing the synergistic tendencies in Craig’s exposition, but I also felt he failed to grasp the thrust of Molinism. I say this with great respect for White, whom I consider very thoughtful in the areas in which he engages. However, it is because of this respect that I write this with the hope that he–or at least others who wish to engage in this area–may be better equipped to engage with Molinism.* Although there are a number of places I could engage with White’s commentary, I want to focus on three particular areas, along with a fourth, methodological, issue.

Molinism and Free Will

The most problematic area in James White’s exposition came when he argued that free will is essentially vacuous on Molinism. His argument was essentially that the Molinist assertion that God knows what we will do in any given circumstance (the doctrine of middle knowledge) entails: “In this circumstance, this person will always do this” (emphasis White’s). Thus, he argued that Molinism is incapable of preserving human free will, which is ironically what Molinism was intended to preserve.

White based his argument on an example [actually a few examples, but this was most prominent]. While biking, he often came to a certain fork in the road. On one day, he may choose to turn one way, on another, he may choose to turn the other. Here’s the issue: White then said “The exact same conditions…” were in play in the scenario he described. The difficulty should be immediately obvious: White is very clearly mistaken that these are the “exact same conditions.” One day is not “exactly the same” as another day. Period. Thus, White’s objection fails. It fails for another reason, which we’ll explore in the next section, but for now it is enough to point out that White bases this objection on the notion that humans are able to choose differently in similar circumstances. That is, although he used the terminology of “the exact same conditions,” his example is merely that of similar conditions. His objection therefore fails.

Confusion about Middle Knowledge

It pains me to point this out for someone who I value as much as White, but I must object that it appeared as though White was disturbingly unfamiliar with what middle knowledge actually is. He continually objected to middle knowledge, as shown above, by arguing that people should be able to choose differently on Molinism but may not. Now, I don’t know how much White has read in this area, but surely if he’s going to engage with Molinists like Craig, he should–as someone whom I recognize as taking great care to read and engage with primary sources–read and understand Molina [let me be clear: I’m not saying he never has–I do not know what White has or has not read and would not claim to know]. Molina himself answers White’s objections in this regard very explicitly at a number of points in his On Divine Foreknowledge.

First, White is mistaken when he portrays Molinists as holding that middle knowledge determines choice. He has it backwards. It is the choices which “would be made” which determine middle knowledge. If one would have chosen differently, middle knowledge would have had different content. This is absolutely central to Molina’s view, and I’ll just quote him once to prove it. In his exposition of how various church fathers allegedly taught things similar to his own view, Molina wrote, “…when free choice by its innate freedom indifferently chooses this or its opposite, then God will bring it about that from eternity He foreknew nothing else, they [the church fathers he is favorably citing] are obviously teaching not that things will come to be because God foreknows that they will, but rather just the opposite” (180, emphasis mine).

Now whether Molina accurately exegeted these church fathers, and regardless of the objection which clearly will follow such a statement (“How is this possible?”–something Molina himself answers in detail in On Divine Foreknowledge), the clear and plain teaching of Molina is exactly opposite of what White seemingly attributed to him: namely, the notion that God’s middle knowledge determines free choices. Rather, it–even according to Molina–is exactly the opposite. Thus, White’s critique in this regard is simply wrong.

Confusion about Middle Knowledge II

A final difficulty with White’s critique was that he, at at least one identifiable point, confused middle knowledge with free knowledge. White was criticizing Craig by saying “if you’re truly free” you should be able to choose a different thing from what middle knowledge states (such as buying a different car than the Mercedes you wanted).

White’s critique was off base for two primary reasons. First, as shown above, he failed to recognize the absolute core of Molina’s doctrine of middle knowledge: that middle knowledge is not dependent upon foreknowledge. Second, White’s critique fails to recognize that middle knowledge interacts with free knowledge (God’s comprehensive knowledge of all things which will occur in creation). The reason for this is because White argues that one, if one has freedom, cannot “violate the middle knowledge… that was supposedly true.”

Here White seemingly confused the free knowledge of God with middle knowledge. It is true that the free knowledge of God cannot have been otherwise, for it is a result of the decree of creation. However, what White failed to recognize is that free knowledge is posterior to middle knowledge and so the fact remains that on Molina’s system (as demonstrated above), one can, in effect, change middle knowledge which would thus bring about a different state of affairs.

Again, the question is not here how this may be the case. Instead, what I am arguing is that White failed to correctly explain Molina’s position and so his critique actually failed to be centered upon the view against which he was arguing.

Methodological Issue: Philosophy?

I was surprised to see White comment so frequently on how this or that “may fly in philosophy classrooms” but apparently would not fly in the “real world” [this latter is not a quote, but he contrasted philosophy classrooms with the world outside of them]. He repeated this claim–or something similar–a number of times. I’ll keep this brief: White’s own engagement with Molinism was almost entirely philosophical. He continued to bring up the grounding objection (a philosophical objection if there ever was one), and he also pressed the attack by saying that Molinism cannot adequately account for the free will it is supposed to preserve (again, a purely philosophical argument). I was surprised to see this from White because I do really think he is quite a careful thinker, but the bottom line is that in denigrating philosophy while using a number of philosophical objections to Molinism he appeared rather inconsistent. Philosophy is a tool of the theologian, and White himself uses it in a number of ways. I would urge him to drop this kind of tongue-in-cheek dismissal of philosophical reasoning, even within theology. It seems to me he himself finds philosophical objections to theological systems to be of worth.

Conclusion

I commend White for taking on a difficult issue, and I readily admit he has more knowledge on any number of areas than I can begin to claim. I highly recommend much of his work, and even where he and I disagree, I have found him to be thoughtful and challenging. That said, I maintain White is mistaken in a few aspects of his interpretation of molinism. In particular, he doesn’t seem to acknowledge the broader philosophical framework behind the view. He also failed to allow for Molina’s own very explicit distinctions and definitions, and thus his critique actually declared Molina’s view to be the exact opposite of that which Molina actually held. I hope my own critique will be seen not as an attack, but rather as a call for clarification for White and others who hope to interact with Molinism.

*Full disclosure: I am a Lutheran with Molinist leanings, though I reject the synergism Molina himself held to. I view Molinism as a philosophical framework as opposed to a complete system.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Sources

Luis de Molina On Divine Foreknowledge, edited by Alfred Freddoso (New York: Cornell, 1988).

James White, “The Dividing Line,” January 16, 2014. Accessible here. The primary interaction starts a ways into the show.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) 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.

If a Good God Exists: Presuppositional Apologetics and the problem of evil

It is clear that all things are ordered according to the perfect will of the Lord. If the Lord’s reasons for some state of affairs are inscrutable, does that mean that they are unjust? (Augustine, City of God Book V, Chapter 2).

The problem of evil is the most pervasive argument used against Christianity. It also causes the most doubts among Christians. I know I can attest to crying out to God over the untold atrocities which continue to happen. Yet very often, I think, we are asking the wrong question. Here, I’ll explore the ways the problem of evil is presented. Then, I’ll offer what I think is a unique answer: the presuppositional response to the problem of evil. Finally, we’ll evaluate this response.

Two Ways to Present the Problem of Evil

The problem of evil is posed in a number of ways, but here I’ll outline two varieties.

The Classical/Logical Problem of Evil

God is said to be all powerful and all good, yet evil exists. Thus, it seems that either God does not want to prevent evil (in which case God is not all good) or God is incapable of preventing evil (and is thus not all powerful).

The Evidential Problem of Evil

Evil on its own may not prove that God does not exist (the logical/classical problem of evil), but it seems that surely the amount of evil should be less than what we observe. Surely, God is capable of reducing the amount of suffering by just one less child being beaten, or by one less tsunami killing hundreds. The very pervasiveness of evil makes it clear that no good God exists.

The Presuppositional Response to the Problem of Evil

One of the insights that we can gain from presuppositional apologetics is that it forces us to look at our preconceived notions about reality and how the impact our answers to questions and even the questions we choose to ask. The way that the problems of evil are outlined provides a prime example for how presuppositional approach to apologetics provides unique answers.

The presuppositional answer to these problems of evil is simple: If a good God exists, then these are not problems at all.

Of course, this seems overly simplified, and it is. But what the presuppositionalist is emphasizing is that the only way to make the two problems above make sense is to come from a kind of neutral or negative starting presupposition. The only way to say to construct the dilemma in the classical/logical problem of evil is to assume that there is not an all-powerful and all-good God to begin with. For, if an omnibenevolent, omnipotent being exists, then to say that God does not want to prevent evil seems false; while to say that God is incapable of preventing evil is also false. Thus, there would have to be a third option: perhaps God reasons for allowing evil are inscrutable; perhaps the free will defense succeeds; etc. Only if one assumes that there is no God can one make sense of the logical problem of evil to begin with.

The evidential problem of evil suffers an even worse conundrum given its presuppositions. For it once more assumes that God should do more to prevent evil, and so because God does not do more, God must not exist or must not care about evil. But who is to say that God should do more to prevent evil? Who is in a position to judge the overall evil in the world and say that there should be less? Furthermore, even assuming it were possible for there to be less evil, who knows the whole breadth of possible purposes God might have to allow for suffering and evil? The presuppositionalist agrees with the words of God in Job:

Who has a claim against me that I must pay?
Everything under heaven belongs to me. Job 41:11

The answer must come with humility: no one has such a claim. There is none who can claim that God owes them one thing. Yet this is not all an appeal to God’s sovereignty. Instead, it is an appeal to God’s goodness.

The late Greg Bahnsen, a defender of presuppositional apologetics, presents the presuppositional approach to the problem of evil in his work, Always Ready:

If the Christian presupposes that God is perfectly and completely good… then he is committed to evaluating everything within his experience in light of that presupposition. Accordingly, when the Christian observes evil events or things in the world, he can and should retain consistency with his presupposition about God’s goodness by now inferring that God has a morally good reason for the evil that exists. (171-172)

Thus, the strength that one assigns to the problem of evil ultimately depends quite a bit upon one’s presuppositions. If you believe you have good reason for thinking that God exists, then the problem of evil seems much less powerful than if you believe there is no good reason for thinking God exists.

Yeah… and?

Okay, so what’s the point? It may be that what we bring to the table does indeed alter our view of the problem of evil. Does that mean we are at a complete impasse? I think that this is where evidences come in, even on the presuppositional view. If all we have are presuppositions, then we are indeed stuck. But we must look at evidences to see whose presuppositions match reality. And, what we have done by centering the discussion of the problem of evil around presuppositions is to set it to the side. Surely the atheist would not suggest the Christian must abandon their presuppositions? It seems like a more rational perspective to look at the evidences. The presuppositionalist holds that when it comes to evil, it is really just a matter of presuppositions. If a Good God exists, we can trust God.

Links

The Presuppositional Apologetic of Cornelius Van Til– I explore the presuppositional method of apologetics through a case study of the man who may fairly be called its founder, Cornelius Van Til.

Debate Review: Greg Bahnsen vs. Gordon Stein– I review a debate between a prominent presuppositional apologist, the late Greg Bahnsen, and a leading atheist, Gordon Stein. It is worth reading/listening to because the debate really brings out the distinctiveness of the presuppositional apologetic.

I have explored this type of argument about the problem of evil before. See my post, What if? The “Job Answer” to the problem of evil.

I review Greg Bahnsen’s Always Ready.

Image credit: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Las_Conchas_Fire.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 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.

Really Recommended Posts 3/8/13

snowl-owl-post-arpingstoneIt really is difficult to keep up with all the excellent posts around the internet. But, I have taken the liberty of doing some of that work for you and found a diverse array of posts on fascinating topics. Read them, love them, comment! This week, we’ll be looking at the prosperity gospel, Calvinism, women in the Bible, Young Earth Creationism, the History Channel’s TV show on “The Bible”, and design flaws in creation.

The Prosperity Gospel Revisted– I found this post about the “Prosperity Gospel” quite fascinating. Dan offers critical interaction with the notion that the Gospel is about empowering us to gain. I also really recommend checking out the entire site, Rockadoodee, which is always thought-provoking.

Jerry Walls: What’s wrong with Calvinism? (Video)- One of the most interesting evangelical scholars writing right now, Jerry Walls, evaluates Calvinism. I found this video quite interesting. I’ve met Walls in person and I find him to be very gracious and thoughtful.

Correcting Caricatures: Women in the Bible [This link appears to be broken now… I don’t know why. Please let me know if you can view it]- Eminent scholar Walter Kaiser looks at several key texts related to women in the Bible. I found this fascinating and enlightening. Whether you are egalitarian or complementarian, it is worth reading.

2013 International Conference on Creationism– The Geochristian outlines a number of interesting discussions at this conference, which is where all the major scholars within the Young Earth Creation movement meet. Alongside this article, you should check out these articles on the state of Young Earth Creationism: The State of Creation Science as Measured by Scholarly Publishing– this one looks at scholarly works by YECs over a recent period of time and evaluates what it means for YEC; The Next Generation of Creation Scientists?– this post looks at who may be stepping in to fill the roles of the major YEC organizations.

The Bible–Night One Review– A look at the theology in the new TV series by the History Channel: The Bible.

If God Designed Humans, How Do We Account for “Design Flaws”?– One of my favorite blogs, “Well-Spent Journey” examines the notion that humans are flawed designs as an argument against intelligent design.

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