Monday, December 22, 2014

The Exoneration of Theological Paradox

The writer finds himself in complete agreement with those who insist that Christianity is supremely rational.[1] With all due respect to Dr. Whitcomb, this begs the question as to the use of reason by the Christian versus the use of reason by the non-Christian. Christianity is indeed rational, but by who’s standard. To accept fully the concept of the infallible Word is to claim all facts for God and to insist that reality can only be interpreted in terms of Him and His Word.[2] Human reason must be understood and interpreted according to God’s revelation. It is by divine standards that we must ascertain an understanding of human reason. Christian theism is infinitely rational but it is rational as God Himself defines and is the expression of rationality, not as finite fallen humans would define it. The covenantal nature of our relationship with God extends to all parts of the relationship. There remains no component of the Creator-creature relationship that is outside the purview of the covenant. This obligates men to use every one of God’s created tools, especially creaturely logic, in a manner that accords with the terms of the covenant. This would mean that it is inappropriate and strictly forbidden to place God or His Word under any created rule of finite human reason, to include human logic. This is especially the case when that logic is the product of finite abstract reasoning.

Bosserman helps us understand how Christian thought can be logical while confidently embracing theological paradox when he writes, “However, pursuit of an appreciation for how distinct features and components (a) imply one another when viewed through the lens of a common system, and then (b) together enhance our perspective on that system is (on our account) one of the most basic characteristics of a concrete reasoning process.”[3] Bosserman points us to the example of flesh and bones and how the two are not at all the same thing but when understood through the lens of the human body our perspective of them is enhanced. Theological paradox works in a similar fashion. The divine condescension of God in the OT implies the divine incarnation in the NT. When viewed separately the two appear as contradictions but when viewed together, through the lens of the Christian system, each act is enhanced by the other so that our understanding of the divine revelation is deepened even though the paradox lingers on in what many theologians call mystery.

In place of the Triune person, the unbeliever embraces as his triad of, too often unarticulated, presuppositions: (a) human autonomy, (b) abstract reason, and (c) brute facts.[4] The unbeliever sets himself up as the final reference point, creates his own system of justification, and proceeds to treat facts as if they were the product of impersonal chance.

The issue we face is one of authority. It always comes back to the standard by which truth claims are justified. And at the very bottom of this issue there are two and only two possibilities: man or God. The unbeliever generally has three dominant theories at his disposal today when it comes to epistemic justification. One, a belief is justified when formed through a valid procedure that is translucent to the believer himself. Two, true beliefs are justified to the degree that they are mutually supportive of other true beliefs. Finally, beliefs are justified only if they form a healthy/reliable belief-forming mechanism.[5] Here we see that from one school of thought to the next, man remains the measure of all things. Man determines what is and it not true belief using finite abstract reasoning as his standard and final authority. Far too often, modern apologists fail to recognize the foundational presuppositions upon which unbelievers operate. What is worse, many schools of apologetics have unwittingly constructed their method on those same unbelieving principles. Van Til writes, “The Reformed apologist will frankly admit that his own methodology presupposes the truth of Christian theism. Basic to all the doctrines of Christian theism is that of the self-contained God, or if we wish, that of the ontological Trinity. It is this notion of the ontological Trinity that ultimately controls a truly Christian methodology.[6] If we were to take all the underlying objectives of Christian apologetics and ask what we are doing when we do apologetics, the answer would be that we are vindicating the divine self-disclosure of the God of Christian theism. The revelation of God is ubiquitous from the standpoint that every part of that revelation is a revelation of the self-contained ontological Trinity. This indicates that if there is theological paradox in the doctrine of the Trinity, and vindicating this doctrine is the essential thrust of Christian apologetics, then it only follows that Christian apologetics must reflect that paradox in it’s method of vindication as a matter of routine.

It is a sad state of affairs however, in modern apologetic method. Rather than begin with God and with God’s self-disclosure in Scripture and hold that up as our final reference point for human predication, we begin with pagan philosophy, secular science, and finite abstract reasoning. The insistence is that apologetic method must get in line and march in lock step with the rules of godless autonomous men rather than divine revelation. William Lane Craig, who is in his own right a brilliant philosopher, exhibits a mindset that should be very disconcerting to any God-fearing, Bible-believing apologist when he writes, “One of the awesome tasks of Christian philosophers is to help turn the contemporary intellectual tide in such a way as to foster a sociocultural milieu in which Christian faith can be regarded as an intellectually credible option for thinking men and women.”[7] Regrettably, this is the attitude of most apologists operating in conservative Christian communities today. Compare and contrast this with what Paul had to say,
            And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.[8]

Paul’s words stand in stark contrast with Craig’s idea. Because of the inherent antithesis present in unbelieving thought, the only way to accomplish Craig’s aspiration is to adopt a willing attitude to subject the claims and demands of Scripture to the authority of autonomous human reason. The gospel of Jesus Christ does not present itself in a way that men are asked to judge it’s fidelity, or it’s authority or it’s right to lay claim to our lives. The gospel of Christ demands repentance from the current autonomous mindset of arrogant, fallen, sinful men. The idea that we must utilize an apologetic method or subscribe to theological beliefs that somehow do not offend the intellects of sworn enemies of God is quite simply a clear and obvious contradiction to the teachings of Scripture. While theological paradox is warmly embraced as unavoidable in Christian theism, obvious contradictions to divine revelation must be vigorously opposed and rejected due to the fact that they are nothing more than expressions of human autonomy.

[1] John C. Whitcomb, “Contemporary Apologetics and the Christian Faith,” Bibliotheca Sacra: A Quarterly Published by Dallas Theological Seminary (Dallas, TX: Dallas Theological Seminary, 1955–1995).
[2] Rousas John Rushdoony, By What Standard? An Analysis of the Philosophy of Cornelius van Til, repr. ed. (Vallecito, Calif.: Ross House Books, 1995), 1.

[3] B.A. Bosserman, The Trinity and the Vindication of Christian Paradox: an Interpretation and Refinement of the Theological Apologetic of Cornelius van Til (Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2014), 138.
[4] Ibid., 10.
[5] See Bosserman, section 5.3, “Epistemic Justification in Christ.” 119.
[6] Cornelius Van Til, Christian Apologetics, 2nd ed., ed. William Edgar (Phillipsburg, N.J.: P&R Pub., 2003), 128.

[7] James Porter Moreland and William Lane Craig, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 2.
[8] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), 1 Co 2:1–5.

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