Saturday, March 28, 2015

Presuppositional Defense of Scripture

It is not much of a secret these days that we have numerous people in American as well as other western cultures that want to be numbered with the saints and identified as Christian without having to hold either to the one and only ancient standard of belief and practice that has been handed down in the Church from it’s inception. I have encountered a very kind man over at Michael Kruger’s blog who fits this category very well. He was reared in a Southern Baptist Church in what he calls were the traditional teachings of conservative Christianity. Now, my new friend says that he no longer thinks the Bible is the inspired, authoritative Word of God that is both binding and our final authority for faith and practice. He also has denied that God would assign a 16 year-old unregenerate youth to eternal damnation because that punishment would just not be just. Additionally, he has denied that Adam is a literal historical figure, claiming that all ancient writers wrote in non-literal ways to convey history and that there stories should not be interpreted as actual history. Adam is one of many, many myths recorded in the OT as far as it goes and we should not read more into that account than we need to in order to learn the lessons that author of Genesis was seeking to convey. What were those lessons? It is really difficult to say based on such a hermeneutic. The purpose of this blog is to provide a very short defense of the Christian claim that the Bible, as the Word of God, is self-authenticating, self-sufficient, and self-interpreting, and as such, it is authoritative and binding on the covenant community.

The Psalmist tells us “In God, whose word I praise, In God I have put my trust;” (Ps. 56:4) Here we see the Psalmist actually praising not God, but God’s word. So much for bibliolatry. Then again just a few verses later,        “In God, whose word I praise, In the Lord, whose word I praise.” (Ps. 56:10) Clearly the Psalmist had the highest possible view of Scripture if he is going to actually praise it. The Psalmist believed that God’s word purifies us from sin. “How can a young man keep his way pure? By keeping it according to Your word.” (Ps. 119:9) If the Word of God purifies, then it follows that it must itself be of the purest essence. The Word of God is holy and being holy, it sanctifies. The Psalmist states this again in a different way, Your word I have treasured in my heart, That I may not sin against You. (Ps. 119:11) This ancient view that the Word of God, being holy, being true, being pure, being perfect, has a cleansing effect is restated in the NT. We will come to that in due time. Suffice it to say that ancient writings of the OT inform us that the Word of God is to be praised and that this Word is holy, perfect, and that it cleanses from sin and helps protect us from sin and error.

Solomon tells us in the second chapter of Proverbs that the Word of God imparts wisdom, knowledge, righteous judgment, understanding, discernment, and the fear of God. It delivers us from the evil way. Repeated we are instructed in the Proverbs to given attention to the Word of God and by it we shall live. The theme throughout the Proverbs is that the Word of God produces everything we need to order our lives in a wise, righteous, and holy manner from beginning to end. The wisest human to ever live thought that the very key to knowledge and understanding was situation in the Word of God.

Jesus affirmed that man lives by every Word that proceeds out of the mouth of God. In Matt. 15:4-6, Jesus identified Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy as the Word of God. In fact, Jesus accused the Pharisees of refusing to recognize the force or power of the Word of God – invalidating it’s authority by replacing it’s clear teachings with their own traditional views which were an admixture of ancient Scripture and autonomous Jewish philosophy. This is significant because Jesus has now identified the Sacred Writings, the Scripture, with the Word of God.

Jesus Himself, according to John was not only God incarnate, He was the Word of God made flesh. Not only this, the words of Jesus were also the Word of God because Jesus is God. Jesus said that those who hear His word and do not do it are like the fool who builds his house on the sand so that when judgment comes, he is destroyed by his own refusal to acknowledge the power and authority inherent in the Word of God. (Matt. 7:24) Moreover, Jesus said that if anyone was ashamed of His Word in this life, He would be ashamed of them in the life to come. (Mk. 8:38) In fact, Jesus told us that heaven and earth will pass away but His Word will NEVER pass away. The Word of God is an abiding Word that will never fade away. Why is it then that professing Christians in modern western culture, and especially here in America, seem to want to do all they can to cast doubt on God’s Word and to ignore it, to replace it, to judge it, and to reduce it to the word of mere unsophisticated, ancient men whose ways are outdated and should be abandoned for more modern, enlightened customs and beliefs? The answer is simple: there is neither love nor fear of God in his or her heart. They are still in their sin. Unbelief is the dominant force in their thoughts.

Jesus believed that the Scriptures were the key to understanding and avoiding error, the same as the Psalmist did. (Matt. 22:29) He accused the Jews of erring because they did not understand the Scripture. In other words, the Scripture is right in all it teaches and if you would understand Scripture, you would avoid error. The key to avoiding being wrong about these concepts is situated in understanding Scripture because Scripture is right about them. Jesus said that the Scriptures impart eternal life. This is exactly what Solomon echoed in Proverbs repeatedly and the Psalmist in reference to the power of the commandment to impart life. Jesus also says that the Scripture cannot be broken. (Jn. 10:35) The Scriptures are indestructible according to Jesus. If one looks at what Jesus calls the Word of God and what He calls the Scripture, they are synonymous. Why would a follower of Jesus claim that the Word of God, or the Scripture, is not binding on their life? Obviously if we look at Jesus’ use of Scripture and the Word of God throughout the gospels, it is clear that His view of the Scripture is that it is the Word of God and that it most certainly is authoritative and binding upon His followers.

We now come back to the view that the Scriptures have a sanctifying effect on the Christian. Jesus Himself said, Sanctify them in truth; your word is truth. (Jn. 17:17) Jesus also said to the disciples that they are clean because of the Word, which I have spoken to you. (Jn. 15:3) Here we have the truth of God interchangeably used with the Word of God. Additionally, the Scriptures are the Word of God. God’s word is God’s truth. Therefore, Scripture is God’s truth. The Scriptures, the Word of God, and Truth are all used synonymously. To deny Scripture is to deny God’s truth. To say that Scripture is not authoritative or binding is to say that God’s truth is not authoritative or binding. To claim that Scripture is not God’s Word is to deny that Scripture is God’s truth. To deny that Scripture is God’s Word is to contradict Jesus’ claim that Scripture is the Word of God.

Paul, writing to the Ephesian Christians tells us that Christ has sanctified the Church, having cleansed her by the washing of the water with the word. (Eph. 5:26) From the numerous references to the Scripture cleansing us, helping us to avoid sin, purifying us, keeping our way clean, sanctifying us, it seems we have more than enough evidence to conclude that the Bible is an instrument by which God sanctifies His chosen people.

Paul, in his letter to the younger Timothy writes, You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. (2 Tim. 3:14-17) Paul is not requesting that Timothy do this, he is commanding him to do these things. The sacred writings, Holy Scripture, the Word of God, the Truth, is able to give you wisdom that leads to salvation through faith. Scripture is the source of salvation because it is in Scripture that we have preserved to us, the gospel of Jesus Christ. Then Paul argues that all Scripture is God-breathed, the product of God, and as such, it does a wonderful work in our lives. Paul did not qualify this statement because there was no need. Obviously Timothy understood what Paul was saying. The Scriptures are the standard by which we are taught, reproved, corrected, and trained in righteousness. Only training in Scripture and by Scripture can lead to a man that is a “man of God, adequate, equipped for every good work. The word adequate here means qualified. In other words, it is divine Scripture that guides and equips us to be godly men who are qualified to engage in “every” good work. If it is a “good work” as defined by God, only Scripture can equip us to be qualified to perform it. Paul had the highest view of Scripture. Did Paul think that other NT writings were Scripture? According to 1 Tim. 5:18, he did. In that text Paul quotes Luke 10:7 and Deut. 25:4 both as Scripture. Hence, Paul viewed Luke on par with Moses. Being Scripture, they are equally viewed as the Word of God. After all, Paul is quoting them in the context of authority.

Peter tells us that no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God. (2 Peter. 1:19) We should take care not to call the Word of God the word of men. It is an act of blasphemy to lower the divine Word in such a manner. Then again, in 2 Peter 3:15-16, Peter issues an ominous warning: “and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation; just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction.” Two very important points can be easily observed in this text. First, Paul’s writings were already understood as on equal footing with the rest of the Scriptures, the Word of God, divine Truth. Second, people that twist the things that Paul writes do so to their own destruction. Such would not be possible unless what Paul wrote was authoritative and binding on the conscience.

Every system has for it’s final authority, a standard that is located within the system. For example, if someone claims that empiricism is the standard by which all truth claims are justified, then that claim itself cannot be subjected to an external source without proving itself false. This is exactly the same with Christianity. If we appeal to something else outside of Scripture to argue for it's final authority, then that thing, be it empiricism, or rationalism, or existentialism, or whatever, now replaces Scripture as the arbiter of truth. The problem, in the end, with every other non-Christian view is that they all reduce to irrationalism. They move from claims to mystery to irrationalism while Christianity moves from claims to mystery to the self-contained ontological triune God revealed in Scripture.

Opponents of Biblical Christianity seem to want to read a text that says the Bible is the self-attesting, final authority for faith and practice before they will accept it as such. Such a demand is irrational and displays a profound ignorance. Not a single author of the NT was alive to witness the collection of all the other author’s writings together at one time in one place. The approach we take then is an a posteriori approach examining each epistle one by one to see if it presents itself as an authoritative expression of the tradition and revelation that began with Jesus Christ. When we take that approach, we see in every single epistle, the marks of authority, commands, authoritative instructions, and the expectation on the part of the author that his audience will respect and obey his letter.

My friend has worn the word rational out to be frank with my readers. In order for something to be accepted as binding, he says that it must be considered rational to him. But why can’t each man make the same claim? And if they can, does it not follow that each man can do what is right in his own eyes, based on what he thinks is rational? If that is the situation, how can my friend condemn a God that judges the 16 year-old unregenerate men that die rejecting Christ? It is perfectly rational to me that God can do exactly that. And if my reason is really what determines what is binding and true and reasonable, then what basis does my opponent have for contending with me? The fact is if we reject the objective authority of Biblical revelation in Scripture as our final standard, the only alternative is a radical subjectivism where each man, based on what is rational to him, decides what beliefs are justifiable, and what behaviors should be praised and those that should be avoided. In fact, the summum bonum itself becomes a moving target based on the whims and impulses of billions of men.

There is so much more that could be said but space and time dictate that this will have to do for now. Suffice it to say that no man truly understand the true nature of Scripture, or the gospel, unless God opens His eyes to it's wondrous truth.  We do not arrive at a proper understanding of Scripture by historical evidence, empirical demonstrations, or rational argumentation. We can only rightly assess Scripture when our hearts and minds have been captured by the divine, regenerating work of the Holy Spirit. Remember, Jesus said the reason they do not believe is because it has not been granted to them to believe. No one comes to a right understanding of Scripture unless it has been granted to them by the Father. (Jn. 6:65) Jesus said, But you do not believe because you are not my sheep. The casual relationship between being sheep and believing and not being sheep and not believing is impossible to miss.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Biblical Revelation on Divine Omniscience: The Problem of Divine Knowledge (Pt. 2)

The solution, in my opinion, to the problem of the traditional Christian belief vis-à-vis divine knowledge is not situated in logical and philosophical categories. The solution to this problem is actually the source that informs our understanding of divine knowledge. When the philosopher or the logician talks about divine knowledge, or omniscience, they do so through a very particular grid, using a very specific set of standards by which the belief itself is measured. The larger issue then, concerns the supposed justification for requiring finite human logic to remove all mystery from the Christian understanding of the divine attributes. Does such a view require that we relinquish logic altogether? Can we salvage logic and orthodox Christianity, or, must we relinquish one of them? Logic could not be dispensed with, without also dispensing with all meaningful communication. And if communication is lost, so too is any hope for a knowledge of truth. The solution is not situated in the loss of logic, but rather in its redemption. Logic must be born again.

Vern Poythress writes,
But we do have something better, namely, communion with the Logos through the flesh of Christ, and through the Scripture which is his word. Our minds are not closed vessels that have a certain stock of logical pieces that are just “there.” That would be to fall back into impersonalist thinking. Rather, we exercise reason at every moment in communion with the infinitude of God in Christ. We cannot isolate a purely human level, nor can we eliminate mystery, because the sacrifice of Christ and the union of tow natures in Christ are mysteries. [Poythress]

The solution is situated in a Christian understanding of logic. That there is both divine logic and
human logic is only the inevitable outworking of a coherent view of God as He is revealed in Scripture. Bosserman helps, “The difference, then, between paradox and contradiction can be formally defined, but whether a specific concept enhances or fatally disrupts the Christian worldview can only be determined with reference to special revelation." [Bosserman] From this we can conclude that the philosophers are wrong to carry on their investigation into omniscience apart from the divine revelation. Moreover, they are no less wrong to think that the divine attributes must necessarily fit into finite human categories without even the slightest hint of mystery and paradox before they may be believed and embraced by reasonable human beings.

If human knowledge is dependent on God, then God’s own knowledge depends on God. That is, it is self-attesting, self-referential, self-sufficient. [Frame] God’s knowledge is unlike human knowledge in that God knows all things perfectly and thoroughly all at once in the eternal present for lack of a better term. The knowledge of the ontological Trinity is self-contained. Since God is without limitation, so too is His knowledge. The Psalmist tells us, “Great is our Lord, and abundant in power; his understanding is beyond measure.” (Ps. 147:5) The word used here, tĕbûnâ, is well attested in the Hebrew Scriptures. The verb refers to knowledge which is superior to the mere gathering of data. [TWOT] This word attaches itself to the Hebrew mispār which means number. The actual construction in this text literally says that God’s understanding is without number, or without limit.

The latter word, though often used in purely mathematical contexts, has some other interesting uses. Thus, it is often employed to point out God’s greatness: his wonders are without number (Job 5:9; 9:10), as is his host (Job 25:3); he alone (cf. Gen 15:5) knows the number and names of the stars (Ps 147:4: Isa 40:26); in the ultimate sense, his eternality (Job 36:26) and understanding (Ps 147:5) are beyond man’s power to fathom. [TWOT]

Hence, the Psalmist is informing us that God’s understanding, God’s knowledge is without limitation. This is similar to what we find in Job 36:26, “Behold, God is exalted, and we do not know Him; The number of His years is unsearchable.” Peter, in his exasperating experience with our Lord, after being asked three times by Jesus, if he loved him answered, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.” Peter obviously believed that Christ’s knowledge was without limitation.

Finally, to claim that the Christian tradition holds to contradictory views when it affirms the doctrines of divine omniscience and human responsibility is simply misguided. There is a remarkable and profound difference between a logical paradox and a logical contradiction. The actual claim being made is that the Christian doctrine of omniscience is in a contradictory relationship with the Christian doctrine of human responsibility. Copi tells us that “Two propositions are contradictories if one is the denial or negation of the other – that is, if they cannot both be true and cannot both be false.” [Copi] It is not at all obvious how the proposition, “God knows all future acts of free creatures” is contradictory with the proposition “free creatures are responsible for their actions.” But the issue is a little more complex than space permits. All that is necessary to remove the contradictory, in my opinion, is the rejection of the libertarian notion of freedom. Once that move is made, we no longer have to deal with the problem as it has been historically stated. Edwards writes, “It is that motive, which, as it stands in view of the mind, is the strongest, that determines the Will. But it may be necessary that I should a little explain my meaning. By native, I mean the whole of that which moves, excites, or invites the mind to volition, whether that be one thing singly, or many things conjunctly.” [Edwards]

The human will is not an island unto itself. It is not self-caused. Human will is moved by the seat of desires, which is situated, according to Edwards, in the mind. The notion of libertarian freedom seems impossible to defend. Moreover, all that is required to refute this alleged contradiction in terms of omniscience and responsibility is the straightforward denial that God forces men to act against their will. And clearly, orthodox Christianity would affirm that God never acts in such a way as to injure the will. Nevertheless, how God knows future acts of genuinely responsible creatures will remain a mystery until such time that God reveals how the two work together. Our lack of understanding should in no way serve as a basis for rejecting the basics of orthodox Christian teachings. The fact is that divine revelation discloses that we are indeed responsible agents and that God’s knowledge is indeed without limitation. And divine revelation is our final standard for what we believe concerning this subject.

In summary then, it seems to me that once we make the move to a regenerate human logic and recognize that divine logic exceeds our ability to fully comprehend it, we are in a much better position to salvage omniscience from the ash heap of human reason. Moreover, once we apply the correct standard, that is, the divine revelation that is Scripture, we no longer have to deal with making omniscience fit such overly restrictive finite categories on fallen logic. Finally, if we examine the specific claims of the argument, we find the problem is much reduced when we criticize the way freedom is defined. Armed with a logic that has been born again, with the standard of Scripture, and with a proper understanding and perspective on the freedom of the will, it is easy to see that the problem of the Christian doctrine of omniscience is not really a problem after all. While it remains a mystery, we can safely say that it is certainly not guilty of introducing irrationalism into the Christian tradition.

[1] Vern S. Poythress, Logic: A God-Centered Approach to the Foundation of Western Thought (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2013), 120.
[2] 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), 133.
8 John M. Frame, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R Publishing, 2013), 306.
 [4] Louis Goldberg, “239 בִּין,” ed. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1999), 103.
[5] R. D. Patterson, “1540 סָפַר,” ed. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1999), 633.
[6] Irving M. Copi, Introduction to Logic, 14th ed. (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, 2011), 176.
12 Jonathan Edwards and Sereno Edwards Dwight, The Works of Jonathan Edwards (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1990), Vol. 1, 5-6.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Problems Concerning Divine Knowledge

What does the Bible teach us about the knowledge of God? What are the philosophical, theological, and practical implications of those teachings? The purpose of this post is to demonstrate that only a biblically faithful perspective on divine knowledge can be regarded as logically coherent and philosophically plausible. Moreover, only the inductive method of biblical exegesis will yield the outcome we hope to achieve, and that is to arrive at a sound understanding, albeit limited and imperfect, of the nature of divine knowledge.

The nature of the knowledge of God is such that God knows all things that have ever come to be, are, and will ever come to be, at one point all in the same eternal present. God knows all things, not only things actual but also things possible to Him and to the creature, and since some of these are future contingent to us, it follows that God knows future contingent things.[1] However, the concept of divine knowledge presents us with some complex philosophical problems.

How God can know future actions of free creatures is one of the most difficult problems that emerges from the traditional Christian understanding of divine knowledge. If tomorrow, I can choose between A and B, and I am absolutely free to choose between these two, in what sense can God be said to know that I will choose B? Putting it another way, if God knows that tomorrow I will choose B when faced with the choice to choose A or B, in what sense can it be said that I am actually free to choose B? The implications of this problem touch on such things as human responsibility and moral culpability. Suffice it to say, the Christian must come to grips with the problems that their traditional understanding of God seemingly creates.
from the traditional Christian understanding of divine knowledge? If tomorrow, I can choose between

Another problem that emerges in this understanding of divine knowledge is the fact that Christians traditionally have held that God is eternal. This means simply that God exists outside of time. If God exists outside of time, how can God know anything in advance since such knowledge is successive and we know that anything that is successive is temporal as opposed to eternal. In a theology of this sort, God could not be said to have known that a given natural event was going to occur before some natural event. This, surely, would violate the idea that God bears no temporal relations to natural events.[2] There is no doubting the fact that the traditional Christian understanding of divine knowledge creates what appears to be, insuperable philosophical and logical complications.

In his manuscript, Paradox in Christian Theology, James Anderson asks two every important questions: 1) Are any essential Christian doctrines genuinely paradoxical? 2) Can a person rationally believe a paradoxical doctrine?  [3] As Joel McDurmon said in his book on Biblical Logic in Theory & Practice, “Like all things that exist before the face of God, we can only fully understand truth and logic from within God’s covenantal plan of man.”[4] The key to all human understanding is found in the covenantal relationship between God and man. God freely chooses to reveal, to impart knowledge, and to make human understanding possible. Perhaps part of the bigger problem in our understanding is that we make basic category mistakes in our attempt to provide for logical consistency and rational harmony in cases where it does not necessarily belong. That is to say that we should step back and ask if these subjects ought to be scrutinized in terms of human logic or perhaps in terms of a different sort of logic altogether. Yet, if one begins with the presupposition that formal logical consistency places a negative restraint on what the Scriptures may teach, then rational non-Trinitarian exegesis must always be regarded as superior to its orthodox alternative.[5] One must confess that such a scenario would lead to outrageous perversions of historic Christian orthodoxy. 

When we say that the traditional Christian understanding of divine knowledge introduces problems, we must ask, by what standards? Where do these problems reside?

When we say that this apple is filled with problems, we are comparing it to an apple that is not. What then does that apple without problems look like?

Part II will suggest a way forward that I believe is concerned to avoid the right kind of problems. You know, problems like contradicting the divine revelation of Scripture more so than the lofty standards of pagan philosophy and autonomous human reason.

[1] Baruch A. Brody, ed., Readings in the Philosophy of Religion: An Analytic Approach, 2nd ed. (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, ©1992), 422.

[2] Ibid., 431.
[3] James Anderson, Paradox in Christian Theology: An Analysis of Its Presence, Character, and Epistemic Status, Paternoster Theological Monographs (Eugene, Or.: Wipf & Stock, 2007), 1.

[4] Joel McDurmon, Biblical Logic: in Theory and Practice (Powder Spring, GA: American Vision, 2011), Kindle Ed. 140.
5B.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), 177.