Just for fun

One of the disadvantages of having an eclectic position is that you might be the only one who holds that position, and the first to use the words you use. Case in point:

“be slaughtered, never to live again”

“lifeless, unconscious corpses”

Reminiscent of StrongBad:

“For death metal, you have to scream from the bowels of your lungs; words like decay, deranged, decrepit,and… um, deloused.”

“Creeping, rusty, meat. Truly the heart and soul of all death metal.”

lol…

Propitiation, Wrath, and Substitution

What is propitiation? That was one of the central elements of the Reformation of doctrine, and one of the most problematic issues in the modern Evangelical movement today. It has to do with many, many areas of theology, and we can’t possibly cover them exhaustively in a single blog post. But in a nutshell, what is it? In a nutshell, it is the “turning away of,” “appeasement” or “satisfaction for” the wrath of God due sinners. It is, therefore, intimately bound up to our notion of what the wrath of God actually is. It is bound up with sacrifice, atonement, substitution, holiness, sin, and many, many other subjects – to include the attributes of God, as we’ve already noted. With it having such a central place in our theology, the smallest misstep will have far-reaching consequences throughout.

If we are to talk about the wrath of God, are we to speak of it as something incidental to God, or as an attribute of God? It surely cannot be something incidental to Him. It is something He is said to possess; “My wrath”[1], and it is just as often called the “wrath of God”, or “of the Lord”. It is said to be magnified by the frequent use of modifiers such as “great”. God’s name is great, His power and strength is great, He is great in mercy, lovingkindness, and holiness. All of these likewise belong to God, and are affirmed of Him, then so must Wrath belong to God, and be affirmed of Him. It is one of His attributes.

If, as we have seen, it is an attribute of God, then it must be addressed per Divine Simplicity. Under Divine Simplicity, the wrath of God is omnipotent, immutable, eternal, sovereign, just, a se, infinite and holy.

Further, it must also be noted that it is not the natures of Christ that were our substitute, it was the Person of Christ – namely, the 2nd Person of the Trinity. If we are to say that He was our substitute, we must say that it was the God-man that was our substitute. We must also note the connection with this being the case alongside the nature of the wrath of God. Gill:

Eternity it not of the essence of punishment; and only takes place when the person punished cannot bear the whole at once: and being finite, as sinful man is, cannot make satisfaction to the infinite Majesty of God, injured by sin, the demerit of which is infinite punishment: and as that cannot be bore at once by a finite creature, it is continued ad infinitum; but Christ being an infinite Person, was able to bear the whole at once; and the infinity of his Person, abundantly compensates for the eternity of the punishment.

Let me add a few more notes, here. Gill, above the quote given here, notes

that Christ was ‘put to death in the flesh;’ as the apostle expresses it (1 Pet. 3:18), that is, in the body; that only suffered death; not his soul, that died not; but was commended into the hands of his divine Father: nor his Deity, or divine nature, which was impassible, and not capable of suffering death; and yet the body of Christ suffered death, in union with his divine person; hence the Lord of glory is said to be crucified and God is said to purchase the church with his blood (1 Cor. 2:8; Acts 20:28). And the death of Christ, as the death of other men, lay in the disunion of, or in a dissolution of the union between soul and body; these two were parted for a while; the one was commended to God in heaven; the other was laid in the grave: but hereby he was not reduced to a state of non-existence, as say the Socinians; his soul was with God in paradise; and his body, when taken from the cross, was laid in a sepulchre, and where it saw no corruption.

We cannot say that only one nature of Christ suffered, or we 1) Deny the union of Christ’s natures as expressed in Scripture, and formulated at Chalcedon, or 2) Deny, at least potentially, that Christ was our actual substitute, in His Person; we also cannot say that both natures suffered in the same fashion, however, at risk of 1) Denying the nature of God as immutable, impassible, eternal, and immaterial or 2) Violate the Creature/Creator distinction hypostatically. The Divine nature is immutable, impassible, immaterial, and eternal; hence not subject to the decay and corruption of death. It was, however, that one infinitely Divine Person who suffered the wrath of God. Not both natures alike, but both natures in union, and in concert, according to their nature. What the simply human cannot suffer immediately, the Divine Person, as Gill notes, did. Not equally in both natures, as the natures are not equal. This is a very, very complex subject, and we cannot treat it lightly. We cannot, on the one hand, attribute too much to mystery if it has, in fact, been revealed; but we cannot, on the other hand, speculate on things not revealed, and call them as such, if they are mysteries – so we must toe a very precise line. We must do so carefully, reverently, and studiously, lest we either take too much upon ourselves, or not enough.

It was not merely one nature which took the wrath of God upon Himself; else, we would be throwing out Chalcedon just as easily as Fudge does, if from a different perspective. We must ask ourselves – what was the point of it being the God-man who came if it was only the human nature which was under that wrath? We must also face the theological implications of passages such as “Nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption.” Only with a full-orbed Christology, a full-orbed Theology Proper, a full-orbed Anthropology and a full-orbed Soteriology can we have a full-orbed Eschatology. The one demands all of the others. A lack of concentration on theology as an organic, cohesive whole spells disaster for our theology, and the apologetic which flows from it.

This outpouring of the Wrath of God against sinners is something which must be addressed if we are to speak of the propitiation for those sinners, or of Christ’s substitution for those sinners. What it was that was suffered is intrinsic to our idea of propitiation. The nature of the God-man is something that cannot be overlooked if we are to deal with his propitiatory sacrifice on the behalf of his people. The nature of substitution, in a precise manner, is also something we cannot pass over. In short, this further shows that a modification of one element of CT has a great, if not catastrophic, effect on the rest of our theology and doctrine, if we see that doctrine as it truly is – an organic whole.

  1. [1] 2Ki 22:17, 2Chr 12:7, Psa 2:12, 6:1, 76:10, 78:38, 102:10, 106:23, Isa 34:2, 48:9, 60:10, 63:3,5,6, Jer 4:4, 7:20, 21:12, Eze 5:13, 6:12, 7:14, Hsa 5:10, 13:11,

I really have to ask…

Why on earth does anyone still use blogspot blogs?

The interface stinks, the comment platform is terrible, it can’t do trackbacks to save its life, and the “plugins” are laughable. Why on earth would you use it? It’s mystifying to me.

For a Theology Conference…

This seems to be a little light on “theology”.

Read through the list of speakers and topics. How much theology do you see in that speakers list? Tim Tebow? Uh. Not exactly a theologian, kids. Tony Boselli? Uh. Alvin Brown? Uh. Mike Licona? Something tells me, given his typical presentation, that it won’t be much about theology. Hank H.? As much as I’m sure people love him – he’s no theologian. Folks – if you’re going to call it a theology conference, invite theologians.

My favorite part of the survey: “Would you pay a $75 registration fee for 2 3-hour debates, 4-6 panel discussions, several ministry presentations, extraordinary worship music, and celebrity meet & greets and book signings?”

Yes, that’s exactly what a theology conference should be.

Issues resolved

The recent issues with redirects, et al should be resolved. Sorry about the inconvenience.

Wellum’s faculty address at SBTS

Apparently, this address didn’t pass muster in SBC politics. Since I’m not SBC, here it is. I think it’s pretty good, myself 😉

“What does the Extent of the Atonement have to do with Baptist Ecclesiology: an Experience of Doing Theology.”

In case anyone was wondering, I got it last week from another blog that posted it. That blogger is SBC, I’m not. So there you go.

Just for lols

Name that episode 🙂

Questioning Copan

The Gospel Coalition is running a series on apologetics, and today’s entry was by Paul Copan, entitled “Questioning Presuppositionalism”. What struck me, while reading his take on the subject, was how superficial and inaccurate it was. He introduces Van Til, and then says that Gordon Clark supposedly “generally followed” his methodology, along with Bahnsen and Frame, and then called it “variegated”. Well, given that he’s simply wrong concerning Clark, and that Frame consciously departed from Van Til as well, I’d supposed that’s an assumption guaranteed to result in a certain conclusion, wouldn’t you? It is not the case that Clark followed Van Til. Clark was not a student of Van Til’s, nor was a fellow professor. Clark taught at Wheaton, until 1944, roughly contemporary with the inauguration of the Controversy, at his ordination in the OPC, and taught at Butler consequently. Frame and Bahnsen, however, were students of Van Til at Westminster. Bahnsen, in many ways, was Van Til’s “prize pupil” – and arranged perhaps the definitive “reader” for Van Til’s published work.

Be that as it may, it’s even more useful to deal with the substance of Copan’s comments at this point. He begins with a story concerning Carl F. Henry, who said that we need more than probabilistic arguments of evidentialism. This merely echoes Van Til when he says God is not honored by being said to “probably” exist. In fact, it strikes to the heart of our theology. As Reformed believers, we profess that all men do, in fact, know that God exists. When we say this, we are not saying that they know “a god” exists – we are saying that they know God. I wrote a paper on that very subject[1] not all that long ago, and this doctrine is a mainstay of Reformed theology. Scripture teaches it, therefore we believe it, as would be expected by adherents of Sola Scriptura. Copan doesn’t seem to grasp the theological underpinnings of the method, in many ways – at least he doesn’t address it. As I’ve said many times before – this is simply Sola Scriptura in an apologetic context.

From there, we are taken through a very shallow view of presup’s foundations, without an eye to the subtleties of theology on which it is built. There is a casual mention of several elements, but the mentions seem to lack an accurate understanding, as we shall see later. We’ll take his comments as they come from here on in.

Presuppositionalism is common in Reformed circles. Cornelius Van Til, called the “fountainhead of presuppositionalism,” argued that one must begin with biblical revelation; otherwise, “logic” and “evidence” will become distorted to accommodate the suppression of truth in unrighteousness. Others like Gordon Clark, Greg Bahnsen, and John Frame have generally followed Van Til’s methodology—although in variegated fashion (which makes a brief assessment of presuppositionalism difficult). For example, Frame asks: “Are we not still forced to say, ‘God exists (presupposition), therefore God exists (conclusion), and isn’t that argument circular?'” He answers, “Yes, in a way.”

Elsewhere he says, “If Scripture is the ultimate justification for all human knowledge, how should we justify our belief in Scripture itself? By Scripture, of course!”

Yes, it is common in Reformed circles. Why is it common in Reformed circles? Because it is simply the consistent conclusion of Reformed theology. To paraphrase Van Til, Reformed theology requires a Reformed apologetic. I also find it interesting that he doesn’t quote Frame’s further explanation of what is meant by “circular”, or delineate between a “vicious” and “broad” circularity, as he would have to do, in order to adequately make the charge he does first. He also fails to note any of Van Til’s extensive argumentation concerning this very question – in his specific, full-length books on epistemology, or in his broader apologetic work. It’s rather disappointing, if the truth be told. I expected something significantly more robust. Unfortunately, he does much the same thing that Craig does, and the vast majority of Van Til’s critics, and simply sweeps the question of epistemology under the rug by a dismissal of “begging the question”. What is not quite so evident, but is nonetheless present, is Copan’s question-begging in return. If presupposing Scripture, as a unit, as a system, is seen to be “begging the question” – is not assuming the autonomy of man in starting with himself to reason equally question-begging? I find it quite puzzling that an experienced philosopher such as Dr. Copan would pass over such a fundamental issue at this point. But I’m running ahead of myself a bit, so I’ll return to his statements.

Frame argues that we all have presuppositions, and if we assume that reason can be used to assess worldviews, then this one is depending upon rationalism, which itself begs the question (or is circular). Since there is no presupposition-free zone, one can legitimately “presuppose” the Christian faith to make sense of reality and engage with alternative worldviews.

Copan’s discussion, strangely, doesn’t get into why we say this. He doesn’t discuss the nature of what is presupposed by the non-Christian, and by himself, in arguing with the non-Christian on his own terms. What is sorely lacking in these responses is an in-depth look at the questions and objections posed by the method to the theological and philosophical underpinnings of their evidentialism/classicalism. It is simply passed over by a retreat to “begging the question” or “circular reasoning” – and fails to address the question-begging and circularity present in their own view – even when it is mentioned, as we will see shortly.

As I see it, presuppositionalism has the following strengths: its emphasis on (a) the noetic influence of sin (sin’s effect on the mind); (b) the non-neutrality of worldviews (they are heart-commitments); and (c) the need for the Spirit for faith to take root in one’s heart. I would also disagree with presuppositionalism at certain points.

While I’m sure Dr. Copan is being complimentary here, I don’t think he is aiming at the right place. The foundation, for Van Til, is only accurately represented if it is viewed as a “totality” – as a unit. Taking certain elements of the method and pulling them out for scrutiny directly denies what the method itself says should be done, and can be done – so how can a denial of what the method says be a “strength” of that method? All of the above are part of Reformed theology, sure – but they are all only part, and inseparable from the whole.

First, it engages in question-begging—assuming what one wants to prove. It begins with the assumption that God exists, and then concludes that God exists. Such reasoning would get you an “F” in any logic class worthy of the name! [Note: For a broader critique of Frame’s starting points, see Harold A. Netland, “Apologetics, Worldviews, and the Problem of Neutral Criteria,” Trinity Journal 12/1 (Spring 1991): 39-58.]

As we have repeatedly explained, there is a crucial difference between “broad” and “vicious” circularity. Van Til expresses this at length throughout his works. There is no mention of the difference herein, nor is there any sign that he has dealt with the issue in any sense. Until this is done, it is “question begging” to say that what we explicitly deny is in fact the case. This is one of the points on which the debate turns. Defining it away does not answer the question, nor does saying that it would get you an “F”. If Dr. Copan defined Van Til’s position as such, I’d give him an “F”. Simple retortion, and just as sound, argumentatively. It is by no means clear that what is being spoken of is simple question-begging, especially given the paucity of context in view. One might only refer to our FAQ section on the topic, or to Butler, Pratt, Bahnsen, or even Frame himself for a refutation that this is what is in view. If Dr. Copan takes simple question-begging to be our position, he is mistaken. In fact, he should know better, as there is no lack of material to be found on the topic.

While we begin our worldview examination from somewhere, universal logical laws like the law of non-contradiction or excluded middle are inescapable for assessing and critiquing worldviews. In his debate with Henry, Hackett said that without some set of “neutral criteria” that are logically prior to consent or commitment to a particular worldview, “there is no way to show that one worldview perspective is more plausible than another” since both parties are “starting from totally different assumptions.” Indeed, the statements of Scripture themselves presuppose the validity of logical laws of non-contradiction and excluded middle; they also appeal to criteria beyond Scripture—the court of appeals of historical evidence for Jesus’ resurrection (1 Cor. 15:1-19)—things that were not done in a corner (Acts 26:26).

Here is where the rubber meets the road. We are told that these laws are “universal”. How does one know that these logical laws are “universal”? Is it not begging the question in favor of your own position to say that they are universal, on your own authority? One can try to escape to coherentism, foundationalism, or any numbers of “isms” to attempt to demonstrate it externally, but to do so, you are still assuming that which you set out to prove, those laws of logic, are you not? Even if, as it seems, the appeal is to pragmatism – it is “inescapable” – does the necessity of using a thing justify knowledge of the thing to begin with? We aren’t told why, if this is so. I’m aware that this is a short, introductory critique, but this is not a short, introductory subject he is addressing with such brevity. Why is it the case that “universal logical laws” are “inescapable for assessing and critiquing worldviews”? We aren’t told. This seems to be an unargued assertion. It also seems to be begging the question in his favor, does it not? There is the further unargued assertion that Scripture presupposes these logical laws. How does Dr. Copan know this? We are not told, and no argument is offered in support of this statement. It is further asserted that there are “criteria beyond Scripture”. Verses are cited, but not exegeted. Hardly the sort of citation an adherent of Sola Scriptura is wont to support. Further, I find it ironic that Scripture is being cited to support the assertion of appeals “beyond Scripture”. Is Dr. Copan under the impression 1) That Scripture is beyond Scripture or 2) That the period of enscripturation is identical to the period antecedent to the period of enscripturation? 1) is given as a humorous statement, to point out that this seems to be circular, superficially. You need Scripture to tell you what is supposedly “beyond Scripture”, it seems 😉 2) however, is more pointed. Is it Dr. Copan’s intention to undermine the argument from apostolic authority? This seems to be an unintended consequence of his position. If Scripture needs “outside help” to show itself to be true, this militates against the confessional position of the people he is arguing against, for one – cf. LBCF/WCF I. Is this not begging the question in favor of his own position? For another, what does he then do with the unique ministry of the apostles as the writers of that Scripture? In this way is it shown that the Reformed doctrine of Sola Scriptura is consistently monergistic, just as its soteriology is monergistic. This is the key that many people seem to miss. All of Reformed theology is monergistic – not just its soteriology.

Second, Christians share common ground with unbelievers, who are likewise made in God’s image, which is not erased by the fall. Someone has said, “A person who believes in total depravity can’t be all that bad!” Yet in some Reformed circles, the doctrine of total depravity seems to leave no trace of the imago Dei. The Scriptures affirm otherwise (Gen. 9:6), and God can and does speak to unbelievers through reason, beauty, moral failure, and the existence of evil. As a cloud of apologetical witnesses can testify, God has used philosophical arguments for his existence, scientific supports for the universe’s beginning (Big Bang) and its fine-tuning, and historical evidences for the resurrection of Jesus to assist people in embracing Christ—just as God uses preaching of the gospel (Romans 1:16) or the loving character of a Christian community (John 13:35). These are all part of the holistic witness to the reality of God and the gospel, all of which the Spirit of God can use to lead unbelievers to embracing the Christ.

I’ll confess. This is the one that really got my goat. If Dr. Copan had read Van Til, I don’t think it would be remotely possible to write this about presuppositionalism. It would be an absurdity to him. As it stands, I’m forced to believe that he has no idea what van Til said about the imago Dei, at very least. It is unmistakeably clear – in Van Til, and in Bahnsen, that the image of God is the point of contact – is the common ground – between believers and unbelievers. In fact, how he managed to miss this in Frame also puzzles me. Van Til takes directly from Calvin’s first chapter of the Institutes, and explicitly states that the image of God is the point of contact. “It is assured of a point of contact in the fact that every man is made in the image of God and has impressed upon him the law of God. In that fact alone he may rest secure with respect to the point of contact problem. For that fact makes men always accessible to God. That fact assures us that every man, to be a man at all, must already be in contact with the truth. He is so much in contact with the truth that much of his energy is spent in the vain attempt to hide this fact from himself. … Only by thus finding the point of contact in man’s sense of deity that lies underneath his own conception of self-consciousness as ultimate can we both be true to Scripture and effective in reasoning with the natural man.”[2] In the response to the section to follow, the puzzling insistence by other schools for putting words in our mouth will be addressed further. The typical Arminian misrepresentation of Total Depravity is also unfortunate, although not unexpected. Theology matters – and theology determines apologetic methodology, as James White is wont to say.

Third, some (not all) presuppostionalists seem inconsistent about natural theology. Philosopher Alvin Plantinga describes the attitude of Reformed theologians toward theistic arguments as ranging from “indifference, through suspicion and hostility, to outright accusations of blasphemy.”

Typically, these presuppositionalists (e.g., Bahnsen) avoid traditional cosmological (causal), teleological (design), and moral arguments, but they enthusiastically endorse the transcendental argument for God (TAG)—the argument to show that God as the inevitable ground for all rational thought. This strikes me as a distinction without a difference: why couldn’t God use TAG just as he uses other natural theological arguments? Furthermore, why the Christian God and not the God of the Qur’an as the ground for rational thought?

Let’s be frank for a minute. Is it natural theology that we have a problem with, or is it the use (or misuse) of it that we have a problem with? Van Til, again, has a response, would Dr. Copan only read it. Again, it is theological in nature, and only a few pages prior to the last. “In paradise Adam knew that as a creature of God it was natural and proper that he should keep the covenant that God had made with him. In this way it appears that man’s proper self-consciousness depended, even in paradise, upon his being in contact with both supernatural and natural revelation. God’s natural revelation was within man as well as about him. Man’s very constitution as a rational and moral being is itself revelational of man as the ethically responsible reactor to revelation. … Mad had originally not merely a capacity for receiving the truth; he was in actual possession of the truth. The world of truth was not found in some realm far distant from him; it was right before him. That which spoke to his senses no less than that which spoke to his intellect was the voice of God. Even when he closed his eyes upon the external world, his internal sense would manifest God to him in his own constitution. The matter of his experience was in no sense in need of a mere form with which he might organize the raw material. On the contrary, the matter of his experience was lit up through and through. Yet it was lit up for him by the voluntary activity of God whose counsel made things to be what they are. Man could not be aware of himself without being aware of the objects about him and without also being aware of his responsibility to manage himself and all things for the glory of God.”[3]

While he tries to make this a “softer blow” – it doesn’t particularly work. In historic Reformed theology, it is the case that we affirm that all men know God. Our confessions affirm it, and our systematics surely do so as well. Since all men know God, this goes hand in hand with knowing His creation as such – His creation. This is the basis for our contention that probabilistic argumentation is wrong, and yes, blasphemous. If this offends someone, well, the truth sometimes offends. I’ve said it before. God is not honored by saying He *probably* exists when he Himself tells us in Scripture that all men know He exists, and who and what He is. It’s not that we are arguing that God is the *inevitable* grounds for rational thought – we’re saying that rational thought apart from those grounds is *impossible*. It’s not an inductive argument, nor is it a deductive argument. It’s an “argument by presupposition”, or a transcendental argument – which deals with the preconditions of intelligibility. We’re saying *nothing makes sense* unless you start with God – and further, that *everyone does*, because they all know God, even though they attempt to suppress it, even to themselves. Yet, that very knowledge is the point of contact we are striving to use. As both Van Til and Bahnsen said, if Dr. Copan would read further in their published work, there is a place for the traditional arguments – but not formulated probabilistically. The place for those arguments is within the greater transcendental argument, which pits entire worldviews one against the other, as systems. Hinc illae lacrimae! That is the issue, not the putative problems he (and Plantinga) think we have with the traditional arguments. Lastly, you can’t use Islam because Islam cannot provide the preconditions for intelligibility, nor can Allah be said to be known by every man, among other problems. Another question we’ve answered here, at length, and he is welcome to correspond with us further if he’d like to see the answer in full.

Fourth, it is important to distinguish between the confident ground of our knowledge of God and the highly probable public case for the Christian faith. The witness of the Spirit—not a host of intellectual arguments—is what ultimately gives us confident knowledge that we belong to God (Rom. 8:15-16; Gal. 4:6-7; 1 Jn. 2:20), yet this does not exclude the Spirit’s using highly probable or plausible public evidences for God’s existence or for the resurrection of Jesus. Knowledge in one area does not exclude knowledge in another. Having warrant for belief is not the same as showing my belief is warranted.

This, my friends, is where the question is begged most viciously. Certainty is found only in the revelation of God. Assuming that there is a “lesser” persuasion is the entire point of our dispute, and here it is, merely asserted, yet again. It is NOT important “to distinguish between the confident ground of our knowledge of God and the highly probable case for the Christian faith.” There, I’ve made the same argument Dr. Copan made for you, just reversed. Do you feel convinced? Stating the same thing different ways, as he does to follow, is still not an argument. It’s just an assertion. He is correct that the witness of the Spirit is what gives us “confident knowledge” – Reformed believers call this “certainty” – but that’s not a popular term in most philosophical circles. We are, however, told in Scripture that we may know for certain. We know for certain that what God tells us is true – because He is the only possible grounds for certainty *at all*. Luke tells us that we may know for certain, in Luke 1:4 – using ἀσφάλεια – rendered as “the exact truth”. Peter, in Acts 2:36, says that all Israel knew “for certain” – same word – that Jesus was both Lord and Christ. Christ is the truth. His word is truth. Is it uncertain, or is it “sure” – ἀσφαλής – the Word of hope that God, who cannot lie, gave us, as it says in Hebrews 6:19? It does not do to offer a probable hope, or a probable god, or a probable history, or a probable case for any of the above. It does not even do to offer a highly probable case for any of the above. What isn’t mentioned, further, is how we are supposed to determine these so-called probabilities. Whose rules do we use, and what goes into formulating them? I’m sure Dr. Copan goes into this elsewhere, but he sure doesn’t address them here. Even if he did, I’d have issues with the inherent subjectivity of the entire process. I would submit to you that while offering a critique on each one of these points, he has given you a much shallower theological position, and holds to a much shallower theological position than the one we self-consciously and openly claim to be arguing from.

We, unlike the traditional apologist, lay our cards on the table and call the unbeliever’s bluff. In turn, I’d like to call Dr. Copan’s bluff. If you’re going to make critiques, kindly ensure that you accurately depict the position you are critiquing – and don’t engage in the same practices that you claim your opponents are engaging in while doing so. It’s not the work of a professional philosopher, or worthy of the head of a major philosophical society. It’s the work of someone with “an axe to grind”, as Van Til was fond of saying. If this response is considered overly harsh, please understand that I consider Dr. Copan’s attempted critique to be overly harsh; primarily because it is overly simplistic, theologically shallow, and generally inaccurate. It is neither gracious nor good scholarship to so badly misrepresent a position on a major theological resource such as TGC. Please consider this response to be a rebuke, and an encouragement to revisit the published work of the men that are cited. I won’t be the only person to respond to this article. I’m sure Westminster will have a response forthcoming, given the contributions from multiple faculty members to TGC.

  1. [1] Whipps, Joshua, Exposition of Romans 1:16-2:16 – The Knowledge of God, In Antithesis: A Reformed Apologetics Journal, Vol. 1, Num. 1
  2. [2] CVT, Defense of the Faith (4th Ed.), 117
  3. [3] CVT, Defense of the Faith (4th Ed.), 114

Why Ignorance Isn't Bliss

Found some humdingers asserted by a young man on a friend’s wall recently, that while not really needing a response due to their falsity, are at least helpful to address.

The initial status update states:

People often say, “Trust in yourself, believe in yourself.” Well, God says I’m a fool. Would you trust a fool? I wouldn’t…

The unbelieving young man’s response is to say this:

Would you trust someone who belittles you and says things that are simply falsehoods?

Note a couple things. First, the complete and utter lack of argumentation offered for the assertions. Second, the use of “simply”, as if there isn’t a need for proof to be offered. Why on earth does he imagine that there is no argumentation necessary for a boldfaced denial of the initial statements he is responding to? At very least, I’d hope he would realize that he should have one. Unfortunately, I don’t suspect this to be the case.

My response, due to the incredible unargued assertion, is to ask:

What is “belittling” about the truth?

He responds:

You have lived your own life. Not god. No one else has. Only you. You can choose to follow a religious calling. But at the end of the day the only one who got you to where you are is you. The creator may put things in your path but when all is said and done you must act upon it. Therefore we are not foolish or anything. We simply are presented with life. we must chose how to do it right. You must trust yourself for god to be able to do anything. And any god that considers you a fool, a sheep, or any number of things, is not worthy of my love. It’s a falsehood that we are foolish. There are stupid people, but only foolish mistakes. Not foolish people. Does a mistake make one foolish?

Amazingly, he considers this response sufficient. I think not. First, what reason are we given to consider “living your own life” to be relevant? Second, how are we supposed to connect “therefore”, prior to “we are not foolish or anything” with either “the only one who got you to where you are is you” or “you must act upon it”? What is the “therefore” there for? We aren’t told. Third, we are told that we are “simply” presented with life – we must (choose) how to do it right. Presumably, it seems, also choose what right is? If I recall, that is what Adam and Eve’s initial sin amounts to. Why this is supposedly an objection to the Christian position, we are not told. Fourth, we are told that we *must* trust ourselves in order for god to do anything. A strange sort of “god” that he has in mind, by any accounting. Even more puzzling, however, is that we are told “any” god that considers us a fool, a sheep (or any number of things – does that include ‘a person”, incidentally? I mean, we wouldn’t want to offend this interestingly capricious fiction, now would we?) is – catch this – not worthy of his love. Well, now that we’ve established that humanity gets to decide what is worthy or not, thus turning the concept of “god” utterly on its head, we see what the real issue is, don’t we? He goes further in his redefinition of… well, everything he encounters. It is (why, we aren’t told) falsehood that we are foolish. Really? Says who? There are stupid people (granted), but only foolish mistakes. Forget that he’s directly contradicting the Scriptural witness – it’s just the way he says. Because he says so. At least, we aren’t given any other reason, as far as I can tell. There not any foolish people. Are we told why? he asks, finally, “Does a mistake make one foolish?” Who on earth said that, and why on earth would someone ask such a silly question? It puzzles me.

I responded to him in a comment, but since nothing he said was in any way (even remotely) related to what I said, I’m not going to bother repeating my comment here.

His next reply was as follows – and here’s where it starts going off the rails badly.

Your god is not my Shepard.

Given that there’s no such thing as a “Shepard”, I’d hope not. But more seriously, if he had actually read the Bible cover to cover, like he claims later, he’d know that he is a goat, not a sheep, hence “shepherd” hardly applies to him in any case. Does he think it does? It seems like it.

I am a pagan and I am proud of it.

Pagan comes from the word “paganus” in Latin – it means “rustic”, or “country-dweller”, ironically. It later became a pejorative, but is hardly descriptive of what he is, in either case. Technically, he is someone who acts μωραίνω – foolishly. First, because he is, in fact, ignorant – and proud of his ignorance. Secondly, because he denies what he knows – and Scripture calls that man a fool.

The christian god needs constant unwavering devotion or he will cast you into a lake of fire for all eternity.

Not exactly. He wants moral perfection in all regards, including, and most importantly towards Himself – which is the devotion that is due Him.

Some loving father in heaven if you ask me…

Were you under the impression that He loves you the same as He loves His people? I don’t believe that, and Christianity doesn’t teach that. Deformations of Christianity teach that, but they are heresies of various degrees. Hence, it goes to show that our putative scholar might want to re-examine the level of his Scriptural knowledge.

The only one capable of living your life is you.

While gratifyingly bumper-sticker worthy, and perhaps even worthy of an Ayn Rand cameo, what does this have to do with anything? We aren’t told.

Why trust that to a deity that will throw you into the pit without hesitation?

I’m sorry, aren’t you mixing pronouns? God doesn’t throw his children into the pit at all, let alone without hesitation. You’re the one who needs to worry about that. Nobody expects you to trust Him, after all. You’re a self-professed unbeliever, and self-professedly rebellious towards God, and believe that you determine 1) What is right and wrong 2) Whether God is right or wrong. Remind me again why I should believe I’m under the same condemnation as you are, when the Bible teaches otherwise?

You wouldn’t trust a fool, and I would not trust a lord that will cast me to the devil for questioning.

First, no I wouldn’t. You are right. So why should I trust you? Secondly, where on EARTH do you get the idea that the devil has anything to do with questioning, or of the administration of the lake of fire, as seems to be your implication? Do you get your Christian doctrines from Looney Tunes, or the Bible? If it’s the former, you could say that the devil “reigns” in Hell, but not from the Bible. Hell is where Satan is cast along with every other sinner, per the Bible.

As to god giving you your life and determining every point, that would be contrary to all forms of freewill…

No, just ones that define “freedom” like a toddler does. Where they get to do “whatever they want, whenever they want, wherever they want.” No, the Bible quite clearly states that there is no such thing, nor should there be, in a world with a sovereign Creator. Why this objection is supposed to impress anyone, I haven’t the foggiest. Were you under the impression that “free will” in the sense that most unbelievers affirm was an orthodox Christian doctrine?

That would make you no more than a puppet. A toy to be discarded at the earliest convenience.

A common claim, but with no argument provided – leaving us with yet another unargued assertion. Seemingly no knowledge of the mountains of material written on the subject, either. Just as an assignment – what did Luther claim was the hinge on which the entire Reformation turned? What was the debate between Augustine and Pelagius about? Inquiring minds want to know.

You call me rebellious? I am. I respect and worship the creator, but I do not follow blindly

Yes, you are. No, you neither respect or worship Him, because you refuse to accept Him as He is, and try to usurp His throne at every point. You don’t follow at all, let alone blindly.

After this… interesting… exposition of Christian doctrine, I replied again, as follows:

1) You seem to be under several misapprehensions about basic Christian doctrine. 2) You return to your misapprehensions at every point, thus causing a disconnect with the reality of this position on each and every point. 3) Since this is the case, you are objecting to a straw man – which, although it burns quite merrily, does no damage to the actual position you seek to address.

His reply was this:

Alright tell me specifically, where I am wrong. I’m that obnoxious type of pagan that has read the bible cover to cover. I don’t really object to the ideas or the doctrines. What I have a problem with is people who post a status like this or who try to make converts of all of us. They are so unlike their great teacher. I also would like to address the fact that by worshiping god you are infact guilty of the same thing that he cast lucifer into the pit for. He loved god too much to obey him in his orders to the angels to worship man. If he cast his most beautiful angel in heaven in the lake of fire for insisting upon worshiping him, why wouldn’t he to you.

For someone who has read the Bible “cover to cover”, he didn’t seem to have grasped much of it, if he makes such major errors. It is also hard to imagine that he doesn’t “really object to the ideas or the doctrines” when that seems to have been the entirety of his putative objections thus far. Of course, they are objections to doctrines that only exist in his imagination, for the most part, but it still doesn’t make much sense to say this. What else would you be objecting to, anyway?

I also find it rather amazing that his next sense is an objection to the doctrine of… the Gospel. You know, trying to convert people? By telling them what the Bible says? I mean, it’s sort of hard not to laugh when you see someone contradict themselves so blatantly. Especially when you follow that with the assertion that… this is “unlike their great teacher”. If I didn’t have reason to believe this was serious, I’d be having a good laugh. As it stands, I’m just wondering where he “learned” Christian doctrine from. That’s… not even remotely accurate. Not to mention the fact that he doesn’t say why this is the case. Again.

The next bit is truly weird. He claims to have read the Bible cover to cover.. but then claims that God 1) Has already cast Satan into the pit (He hasn’t) 2) Did so for NOT worshiping MAN (This is.. so unbelievably wrong that it makes my head hurt.) 3) Insists that Satan was cast into Hell for… worshiping God, rather than for trying to… usurp God’s place as the one worshiped, as the Bible says. What Bible did he read? I’m really wondering, now. It’s just crazy. But, of course, what do we know about Christianity? We’re only Christians who study the doctrine and theology of our own Scripture. What could we possibly know?

Truly amazing, the things you read on facebook.

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