The “Genuine Offer” Dialogue – Opening

Characters appearing in this section:

ISP: Infralapsarian Single-Predestinarian
Argues that the gospel is genuinely offered to all.

SDP: Supralapsarian Double-Predestinarian
Argues that the gospel is genuinely offered to the elect only.

…Begin dialogue text…

ISP: Of course the gospel is a genuine offer to all men. There are only two Calvinistic Creeds or churches I know of that deny the genuine offer of the gospel to all men indiscriminately. All the others accept it, as far as I know.

SDP: It doesn’t make any sense to say that the gospel is genuinely offered to those who have not been gifted with faith. In the first part, you and I both readily acknowledge that natural man is a spiritual corpse and has no spiritual faculties whatsoever. And because the words of life are spiritual in nature, the unregenerate do not hear them (1 Cor. 2:14). More than not being a genuine offer, the reprobate never even hears the gospel call. He hears only condemnation.

In the second part, because God has willed that the reprobates should be left to their evil devices, if he were to genuinely offer the gospel to them and desire that they accept it, he would be caught in a dichotomy. In the one hand, he is pleased that they should be left to their wickedness. In the other hand, he is pleased to offer them the gospel that they should receive it. This is contradictory. Either God is desirous that they believe in his Son—and thus makes this effectual (regeneration)—or he does not desire that they believe—and thus makes that effectual (reprobation).

ISP: But we command all men by the authority of God to repent and to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and they are promised (offered) that if they obey the truth they will never perish!

SDP: That’s right, but only the regenerate will ever (inwardly) hear that message.

ISP: Certainly the gospel is much more than presenting facts to the lost. It is calling upon them to act.

SDP: No, the gospel is the good news that Christ has given his life a ransom for the elect. The gospel—the gospel of Jesus Christ—is not a call to act: it is a proclamation of Christ’s action. [Readers are encouraged to read the February article entitled, On Saving Faith.]

John H. Gerstner had an excellent illustration of the distinction between the inward call and the outward call.

If everyone is assembled in church and the pastor calls out, “License number such-and-such has its lights on,” then that message is useless to all but one person in the congregation. While everyone hears the outward call of the announcement, everyone except the person to whom the car belongs knows the announcement is not for them. Such is how the gospel sounds to the ears of the unregenerate. They hear its outward offer of hope and mercy, but inwardly only hear condemnation and judgment, and for this reason, they despise it and know it is not extended to them. And they are correct. Until they are reborn through the efficacious work of the Holy Spirit, the gospel is useless to them and they will never accept it.

ISP: I don’t agree. The offer is free. God is quite able to make good on all his promises. The reason that the reprobate doesn’t respond to the good news is his own depravity. He hates God.

This is where we really do need to seek clarity. Sinners do hear the gospel. Okay, they don’t hear with the mind of Christ, they hear with the mind of Adam—but they hear! And what is more, they don’t like what they hear!

And it’s not contradictory at all. Consider the point that you have this day had multiple desires, each in turn taking priority. To the outsider, he could quite easily mistake your choice of food this day as a “hatred” for some other choice, but he could be drawing conclusions wrongly.

You said, “Either God is desirous that they believe in his Son and thus makes this effectual (regeneration) or he does not desire that they believe and thus makes that effectual (reprobation),” but this is a false disjunction. It’s not “either-or”; it’s “both-and.” You also commented, “Arguing that God both desires that reprobates be condemned and that they accept the Gospel amounts to a contradiction.” But it’s not a contradiction—it’s a paradox! We don’t quite understand it, but we don’t have to. We know that God understands it and that’s all that matters!

SDP: If you affirm the contradiction that God wants all men to be saved, and wants the reprobate to not be saved, then do you also believe that Christ’s sacrifice atones for the sins of all who believe in him and does not atone for the sins of some who believe in him? If not, then why do you believe the former, but not the latter? Both are utterly contradictory and completely impossible.

By the way, a paradox is an apparent contradiction that is actually not a contradiction. Unless you can show how this is non-contradictory, it is completely baseless to label this a paradox. You can’t even know if it’s a paradox unless you know it really isn’t contradictory.

But I’d like to bring the discussion a little closer to the point. Consider this verse:

But our God is in the heavens: he hath done whatsoever he hath pleased. (Ps. 115:3)

According to the psalmist, whatever God pleases, he does. If God desired the salvation of the reprobate, he would do it. As the reprobate is not saved, it follows that God does not desire it. How is that in any way unclear?

ISP: Does God desire you to be perfect?

SDP: God commands perfection of us because his divine justice demands it. God cannot justify wicked deeds. Nonetheless, I am made perfect in Christ, and wholly justified before the Father.

Indeed, Christ commanded that I be perfect even as my heavenly Father is perfect. Yet, the Lord is still pleased (desirous) that I should, on occasion, fall, that his infinite grace and mercy should be more greatly known through my inability to maintain an infallible walk; and that I should increasingly depend on him (cf. 2 Cor. 12:7-9 where Paul thrice asked God to remove the thorn from his side, but his request was denied by God).

Perfection is a requirement under God’s moral law. God’s law is still in effect, which is why Jesus told us to be perfect as his Father is perfect.

ISP: So you agree that God desires your perfection while at the same time he has not willed it.

SDP: No, you weren’t listening. I said God commands perfection. I didn’t say he desired it.

ISP: Is it not plain that also what God commands, he desires, for, otherwise, he would not desire to command it?

What I am getting at is that when God calls the reprobate to repent and promises him eternal life if he will only believe on his Son, then that must be a genuine, sincere, “authentic,” and loving gesture.

The reason the reprobate is in so much trouble is that he has spurned God’s love, he has resisted his Spirit (known as the Spirit of Grace), he has outraged the Spirit of Grace, he has in some sense “trodden underfoot the Son of God,” he has grieved the Holy Spirit, and he has spurned God’s love in Christ.

It is God who makes an appeal to him through the mouth of the believer, and he hates us because he hates God.

To break the law (sin) is punishable by death, but to reject and despise love is punishable by everlasting suffering.

Consider Noah, a preacher of righteousness. For over a hundred years, he preached repentance and saw not one conversion. Was God sincere in telling them to repent? Did it grieve God’s heart when they refused, even though God withheld from them the gift of repentance?

Next, consider the case of Jonah, a man who knew all about God’s covenant love, yet God spends months showing Jonah that even those outside of the covenant are immensely important to him. Did Jonah learn that God’s love, grace, and concerns don’t remain solely for the elect?

Now consider three cases of heartbreak.

1. God the Father heart-broken over stubborn Israel (Hosea 11:8).
2. God the Son heart-broken over lost Jerusalem (Luke 19:41).
3. Paul the Apostle heart-broken over reprobate Jews (Romans 9).

Are these cases (there are more) not indicative of real love? Do we not see from God a real desire (delight) that men repent and be spared death?

Maybe a better way of wording this would be to say God has three aspects to his will:

1. God decreed only the elect will be saved.
2. God’s will of desire is that the reprobates fall.
3. God’s inward desires (emotions corresponding with relationships) are to bless not to kill.

God has no pleasure in the death of the wicked. He may have pleasure in executing justice, but mercy is far more desirable to God than judgment; hence, God is longsuffering toward the vessels of wrath.

SDP: There was so much wrong with all that, I’m not quite sure where to begin. It is not at all clear—obviously false, in fact—that God desires what he commands. Consider the existence of sin. If God neither commands nor desires the existence of sin then why does it exist? Now, I readily acknowledge God does not command sin. God commands us to be perfect—would that were enabled to be so. But if God does not desire sin to exist, how does it exist? Are you saying God did not desire the king of Assyria to descend on Israel (in Isaiah)? If he did not desire it then why did Isaiah write,

The LORD of hosts hath sworn, saying, Surely as I have thought, so shall it come to pass; and as I have purposed, so shall it stand. (Is. 14:24)

Does not Paul also tell us he “worketh all things after the counsel of his own will” (Eph. 1:11)? The psalmist tells us, “He hath done whatsoever he pleased” (Ps. 115:3; 135:6). Is it not blatantly obvious that what God commands is not necessarily what he desires and vice versa? Unless, of course, you are willing to say he commands sin (!).

Getting to the latter part of what you wrote, if mercy is more desirable to God than justice, then why doesn’t he save everyone? That simply makes no sense when so many passages that talk about God fulfilling all he pleases say the exact opposite. To call it a “mystery” is a simply a cop out. Even more, it is dishonest. I have offered a simple, sound explanation of the problem. To reject this out of hand and simply argue from ignorance (argue from a non-provable position) is a highly fallacious argument.

Maybe I am wrong. I will be the first to admit it. Perhaps there is some logical explanation for it that I am missing. It could be that it is yet hidden from me. If that is true, I pray the Lord rebuke and chastise me for my lack of understanding. Yet, until such time should come, I see no reason whatsoever to maintain otherwise.

ISP: That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you, though. You’re relying too much on logic. If we see two seemingly opposing ideas in the Scriptures sometimes all we can do is accept them, and bow and worship.

SDP: You might do that, but I certainly do not. God has revealed these things to us to be understood, not to confuse us. Were God to reveal what “seems” to be a contradiction, then it is not really a contradiction, it only appears that way at first. As God is not the author of confusion, it follows that there is a rational explanation for why these things appear contradictory and why they are not. I seek out that explanation to the glory of God, whereas others refuse to do so. Thus, they maintain their contradictory views and encourage others to do so as well.

ISP: Take the doctrine of God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility. Both are taught in the Scriptures (sometimes in the very same verse!), yet, there are those who cannot hang onto what is written because their minds cannot reconcile two seemingly opposing thoughts; so, they hack and hew the text to make it fit, thus either denying God is sovereign, or denying man is responsible.

SDP: There is no problem with God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility, though. There is no contradiction; there is no mystery. God is sovereign and he holds man responsible for his actions. That’s all there is to it. Any protests against this arrangement are protests against God’s sovereignty and are thus null and void.

ISP: You said you believe in preaching the gospel to all, so you cannot distinguish between the elect and the reprobates, and neither should you. The gospel message is exactly the same message to both elect and reprobate: “Repent, believe the good news, obey the calling of God and you will be saved.”

Now just how do you get to a point when you deny it is a sincere offer of salvation when the message doesn’t change? Do you think God is acting with duplicity that the Lord is only interested in salvation for the elect?

Jesus wept over sinners, Paul wept over sinners, and Jesus loved the rich young ruler who walked away from Him!

Sure, I can give you Scripture upon Scripture that show God has been disappointed by sinners, but what is the point, you will only deny that they have any real meaning—“They are just anthropopathisms,” etc.

By the way, Arminians make the same stand on rationalism that Neo-Calvinists make. They see it as impossible to have a gospel call to men dead in trespasses and sins who are totally depraved and have lost their free-will to come to God, and they therefore deny what they see as a massive contradiction. Your argument is the same; it is just coming from the other end!

SDP: The gospel message only reaches the ears of the regenerate:

It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life. (Jn. 6:63)

Why do ye not understand my speech? even because ye cannot hear my word. (Jn. 8:43)

But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Cor. 2:14)

The words of our Lord and the Apostle quite clearly show that the reprobate never hears the gospel message. If God intended it to reach their ears, he would remove their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh (Eze. 11:19; 36:26), by which they might receive the words of life.

In fact, my position is that God’s work is made even more coherent in the understanding that the gospel is not for the reprobate. The gospel is spread to men by men; therefore, God does not engage in an act of duplicity because he never offers salvation to the reprobate. That he requires us to preach it to all men is nothing more than a righteous requirement of us, and one required by the fact that we cannot know his elect. Because we are incapable of discerning who will receive the gospel or not, we must deliver it to all, so that those that are elect will have the circumstances by which they might come to faith in Christ. But the Scriptures never say the gospel is extended to the reprobate.

I think a better argument could be made that God acts in duplicity if we say that the gospel is a sincere offer to all, but that God wills some should receive it and some should reject it. If God sincerely wishes all men to be saved, but predestines them to hell, then that would be quite deceptive. The “genuine offer” position is the duplicitous position.

The “Genuine Offer” Dialogue

For some reason or another, I got to thinking about a debate I had with a brother on the Semper Reformanda forum over at Christian Forums. It was over the “genuine,” “sincere,” or “well meant” nature of the gospel. Those who are privy to this debate will know precisely what I am talking about. If you do not then you will probably find the following four posts to be very helpful.

Over the next week or so, I will be posting the dialogue. It is about 25 pages of 12-point font, so there is a substantial amount of material to read. I recommend that you try to read the whole thing, though. If you simply cannot, the opening and closing sections will probably adequately address the topic. A couple of notes on the dialogue are needed.

First, no names are used. Instead, pseudonyms are given to the speakers, who are primarily (99% of the content) ISP and SDP. Now, the abbreviations stand for Infralapsarian Single Predestinarian and Supralapsarian Double Predestinarian, respectively; however, it is not necessarily the case that all “ISPs” and “SDPs” will concur with the positions presented by the two characters in the dialogue. These pseudonyms were chosen to illustrate the common position from which the two sides of the “genuine offer” debate come from, but this is by no means universal.

Second, the majority of this material comes directly from the original debates. It has been edited for grammar and spelling. Some additional content has been added to both characters, so the dialogue is not verbatim. There is probably more than twice as much material as I will be posting that is available. Because I have edited it and adapted it for the blog, I will respect the anonymity of the parties involved. Well, except for myself… let’s see if you can guess which character is me! 😉

Third, while SDP’s arguments are pretty well representative of the strongest and most convincing arguments for the side that he is advocating, it might not be the case that ISP has represented his side as well as possible. If there are any ISPs that read this who think they have something note-worthy to add or a “killer argument” that ISP failed to employ, by all means, let me know. I can very easily make a fifth blog entry with additional arguments for either side.

That about sums it up. I’ll post the opening part of the dialogue tomorrow.

Soli Deo Gloria

Jon

Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle (an extremely short introduction)

Entire volumes can and have been written about Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle individually. Even more, volumes can be written about the relationship among these, the greatest of Greek thinkers. What follows will be an attempt to summarize briefly the influence these men had not only on their contemporaries, but on modern philosophy, as well.

What logicians today call logic is not what the layperson today calls logic. And neither of these is what the Greeks called logic. The Pre-Socratics seem to have had a notion of logic or at least logical demonstration. The Pythagoreans probably best exemplify this in that they understood that the rigorous method of demonstration that accompanied geometric proofs constituted a formal, objective, and authoritative proposition about some geometric figure. It is unclear if the Pythagoreans influenced Socrates. He was definitely a practitioner of the dialectic method of investigation, however. We see this method employed in the Theaetetus, but the Pre-Socratics were also aware of the method and also utilized it. Zeno of Elea is probably the best-known example, as he regularly applied the reductio ad impossibile approach to proving his mentor’s (Parmenides) arguments against motion (Kneale & Kneale, 1962, pp. 6, 7). Plato advanced the dialectic approach even further, being more greatly influenced by the Pythagoreans. It is clear that the concept of geometric proofs and validity became important to Plato and has Socrates applying many rudimentary logical principles in the dialogues, especially the Theaetetus and Sophist. One problem with Plato’s logical system, however, is that he frequently confuses metaphysical propositions with logical principles. But this was common among the Greek prior to Aristotle, so it is difficult to fault Plato in particular for it, but that we should expect more from such a great mind. Plato’s Sophist also presents Socrates as arguing a “collection and division” dialectic that would later serve as the basis for the Tree of Porphyry, named for the Neoplatonist who posited it. When we come to Aristotle, we find logic differentiating itself finally from the many philosophical sub-disciplines. Before this could happen, truth had to first be wrenched from the grips of ethical philosophy and realized as a separate epistemological notion devoid of ethical considerations in that context. Aristotle was thus able to create a formal system of valid inference that has been magnificently influential throughout the years. Though Fregean predicate logic has largely ruled since the late 19th and early 20th centuries, new thinkers such as Fred Sommers are finding the new logic to be much too artificial and are synthesizing the old logic (Aristotelian) with modern propositional logic. The result is an elegant and coherent system that can actually be applied by the layperson.

What the layperson still yet does not understand is the philosophical notion of knowledge. Socrates, in fitting with his sophist heritage, was very much a skeptic. Part of the problem in identifying where Socrates stood on the idea of knowledge is that his dialectic method of examination in dialogue naturally prevents the establishment of much in the way of positive arguments. We see Socrates leveling many negative arguments, but precious few positive ones. His disciple Plato was much more lucid, though. Plato saw all knowledge as being a priori in the World of Ideas. All that is “truly” knowledge exists therein. In the Theaetetus, Plato claims knowledge is justified true belief (189E-190A). It is not enough that one have an opinion, for if two have contradictory opinion, they surely cannot both be true. And if something is false, how indeed can it be said to be an object of knowledge? Even more, if it be true and my belief, perhaps I have but guessed: perhaps my belief that it is raining in Japan (and the fact that it is) is unwarranted; do I thus know it? Plato and most people would say no. Thus, justification is the missing link. Even to this day, the overwhelming majority of the discussion regarding epistemology centers on the theory of justification. Plato was something of a skeptic, something of a rationalist, believing that our experience of material objects is not truly knowledge, for we do not know the thing in itself (Kant’s Ding an sich), but a fallible combination of Ideas. Only when one ascends to the World of Ideas and grasps the Thing in question can knowledge be truly attained. This view has come to be known as Platonic realist. Aristotle was also a realist, but not in a Platonic sense. He believed that we truly do know the thing we sense, which is comprised of two parts: matter and form. For most purposes, Aristotle’s matter is generally what we think of today, minus all the atomic theory that sometimes coheres in the common connotation of the word. Thus, by simple, controlled observation of the world before our senses, Aristotle believed we could obtain knowledge.

Plato’s Symposium poses a bit of a difficulty for us in trying to determine whether it is Plato that holds the view of love presented or whether the words expressed by the character Socrates are actually those of the ancient figure. Given the later date of the Symposium and the other elements introduced, especially the character of Diotima, who is generally believed to be the only named fictitious character in Plato’s dialogues (“Diotima,” 2006, ¶ 3, 4), we are lead to believe that Plato expresses his own views. A particularly compelling argument for this conclusion is the distinctly Platonic answer given by Diotima in the conclusion of the dialogue:

He who under the influence of true love rising upward from these begins to see that beauty, is not far from the end. And the true order of going or being led by another to the things of love, is to use the beauties of earth as steps along which he mounts upwards for the sake of that other beauty, going from one to two, and from two to all fair forms, and from fair forms to fair practices, and from fair practices to fair notions, until from fair notions he arrives at the notion of absolute beauty, and at least knows what the essence of beauty is. (Plato, 2000, p. 37)

The overwhelmingly Platonic theme in this passage can only lead us to believe that Plato saw love as participation in the Idea Beauty. Unfortunately, it seems that, since Plato is our only source of information concerning Socrates, that if the latter spoke on the subject, such information is lost to us. Aristotle also seemed to be disinterested in the subject, and so we are left with Plato’s thoughts alone among the greatest of the Greeks.

We thus come to the final point of comparison: ontology. For some reason, modern philosophers think they have ontology quite figured out. The ancient Greeks had no such misconceptions. The Sophists plied their trade on the unsuspecting populace and “proved” such absurd conclusions as “non-being exists.” Now, such a silly proposition is clearly meaningless as it is self-contradictory, but then, the ancient Greeks did not enjoy the well-developed system of logic we have today. Plato’s theory of ontology is intimately tied to his metaphysics. There is the World of Ideas, which most certainly exists, and the Ideas are certainly particulars (upsetting modern logicians who denounce subalternation), and also certainly existence. But the world shaped by the Demiurge based on these Ideas is an imperfect mishmash. Thus, for Plato, what we see as a rock is really only a rock insofar as it participates in the Idea Rock. It is the Rock that exists, not the rock. The rock is simply an imperfect representative of Rock. Aristotle thought this all a very silly distinction. He retained Plato’s realism, but introduced an empirical epistemology. This shifted his ontological position to be that objects truly do exist as we sense them. The rock I hold in my hand is actually a rock: it is formed in the form of a rock and it is made of the matter that rocks are made of. These two essential qualities make this really a rock.

While the ancient Greeks are frequently studied and paid lip service as being heavily influential on modern philosophy, this is usually a disingenuous homage. But it is actually more the case that philosophy has probably advanced only moderately from the Greeks. More appropriately, it seems that we have simply made it more complex and more confused with the infusion of new terms and new revisions of old ideas. Any way one looks at it, clearly we owe a great deal to these three groundbreaking men.

Soli Deo Gloria

Jon

References

Bruder, K., & Moore, B. N. (2002). Philosophy: The power of ideas (6th ed.). Boston: McGraw-Hill Higher Education.

Diotima. (2006, March 23). Retrieved April 9, 2006, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diotima.

Kneale, W. & Kneale, M. (1962). The development of logic. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Plato. (2000). Symposium. In S. Rosen (Ed.), The philosopher’s handbook, (pp. 27-37). New York: Random House.

New host

Welcome to the new home of the Reformed Worldview. I would like to take this opportunity to thank Rich Leino for offering to host my blog here. It is a real honor to be hosted at SoliDeoGloria.com. I could not think of a better domain to pitch my tent under.

I have some administrative work ahead of me. It does not appear that WordPress has an export/import feature available, so I might have to move over my previous posts one by one. That might take a little time. Until then, I refer you back to the old site. I will go ahead and leave that up for a few months to allow people to update their bookmarks (not that anyone has my site bookmarked…). In any case, there will be a post on that site about the move, as well.

Soli Deo Gloria

Jon

The Impact of the Christian Response [to Pagan Philosophy]

Christianity has had an interesting relationship with philosophy ever since the two confronted each other in the Areopagus in the first century (Acts 17:19-33). Christians today point to this encounter between the apostle Paul and the greatest thinkers in Athens as an example of the “apologetic encounter.” Paul matched his theology against the philosophy of the Greeks, defying their paganism and claiming that they knew God, but glorified him not, professing to be wise, but were fools (Romans 1:21). For the wisdom of the world is foolishness to God (1 Corinthians 1:20). It was for this reason that Paul declare to the church in Colosse: “Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ” (Colossians 2:8 KJV). But if Paul decried all philosophy then why the rich heritage and tradition it has enjoyed in the Christian faith? Why did such giants as Augustine, Anselm, and Aquinas take up the issue with such fervor if apostolic tradition denounced it? Perhaps there is more said on the issue than just the verse cited in Colossians. After all, Paul spoke of “philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.” If to be Christian is to be “of Christ” then it appears Paul stands in approval of Christian philosophy—for “whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Colossians 3:17 KJV). What, then, was Paul’s philosophy?

Paul was, of course, a determinist. Many who have come since have tried to deny that Christianity is a deterministic system, but its Scriptures clearly assert as much. Paul argued that determinism, rather than adversely affecting the will and responsibility of human beings, is actually the basis for Christianity’s particular theistic foundation. With this, he also asserts the sovereignty of God and his compelling and uncompelled rule over all things, doing as his pleases when he pleases; and all for his own glory. Paul realized how odious this doctrine must seem to those hostile to his religion. He rhetorically raises a number of objections in the ninth chapter of Romans. He speaks of Isaac being loved and Esau being hated, even before the two were born and had done anything right or wrong (Romans 9:11, 13). He quips, “What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid” (Romans 9:14 KJV). And in regards to God’s mercy: “Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy . . .” (Romans 9:18 KJV). And sensing the objection that a sovereign God necessarily means that man does not have free will, which necessarily means that evil is caused by God, which seems to necessitate that man should not be held responsible for his faults, he interjects on behalf of his naysayers, “Why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will?” (Romans 9:19 KJV). His reply has disappointed all but the ardently faithful. It is worth quoting in full.

Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus? Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour? What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction: And that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory. (Romans 9:20-23 KJV)

Paul learned well from Job’s trials that man could say nothing to God. Job suffered greatly for the glory of God, but thought to protest that he, a righteous man, should have to suffer so. He thought to question God for his purposes, but repented in sackcloth and ashes when the Almighty answered out of the whirlwind and said, “Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge? Gird up now thy loins like a man; for I will demand of thee, and answer thou me” (Job 38:2, 3 KJV). Even more, Paul had previously elucidated earlier in the same epistle that the fall of Adam and Eve in the garden was by design: “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned” (Romans 5:12 KJV), and this was done that “. . . all the world may become guilty before God” (Romans 3:19 KJV). This doctrine has become the most hated and most despised of all Christian doctrine throughout the ages. It is so repulsive that most nominal Christians do not even believe it, instead dogmatically asserting that man is indeed free: free to choose God or free to not choose God. But this is not the position Paul taught: “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8 KJV). We see then that Paul’s philosophy was a dogmatic, deterministic, theistic system that placed all faith and all authority in God alone. Over the years, this would gain disfavor from subsequent saints, but these foundational beliefs live on in what is now known as “Calvinism.” While we shall not cover that doctrine here, it shall arise again in the future.

Chronologically, Augustine is next in our survey of significant Christian influences on philosophy. Theologically speaking, Augustine was also closest to Paul’s strict deterministic theism. He is claimed (by Protestants) to be the first saint of the post apostolic era to have fully grasped the biblical doctrine of God’s sovereignty in election (that is, the choosing of those persons elected to salvation by God). Many theologians find shades of the doctrine in earlier saints, but most agree that Augustine was the most lucid and complete writer on the matter. Augustine was a prolific author. Volumes upon volumes of his works have been published, but volumes and volumes remain yet unpublished. He was particularly voluminous in his writing against the British monk, Pelagius. Augustine’s dedicated attack on Pelagius’ doctrine finally resulted in said doctrine being declared heretical. Ultimately, Augustine’s disciples would lose the fight against the doctrine of free will in the church, which would come to grip it for nearly a millennium. Before converting to Christianity, Augustine was a Manichean, and we find many dualistic tendencies in his early writings. Later in his life, however, Augustine’s philosophy took on a distinctly Platonic flavor. Probably more so than any other work of his, De Magistro is overtly Platonic: drawing heavily upon Plato’s theory of Ideas and man’s a priori knowledge thereof, coupled with existentially triggered reminiscence. Of course, Augustine put a decidedly Christian spin on the doctrine, asserting that Jesus Christ alone is the true teacher and that our knowledge consists in his knowledge, albeit only partially. He taught that no one is ever “taught,” but only inspired to remembrance. As one might expect, he was most definitely a rationalist (but, inconsistently, had some faith in the senses). He also conclusively demonstrated that truth is transcendent and eternal in the Confessions (VI, VII, XI) after casting off Aristotelian empiricism and embracing Neoplatonism. He would influence the field of rational metaphysical and epistemological inquiry for centuries to come. To this day, his influence remains great. The late Dr. Gordon H. Clark considered himself an “Augustinian” in that he was an epistemic scripturalist (which he simply deemed, Dogmatism). This brand of epistemological foundationalism asserts that only propositions found in the Bible or propositions that are validly deducible from the Bible are objects of human knowledge. Augustine did not concur with this denial of empiricism in toto, but the influence he had on later thinkers cannot be denied. While Augustine presented no formal arguments for the existence of God, his argument for the transcendent eternality of truth serves as a strong argument for the impossibility of empirical data and leads the believer to look for truth solely through theology. This author has elaborated a similar argument, finding empiricism to be untenable for the Christian theist, and elaborating an argument from Scripture that establishes epistemic Scripturalism as the sole consistent Christian worldview. This Augustine-inspired rationalism is not confined to the last century, however.

Anselm of Canterbury was a rationalist in the Augustinian tradition. While he had abandoned the soteriological position of Augustine, he embraced many of the philosophical principles of his predecessor. Anselm was the first to posit what has become the notorious ontological argument for the existence of God, or “ontological argument.” It is a rather ingenious argument all things considered. The validity of it has been hotly contested by theists and atheists alike. First argued by Anselm, it was soon after countered by the monk, Guanillo. Guanillo’s refutation was found to be quite equivocal, however, and the argument lived on, but was soon replaced by the Aristotelian cosmological argument (or argument from first cause) in its multi-faceted forms as enumerated by Aquinas—more on him later. When Kant came along and presented his refutation of the ontological argument, it was thought finished; however, his student Hegel resurrected it and even to this day, its validity is not so much questioned as his phenomenology and the disassociated and individuality-destroying worldview that he deduced from it. The critical flaw is not that the ontological argument is invalid in and of itself. The problem is that trying to infer the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is the “god” proven by the ontological argument is impossible. It is at the same time an affirmation of the consequent and an equivocation to argue that the ontological argument proves the existence of the God of the Bible. The reason Anselm’s argument was “successful” for the period of time that it was is Europe was largely a Christian continent. The education level of the people was extremely low, as well. They probably had no concept of formal validity, much less the tools to evaluate the argument within the appropriate context. Instead, the Catholic doctrine of implicit faith encouraged them to not think about the argument and simply believe its conclusion, moreover, to simply believe the Church. Anselm helped to demonstrate how strict rationalism was incapable of inferring God. Even though his argument was valid, it did not prove enough. This inspired Aquinas to take a different approach to the problem. Aquinas was an Aristotelian. Though more than a millennium and a half separated him from Aristotle, Aquinas was remarkably faithful to the empirical philosophy of the Greek. Aristotle was also a theist, though not a Christian theist. He believed in a god of motion: a single motion, actually. Aquinas claimed that he had found Aristotle’s enigmatic “First Mover.” It was the God of the Bible. Even more, he was completely sure that this was “evident to the senses.” His cosmological argument has become a standard weapon in the hands of many Christian apologists since, much to the chagrin of more learned individuals, and to the frequent embarrassment of those who employ the argument. Lest we should become bogged down in a critique of the cosmological argument and lose sight of the present topic, we shall avoid the issue and simply point out that the argument hinges on an egregious petitio principii. Instead, we return to Aquinas and his influence on philosophy, especially Christian philosophy. Aquinas’s legacy endures to this day as most apologists subscribe to the method called, Evidentialism. It is believed that Christians must start at neutral grounds, a position or proposition that both the believer and unbeliever trust as reliable. From there, the Christian presents empirical evidence of the general reliability of the Bible, from which he infers that it is completely reliable, from which he can infer the existence of God. This was Aquinas’s method and it survives not only in Catholic circles, but in evangelical circles as well. It bears mentioning that this type of apologetic represents a radical shift away from Paul. As the survey in Romans showed, Paul presupposes the existence of God and deals only with theological matters. Augustine similarly presupposed God’s existence. In Anselm, we saw a rational explanation for the a priori idea of God (God was most certainly a priori to Anselm for all but “the fool”). Aquinas has done away with this aprioristic assumption and taken instead as his fundamental assumption the senses and the a posteriori perceptions they cause. Not only would this change the face of Christian apologetics, but also it would similarly influence later scientific thought. Today’s philosophy of science begins with the presupposition that everything has a natural explanation. Supernatural phenomena are ruled out from the very beginning. The human sense organs are capable of discovering truth about the world and the nature of it. A large deal of the credit for this worldview is owed to Thomas Aquinas.

We have thus seen how the chronological distance separating Christianity from its roots has furnished a great deal of change and departure from the historical foundations of the faith. Paul was strictly deterministic and adamantly presumptive in his theism. Augustine was similarly so, but also explained a number of key philosophical issues within a loose framework of Neoplatonism. Anselm saw merit in employing Augustine’s rationalism to formally prove the suppositions of those saints come before him. Aquinas embodied the departure from orthodoxy and placed his faith in the secular arguments and suppositions of a pagan, Aristotle. Since then, Christian philosophy made little progress between Aquinas and the 20th century. Recently developments have greatly helped to reverse the damage done, but secular philosophy has now greatly outpaced the religion that once fostered and nurtured it during the darkest ages of the European continent. Already the presuppositional apologetic approach advocated by Van Til and Clark has made its presence known in the halls of academia worldwide. It remains to be seen how much of an influence this modern rebirth of Christian philosophy will have.

Soli Deo Gloria

Jon

New series of topics

I am currently taking a philosophy course in school. Since I am in a business program, this will probably be the only class on philosophy that I will be taking, but I thought that it might be interesting if I were to share with you the assignments that I will be turning in. Of course, I don’t see this class as just a class on philosophy, but an extended apologetic encounter. I plan on elaborating the work of Christ as much as possible within the context of a fully biblical, philosophical worldview. It’s sure to raise some interesting discussions in the class. I’ll be sure to keep you posted of those of substantial note.

Since my courses are all fast track, this series will only run for nine weeks, but it will be more consistent, and will offer more content than I have published so far (naturally, since college requires plenty of work). After the class is over, I plan on coming back to the epistemology series, which I have let founder for too long.

As a final note, my original thesis for the next section was to demonstrate an axiomatized system of propositional logic from Scripture. That will be set aside for now. Instead, I will be demonstrating Aristotelian logic, for reasons that are probably more complicated and subjective than are worth addressing.

I have an interesting book here that contains a number of essays about the philosophy of Fred Sommers, who revised and revived the syllogism (and by extension, term logic). Those interested in more can read this article by Sommers. I’ve been reading some of his responses to those who decry the “old logic” (as well as Clark’s response in his Logic) and am becoming more and more convinced that modern logic is something of a sham. It’s touted to be a superior system and methodology to the old system, but I see nothing that indicates that whatsoever. Modern mathematical logic is simply more suited to mathematics, which makes the scientists happy, since they consider math a skeleton key in the locker room of truth. Essentially, Sommers sees a sort of union between propositional and term logic (which he believes was posited by Leibniz) is the best solution. But I’m getting ahead of myself. We’ll get to this later.

I’ll have something to read posted tomorrow, viz. The Impact of the Christian Response [to Pagan Philosophy].

Soli Deo Gloria

Jon

On Saving Faith

Here again, I would speak on matters distinctly theological. In this particular case, the doctrine of saving faith, which is critical to soteriology. My intention with this entry is to provide a personal confession of what I believe saving faith to be within the historic Reformed formulation of assensus, notitia, and fiducia. My intent is not to teach, although I would be delighted if the reader would search the Scriptures to see if these things are so, for I truly believe they are. Instead, my intention is to provide a public profession of my affirmation in the doctrine of sola fide, faith alone. I say now explicitly, I believe that we are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. And I believe that faith is the sole instrument of justification. And I believe that this faith is not of one’s own doing, but is the gift of God, which he gives to whosoever it pleases him. And I believe that we are saved by the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ alone, whose righteousness is imputed to those who are gifted faith by God, by which we are considered clean in his sight. And I explicitly deny that any work of the man plays any contributing role in the act of justification. Justification is the gracious and irresistable work of God alone, who bestows his salvific grace upon his elect, those he has chosen before the foundations of the earth were laid.

Now, the following part of the entry comes from a post I made on the Puritan Board concerning the doctrine of saving faith. The topic was concerning Gordon Clark’s view on the matter, which I briefly address before adding my own thoughts.

Dr. Gordon H. Clark (hereafter, Dr. Clark) most certainly took a more technical approach to his formulation of the doctrine of saving faith, I think. Moreover, he reads knowledge to be the traditional Platonic formulation of justified true belief, which meaning it does not always carry, neither in colloquial use, nor in the writings of the Reformers. As a result, some of Dr. Clark’s objections appear to be objections in definition, not necessarily in content.

Dr. Clark’s definition of knowledge, as I asserted before, appears to be traditional, but he also uses the term loosely, that is, colloquially, attributing knowledge to propositions that his epistemology could in nowise justify as being true. He must have either been inconsistent, or acknowledged that knowledge can have more than one meaning. This latter assumption seems most plausible, as he frequently commented that many English words have four or five meanings, and that one should read “Merriam-Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary” if he desires to “know” them. Thus, I do not think Dr. Clark would object if I were to attribute a less technical usage of knowledge to the Reformers, as they do not seem to have always (if not rarely) meant justified true belief.

Well, if the Reformers did not mean Platonic knowledge when they discussed notitia, what did they mean? I have come to believe (certainly not “know” ) that the Reformers spoke of what we would call the “justification” of an object of knowledge. That is, the Reformers spoke of the proposition itself. For example, the proposition, “Socrates is mortal.” This is the conclusion of an argument. In this case, the conclusion of a syllogism, which contains the major premise, all men are mortal, and the minor premise, Socrates is a man. Thus, I would argue that notitia is the “raw objective truth”—i.e. true propositions—without concern for the other two elements of faith (assensus and fiducia).

Now, this argument itself is purely logical and intellectual. But unless one believes the premises are true, one cannot believe the conclusion. For instance, if I denied the minor premise (Socrates is a man), the conclusion does not possibly follow. I am left with a bare major premise: all men are mortal. In denying the particular, I have eliminated the possibility of the conclusion following. That is, I do not assent to the minor premise. I do not agree that they are correct. Since I do not assent to the truth of the premises, I cannot possibly trust that the conclusion is correct.

At this point, I think you might know what I am going to propose next, viz. that fiducia is trust in the conclusion. I am also sure that the more astute readers will immediately object that assent and trust here are identical in meaning, for the major and minor premises are themselves conclusions of previous arguments, the whole of knowledge regressing to a beginning. That is quite true and I applaud those who come to this conclusion unaided. I would like to give what I believe is a genuine distinction, though.

Earlier, I suggested that assensus is assent to the premises. Now, for those salvific propositions, this assent is directed at the Scriptures. That is, the object of belief (assent) is the inspired word of God. But it is one thing to assent to the fact that the Bible says one thing or another. It is quite something else to believe the proposition is true. I would therefore submit that saving faith is indeed tripartite and has these three characteristics. (Note that this list is generalized and that qualifications follow.)

1) Assensus – Believing the Bible teaches salvific propositions.
2) Notitia – Cognition of the propositions (understanding them).
3) Fiducia – Trusting (believing) the propositions are true for oneself.

Thus, in this formulation, assensus and fiducia have different objects or different propositions in view. Assensus is trust in the axiom (Scripture), whereas fiducia is trust in the theorem (the salvific proposition). Assensus is trust in the foundation or premises of the proposition, and fiducia is trust in the conclusion, the proposition itself. A demonstration seems in order.

It is written: “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Rom. 10:13). By declaring “it is written,” I assent that this proposition is biblical. Secondly, I understand it. If it were written in another language besides English (and if I did not already have Romans 10:13 memorized), I would not understand the proposition. Thirdly, I trust the proposition is true. More definitely, I believe it applies to me. With these three elements, I can construct a valid syllogism, which is a particularized salvific proposition:

1) All who call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.
2) I call upon the name of the Lord.
C) Therefore, I shall be saved.

I believe that in this syllogism all three characteristics of the traditional tripartite definition of faith are embodied.

To give some further illustrations—

For many so-called “agnostics,” assensus and notitia apply. They believe the Bible teaches that all who call upon the name of the Lord shall be save and they understand the proposition (narrowly speaking) perfectly. But they do not necessarily believe it is true; at least, not for them. For cults and heresies, they may certainly have notitia, but deny that it is biblical, thus, logically negating the possibility of fiducia. For certain irrational definitions of faith (especially Kierkegaard), notita and fiducia are true, but there is no assensus. That is, Kierkegaard believed we must understand and believe the Bible teaches contradiction. Thus, they deny assent to the premises of the Bible. An irrational faith would deny the Bible teaches justification by faith alone because James says we are not justified by faith alone. The irrationalist asserts this is a contradiction that must be believed, even more that it must be a contradiction that is believed. Kierkegaard wrote explicitly that if it were not contradictory then no faith would be required.

Now, in any of the former examples it might be said that I have equivocated. That might be the case. That is the danger of examples. I hope my gracious readers (and you must be gracious for having read this far) will understand the attempt to illustrate the argument, even if it was not done so well. Interestingly enough, this three-part formulation appears to me to be nearly identical with the Platonic definition of knowledge as justified (notitia) true (assensus) belief (fiducia). In any case, I am convinced that saving faith is entirely intellectual, any other sort of extra-propositional volition being extraneous to the sole instrument of justification (faith), thus adding to the transaction something that cannot possibly be justifying.

Granted, the material just presented will probably come across as much more technical than anything the Reformers wrote on the matter. I am willing to accept that charge, but would ask the reader to compare the content of what I have said above with what the Reformers wrote. I believe that while the technical attribution of the three elements of faith given previously are more strictly logical and perhaps philosophical than the Reformers gave, I would suggest that they are faithful to the doctrine of saving faith, especially as Scripture has it. One cannot possibly be a Christian if he denies the content of the Bible (assensus), if he does not understand the content of the Bible (notitia), or if he does not trust in the content of the Bible (fiducia).

Most importantly, the five points of orthodox Calvinism necessarily infer all that must be understood regarding salvation. If one understands that depraved man is unwilling to have faith in God, then God must choose him, regenerate him, justify him, and cause him to persevere. The condition of man and the righteousness of God demand monergistic salvation. That means salvation is solely the work of God.

Soli Deo Gloria

Jon

A quick word on future entries

The next entry will discuss how the very idea of “truth” is founded in rationality. It will also serve as a primary to the next section of the outline, which is The Biblical Concept of Truth. In the first part of that section, I intend to demonstrate an axiomatized system of propositional logic from the Bible. To do that, I will be doing quite a lot of reading and studying, so there will be another period of silence. I’m sure that probably bores and annoys the few consistent readers that I have (if any), but the primary reason I started this blog was to record my thoughts on epistemology and to provide quick references to my arguments for people that I meet on the Internet. In any case, I am pretty excited about this endeavor because, to my knowledge, it has never been done before. Or, at the very least, it is an idea foreign to most Christians. I think the greatest benefit of doing this will be to present to Christians the necessity and validity of using logic not only for theology, but also for everything. That is my hope for the project, anyway.

Soli Deo Gloria

Jon

God is truth.

We now approach the subject of how God and truth are related and we do so in reverence and prayerfulness, asking God for his illuminating Holy Spirit that those things he has revealed to the minds of men would be here revealed. The study of God, theology proper, is a subject that ought to be approached with the highest of esteem and caution, for we are never closer to blasphemy than when we pervert theology or unleash our tongues in anger. As God is the keeper of all truth, we ask he grace us with a proper understanding of him.

Some of what will be said here will borrow from topics already addressed, as the subjects overlap. It should also be pointed out that those subjects are really dependent on this one, and that the arguments repeated here, really derive their necessity from God rather than the other way around (obviously). The primary meaning of the thesis is that God is the lone source of all truth. It begins by demonstrating first that God is indeed true. The argument asserts that not only is the Godhead truth, but each Person of the Trinity as well, and this is said explicitly in Scripture. The idea is so pervasive in Scripture that a great multitude of verses could be presented; however, just three citations from the Gospel of John will suffice.

The Father is truth:

“This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God . . .” (John 17:3 NASB).

The Son is truth:

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life . . .” (John 14:6 NASB).

The Holy Spirit is truth:

“But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth . . .” (John 16:13 NASB).

We should also add this.

God’s word is truth:

“. . . Your word is truth” (John 17:17 NASB).

These four verses demonstrate that the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit, and the Scriptures are all true. This evidence, along with myriad other biblical passages that express precisely the same meaning, led the Westminster Divines to conclude that God “is truth itself” (WCF 1:4). What, indeed, could be truer? But lest we should be charged with making an invalid inference—for simply because God is truth it does not follow on this premise only that God alone is truth—we intend to demonstrate that indeed God alone is truth.

There are primarily two arguments that will be pursued to prove this thesis. The first comes in two interrelated parts. In the first part, we wish to show that God is the source of all things. Secondly, we wish to demonstrate that since God preexisted as the truth, only he can be called truth (that is, the source, or foundation of truth) because truth is eternal. The second argument aims to show that nothing temporal can be true.

The first argument follows as such. If God is the source of all things, and if God does not change, then truth does not change, seeing that God is truth, for if truth changed, God would change. The two premises are founded in the following Scriptures:

For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things To Him be the glory forever (Romans 11:36 NASB).

“For I, the LORD, do not change  . . .” (Malachi 3:6 NASB).

To the immutability of God, we also add eternity:

Before the mountains were born or You gave birth to the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God (Psalm 90:2 NASB).

Now, the following inference will probably not sit well with some, but this is what the Bible says, so try to stay with me. If God is immutable, eternal, and truth, then truth is immutable and eternal, also. This is not A(ab) < A(ba), mind you (that would be God is truth and truth is God). The argument follows thusly: truth must be immutable and eternal; otherwise, since God is truth, if truth changed, or if truth was temporal, God would change, or be temporal. This would contradict God’s immutability and eternity, and as a result, truth is necessarily immutable and eternal.

If one more passage from John may be permitted, this argument can soon be concluded.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. (John 1:1-3 NASB)

Verse three here asserts that nothing that came into being (that is, temporal things, essentially, everything except God) that was not created by the Word of God, who is God and truth.

This brings us to the second argument. This is the part that will upset many people, though why I cannot imagine. Since truth is eternal, but creation is not, it follows that creation cannot be truth. Note that this does not mean creation cannot be true. It means that creation itself has no inherent truth quality. Creation is not true because of anything found in it. Creation is true because God did it. In other words, truth is completely reliant upon God. What God thinks is true and what is true is thought by God. What we think is not necessarily true. It is only true if God thinks it is true.

This leads many people to make a considerable number of objections that attempt to reduce this position to absurdity. One such objection is that if we can never know the truth, then we cannot be saved. This objection misses the point, though. The argument does not assert man can never know the truth. It says that man is not the source of truth. Let us use a particularly useful example.

Sensation is something that many take for granted as true. If you see a hand attached to an arm that is attached to a torso to which your head appears to be attached, you conclude that it is true that the hand in front of your face is yours. This might indeed be true, but you cannot possibly know it. Why not? Because there is nothing necessarily true about your thoughts. You are not truth. There is nothing inherently true about you at all apart from God. Now, it just so happens that since you understand what I am saying, you are rational. As a result, you must be a man made in God’s image, for man alone is rational among God’s creatures. But note that this is only true because it is derived from God’s word. The truths contained in God’s word are necessarily true, for they are a part (an infinitesimally small part) of God’s thoughts.

The next objection comes quickly after this reply. The Bible has many occurrences of sensation, which must be true, since God’s word is true. This is an apt, but irrelevant reply. The argument readily acknowledges that these instances of sensation are true; however, the arguer’s sensations are not accounted in Scripture (that is, your sensations and mine are not in the Bible); therefore, they cannot be said to be necessarily true, for we do not know if these sensations are correct or not. This also gives birth to another objection.

If God knows all things then he must know all instances of sensation; therefore, sensation must produce truth because God is true and he knows them. This argument demonstrates considerable confusion. It is true that God knows all things. It also is true that God knows all instances of sensation. But there are two problems with the objection.

First, simply because God knows what sensations we have and what inferences we draw from those sensations, it does not follow that those sensations and inferences are true. What God knows is that you think such-and-such sensation infers such-and-such proposition. This does not mean that God thinks so. In fact, if that were true, then everything we think would be true by implication.

The second is that, while we apparently have “sensations,” we do not really know what they are or how they work. We take for granted that when we “see” something, that object exists as an entity separate from our visual perception of it. We might even invite a friend over and ask him if he sees the same object. If he concurs, we conclude that the object is objectively sensible. This does not follow, however. First of all, objectivity infers universality. That is, if the object is objectively visually sensible, it must be visually sensible to all sentient beings. Great problems arise from this position. In the first place, there are blind persons who would not be able to see the object. In the second, a colorblind person may perceive the object to be colored differently. Is this different colored object the same as the one sensed by you and your friend? If so, how do you know? Any appeal to sensation at this point will result in a circular argument, and thus beg the original question. Even more, the inference that the object is objectively visually sensible is invalid because you have not tested the inference against all sentient beings. Only after testing the assertion against all sentient beings (and this, of course, must include all dead and all future sentient beings, for the assertion was universal) would you be able to make such a conclusion. But such a procedure is temporally impossible. From this, it necessarily follows that we cannot know whether or not our inferences from sensation are true or not.

Therefore, God alone is truth.

Soli Deo Gloria

Jon

 

Rationality is Morally Necessary

For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. (Romans 1:20, 21 NASB)

Romans 1:20, 21 is the definitive passage that expresses the a priori knowledge of God in man. It seems natural that man, as the image of God (1 Cor. 11:7), would have a priori ideas about God. We probably do not know all the forms or all the information that man has available. But we do know from whom this knowledge comes—Jesus, who is “the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man” (John 1:9 KJV).

There are many interesting theories about what precisely this enlightenment and this a priori knowledge are. Augustine wrote a short little book called De Magistro (roughly translated, Concerning the Teacher) in which he posited a very Platonic idea, which runs thus. Man never learns anything; he only remembers. He gives numerous examples of why he says so and goes round and round with his fifteen-year-old son (the book is written in the form of a dialogue). Augustine’s main argument is that no one can teach any man anything because he must first know the subject on which the teacher would speak before he can understand. If I told you all snarks are delicious, there would be precious little for you to make of this proposition; however, if I told you snarks are delicious, have snouts, cloven hooves, curly tails, a pinkish skin, eat slop, make grunting noises, and taste outstanding when smoked and pan-fried, you would begin to remember the objects that these attributes are commonly associated with and would draw the inference that by snark, I mean pig. And naturally, when we discuss how you knew these attributes of a pig, we would have to inquire into the remembrance of things that occurred when someone first reminded (not taught) you what a pig is. And this would regress to your birth, at which point, Augustine believes his argument is proven that man must be born with a priori knowledge of not only himself and God, but of other objects as well.

This is all very Platonic, and Augustine’s ideas expressed here never really did catch on. Nevertheless, there is a certain value to mentioning it here. If it is true that all men are born with the knowledge of things and need only be reminded of them through interaction with the sensible world then are we also born with the knowledge of good and evil? I believe the answer lies right at the beginning of the Bible.

Then the LORD God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” He said, “I heard the sound of You in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid myself.” And He said, “Who told you that you were naked? . . .” (Genesis 3:9-11 NASB)

The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil has proven to be an exegetical difficulty for many a commentator throughout the ages. I profess it is no easier for me, so I will not undertake to explain the full of its significance here, but will address the consequences of Adam breaking the Lord’s commandment. It becomes clear to us from the account of the Fall that the Tree in some way effected the moral knowledge of good and evil in Adam. We even see that Adam realizes (Augustine: remembers) that he is naked without the explicit revelation of the Lord. That is, God did not tell him he was naked (“Who told you that you were naked?”). From this, we infer that the knowledge of good and evil was something foreign to man in his prelapsarian(1) state. But we did not remain ignorant—Then the LORD God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil . . .” (Genesis 3:22 NASB). And in some manner, this knowledge of good and evil has resulted in man being wholly set in his heart to do evil alone: “Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5 NASB). It is also by this event that Paul says sin entered into the world and that all men sinned in Adam (Romans 5:12). Even more, the prophet speaking under inspiration of the Holy Spirit said of this condition, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9 KJV).

This brings us to the current topic of why rationality is morally necessary. Man has fallen from his previously perfect state. And note that the use of “perfect” here follows the common biblical meaning of “sinless.” Adam was not perfectly perfect in the sense that God is, but was blameless. Now, however, all men are evil, with wicked and deceitful hearts. It might be inferred from Jeremiah 17:9 that Adam knew his own heart, for it was not deceitful or wicked, but was pure and blameless. As fallen creatures, we do not have this ability, though.

Now, our curse is living with a heart that deceives us. We know the good we ought to do, but our mind provides us with all the excuses we need to not do it. And this should not be missed, of course. What was lost at the fall is the will to do good, not the knowledge or ability to do good. There are many cases in the Bible of postlapsarian man discerning good (Judges 17:13, 1 Samuel 29:9, Job 5:27; 34:4) and discerning what is not good (Ecclesiastes 3:12, Matthew 7:11, Romans 7:18). And this leads us back to vv. 20, 21 in the first chapter of Romans, where we began this entry.

The title of this entry is “Rationality is Morally Necessary.” What I mean to say is that morality is dependent on rationality. Animals, though they have bodies and souls (yes, they do: Genesis 7:15, 22, Ecclesiastes 3:21), they are not the image of God, they are not rational. When God commanded Adam to not eat of the tree, he put it in the form of a proposition: If you eat of the tree then you shall die (Genesis 2:17). Other commands are simply imperatives and not propositions, such as the Ten Commandments. But as objects of knowledge, they are propositions—the eighth commandment forbids stealing; or, if I steal then I am breaking the eighth commandment.

What is morally necessary in the law is the rational basis of the law itself. The law is a standard against which the thoughts and deeds of men are measured. As we have seen, the heart cannot be the standard, for it is deceitful and wicked. Man is not his own judge. This is not to ignore passages such as Romans 14 where it is said that whosoever eats and does not eat of faith, he sins. The heart is not the judge here, but the law, which asserts that whatsoever is not of faith is sin (Romans 14:23) and without faith it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6).

A few weeks ago, we had examined some of the problems with irrationality. Those points apply explicitly to the topic at hand. One point in particular bears repeating.

The obvious problem with irrationality is that it refuses to submit to the Scriptures. Paul says that the Scriptures are sufficient to make a man wise unto perfection. Those who make their own emotions the basis for morality completely ignore the Scriptures’ claim to be the infallible rule of faith.

Irrationality presupposes the non-existence of objective and unequivocal truth. Similarly, though not identically, skepticism, which is the non-cognition of truth, is just as destructive to morality as irrationality. The irrationalist asserts that truth does not exist and the skeptic asserts that truth cannot be known. Both of these assertions necessarily infer that man can neither know good nor evil, and consequently denies the fall and the rational basis of the law. If the proposition, “Stealing is wrong,” is not true, then it follows that man cannot be held accountable for sins. If God’s proposition to Adam in Genesis 2:17 was not true then men should live forever. Even more, we should have no knowledge of good and evil, yet one of the primary arguments for the non-existence of God is the “problem of evil.” The hearts of the heathen do greatly deceive them, for they do not realize (or forget, as Augustine might say) that evil exists as the contradictory of good, and that only objective, universal truth can provide the necessary basis for moral good and evil.

Soli Deo Gloria

Jon

(1) Prelapsarian means “before the fall.” Postlapsarian would be “after the fall.”