Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Epistemology and the Nature of Revelation

Lane Keister over at Green Baggins has posted a very good argument by Owen defending the Protestant belief (against RC) about the way in which the canon is discerned. Naturally, we could extend this a fortiori defense to encompass the perspicuity of Scripture and other doctrines relates to sola scriptura. I think, however, one can push the natural/supernatural analogy further and use it to internally critique what generally passes for RC epistemology. Matthew Schultz at BeggarsAll touches on this point in final paragraph of his most recent post on Whitaker's "Dispuations."

RCs predicate the justification of the canon on an allegedly infallible church. Allowing this, by what means do RCs justify their knowledge of an infallible church? If the Magisterium requires no external justification, then we can, like Matthew, ask what distinguishes Scripture from the Magisterium such that the former cannot be afforded the same presuppositional privilege as the latter. [We might also ask what differentiates Scripture from, say, God's command to Abraham to sacrifice his son of promise; Abraham did not need to think about whether or not some omnipotent demon was attempting to trick him. Why? Because God's word is self-authenticating, self-verifying.]

However, I can't recall the last time I asked a RC by what means they claim to know the Magisterium is infallible and received a response which didn't in some way appeal to history. Disregarding the fact many of these responses commit the appeal to antiquity fallacy (not to mention that they are only probabilistic arguments), these are, at the very least, responses which implicitly appeal to natural revelation to justify a belief in an infallible authority. We could modify Owen's argument, then, to read: "if Protestant presuppositional epistemology, grounded on supernatural revelation, is unsound, how much more so is RC epistemology, grounded on natural revelation."

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Praise and Blame

I've been Reformed long enough to know the emphasis [consistent] Calvinists place on God's ultimate causation of all things, man's responsibility, and Soli Deo Gloria. This emphasis is not mistaken. Each of these doctrines convey truths that follow from Scripture.

However, I think that we (myself included) can sometimes get carried away by Soli Deo Gloria. Of course, everything we do ought to be to God's glory, just as everything God does is for the same reason. But in our haste to prostrate ourselves before God, we can forget that we are good and faithful servants if God gives us a talent and we turn it into 10. Doing such is a good work worthy of praise.

Of course, God causes our good works by His grace, so we ought not be prideful in our good works, but rather realize that we are as we are by grace. If, however, we are to be blamed for disobeying God - even though He ultimately caused our actions - it only makes sense that we should be commended for obeying God - even though He ultimately caused our actions.

I have encountered some who pose an argument against Reformed Theology that highlights what I am attempting to explain. The argument runs thusly: if God is the ultimate cause of all things and if man's good works, caused by grace, imply that God alone ought to be approved, as if man is the "mere" vehicle through which God purposes the good work to occur, one's sinful works should similarly be traced back to God alone.

The way in which one refutes such an argument is twofold: firstly, by asserting that God's praiseworthiness is measured on the same grounds as is ours, viz. by whether or not God's actions are to the purpose of the maximal manifestation His glory; secondly (and this is really only a logical extension of the first), by admitting men are to be commended for good works just as God is to be praised for His righteousness.

To conclude, then, we thank God for His mercy and grace. Without it, we could not do things which are worthy of praise. His unconditioned choices are what have made us who we are - He has done this for His glory, and we glorify Him for it. But we should not confuse thankfulness and glorification with praiseworthiness or commendableness.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Books and book suggestions

What with Christmas and my birthday in the coming months, my family has asked for gift ideas. Being unimpressed with the boring request for a massive amount of amazon gift cards, they asked for specifics. After some thought, I was able to come up with the following books, and have for the purposes of this blog included reasons why I am asking for these books. Perhaps the reader will find something of interest or be able to suggest a book that I might find interesting.

Forthcoming books:

Michael Horton
: The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way

James M. Hamilton Jr.: God's Glory in Salvation through Judgment: A Biblical Theology
John Frame: The Doctrine of the Word of God

This is an interesting gift list because it is the first time I can recall that I have asked for one book - let alone three - which have not yet been made available to the public. In the last year, I have been on a covenant and biblical theology kick, which explains the interest in the first two books. I've been consistently impressed with Horton's covenantal perspective, and it will be nice to have a book in which his thoughts are centralized. I had never heard of Hamilton Jr. before having stumbled across the book on amazon, but after reading the blurbs by men like Thomas Schreiner and
this publication of his related to the subject of the book, it reminds me of Piper's exegesis of Romans 9 with a biblical-theology oriented focus. I've had my eye on Frame's book for a couple years now, since I believe a systemic presentation of the doctrine of Scripture has been lacking in the church. His Doctrine of God was unbelievable; I had to set it aside because it was so deep I didn't think I could do it justice until I was more well-read. I am hoping for the same impression with this book.

Meredith Kline: God, Heaven and Har Magedon: A Covenantal Tale of Cosmos and Telos

Of course, since I like Horton, it follows that I like Kline. I recently found most of his books are available online (link), and the only other book that is not available to me at a local library is his magnum opus. He and Horton make connections between Testaments that bespeak a true knowledge of the inter-connectedness of God's plan.

John Robbins: The Church Effeminate and Other Essays

A gift list would not be complete without a book or six from the TrinityFoundation. This Reformed anthology on ecclesiology will, I hope, give me a well-grounded understanding of the church that I have been lacking.

Gordon Clark:

1. The Trinity
2. The Incarnation
3. Commentaries on Paul's Letters
4. Philippians
5. First Corinthians

Clark has been my favorite philosophical-theologian for some time now. I will have, with these books, all his concise yet rich Scriptural commentaries. I have been meaning to purchase his books on the Trinity and Incarnation for some time now, after having heard that both are controversial. Clark was nothing if not consistent in his attempt to be logically consistent, and if the fundamentals of Christianity can inspire such intriguing thoughts after 2000 years, I would be remiss if I did not attempt to inform myself.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Counter-factuals and the Righteousness of God

I’ve been working on this post for several weeks now. Having finished it, while I believe the conclusion I come to is true, the assertions in this post are meant to be tentative rather than dogmatic. I do not usually enter into the arena of speculative theology, but perhaps after this post, it will be clearer as to why I have prefaced the post in this way.

So as to avoid confusion, the following is an outline several points I believe are biblically backed and to which I will refer throughout the rest of this post:

- God ultimately causes all things, meaning that it is by His will that this possible world is an actual world.

- A possible world is a world which God could have decreed to effect.

- God knows counter-factuals, meaning that He knows of possible worlds which He has chosen not to effect (e.g. Matthew 11:21).

- God is righteous, meaning He always acts such that the manifestation of His glory is the teleological end of all things; there is a correlation between God’s righteousness and His glory.

Theologians sometimes distinguish between types of knowledge in God’s mind:

1. Necessary knowledge - knowledge of what must be

2. Middle knowledge - knowledge of what could be

3. Free knowledge - knowledge of what is

One might say that the first type of knowledge is predicated on God’s knowledge of Himself, the second type on that which He is able to effect, and the third type on His eternal decree. One might also argue that God’s middle and free knowledge are predicated on the knowledge depicted in the higher wrung[s] of the above hierarchy, since, for example, it makes sense that God would have to know what “must be” to know what He “could effect” and would have to know what He “could effect” to know what He “has decreed will be effected.” Whether these categories of knowledge hold under scrutiny remains to be seen.

As I was flipping through Carl F. Henry's magnum opus, God, Revelation and Authority at the library some time ago, I found, in Volume 5, several sections on divine omniscience and immutability. Since I had recently been writing about both, I naturally skimmed through those sections, and when I did, I found the following question:

"Does the very notion of "events which could have been otherwise" violate divine omnipotence and omniscience?" - pg. 295

This question is asked in a context in which Henry is talking about process theology, so what Henry has in mind is probably God's "free" knowledge. But because I didn't realize this at first, the quote actually inclined me to think about whether or not there is an inconsistency between my notion of God's knowledge of counter-factuals - i.e. His "middle" knowledge - and His righteousness.

Why did God decree to effect this possible world over against all others? Because, it would seem, this possible world maximally manifests His glory. If this possible world, which God has decreed to effect, manifests His glory less than one which He has not, God’s righteousness would be called into question. Or, if we suppose two possible worlds would equally manifest His glory, it would appear that God arbitrarily chose to actualize this possible world – after all, since both worlds are consistent with His righteousness, what reason had He to choose to actualize this possible world over against the other? Scripture, on the other hand, depicts a God who chooses according to His good pleasure and desires. God had a reason for decreeing to effect this possible world over against another. If God had actualized another possible world, then, He would have done so for a purpose other than the manifestation of His glory. But this would deny that the telos of all things is the maximal manifestation of God's glory. Recalling that there is a correlation between God's righteousness and His glory, and that God is righteous, God's decree to effect this possible world implies that this possible world is entailed in God's decree to maximally manifest His glory; that is, given God's purpose to maximally manifest His glory, God necessarily must have decreed to effect this possible world.

But then – and here is the point – how is it that God even knows of counter-factuals? Apparently, God knows what is logically impossible: what would have happened had God acted inconsistent with His righteous nature. It is one thing for God to know what He cannot do (e.g. lie), it is another to suggest that God can know what would happen if He does what He cannot do (e.g. lie); the latter presupposes an ability to do the former, which is contradictory. Applying this argument to the subject of this post, it would seem that there is no such thing as “middle” knowledge – or, more precisely, there is no distinction between God’s necessary knowledge, middle knowledge, and His free knowledge.

This stumped me for a while, but after having thought about it, I believe there is a way to counter this dilemma, and that is to ask how God knows this world would more greatly manifest His glory than a counter-factual world. This question exposed a hidden presupposition in the above paragraph, viz. that God purposed to maximally manifest His glory because God is righteous. God's righteousness and His glory are indeed correlated, but the predication between the two is opposite to what I had thought: God is righteous because His eternal decree purposes the maximal manifestation of His glory as the end of all things.

In other words, instead of the idea that God's righteousness is an intrinsic attribute which determines God's choices be to the purpose of His glory, His righteousness is rather, like holiness and sovereignty, an effect of His eternal decree. If God’s righteousness is entailed in His necessary, self-knowledge - that is, if it is an intrinsic, causal attribute - it would constrain His middle knowledge such that He could not know counter-factuals, because for God to be able to decree to effect a possible world which does not maximally manifest His glory would contradict His so-called intrinsic righteousness.

Unlike holiness and sovereignty, however, both of which are contingent upon God's relation to creation, God's righteousness is ipso facto determined by whether or not His decrees maximally manifest His glory. This idea that God's righteousness is predicated on whether or not He decrees to effect a possible world which maximally manifests His glory is consistent with knowledge of counter-factuals. For instance: supralapsarians note that God’s eternal decree is teleological and implies no temporal displacement in God’s mind. With this in mind, God's eternal decree is, as noted earlier, predicated upon knowledge of various possible worlds. The supralapsarianism claims God decreed to maximally manifest His glory as the telos of all things. Decreeing in reverse proportion to the execution of his eternal decree (i.e. teleologically), God non-arbitrarily chose between several possible worlds - worlds which are, tangentially, logically possible, i.e. consistent with His necessary, self-knowledge - by choosing the possible world which would maximally manifest His glory.

Thus, although God could have effected another possible world, God's righteousness is not only correlated to His glory but is itself determined by whether He unswervingly upholds His glory, the telos of all things. He could have chosen to effect a possible world in which His glory was not maximally manifested, in which case one might argue that there is unrighteousness with God, but God instead, acting according to His good pleasure, chose to maximally manifest His glory as the telos of all things, a decree which, in effect, determines all other decrees, decrees which evince His righteousness.