Puritan Gems

Friday, November 02, 2012

The Knowledge of God Part VII

Revelation: The Basis for Knowledge
"It is idle to talks always of the alternative of reason and faith.  Reason is itself a matter of faith.  It is an act of faith to assert that our thoughts have any relation to reality at all.  If you are merely a skeptic, you must sooner or later ask yourself the question, "Why should anything go right; even observation and deduction?  Why should not good logic be as misleading as bad logic?  They are both movements in the brain of a bewildered ape?"  The young skeptic says, "I have a right to think for myself."  But the old skeptic, the complete skeptic, says, "I have no right to think for myself.  I have no right to think at all.“” (G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, 2006 Relevant Media Group, p. 23)
After examining the theories of knowledge espoused by secularists, we must conclude 1.) that there is absolute truth and objectivity in knowledge, and 2.) that the main categories of secular epistemology fail to justify knowledge. How, then, can we rightly claim to know anything? Do we have any standard by which we may justify any truth claim as valid?

The Christian theory of knowledge is accurately referred to as Revelational epistemology. Christianity is a "revealed" religion, and that "revealed" knowledge is not limited only to religious truths. All knowledge is possible because God has created and providentially governs the human mind, and gives it a connection with the material and immaterial universe.
“For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face, that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God's mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments.” (Colossians 2:1-4)
Paul tells us that ALL the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are in Christ, whether it be about God, nature, biochemistry, astrophysics, how to hit a golf ball, or how to write a letter. Why does Paul tell us this? “…in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments.” In other words, the unbeliever cannot even create an argument against God without acknowledging His Lordship in some way. For the Christian, this passage is adequate proof for our Revelational Epistemology. However, in some ways the unbeliever also knows this to be true.

The ultimate proof for God’s existence is that the denial of Him leads to irrationality. Having examined the unbelieving epistemologies and found them to be inadequate as a foundation for knowledge, we may conclude that the unbeliever, by holding that man is the measure of all things, has no basis for claiming that he knows anything at all. Therefore, we may prove the existence of God by the following declarative:  

P1: If man can obtain meaningful knowledge, then God exists, since God is the precondition of human knowledge.

P2: Man can obtain knowledge.  

Conclusion: God exists.

The beauty of this proof is that it immediately put the unbeliever's worldview on trial for its most basic and necessary foundation, knowledge. Any argument that comes against the Christian God must assume that the human mind is capable of meaningful thought and sense experience outside the creative attributes and providence of God, and thus the unbeliever needs to justify that assumption. As we have established, the unbeliever will reach a dead end regardless of which road he may take. Truly, God has "made foolish the wisdom of the world". (1 Corinthians 1:20).

Cornelius Van Til once compared atheists who constantly battle against the knowledge of God to a toddler sitting on her father’s knee while constantly slapping his face. Yet she would be unable to do so without the foundation that her father gives to her. So the unbeliever, in order to get his argument off the ground, must use “borrowed capital” in epistemology from the Christian worldview, thus acknowledging its truth in order to argue against it.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Knowledge Of God Part VI

Relativism - Truth in the mind of the beholder
“There are no eternal facts, as there are no absolute truths.” (Friedrich Nietzsche)
"...Pilate said to him, “What is truth?”" (John 18:38)
Many secularists, particularly post-moderns, have all but given up on the idea of justifying absolute truth, and thus find a home in Relativism. Like other epistemologies, Relativism takes many forms, but all share a common belief that there are no absolute truths. Everyone believes what is the case. Relativism is the ultimate result of other secular theories of knowledge like Empiricism, which cannot objectively experience the sense experiences of other people; Idealism, which cannot objectively ascertain the perception in the minds of other people; and Realism, which holds that knowledge is simply the result of impersonal material laws. Protagoras epitomizes the Relativistic worldview when he asserts that:
"Man is the measure of all things: of things which are, that they are, and of things which are not, that they are not". (Protagoras in Plato's Theaetetus, 152a)
Socrates countered Protagoras with what has been dubbed the “recoil arguments”, which shows the following problems with relativism.

1.) Relativism is self-defeating: The statement "there are no objective truths" cannot possibly be true.

2.) A relativist must acknowledge the equal validity of those who deny relativism. In other words, if everyone believes what is the case, then those who deny that everyone believes what is the case also believe what is the case. Clearly this violates the logical law of non-contradiction.

3.) Truth becomes meaningless, subject to the whims of each individual. Any truth claim becomes tantamount to shooting an arrow into a barn door and then painting the bull's eye around it. Such actions do not make one a skilled archer, but rather makes the shot meaningless.

Ultimately, no one truly lives according to the ideals of relativism. Relativism reduces all truth claims to mere belief, and really satisfies no one, including relativists. We all live our lives as if there were absolute truths, though secular worldviews either deny such truths, or show themselves unable to justify such truths.

Friday, October 12, 2012

The Knowledge Of God Part V

Realism: A Mind Enslaved By Natural Forces
"...there is the in-group bias, in which we place more value on the beliefs of those whom we perceive to be fellow members of our group and less on the beliefs of those from different groups. This is a result of our evolved tribal brains leading us not only to place such value judgment on beliefs but also to demonize and dismiss them as nonsense or evil, or both." (Michael Shermer - Scientific American, July 5, 2011)
"For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him." (Colossians 1:16)
The epistemology known as Realism holds that the human mind, being part of the material world, is limited to and completely in subjection to that world. The human mind is simply part of the real universe, and thus knowledge reflects only the reality of that universe. Proponents of Realism often refer to themselves as "free thinkers", but nothing could be further from the truth. Their minds are enslaved by a naturalistic worldview, and cannot possibly fathom anything beyond that view. Of course, this fits in very well with their foundational beliefs concerning knowledge. However. naturalistic realism, with its evolutionary view of the origins of the human mind and the laws that govern that process, faces a quandary in that knowledge itself (not to mention personhood, free will, ethics, etc.) must be reduced to a material nature. Thus, aside from the failure to establish the connection between the mind and the physical universe (without resorting to alternative epistemologies), Realism also makes such ideas meaningless, leaving us with the following issues:

1. Genetic and Epistemological Determinism. (We are what our genes say we are, and we think what our neurons tell us to think). If knowledge is simply part of the material universe, then it is governed by the laws of physics and biochemistry. In such cases, free thought, rationality, or meaningful inquiry, do not exist. Every thought and action that we undertake occur in an impersonal, meaningless universe, being at mercy to the laws of physics at every point of our existence.

2. Relativism - The ideas of right and wrong, fact or fiction, are useless, since both are simply the results of impersonal material laws. Whose to say that one result is preferable to the other?

3. If knowledge is material in nature, then forgetfulness would be impossible, since matter cannot be destroyed. But people do forget, so while it’s reasonable to think that human consciousness is part of reality, there must be something about knowledge and reality that transcends mere matter.

C.S. Lewis accurately expresses the quandary for unbelievers, particularity Realists, concerning knowledge.
"If minds are wholly dependent on brains, and brains on bio-chemistry, and bio-chemistry (in the long run) on the meaningless flux of the atoms, I cannot understand how the thought of those minds should have any more significance than the sound of the wind in the trees..." (C.S. Lewis, They Asked for a Paper - London: Geoffrey Bles, 1962, 164-165.)
Because we are all "in the world" (John 17:14-18), we are inevitable affected by the physical universe. But all men have an innate understanding that personhood transcends the physical universe. Naturalistic Realists like Carl Sagan may try to convince us that "the cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be", but they simply don't live that way. They do believe in the value of personhood, knowledge, right and wrong, free will, etc. In the end, the brute fact of the existence of the physical universe cannot account for true knowledge.

Monday, October 01, 2012

The Knowledge Of God Part IV

Idealism - The Epistemology of Autonomy
"esse est percipi" ("to be is to be perceived") - George Berkley.
"And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind." (Matthew 22:37)
A popular and recent epistemology that has made inroads in the secular world is Idealism, the theory that reality is the product of the human mind, and that nothing can be known that is independent of the mind. Such a basis for knowledge is the height of autonomy, and although some Christians are drawn into some strands of Idealism, one has to wonder if these can maintain an Orthodox view of Creation. There are several subcategories of Idealism, but all of them have in common the belief that reality is dependent solely on the preception of the mind.

The human mind is indeed an awe-inspiring entity. Indeed, the most challenging study that the mind can undertake seems to be the study of itself. Seeing as how we know so little about the mind, on what authority would anyone claim that it can be the basis for reality? Idealist Immanuel Kant asserts:
"...if I remove the thinking subject, the whole material world must at once vanish because it is nothing but a phenomenal appearance in the sensibility of ourselves as a subject, and a manner or species of representation." - Critique of Pure Reason A383
However, it does not follow that, because the preception of an object exists in the mind, that existence of that same object is dependent upon the mind. Idealists assume, without any justification, that the essense of any object is only in it's perception, thus equating the separation of mind from matter with the separation of perception from existence. Of course, having the human mind as the ultimate source of reality poses several problems:

1. Idealism cannot consistently distinguish between, hallucinations, dreams and reality.

2.  Idealism can neither allow for not account for mistakes in "perception", mistaken identity, optical illusions, the sounds of the ocean inside of a seashell, etc. since reality is based upon perception. There is nothing outside of the mind by which we may validate the accuracy of our ideas, including other people's ideas.

3. Idealism cannot justify any objective truth claim, but rather results in Subjectivism in both Epistemology and Ethics (Whose mind contains actual knowledge of these things? What about minds that disagree with each other?)

As amazing as the mind is, it is not autonomous. God is sovereign over the mind (Deuteronomy 28:28, 1 Kings 3:9, 2 Thessalonians 2:11). The mind itself cannot exist unless it is created by God, and can only reason and think as a reflection of what God thinks and reasons. As fallen creatures, our minds are by nature at enmity with God (Romans 8:6-7), and thus need to be renewed (Romans 12:2). While the mind is an important means by which knowledge may be obtained, it cannot be, in and of itself, the basis for either knowledge or reality.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Knowledge Of God Part III

The Failure of Empiricism
“Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, "We have seen the Lord." But he said to them, "Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe." (John 20:24-25)
“To be radical, an empiricism must neither admit into its constructions any element that is not directly experienced, nor exclude from them any element that is directly experienced.” - William James response to Empiricist William Clifford
As we have seen so far, Christianity is a revealed religion. All knowledge that men may obtain, whether it be about God, or about the natural world, is based in some way on revelation. This is not to say that all of man’s knowledge is a direct revelation from God, for then man’s knowledge would be infallible. But without Divine revelation, man has no real basis for claiming to know anything. In rejecting the necessity of Divine revelation as the basis for knowledge, secularists have offered a few alternative epistemologies. The first and most popular of these is Empiricism, the idea that all truth claims must be validated by sense experience (See Thomas above). Most scientists fall into this category, though they cannot consistently do so and adequately perform their jobs.

Now Empiricism is a valuable tool that God has given us. We do use sense experience to validate truth claims. In fact, God uses Empiricism to give us faith, which comes by “hearing” (sense experience) the Word of God (Romans 10:17). However, according to radical Empiricism (Empiricism as the basis of knowledge) as held by William Clifford, nothing can be considered true unless it is validated by sense experience. "It is wrong always", Clifford asserts, "everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient [empirical] evidence." This leads to all sorts of difficulties in attempting to justify truth claims.

1.) Empiricism is self defeating: The statement “all truth claims must be validated by sense experience” cannot be validated by sense experience, and therefore cannot be a valid truth claim.

2.) Empiricism cannot objectively experience the sense experience of other people, and thus leads to Relativism. In that same line of though, it must be noted that the radical Empiricist will arbitrarily accept the sense experience of his peers that share his naturalistic worldview, but will reject the sense experiences of Isaiah (Isaiah 6:1-13) or the Apostles (Acts 2:32, Acts 3:15).

3.) Empiricism cannot justify inference or any type of inductive reasoning. God’s providence is the only rational basis for belief in the uniformity of nature (Hebrews 1:3), and thus Induction. In Empiricism, however, we are limited to knowing only that which we can experience, and therefore cannot establish any universal law or truth, since that would require universal sense experience.

4.) Empiricism cannot justify past or future truth claims. For example, a consistent Empiricist cannot claim to know that George Washington was the first president of the United States, since he has no way to justify that claim through sense experience. He must resort to the historical record. Now many Empiricists would claim that relying on written historical records does fall within the realm of Empiricism. But while Empiricism may accept such truth claims, they cannot consistently justify them by the same standard which they will justify everything else. Thus they will arbitrarily attempt to delineate between “myth” and “history”, the latter being that which agrees with their naturalistic worldview. (i.e. They will accept the historical account of George Washington’s presidency while rejecting the historical account of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.)

While Empiricism is a valuable God-given tool for us to obtain knowledge, it fails by itself to be a valid basis for knowledge, since it requires an a priori knowledge of the validity of sense experience. Thus Empiricism cannot function as a stand-alone epistemology.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

The Futility Of Liberalism

"The fundamental fault of the modern (liberal) church is that she is busily engaged in an absolutely impossible task - she is busily engaged in calling the righteous to repentance. Modern preachers are trying to bring men into the Church without requiring them to relinquish their pride; they are trying to help men avoid the conviction of sin. The preacher gets up into the pulpit, opens the Bible, and addresses the congregation somewhat as follows: "You people are very good," he says; "you respond to every appeal that looks toward the welfare of the community. Now we have in the Bible - especially in the life of Jesus - something so good that we believe it is good enough even for you good people." Such is modern preaching. It is heard every Sunday in thousands of pulpits. But it is also very futile. Even our Lord did not call the righteous to repentance, and probably we shall be no more successful than He." - (J. Gresham Machen "Christianity and Liberalism”, p. 68)

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Knowledge Of God Part II

Introduction To Epistemology

In order to exhibit how all men know God, we need to look closer at Epistemology, the study of knowledge. In doing so, we will contrast the biblical view of knowledge with the world's view. The Bible tells us that there are two kinds of knowledge.

"Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere." (James 3:13-17)

Godly Wisdom vs. Worldly Wisdom – James 3
Godly WisdomWorldly Wisdom
Good ConductBitter Jealousy
Meakness Of WisdomSelfish Ambition
PeaceableFalse To The Truth
Open To ReasonEvery Vile Practice
Full Of Mercy And Good Fruits

James doesn’t chastise people for having wisdom, but he does draw a hard line between the wisdom that comes down from above, and the wisdom that is earthly, unspiritual, demonic.

"Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God." (1 Corinthians 1:20-24)

We see again that the true wisdom, the wisdom of God, is contrasted with the wisdom of this world. It is important to understand that the world cannot know God sufficiently through worldly wisdom. (1 Corinthians 1:21) As a Christian Apologist, it is a mistake to think that unbelief is caused by a lack of information.  Natural revelation fails as the basis for apologetics because the unbeliever already knows God through natural revelation (Romans 1:19). This knowledge makes the unbeliever to be without excuse, and that is essentially all that it does.

The Greeks in particular, were known for their pursuit of wisdom. (1 Corinthians 1:22). What does this kind of wisdom offer?

"I said in my heart, "I have acquired great wisdom, surpassing all who were over Jerusalem before me, and my heart has had great experience of wisdom and knowledge." And I applied my heart to know wisdom and to know madness and folly. I perceived that this also is but a striving after wind. For in much wisdom is much vexation, and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow." (Ecclesiastes 1:16-18)

It’s amazing how little has really changed since then. Like the Greeks, modern men seem to worship wisdom. Just ask any academic or politician what he thinks solutions are to war, poverty, hunger, AIDS, racism, or any number of ills you can imagine. There solution is almost always the same, "education". If we just become more educated, they say, or if we can just “create a smarter planet”, then we can solve all of the worlds problems and create Utopia.

But Solomon found just the opposite to be true. “For in much wisdom is much vexation, and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow.” (Ecclesiastes 1:18) The more we know about our world and our present condition, the less hope we have in the temporal life, which is what Solomon means by the phrase “under the sun”.

This, of course, is not a plea for anti-intellectualism, for wisdom does have temporal benefits.

"Then I saw that there is more gain in wisdom than in folly, as there is more gain in light than in darkness. The wise person has his eyes in his head, but the fool walks in darkness. And yet I perceived that the same event happens to all of them. Then I said in my heart, "What happens to the fool will happen to me also. Why then have I been so very wise?" And I said in my heart that this also is vanity. For of the wise as of the fool there is no enduring remembrance, seeing that in the days to come all will have been long forgotten. How the wise dies just like the fool!" (Ecclesiastes 2:13-16)

There is a benefit to wisdom. We become better at our jobs. We can know more about the world around us and be better prepared to deal with it. So education has it’s place. However, in the end, Solomon tells us that education “under the sun” is vanity and striving after the wind. How dies the wise man? Even as the fool.

May we be transformed by the renewing of our minds, and learn to love the Lord with all of our minds, for this is the wisdom from above, without which we cannot truly know anything.

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Sovereign Rule of God

We’ve all heard the concept. Calvinism renders God the author of sin and evil. This is simply a necessary consequence of the Calvinistic belief system. If God’s decrees, as taught by Calvinism, are true, then man has no ‘free will’.


Of course, no true Christian can make a coherent claim for an absolute, unfettered free will. “Free agency” as advocated by Calvinists is ignored, and the charge of “determinism” is laid at our door. But what is actually meant by this is that, on Calvinism, we are reduced to nothing more than machines, controlled from above by the grand puppeteer. The biggest charge of all emanating from the incoherent mess that is Arminianism is the charge that Calvinism makes God the “author of sin”. Murmurs about “logic” can be heard, but they are rarely (if ever) substantiated. We will address this later.

God did not create the world on a whim, and He did not create man in order to then leave him to his own devices. God has His own reasons and purposes for creating, and He governs the world accordingly:

Isaiah 46:9-10

for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me,

10 declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose.’

Proverbs 19:21

Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD
that will stand.

God didn’t create the world in order for human beings to dictate His plans. The counsel of God is immutable. And His counsel stands forever:

Isaiah 14:24,27

The LORD of hosts has sworn: “As I have planned, so shall it be, and as I
have purposed, so shall it stand,

27 For the LORD of hosts has purposed, and who will annul it? His hand is
stretched out, and who will turn it back?

Psalm 33:10-11

The LORD brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; he frustrates the
plans of the peoples.

11 The counsel of the LORD stands for ever, the plans of his heart to all generations.

God’s purpose in creating the world is for His own glory and good pleasure:

Proverbs 16:4

The LORD has made everything for its purpose, even the wicked for the day of

Revelation 4:11

“Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honour and power, for
you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.”

God does not stand idle in the Church age:

Ephesians 1:11

In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to
the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his

Philippians 2:13

for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good

And all temporal blessings depend upon the providence of God: 

Matthew 6:26

Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into
barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than

James 1:17

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the
Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to

So where does this leave the agent‘s ‘free will’? Unfortunately, any notion of a libertarian free will was left behind at the fall. “Libertarian free will” must be considered a fad. And it is entirely unbiblical.
John 8:34-36

Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is
a slave to sin.

35 The slave does not remain in the house for ever; the son remains for ever.

36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.

Freedom, as defined by the bible, is a freedom from the bondage of sin, the freedom to do what is pleasing to God. As Hendryx notes, “When Jesus says He will set people free, He does not say they are now free to choose good or evil but He will set them free from the bondage of sin. And where there is bondage, by definition there is no freedom.”

Of course, we affirm free agency, and man is certainly free to act and choose according to his greatest inclinations and desires. But the desires of man are in bondage to corruption.

Romans 6:16-18

Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves,
you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or
of obedience, which leads to righteousness?

17 But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become
obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed,

18 and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of

2 Corinthians 3:17-18

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is

18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being
transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this
comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

Only God can grant us freedom from the bondage of sin, and until He does, men are enslaved to a different master:

Ephesians 2:1-3

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins

2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the
prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of

3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the
desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the
rest of mankind.

The proponent of libertarian free will would have us believe than man can act contrary to his desires and free from the determination of his own nature. This immediately leads one to ask: On this view, can man act contrary to his sinful nature and come to Christ without the prior work of the Holy spirit?

1 Corinthians 2:14

The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they
are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are
spiritually discerned.

2 Timothy 2:25-26

correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may
perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth,

26 and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil,
after being captured by him to do his will.

It is God who allows man to come to a saving faith:

John 6:44

No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will
raise him up on the last day.

John 6:63

It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all.

John 8:42-47
Jesus said to them, If God were your Father, you would love
me, for I came from God and now am here. I have not come on my own; but he sent

43 Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I

44 You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your
father's desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth,
for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for
he is a liar and the father of lies.

45 Yet because I tell the truth, you do not believe me!

46 Can any of you prove me guilty of sin? If I am telling the truth, why
don't you believe me?

47 He who belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is
that you do not belong to God.

So much for libertarian free will.

But does this reduce human beings to mere robots in the great scheme of God’s decrees? I think it would be appropriate to turn to the specific (though unsubstantiated) claims that Calvinism promotes fatalism and that, accordingly, mankind must be absolved from moral accountability. Fatalism holds that everything we do we do necessarily. The argument goes something like this:

1. Necessarily, if God foreknows x, then x will happen.
2. God foreknows x.
3. Therefore, x will necessarily happen.

This is fallacious because the conclusion does not follow from the premises. The fallacy is carrying the necessity from the premise over to the conclusion. The correct argument is as follows:

1. Necessarily, if God foreknows x, then x will happen.
2. God foreknows x.
3 Therefore, x will happen.

We can show the unnecessary transfer of the necessity over to the conclusion by way of a similar argument:

1. Necessarily, if John is a bachelor, John is unmarried.
2. John is a bachelor.
3. Therefore, John is necessarily unmarried.

Obviously John is by no means necessarily unmarried. It is not the case that John must be unmarried. John is unmarried yet perfectly free to be married. Again, the valid form of the argument is as follows:

1. Necessarily, if John is a bachelor, John is unmarried
2. John is a bachelor.
3. Therefore, John is unmarried.

So the valid form of this argument demonstrates that John is free to remain a bachelor or to be married. Just because God foreknows x, it does not follow that x must happen, only that it will happen.

Agents are free to either act or refrain according to their greatest inclinations and desires; whichever the agent chooses, God will have foreknown that choice. That choice is certain for God. But the choice is not necessary for the agent; the agent has freely made the choice. The agent could have made a different choice. And God would have infallibly foreknown that choice in eternity.

When the Calvinist speaks of God's decree, he is not necessarily always speaking of God’s active involvement. In many cases, God's "decretive will" may be expressed in His opting not to interfere with this or that choice, act or event, of which He had definite foreknowledge. And of course, without God’s foreordination no act or event could come to pass.

In the case of sin, while God knew that Adam and Eve would sin, He didn't cause them to do so in an active sense. He merely opted not to prevent it and in doing so allowed sin to enter the world in order to bring about His purpose; God not only allowed the fall, He knew that in creating man in the first place He was rendering it a certainty. He did so in order to achieve His greater purpose.

It is a gross misrepresentation to say Calvinism holds that God specifically acted to bring about sin or evil, rather than consciously willing not to prevent it. Those who present the caricature are either being wilfully dishonest or they’re failing to grasp the doctrines.

Once we see that, on Calvinism, God’s sovereign decrees are in complete harmony with man’s free agency and his moral accountability, the Arminian is backed into a corner. Not only has he failed to substantiate the charge laid at Calvinism (and more to the point God!), but the Calvinist has refuted the charge. But by the Arminian’s own standards, he must by necessity be wide-open to the exact same charge.

On the Arminian view, God creates a world in which many people will go to hell. No matter what He does to try and save them, they are going there, since God's knowledge of their destiny is infallible. There are no two ways about it; they are certain to spend eternity in hell. And yet He proceeds to create anyway. Why? Why create those people He knew for certain would spend eternity in hell? Why didn’t God just create those He knew would choose Christ? By creating them, God has effectively damned them for eternity. There’s no escaping it.

On the Arminian interpretation of foreknowledge and predestination, before the foundation of the world, God knew that John Bloggs would make a free decision to come to Christ. God knew of John’s free decision long before he was born. His decision to come to Christ was inevitable. Why was it inevitable? Was it down to John’s free will, even though he had not yet been born? The Arminian must be forced to concede that John’s destiny is predetermined. It is fixed. John can do nothing but be saved.

Here the Arminian is in all sorts of trouble. He has nowhere left to turn, since he has in no uncertain terms charged the sovereign God of scripture with being unjust, unfair, a monster, the author of sin, or whatever. The stick which he has chosen to throw at Calvinism has turned out to be a theological boomerang, a boomerang with dynamite attached to it, coming back at him and aiming straight between the eyes.

The Arminian is left squirming in his own mess.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

The Knowledge Of God Part I

"For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things." (Romans 1:18-23)

All men have knowledge of God. This may seem like a strange statement to make in today's pluralistic, unbelieving society. Yet as a matter of common observation, all men live in God's universe, and cannot function apart from acknowledging Him in some way. The seeds of the Christian religion have been firmly planted in the minds of men, and God's handiwork has been made manifest to all (Psalm 19:1). All of men's endeavors rely on God's creative attributes and his Providence, without which knowledge as well as the ability to express that knowledge would be impossible. The myriad of false religions reveals that man has an innate knowledge of the divine, corrupted and incomplete though it may be. However, unless the mind is transformed by God Himself from it's depraved state, all ideas concerning God are, of necessity, based upon pure speculation. There is no shortage of idols that man may invent for himself in order to find a deity that will conform to the pleasures of his own deformed nature, even to the point of exchanging "the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things".

Yet the knowledge of the one true God is strong enough that failure to worship Him is inexcusable, placing both Jew and Gentile in the same dreadful mire, for according to verse 16, all men need the salvation which is revealed in the power of the gospel. "The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men", being revealed to Jews through the law, as well as the gentiles by their reason. The fact that pagan nations had not the revealed law at their disposal did not excuse their sinfulness, because "what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them". The unbeliever may not proclaim ignorance of God or His laws, because he has an innate knowledge of both. Paul tells us that they "suppress the truth", not out of ignorance, but rather "by their unrighteousness".

Man, in his very nature being unrighteous and rebellious, is bound to raise a multitude of objections to such knowledge. The atheist and the agnostic are bound by intellectual autonomy. They assume that a world governed by undesigned chance and blind fate may obtain enough order to allow for scientific inquiry, and that the natural laws of the universe can result in a mind capable of objectively realizing such order to obtain meaningful knowledge. While they often call themselves "free-thinkers", their minds are imprisoned by their metaphysical commitment to a material-only worldview from which it can find no escape.

The relativist attempts to hide behind the limits of human knowledge. Nietzsche formulated the relativist mantra quite nicely. "There are no eternal facts, as there are no absolute truths" (Human, All Too Human). Obviously, this statement is self-defeating. There is no way that it can be true. Relativist "do-it-yourself" religion (Pluralism) relies on the frailty of the human mind in comparison to the immensity of God in order to deny God's revelation of Himself, (ie. “God is incomprehensible”). Yet oddly enough, the pluralist expects to be taken seriously when he or she expresses any facts about God.

All of man's objections to his knowledge of the Divine have ethical ramifications at their root.  Wicked men love darkness and hate the light, because their deeds are evil (John 3:19). By either denying God or recreating Him in their own image, men seek to loose themselves from Divine Authority, thus enabling themselves to do what is “right in his own eyes" (Judges 21:25). For them, no thought is more comforting than the idea that their sins will die with them in the grave.

There is an ethical element to how one uses his mind, for the failure to acknowledge God leads to a "debased mind" (Romans 1:28). We are commanded to love God with all of our minds (Matthew 22:37), relinquishing all pretense of intellectual (and thus moral) autonomy and submitting to the One True and Living God. This autonomy may take many forms, from the Empiricism of William Clifford to the Relativism of Friedrich Nietzsche. Yet, as we shall see in this study, all forms of autonomy are built on the shifting sands of human wisdom and ultimately lead to an endless cycle of skepticism. The only option is for our minds to submit to the One who created it, the one who is Absolute Truth, in whom "we live and move and have our being". (Acts 17:28)

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Tools Of Theology

"For although no man will now, in the present ruin of the human race, perceive God to be either a father, or the author of salvation, or propitious in any respect, until Christ interpose to make our peace; still it is one thing to perceive that God our Maker supports us by his power, rules us by his providence, fosters us by his goodness, and visits us with all kinds of blessings, and another thing to embrace the grace of reconciliation offered to us in Christ." (John Calvin, Institutes Of The Christian Religion, Book I, Chapter II)
Calvin begins his systematic thelogy with the knowledge of God, distinguishing between the knowledge of God the Creator and the knowledge of God the Savior. As such, he presents us with both the problem of man's knowledge of God as well as the solution to that problem. How is man, a creature, able to ascertain any truths about God the Creator? How does the science of theology even get off the ground, and how to we know that the truths we arrive at are objective and not conventional? The answer is that God Himself must reveal truths about Himself. Indeed, in order to avoid any claim to ignorance, God has revealed himself to all men by His creative attributes, by the way he providentially governs His creation, and by the very fact that he creates and governs the minds of men, without which no knowledge would be possible in the first place. Just as any sort of knowledge must needs be rooted in divine evelation, so the knowledge of God himself requires such revelation.

Natural Revelation

Man, by nature, is apprehensive to acknowledge anything higher than himself, yet in doing so, he proves that the knowledge of God is inescapable, "For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse." (Romans 1:20). The mulititudes of religions and deities testify to the fact that "...what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them," (Romans 1:19). The knowledge of God the creator being innate in all men, there has been no shortage of constructs by which fallen men will attempt to relate to the divine. Much can be determined about the divine nature by way of his Creation. This knowledge is revealed, among many ways, in the natural world (Job 12:7-9, Psalm 19:1), in the necessity of His Providence (Acts 14:16-17, Acts 17:28, Hebrews 1:3), in the ability to obtain knowledge itself (Job 38:36, Colossians 2:3), in the knowledge of moral absolutes (Romans 2:14-15), and in the acknowledgement of human dignity (Genesis 1:27).

Yet due to man's fallen nature, his innate knowledge of God has become corrupt. In this sense, natural revelation renders all men to be without excuse, and that is essentially all that it does.

Special Revelation

"If man were ever to be brought to salvation, it was`necessary for God reveal a way whereby he could become a partaker of it" (Wilhelmus a'Brakel, The Christian's Reasonable Service, Chapter 2, The Word of God)
Due to his deformed state, man may only attain to the merits of Christ's saving work if, and only if, God Himself would reveal these truths, both of his need for redemption, and the way by which he may obtain it. The revelation of these truth has been accomplished " many times and in many ways" as "God spoke to our fathers by the prophets" (Hebrews 1:1). Today, God's special revelation is complete in the 66 books of the Holy Scriptures, "... breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work." (2 Timothy 3:16-17). These books contain the faith that has been once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 1:3), to which nothing can be added or taken from without serious consequences (Revelation 22:18-19). In addition, it is the Holy Spirit Himself that makes these truths obvious in the minds and hearts of his people (Matthew 16:17), in a manner without such revelation the things of God appear to be mere folly (1 Corinthians 2:14). Thus the most important need for the study of God is God Himself, without whom we could understand nothing. As such, the Holy Scriptures are, of necessity, the only infallible rule of faith and life.

Over the next few weeks, we will take an indepth look at both types of knowledge in an effort to properly apply them as well as to learn more about our Creator and our Savior. We will show how even the most adamantly unbeleiver relies on God's creation and Providence to even function in God's universe. We will also examine the Scriptures in terms of the basis for the Canon, its necessity, its self-attestation, and its self sufficiency.