Monday, January 9, 2012

Mission as Mediating Salvation

Christian missions are often motivated by the desire to mediate salvation to all. In other words, a soteriological motif may indeed be the throbbing heart of missiology. Also, one’s theology of mission is closely dependent on one’s theology of salvation (e.g. the scope of salvation should define or determine the scope of missionary endeavor).

So, what salvation does the church mediate in its mission? One, the church mediates a salvation that is realized in this life, today (Luke 4:21; 19:9; 23:43). In other words, salvation is “now” or “already” salvation as the one who is saved is saved in respect to a very wide spectrum of human circumstances (i.e. spiritual and physical [see Luke 5]).  Two, salvation is something that begins in this life. That is, salvation is a process that is “not yet” fully realized or experienced in the life of the believer. Salvation is initiated by the resurrected Christ (Rom 5), and furthered by God’s gift (i.e. the Holy Spirit [Rom 8]). Moreover, reconciliation, as surely a key aspect of salvation, is referred to in a future tense (see Rom 5:10).     

Therefore, from this “already”/“not yet” aspect of salvation there emerges an imperative: Get involved in the ministry of salvation! Mission means being involved in the ongoing dialogue between God (who offers his salvation), and the world (who needs his salvation). Moreover, mission means being sent to proclaim in deed and word that Christ died and rose for the life of the world, that he lives to transform human lives (Rom 8:2) and to overcome death. That is salvation, and the reason why the church’s mission mediates salvation.[1]

[1] See David J. Bosch’s Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission, 20th Anniversary Edition (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 2011), 402-10.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Mission in the Old Testament: Israel as a Light to the Nations: A Review

Dr. Walter Kaiser has written an excellent book that enables his readers to see a missionary message to the Gentiles (or the nations) of the world in the Old Testament. The thesis he unfolds in this volume is the first Great Commission mandate of the Bible: “all the peoples of the earth will be blessed through you [Abraham]” (Gen 12:3). Kaiser claims that Gen 12:3 is the “most succinct declaration” (p.7) of God’s promise-plan to see the message of his grace and blessing come to all nations. Lastly, his hope is that the “formative theology of Gen 12:3 may once again be seen for what it is and has always been in the discussion of mission: a divine program to glorify himself by bringing salvation to all on planet earth” (p.13).
In chapter one, Kaiser begins to unpack this thesis by describing God’s plan for missions in the OT. First he notes how Scripture begins in a decidedly universal scope (Gen 1-11), then goes on to primarily focus on how God’s chosen people are to bless the universe. Kaiser then discusses the three crises of Gen 1-11 (i.e. the fall, the flood, the failure of the Tower of Babel) and the promises of blessing (or “a word of grace”) from God that accompanied and overcame each crisis (i.e. God’s promise of a “seed” [Gen 3:15], God’s special promise to Shem [Gen 9:27], and God’s choosing of and promises to Abraham [Gen 12:1-3]), thus illustrating that God has always had a promise-plan to bring salvation to all people.
In the rest of the chapter, Kaiser develops the last promise of blessing (or “word of grace”) found in Gen 12:1-3. He begins by noting that “Abram was promised three blessings: (1) that he would be a great nation, (2) that God would personally bless him, and (3) that his “name would be great” (p.18), so that Abram may be a blessing to the nations (cf. Gen 12:3c). As a result Kaiser states that the “whole purpose of God was to bless one people so that they might be the channel through which all the nations on the earth might receive a blessing. Israel was to be God’s missionaries to the world – and thereby so are all who believe in this same gospel” (p. 20).
Still developing the promise-plan of God to bless the nations through missions (as stated in Gen 12:1-3), Kaiser describes Moses’ encounter with Pharaoh. For through such an encounter, “the Egyptians will know that I [God] am the Lord” (Ex 7:5, 17; 8:22; 14:4, 18). Kaiser notes that the word “know” expresses a “personal and experiential knowledge of who Yahweh is” (p. 21). Keeping with the theme of God delivering his people out of Egypt, Kaiser then writes about God’s election of Israel (Ex 19:4-6). Kaiser believes that God’s election of Israel is “not a call to privilege, but a choosing for service” (p.22). As a result of Israel being God’s “treasured possession,” “kingdom of priests,” and holy nation,” Kaiser states, “Israel was to assume two relations: one side toward God, their King, and the other side toward the nations and people groups on earth” (p.23).
Completing his study of God’s promise-plan to bless the nations and peoples of the earth through missions, Kaiser discusses God’s promise to David (2 Sam 7; cf. 1 Chron 17; Ps 89). Kaiser shows how David’s announcement to God in 2 Sam 7:18-19, which follows God’s promise to build a house for David (2 Sam 7:11), establish a kingdom out of David’s seed (v.12), and establish an everlasting throne and kingdom (v.16), reflected instructions relevant “for all humanity” (p.27). Kaiser then concludes chapter one by saying, “[I]t was ever and always the plain offer of God to all the peoples of the earth through his elected servants of the promise-plan” (p.28).
In chapter two, Kaiser shows how the book of Psalms describes God’s purpose for missions in the OT. To support his claim, Kaiser comments on Ps 67, 96, and 117. First, Kaiser states that Ps 67 tells of God’s purpose to bless the nations (see pp.32-33) through God’s grace toward the nations (vv.1-3), through God’s justice and rule over the nations (vv.4-5), and through God’s goodness towards the nations (vv.6-7). Next, Kaiser shows how Ps 96 demands Israel to proclaim God’s salvation to the nations (see pp.34-35). Lastly, Kaiser’s appeal to Ps 117 is due to the psalm’s “call for extolling the Name of God before all the nations and all the peoples” (p.36). Therefore, Kaiser concludes chapter two with the statement that missions “cannot be an afterthought for the Old Testament: it is the heart and core of the plan of God” (p.38).  
In chapter three, Kaiser discusses God’s use of individuals to reach Gentiles in the OT. He provides examples of individual believing Gentiles (see pp.40-42) such as Melchizedek, a “king of Salem…[a] priest of God Most High” (Gen 14:18); Jethro, a “priest of Midian” (Ex 18:1); Balaam, son of Beor, who “accurately deliver[ed] the word from Yahweh over four times” (p.41); Rahab, who “looked forward to the coming Messiah” (p.41); and Ruth, who claimed that the God of Israel would be her God (Ruth 1:16). Kaiser also discusses the missiological implications of the healing of Naaman (see p.42f), and concludes chapter three by stating, “the divine revelation wanted us to see that Yahweh was truly calling all the families of the earth – even one’s enemies – to the same Savior and salvation” (p.50).
In chapter four, Kaiser talks of God’s call to Israel to be a light to the nations. First, Kaiser shows how God, through his prophets, not only taunts gods of other nations, but also proclaims “He alone is God of all the nations!” (p.53). Then Kaiser unpacks elements of Isaiah’s message for Israel (e.g. Israel’s universalistic duty, “the “Servant of the Lord” as a collective and corporate term” [p.57], justice as “instruction in judgment or the right” [p.59] through missionary endeavors, the covenant for the people [or nations], and Israel as the light for the Gentiles) as proof of God’s promise-plan to bless the nations through an individual calling (i.e. Israel) as well as an example of how far Israel was to take God’s message of blessing: “to the ends of the earth.”        
In chapter five, Kaiser illustrates God’s prophetic witness to the nations and the influence this has on the idea of mission in the OT. Kaiser primarily appeals to the prophetic ministry of Jonah; however, there are other prophets and their prophetic message that demonstrate the mission of Israel to the nations (e.g. Joel, Amos, Micah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Zechariah). Therefore, Kaiser concludes chapter five stating, “God’s glory was to be seen in his chosen agents of blessing…The promise of God had been intended for all the nations…[realized] through the people of Israel” (p.74).
In the final chapter, chapter six, Kaiser brings his OT study of mission to its biblical/theological conclusion/climax: The Old Testament is the New Testament’s authoritative source for God’s mission “to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Kaiser sees this point most notably illustrated in the book of Acts, which “legitimated the Gentile mission by appealing to the older Scriptures” (p.76), and in Romans 15:8-12, where Paul grounds “his message and mission [to the Gentiles] in the Old Testament” (p.80).
I suspect that this volume will be eye opening for anyone who thinks that only the church is called to go, while Israel was called to be. Kaiser shows how there exists continuity between the tasks of Israel and the church. For the mission to the nations “had always been at the heart of all that God had wanted to do and had called Israel and all believers to do…[and] evangelizing the Gentiles [or the nations]…had always been the long-term commitment of the Living God who is a missionary God” (pp.81-82).    

Monday, December 19, 2011


Opening Remarks. We Christians are presented with a difficult question: If God is sovereign, is humanity free? How true it is that answers to this question depend on what one means by sovereignty and freedom. Therefore, what type of sovereignty does God exercise over creation and the actual sequence of an agent’s events and actions? Also, within the actual sequence of an agent’s events and actions, what type of freedom does that agent possess? It is surely the case that freedom is needed for moral responsibility, but what type of freedom can provide an agent with moral responsibility? Can simply any view of God’s sovereignty be reconciled with human freedom and thus responsibility? On the other hand, can simply any view of freedom and thus responsibility be reconciled with God’s sovereignty?

In what follows, I will briefly discuss the philosophical concept of human freedom called libertarianism. It will be my contention that a human agent lacks libertarian freedom (i.e. the type of freedom that claims that an act is free, if and only if, an action performed by an agent at which time it is true could have been false). I know...big surprise. Libertarianism should be rejected based upon a psychological, philosophical, and theological critique. From a psychological standpoint, a libertarian would never be able to choose between two (or more) equally strong inclinations; from a philosophical standpoint, a libertarian has only reason(s) for acting and not a reason(s) why acting,[1] which implies that libertarianly free agents act for no reason at all; and from a theological standpoint, a libertarian limits God’s omnipotence and omniscience.

Libertarian Freedom and Moral Responsibility. Libertarianism rejects the notion that God (in any way or fashion) determines the actual sequence of events and actions in an agent’s life. As a result, libertarian freedom has been commonly referred to as incompatibilism (or indeterminism) for it claims that any form of determinism is incompatible with freedom and moral responsibility.[2] In other words, the freedom that an agent needs, in order to possess moral responsibility for an action x, is a freedom that is indeterministic. Jerry Walls echoes these sentiments when he states, “libertarian freedom is intrinsic to the very notion of moral responsibility.”[3] Perhaps this logically argument will best illustrate the Libertarian’s claim:

Premise 1: If the actual sequence of agent S’s life is determined, then S is not free and morally responsible.
Premise 2: The actual sequence of S’s life is determined.
Conclusion A: Therefore, S is not free and morally responsible.   

Next, libertarian freedom not only entails an agent’s control over an action, but also the notion that nothing but the agent is the source, cause, and effect of an action.[4] So when an agent is presented with choice x and ~x, the agent is free, if and only if, the agent, while he/she did x, could have done ~x. This is why Walls states, “a person cannot be held morally responsible for an act unless he or she was free to perform that act and free to refrain from it.”[5] This type of freedom has come to be known as freedom of contrary choice (or the freedom to do otherwise).

A Psychological Critique of Libertarianism. A psychological critique of libertarianism directly addresses one of the key motivations of compatibalism (i.e. at the moment of choice, any choice is the result of an agent’s strongest inclination). While the libertarian wishes to reject this motivation, it is my contention that the libertarian cannot escape it. First, an agent experiences many inclinations in the decision-making process. For example, when I was deciding on what school to attend for graduate studies I had inclinations (or reasons) for choosing GCTS and inclinations for choosing SBTS. Now under a libertarian notion of freedom, any inclination for GCTS and SBTS is never the strongest inclination, but rather equally strong. So that at the moment of choice, the agent alone determines what inclination he/she performs, rather than being determined by any externally or internally strongest inclination, because, a strongest inclination entails a form of determinism.  

However, if an agent has only equally strong inclinations, then how does one psychologically carry out an action that is based upon only equally strong inclinations? It seems that an agent could never live out such a belief. The donkey problem or “Buridan’s Ass” illustrates the impractical nature of this libertarian assertion. If a donkey has an equally strong inclination for oats and corn, then the donkey would stand between both and starve to death.[6]

A Philosophical Critique of Libertarianism.[7] The psychological critique of libertarianism is bolstered by a philosophical critique, which begins with a distinction between sufficient and necessary conditions for actions: If R1 is a sufficient condition for action x, then whenever R1 occurs x obtains (e.g. H2O is sufficient for water); however, if R1 is a necessary condition for x, then whenever R1 occurs x may not obtain (e.g. H is necessary for H2O but not sufficient for H2O). In light of this distinction, the libertarian notion of freedom claims that an agent acts apart from a sufficient reason, because a sufficient reason implies a form of determinism. So an agent’s strongest inclination is in turn a sufficient condition for a particular course of action. Therefore, if an agent has a strongest inclination for action x, then an agent will choose action x.

Rather, the libertarian claims that an agent can choose either x or ~x based upon necessary conditions (or equally strong inclinations). However, it seems clear that an agent who possesses only necessary conditions or inclinations for either x or ~x will never be able to choose between x or ~x because there is nothing that suggests what an agent will do. Not even a combination or group of necessary conditions (e.g. H2O) when they occur are sufficient to produce action x. For some reason, the libertarian is convinced an agent can perform action x with only necessary conditions. However, if an agent only possessed necessary conditions (or equally strong inclinations) for action x and ~x then either (1) an agent would never be able to make a choice between x and ~x (see the psychological critique) or (2) an agent’s reasons for doing x rather than ~x would be completely random and arbitrary.

 The latter implication is the basis for a philosophical critique of libertarianism, and it delivers problems for the moral responsibility that libertarianism claims it only can offer.[8] The crucial point of this critique is a distinction between reasons for and reasons why. A reason for is a necessary condition and a reason why is a sufficient condition, because, once an agent has a reason why for action x then action x is determined. So if an agent has only reason for action x, then why did an agent do x rather than ~x? If an agent has only necessary reasons for action x, then an agent makes choices on no basis at all, and thus makes radically irrational and random decisions.

But suppose a libertarian is not so naïve. Suppose a sophisticated libertarian would claim that an agent can avoid randomness given certain factors. That is, the libertarian agent does not need a sufficient reason why x, and only a necessary reason for why x. In other words, for the libertarian reasons for provide an explanation for why certain actions occurred. Moreover, reasons for explain how an agent choose x, and for the libertarian this seems satisfactory. Therefore, reasons why are simply irrelevant for (or unnecessary for) explaining the decision-making process.

However, I believer that the sophisticated libertarian has not escaped the need for reasons why, and in order to illustrate this suppose that I am trying to decide between two seminary options: GCTS and SBTS. Now let us suppose that there are reasons in favor of choosing GCTS, and other reasons in favor of SBTS. Let’s label the former R1 and the latter R2. Now R1 may include such factors as a better location, closer to a major city, the ocean, and immediate family, a more diverse education than SBTS, Professor Richard Lints teaches at GCTS and not SBTS, and so on and so forth. Now consider the other equally significant factors that support SBTS, so that R2 includes the fact that SBTS costs less than GCTS, SBTS experiences less snow fall per year than GCTS, Professor Bruce Ware teaches at SBTS and not GCTS, and so on and so forth.

Now suppose that I finally decide on GCTS. If I possessed libertarian freedom, can I assert that I made this choice on no basis at all? Certainly not! I made my choice on the basis of R1. Now just to be certain, according to the libertarian, my choice was not causally determined (i.e. R1 was not a sufficient condition that necessitated my choose of GCTS), but that doesn’t mean that the choice was baseless.

So, the sophisticated libertarian may believe that he/she has a suitable rebuttal for the randomness charge. If the libertarian was asked, "Why did I choose GCTS?", he/she would respond, "Because of R1."

My reply is that the libertarian’s claim is simply missing the point. I would agree that R1 can be meaningfully cited as reasons for why I chose GCTS, but I submit that the libertarian is answering the wrong question. The relevant question is not, "Why did I choose GCTS?" but "Why did you choose GCTS rather than SBTS?" Again, I’ll grant to the libertarian that he/she has explain how an agent chose x, but they have not explained why an agent chose x rather than ~x. So again even the sophisticated libertarian dismisses the need to even answer such a question, which I find crucial for adequately explaining human action and attributing moral responsibility to human agents.

A Theological Critique of Libertarianism. My last method of criticism comes by way of my understanding of God’s sovereignty (GS):

GS: God exercises power and control over all events in accordance with his desires and intentions, plans and purposes.

As a result of GS there is a certain effect on human action (EHA):

EHA: GS controls an agent’s actions, thoughts, desires, and intentions in such a way that an agent’s actions, thoughts, desires, and intentions are always in accordance with God’s own desires and intentions, plans and purposes.

Now suppose their alternatives, which the libertarian would affirm. First, suppose the libertarian adheres to ~GS:

~GS: God does not exercises his power and control over all events in accordance with his desires and intentions, plans and purposes.

In addition to rejecting GS, the libertarian may surely reject EHA, and adhere to ~EHA:

~EHA: ~GS entails that H’s actions, thoughts, desires, and intentions are not always in accordance with God’s own desires and intentions, plans and purposes.

However, I believe there are two reasons why ~GS and ~EHA should be rejected. First, both threaten God’s omnipotence. Think about it. If GS is true, then God is not only able to do whatever is logically possible for God to do as the greatest conceivable being (GCB), but God is also able to do whatever he pleases. If God is able to do whatever he pleases, then nothing external to God can thwart God from doing so. If nothing external to God can thwart God from doing whatever he pleases, then God’s control over all creation and events is done in accordance with his own desires and intentions, plans and purposes (i.e. EHA).

             However, if GS is false, then it seems that we are left with a God who acts and reacts according to whatever an agent pleases. Moreover, ~EHA implies that Gods stands above his creation waiting to see what we will do and then acts accordingly in light of his own desires and intentions, plans and purposes. Therefore, not only is God’s freedom limited with ~GS, but so is his power because ~EHA entails that humanity exercises a significant amount of sovereignty over GS. For it seems that an agent’s intentions and actions determine what God does and/or will do. Libertarians might see these entailments as a small price to pay to preserve their understanding of human freedom; however, if the compatibilist understanding is possible, then it should be preferable. The second reason to reject ~GS is that it entails a limitation to God’s omniscient. If H has only necessary reasons for acting, then who can know what course of action H will take? This is the grounding objection to libertarian freedom.[9]

Closing Remarks. The libertarian notion of freedom is troublesome for three reasons. One, libertarianism entails that an agent is truly unability to psychologically choose between equally strong inclinations. Two, libertarianism cannot escape the entailment that any choose an agent makes is at least partially random, and arbitrary, because he/she cannot account for why one course of action was taken rather than another. Lastly, libertarianism entails a view of God’s sovereignty that limits his omnipotence and omniscience, as a result of ~EHA and the power and control it holds over GS.

[1] Reasons for will be necessary reasons, and reasons why will be sufficient reasons. If H has only necessary reasons for acting, then why did H act? This is in short the randomness charge.
[2] J.P. Moreland and William Lane Craig, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2003), 270.
[3] Jerry L. Walls and Joseph R. Dongell, Why I am Not a Calvinist (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2004), 105.
[4] This is often what libertarians mean by agent causation (see Moreland and Craig, Philosophical Foundations, 278).
[5] Walls and Dongell, Why I am Not a Calvinist, 105.
[6] Although William Hasker suggests this as a possible argument in support of determinism (Metaphysics: Constructing a World View (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1983), 38-39) he ultimately concludes that is “empty and devoid of meaning” (Ibid, 43). However, Hasker’s proof for objection seems to be based solely upon a disagreement with the determinist’s (or compatibilist’s) claim, rather than a logical/philosophical proof. Thank you Prof. Lints for helping me understand this point of response. 
[7] The meat of this critique is the randomness charge; however, it is at the outset of this critique that I must express thanks to my mentor and friend Steve Cowan, who pointed me in this direction many years ago. For Steve’s musings see his  Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility: A Compatibilist Reconciliation,” Ph.D. diss., University of Arkansas, 1996, 74-81.
[8] Recall Walls’ and Dongell’s comment (Why I am not a Calvinist, 105).
[9] For more on the grounding objection see Steven B. Cowan, “The Grounding Objection to Middle Knowledge Revisited,” Religious Studies 39 (2003): 93-102.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility: Reflections on 2 Samuel 24/1 Chronicles 21 and James 1:13-15

Introduction of the Issue. 2 Samuel 24 is an excellent example of the biblical tension between divine sovereignty and human responsibility and their interrelatedness. For one, the text provides little reason for the Lord’s anger against Israel (2 Sam. 24:1a), for the Lord’s incitement (2 Sam. 24:1b), and for why David’s numbering of the people is a sin (cf. 2 Sam. 24:10, 17). [(On a quick side note, a number of answers can be provided for why the Lord was angry and why David’s act of numbering the people is a sin, but I will not provide them here.)] However, what is certain is that David feels morally culpable for his action of counting Israel and Judah (24:10, 17), and surprisingly not less guilty even though God incited him to do it (24:1b). So the language of the text is clear: God punishes men for something that he incites them to do and still there is no moral blame placed on God. So what the reader finds in this text is complete sovereignty of God and absolute moral responsibility of humanity, and the existence of one side of the coin appears to not diminish the other. Now if God truly incited David to sin, how is God not the initiator of a sinful action? How can this be consistent with the teaching of James 1:13-15 that God “never tempts anyone”?

An Inadequate Solution. In an effort to relieve such tension some scholars have appealed to the parallel passage, 1 Chronicles 21. The Chronicler, writing after the exile, records that it was Satan, not Yahweh, who incites David to number the people and thus sin against God. This is cited by some as an example of how Israelite theology evolved over time during the OT period. They would contend that Samuel’s rendering reflects an older, more primitive theology with a less developed concept of God than the Chronicler’s. Given such evident theological development and diversity, some believe that it was Satan, and not God, who must be the one responsible for an apparent moral atrocity. Therefore, the purpose of the change in wording is viewed as an attempt by the Chronicler to protect his more sophisticated understanding of the holiness of God.

However, such an appeal does not help in the matter and only raises more questions and thus problems. If both of these statements (1 Samuel 24:1; 1 Chronicles 21:1) are viewed as carrying divine authority, then it means that there cannot be a conflict or contradiction between them. In other words, the view that the Chronicler’s change reflects an evolution in theology suggests fallible human opinion rather than two divinely inspired statements.

A Better Solution. The tension between these two texts is best resolved by understanding Samuel as speaking from the standpoint of God’s general providential governance of everything that comes to pass through and dominion over all powers and authorities whether in heaven or on earth (cf. Ps. 97:9; Eph. 1:20), while the Chronicler speaks more specifically of Satan as the immediate cause of David’s action. Another way of understanding it is that Samuel provides an underlying theological perspective, while the Chronicler simply describes what happened from a human perspective. Therefore, the exchange of Yahweh for Satan is no more and no less troubling than the situation one finds in the first two chapters of Job. Satan’s power to cause things to happen is dependent on God allowing it in the first place. The Bible teaches that God empowers human beings (cf. Judg. 1:14; Hab. 1:6; Acts 4:28) and even destructive beings (cf. 1 Kgs. 22:19-23; 2 Thess. 2:11) in a limited way to bring about judgment. Therefore, such principles can be applied to our present case: the Lord enabled Satan to entice David to act foolishly in order to bring judgment upon Israel.

Reconciliation with James. How is God’s incitement of David’s sin consistent with the teaching of James 1:13-15 that God “never tempts anyone”? First, keep in mind that 2 Sam 24 makes it clear that God is sovereign and David, not God, is culpable. Next, it is crucial to understand what is meant by temptation. Temptation refers to the internal conceiving and actualizing of sin. So what James seems to be stated is that God is never the internal cause for temptations in the human agent. In this manner the fault for sin lies in how sin is actualized in the agent and has thus corrupted our human nature from the good thing God created. The culpability for our sin is not in the external situation, which we erroneously call ‘temptation’ and what I believe 2 Sam 24 is referring to (i.e. God is the external reason for David’s numbering of the people), but our own sinful desires for things God has either forbidden directly and that cause us to act in our own strength rather than in dependence upon the Lord.

A Philosophical Illustration. I think philosophy can illustrate the logicalness of this biblical distinction. First it seems clear that this text does not teach or support libertarian freedom, that is, the claim that any form of determinism is incompatible with freedom and responsibility. However, the text does seem to support the notion that determinism and responsibility are compatible and it is from this point that many philosophers assert compatibilism as an answer the apparent dilemma.

Next, it is crucial to clarify what I mean by “determinism.” It is far different to say that God directly caused David to act circumventing his deliberative processes (hard determinism), than to say that God indirectly caused David to act and thus did not circumvent his deliberative processes (comaptibilism).

I believe direct [or hard] determinism is false, but I do think it provides indirect determinism or compatibilism with some helpful remarks. If God directly causes David to number the people, he would not be responsible for numbering the people and God would be guilty of causing David to sin. However, this leaves open the possibility that God could cause David to number the people in such a way that does not undermine his deliberative processes and thus responsibility/freedom. We might say that God gave David an intellect that could deliberate on what actions to take in order to reach desired ends. In this more indirect way, God can then externally cause David to number the people without overriding David’s internal faculties, which are part of David’s deliberative processes, and thus does not undermine David’s freedom. David’s action of numbering the people would issue from his own practical reason (i.e. David’s sinful nature and thus natural inclination to sin), and the result of his own deliberations as to what he should do to attain the goals he desires to attain. God would remain sovereign because he is the one who externally created David with the reasons available to David to perform such an act. In other words, God is sovereign because he externally created David, and David is free because he internalized the action in accordance with who he is and/or what he wanted to do.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Epistemology, Causation, and Libertarian Freedom (Once more)

In a previous blog post ( I discussed the epistemology of David Hume, as result of another blog post ( where I discussed the logical soundness premise 1 of the kalam cosmological argument for God’s existence (whatever comes into existence has a cause), and it was from that point that I pointed out libertarian freedom inconsistency in regard to such soundness. The need to discuss Hume’s epistemology was because of Hume’s claim that one cannot know causation. Alex Marshall was willing to point that out, and as a result I attempted to defend the soundness of the metaphysical assertion of premise 1 from the attack of Hume’s epistemology.

However, my arguments were perhaps unnecessary for there is no reason to suggest that these epistemological assertions have any barring on the metaphysics of causation. That is, just because one could not possibly know causation it doesn’t mean that causation does not exist. In fact, I said this multiple times, and now I have found a quote from Hume (thanks to my good fortune of knowing Don Hartley) to back it up. Hume says, “I never asserted so absurd a proposition as that anything might arise without a cause.” Hume, Letters, 1:187. For even Hume believed, despite his epistemological views, that nothing comes into existence without a cause whatsoever!

This now brings me to my final observation of this post. What now for libertarian freedom? If everything that comes into existence has a cause, and our actions comes into existence, then what is the cause of our actions? The kalam argument demands a transcendent cause/unmoved mover (i.e. God) in order to avoid an infinite number of past events because an actual infinite number of things cannot and does not exist. However, libertarian freedom rejects such causation, and holds to agent causation. The challenge then for the libertarian is how is agent causation not guilty of an infinite regress? In response, the libertarian may claim that the soul or will is transcendent and thus able to bring an action into existence; however, I reject such a claim. For one, there are perhaps two different definitions or understandings of transcendence and one is being confused with the other. For one I think that the soul is transcendent in that it goes beyond this realm of existence, but perhaps there is another aspect of transcendence that is ascribed to God as the one who can bring things into existence. It is the later understanding that when applied to the human transcendent soul cannot be true. For one, the libertarian has not proven it to be true and the shortcomings of Interactionism suggest that there is no philosophical reason to think that the immaterial soul or will can and does interact and/or cause a material action. For how could they? When one examines both, one comes away noting how different they are from one another (e.g. one is material, the other immaterial). What do you think?

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Answering Questions Concerning the Patristic Trinitarian Controversy

Summary: This post seeks to demonstrate what the patristic Trinitarian controversy was about, and in doing so determine how best to formulate a method for evaluating them. Unfortunately I have decided to do this backwards (and with little detail). Therefore, what you will first read are modern methods of patristic doctrinal formulation, a critique, and lastly my thoughts on what it was truly about. 

What are some of the major perspectives contemporary scholars hold toward patristic Trinitarian doctrinal formulation? How do these perspectives reflect the world views of the scholars, and how have these perspectives influenced us as evangelicals? How do the scholars’ assessments of the central concerns of the controversies compare to the patristic authors’ own statements of their central concerns? 

There are several major contemporary approaches to understanding patristic doctrinal formulation concerning the Trinitarian controversies. The basic approach that influences most every other perspective is the understanding that these controversies are “a clash between two schools, Antioch and Alexandria” (Richard Norris, The Christological Controversies, 23.). Certain contemporary scholars will claim that throughout the controversies the ecumenical councils seemed to go back and forth from one method to the other. In light of this model of modern scholarly discussions of patristic doctrinal formulation, scholars will associate patristic doctrines according to an Antiochian and Alexandrian theological stance. So for example, concerning Trinitarian issues, the Alexandrian school can be identified or recognized by its placement of emphasis on the threeness of God while the Antiochian school places emphasis on the oneness of God (Alister McGrath, Historical Theology: An Introduction to the History of Christian Thought (Oxford: Blackwell, 1998), pp. 61-72; Justo González, A History of Christian Thought, Vol. 1: From the Beginnings to the Council of Chalcedon (Nashville: Abingdon, 1970), 338-40.)
The catalyst for such a distinction and approach to understanding the Trinitarian controversy seems to be scholars’ primary preference for Western philosophical and logical thinking. Therefore, since it makes more sense to start with the oneness of God and thus favoring the Western method of the Trinity, scholars seem to pass judgment on the Eastern model and frame the controversies in such a manner. So with this perspective of the controversy, some scholars assume that Western philosophy/logic is a more appropriate approach to the matter. Also, this perspective seems to have a great influence on evangelicals today (more thoughts on this are shortly to come.).  
Associated with the schools’ theological emphases, contemporary scholars also approach patristic doctrinal formulation according to an Alexandrian vs. Antiochenian method of biblical interpretation or hermeneutics (See Roger Olson, The Story of Christian Theology, 202-204). It seems that this approach is most influential on modern evangelical scholarship since we seek to follow the more literal or grammatical-historical hermeneutical method. If this perspective is correct, and the Alexandrian school interpreted allegorically and the Antiochenian school literally, then we might have a good reason to claim that the Antiochenian approach is to be favored since they at least interpreted Scripture according to a grammatical-historical method and did not allegorize Scriptural teachings like those Alexandrians did. (I will discuss this further in coming sections.)   
Also, closely related to the schools’ preferred method of interpretation is the contemporary approach to a patristic doctrinal formulation that centers on the issue of terminology. William Rusch is a prime example of a scholar who presupposes that the controversies surrounding the patristic doctrinal formulations were the result of not having a robust, intellectually savvy, and technical vocabulary (The Trinitarian Controversies, 1-2, 6).
It seems that the assumption here is that the Trinitarian and Christological debates/controversies of the early church did not pertain to discussing who the Father, Son and Holy Spirit really were (i.e. God), but how we should talk about the Father, Son, Holy Spirit. Approaching these controversies from the standpoint that modern thinkers use better terminology than patristic authors did is also quite influential and evident in evangelical scholarship. For evangelicals often feel the need to talk about Christ and the trinity in a technical manner (just look at all the terms used in modern systematic theologies- such as Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology).       
Another contemporary approach to patristic doctrinal formulation is the assumption that orthodoxy is the result of political maneuvers and thus simply what won out. Bart Ehrman is the classic proponent of such an assumption (See his Lost Christianities and Lost Scriptures). “Orthodoxy” won because of political motives and intrigue, and as a result theology doesn’t matter because it is divorced from Scripture. Ehrman’s presuppositions are quite clear. Given his agnosticism, he tends to speak in terms of winners and losers not right and wrong. It seems that this perspective is quite persuasive to a relativistic and/or skeptical audience, but evangelicals do well to reject such notions and understand that political endeavors encouraged orthodoxy but they never established it.  

What is the most appropriate way to describe the course of these controversies?

First of all, it doesn’t seem appropriate to describe this controversy in an East vs. West manner. There are numerous patristic fathers from both the Eastern and Western tradition who don’t fit exactly into their respective mold. From the theological standpoint, instead of describing the Trinitarian controversy in a three vs. one model we should address it in a Western philosophical model and an Eastern personal model.
The benefit of describing this controversy in such a manner has huge theological implications. For example, while the Western model seems to be more philosophically or logically developed the personal aspects of the Eastern models appeal to the enjoyment of the benefits experienced within the Trinitarian relationship and that Christians will share with the persons of the Godhead. This seems to be what certain patristic authors mean when they talk about being made divine (Athanasius, On the Incarnation (Crestwood: SVS Press, 1977), 39.). It’s not that we will be exactly like God, but that we will share in the benefits and enjoyments of the Trinitarian relationship.
Also, the Western method has the implication of discussing the essence of God as it were a “thing” in addition to the three persons. Furthermore, this essence that each person of the trinity possesses and thus constitutes them as God may lead people to speak of God in an impersonal way (Rusch, Trin. Cont., 1). There, Rusch refers to this God essence as “the divine.”) To explain this a bit more, compare the Western philosophical model with the Eastern personal model and the impersonal implications of the West become clearer. That is, the relationship between the divine essence of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit might lead one to worship a God that is a “thing” and perhaps impersonal; while the East speaks of persons who are equally God and persons of the Godhead who relate with each other. See how the approaches seem starkly different from one another? One goes from speaking of an essence that ties the persons together to discussing the persons of the Godhead who are equally God and relate with each other. It seems that the latter has wonderful implications for Christians as we are to understand ourselves as participating in and enjoying the benefits of that relationship after salvation. Now there are theological burdens with each approach. Namely implications of tritheism with the Eastern model and implications of modalism with the Western model; however, these controversies will not be addressed in great detail at this time.
 In light of this theological distinction, describing the patristic Trinitarian controversies is best done in a manner that is biblically grounded and not philosophically/logically consistency. As some scholars have pointed out, even the heretics focused on using Scripture and describing their perspective in light of the biblical language (Klein, Blomberg, and Hubbard, Introduction to Biblical Interpretation, Revised and Updated (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2004), 40). Moreover, it’s not that some patristic fathers were not at all concerned with one option or another, but where does he place primary importance? In other words, do biblical and theological studies ever take a back set to philosophy and logic?
Next, these notions of Antiochian vs. Alexandria interpretation seem to be the product of nineteenth-century scholarship and not a reflection of patristic doctrinal formulation (Introduction to Biblical Interpretation, 37-38). Moreover, there are some Alexandrian fathers (e.g. Cyril) who “favored a more grammatically based approach” (Introduction to Biblical Interpretation, 39). Therefore, the line is not as clear as some wish it were. Therefore, since many patristic fathers share a common approach of interpretation, a conclusion can be drawn that asserts that the appropriate way of describe these controversies is not allegorical vs. grammatical-historical interpretation but rather who the Holy Spirit and Jesus Christ are and identifying their nature and function within the trinity. (More on this in the following section.)
Also, it’s best to not describe this controversy in light of terminology. If one considers the issues to be primarily terminological, then the West always comes out looking better, because the Latin terminology was more rigid and therefore easier to use and understand than the corresponding Greek words. Now terminological issues were important to patristic fathers; however, terminology was primarily about the need to clearly define the meaning of certain terms rather than what terms are appropriate and necessary for a Trinitarian discussion. Furthermore, scholars should focus on describing these controversies in a way that reflects what’s at stake if the heretics are correct. (Again, I’ll provide more thoughts on this matter very soon.)

What were the fundamental issues? What was the controversy primarily about? What was ultimately at stake?

It seems that the fundamental issue of the Trinitarian controversy was who the persons of the trinity are (namely the Son and Holy Spirit). Following this issue the controversy was primarily about the possibility and the reality of salvation. In other words, how do Christians understand what the Bible says about both God and salvation? For it seems that the early church talks about these questions in the same manner. That is, the way one talked about God was done in the same manner that one talked about salvation. For who God is and how he saves believers are closely related topics.
Given this theological necessity, these controversies were primarily about the nature and function of the persons of the Godhead. For example, if Christ is divine, then what does it mean and how does it relate to our salvation? In other words, if the primary concern of the controversies were soteriological, then why do modern scholars tend to focus on what God does rather than who God is? For the Son must be God in order to save us, and the Holy Spirit must be God in order to unite us to God. If one looks at the controversies in light of soteriological matters, then the devastating implications of the heretic would be that humanity could not be saved. In other words, if Christ were like Nestorius claimed he was then humanity would have no hope because Nestorius’ savior could not save us. Moreover, if Arius was correct, then Christ could not save us. As I have attempted to illustrate, what is really at stake in this controversy is salvation, and for this reason either side of the debated Trinity implied a saving God or a failing God. For God (or Christ, or HS) has to BE who he is, to DO what he did, to give us the KIND of salvation we have. In other words, the Son had to be God in order to save us (or enable us to achieve salvation), and the Holy Spirit had to be God in order to give us (or enable us to achieve) this kind of salvation.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

David Hume and the Kalam Cosmological Argument

Recently, I engaged in a blog conversation with Alex Marshall concerning the soundness of a particular philosophical argument for the existence of God: namely the kalam cosmological argument. The focus of the kalam is the assertion that there must be a first or originating cause of the universe. In light of reintroducing this subject, here is a brief overview of the kalam’s goal:

  1. Establish that the universe had a beginning.
  2. Show that the beginning of the universe had a cause.
  3. Show that the cause of the beginning of the universe is God.
Also, here are a few (logical valid) kalam arguments. William Lane Craig’s seems the simplest and easiest to remember:

  1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
  2. The universe began to exist.
  3. Therefore, the universe has a cause. 
And here is another one:

  1. Everything that comes into existence has an originating cause.
  2. The material universe came into existence.
  3. Therefore, the material universe has an originating cause.
I like it because it is a little more detailed than Craig’s argument as it states “originating cause” within the premises.

Now one of Alex’s objections to the logical soundness of the kalam was David Hume’s notion of causation. To elaborate on Hume’s (and Alex’s) objection, suppose Hume’s famous billiard illustration. One is naturally inclined to believe that the cue ball will cause the eight ball to move. But as Hume points out, how does one know this? Actually, all one observes is two distinct events or actions: action A (the cue ball collides with the eight ball) and action B (the eight ball’s subsequent motion). Therefore, one cannot know that A caused B unless one can also observe or otherwise discover a “necessary connection” between these events. One certainly does not observe a necessary connection, so all one has seen or observed is events A and B. (Also, neither can we know something apart from experience [or a priori].) Furthermore, what one has observed is simply that an A event or action is followed by a B event, but simply observing a past experience cannot establish a necessary causal connection between events A and B. Why not? Because we have no reason to think that the future will be like the past. For it is possible that God could fiddle with the laws of nature over night and then in the morning A events no longer cause B events.

Armed with Hume’s epistemological understanding of causation, Alex rejects the “virtually undeniable” assertion of premise 1, since no one can prove that whatever comes into existence has a cause. However, there seems to be an assumption with Hume’s epistemological understanding of causation. That is, it assumes that one needs absolute certainty to prove that whatever comes into existence has a cause (premise 1). However, I don’t need absolute certainty concerning causal relationships in order to possess certain knowledge about the soundness of premise 1. That is, there seems to be levels of certainty (i.e. certainty beyond a reasonable doubt, or more probable than not certainty) that can provide me with enough reason to claim knowledge concerning the claim of premise 1. For this reason, the soundness of premise 1 seems unfazed by Hume’s epistemological understanding of causation.