Theology: November 2004 Archives

Someone emailed me asking what I thought about different translations that give very different readings of Romans 9:5. The issue has a bearing on whether this verse affirms Christ's deity, so it makes a big difference to those who believe that the Bible doesn't teach Christ's deity. I don't think much rests on this verse for those who think the Bible teaches that doctrine over and over, as I believe, so even if this verse doesn't teach the deity of Christ that doesn't mean that other passages don't. The grammar of the verse is technically ambiguous (as is the earliest translation I have access to, the Latin Vulgate), but I think there are good arguments for thinking it probably does refer to Christ as God, and I don't think the arguments against that view are very strong.

Unconditional Election

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Jollyblogger is now up to Unconditional Election, the second of the five points of Calvinism. It includes a biblical argument for a wider scope to God's sovereignty than the particular issue of salvation that Calvinism deals with. You can technically be a Calvinist and not believe God has his hand in every event but just the ones necessary for the salvation of the elect and the major events of salvation history, but as a matter of fact most Calvinists are theological determinists (i.e. they believe that every event falls under God's sovereignty). The reason is not generally philosophical but simply because the Bible seems to lead to that conclusion, and this post gives some of that reasoning. He also tackles a couple alternative interpretations of election that don't in the end fit the biblical data, the mere foreknowledge view and the merely corporate election view. I had a couple issues with some of what he said or how he said it, but I've left those in a comment and won't bother to repeat them here.

As the discussion at Jollyblogger continues on the five points of Calvinism, one of the commenters on Total Depravity and Free Will (which I discussed briefly the other day) gives an argument I've heard many times, that Calvinism leads to universalism. The idea here is that if God can save people by causing them to believe, and it doesn't violate their freedom in any moral way to do so (which compatibilism assumes), then God must have the obligation to save all. God has the ability to do something good with no moral reason not to and even a compelling moral reason to do it. Thus Calvinist principles require God to save everyone.

Another commenter responds with something that really clarified for me what's wrong with this argument. The commenter says that a similar argument can be constructed based on God's justice, arguing that God ought to damn everyone to hell, and anything that might move God away from such a decision is really unjust and therefore morally evil. The first argument ignores God's justice while emphasizing God's mercy, and this second argument ignores God's mercy while emphasizing God's justice. That's how the commentator put it, anyway. I would say, rather, that each argument, rather than ignoring one of God's attributes, instead redefines one of the two attributes so as to preclude the other. Universal salvationists define mercy as all-encompassing and inconsistent with the kind of justice the Bible attributes to God. Universal damnationists define justice as all-encompassing and inconsistent with the kind of mercy the Bible attributes to God. Both make God in human image, because only we have such diminished justice as to be without possibility of mercy, and only we have such diminished mercy as to be without possibility of justice. I should add that similar arguments about annihilationism vs. conscious torment in hell can fall into the same pitfalls, on both sides of the debate.

Calvinist Free Will

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Continuing in his series on the five points of Calvinism, Jollyblogger explains nicely why it's a mistake to think Calvinists deny free will. Key summary of his position (and mine):

So, the whole point of all this is to say that Calvinists shouldn't be afraid to admit that man has a free will. On the other hand, non-Calvinists need to understand that there is not a moment when, in their freedom, they are acting apart from or contrary to the will of God. And I hope that all of us would realize that the only reason that any of us can be saved His through a divine violation of our free will, in causing us to believe savingly on Christ.

In other words, he's siding with the weight of philosophical consensus on the matter, compatibilism, not that his argument rests on that at all. For the scriptural arguments, see his post.

Update: Welcome to visitors from the Blogosphere Daily News.

Jollyblogger is doing a series on the five points of Calvinism. It's excellent so far. It starts here. Part 5 has just appeared, and he finally gets to the first of the five points! I'll probably have more to say about the series when it's done, but you can check out what's there so far.

One commenter linked to the five points the Remonstrants (Arminians) came up with that spurred Calvinists to make their five points explicit. I was expecting a flat-out contradiction of each of the five points, but I'd never read the Remonstrants' five points before, and it isn't that at all. Unless I'm missing something in my reading of them, almost everything they say is fully consistent with a healthy Calvinism! Read on for why I think this.

I've already linked to Jollyblogger's excellent post on the view that the Bible is inerrant, in which he makes clear what the historic inerrancy view is not. It makes no claims that the Bible is perfectly precise, and therefore rounded numbers (e.g. the Chronicler's rounding of pi to 3 or a king's reign for 40 years when it might be 40.3 years) are not errors. It makes no claims that descriptions in the Bible will be on the scientific level, and therefore reports of the sun rising are not errors, just as it's wrong in English today to say someone said something false when they say the sun rises. What they said was true, but the words don't describe it on a scientific level. They describe it on a phenomenological level. There are lots of other fine points to make, but I won't worry about details for my purposes. This is enough to get a sense of what inerrantism requires. It requires that all the sentences affirmed by the scriptures will come out true, in context, at the level of intended precision, on a phenomenological level if that's the perspective being used, etc.

Now Darren at Nicene Theology wants to pick a bone with this description of inerrantism. He argues that inerrantism is false, and demonstrably so, but it's not because he's found anything contradicting the view of inerrantism I've just explained and Jollyblogger has gone into more detail about. He agrees with everything that view says. He just doesn't think that view is really what inerrantism says. He acknowledges that the definition of 'inerrancy' is what's at stake here, not any substantive view, and I agree. I just don't think he's right in his claims about what 'inerrancy' means or should mean.

God's Attributes

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Rebecca Writes has now completed her series on the attributes of God. Anyone who has been reading my Christian Carnival review posts each week has seen how often I've been recommending the posts in this series. I've enjoyed it tremendously, and I suggest to anyone who has not read it to go and read them all. Her discussion of each attribute is careful, comprehensive, systematic, and with a view toward the practical impact of each attribute. Her final post links to all the earlier ones and gives some thoughts on what she's learned through doing this. Check it out.

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