Archive for April, 2011

April 26th, 2011

When We Are Most Like God

by Max Andrews

This past weekend I learned quite a bit about God.  My fiancée and I decided to go to Cracker Barrel for lunch, a favorite of ours.  We sat down and we started talking about family and the issue of pain, suffering, and evil sneaked its way into our discussion.  Evil, pain, and suffering are  very serious issues that I do not take lightly.  I lectured on the problem of evil a couple of weeks ago to one of my philosophy classes I assist/teach.  I have the hardest time talking about pain and suffering and teaching it was difficult for me as well.  I spent the first 40 minutes emphasizing how important the issue is ranging from its permeation into culture such as the movie I Am Legend film (Will Smith’s character denies God’s existence because of the evil), September 11th, and to Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov.  I thought about our response to pain and suffering and then it dawned on me… a response of compassion, sympathy, and real spiritual anguish over such pain and suffering is when we are most like God.

I’m not going to say that this is the moment when we are closest to God, but for me, it’s when I am closest to him.  We are commanded to do good works and bear spiritual fruit.  I find myself trying so hard to do good things and to bear fruit but it’s often for impure reasons.  Perhaps it may be because I know if I repent from a sin I will feel better, but my repentance isn’t for God, it’s for myself.  It may be the case that I do it for self-exaltation but claim to do it for God’s exaltation.  There will be some selfish reasons that I may want to deny and really say that they are for God, but most likely it’s not.  However, I find that the least unadulterated reflection of God that is present in me is the pain and compassion I feel for others who are in pain and suffering.

In 2005-2006 my brother was in Iraq.  His six-month pregnant wife died while he was in Iraq (for causes that are still unknown to us).  Her funeral was the most painful experience I’ve ever been through.  Yes, I lost a sister-in-law and a niece, but to be honest, the most painful thing was to see my family experience that.  Consider September 11th.  Is your heart too hard to break to watch human beings jump from a height of 80 floors to their death?  Those who jumped really believed that their jumping was the better option between staying where they were in a burning building, condemned to suffer for only a few more minutes before their assured death at collapse, and yet they chose suicide believing that to be the best choice.

Consider Kevin Carter who won the Pulitzer Prize and not long after winning it, committed suicide in April 1994 because of the very thing he won it for while he was in Africa.  He photographed a starving little girl being watched by a looming vulture as she literally starved to death right in front of him.  He left a suicide note which said, “I am depressed… without phone… money for rent… money for child support… money for debts… money! … I am haunted by the vivid memories of killings and corpses and anger and pain… of starving wounded children, of trigger-happy madmen, often police, of killer executioners… the pain of life overrides the joy to the point that joy does not exist… I have got to join Ken (a colleague of his) if I am that lucky.”  He then hooked a hose to his car exhaust and fed it into his car where he sat, the act which took his life away from him.  Is your heart not broken and shattered by the weight of compassion and pain for both Kevin and the children and carnage he witnessed?

Kevin Carter's "Photo of Sudanese Girl and Vulture"

Compassion and reciprocated spiritual pain for those who are suffering is the least likely aspect of the image of God in us that will be adulterated when it comes to fruition.  Many of Jesus’ miracles were because he felt compassion for those around him.  God’s compassion and spiritual pain pales in comparison to what we experience.  Does God suffer?  Absolutely.  The divine suffering is the manifest effects of our sin, this divine suffering, which I cannot ascribe the most articulate and specific words to express an equivalent apprehension of the meaning, bears witness at the cross of Jesus Christ.  I didn’t expect to find that when I am most Christ-like is when I am in the midst of pain and suffering or when I experience the spiritual pains of others and feel compassion.  I pray that my sin doesn’t adulterate my compassion and pain for those who are in pain any more than it already has.

April 25th, 2011

God Controls Everything–Good and Bad

by Max Andrews

If everything God does is GOOD, and if God controls EVERYTHING, then it would be BAD had one less child been gassed in Auschwitz. -Greg Boyd’s Twitter Status

I read Dr. Boyd’s status and was very intrigued.  I believe open theists deserve a seat at the table of discussion and despite my view that I think they’re wrong, their arguments are stronger than many give them credit for.  Let’s look at this.

  1. If everything God does is Good [and]
  2. If God controls everything [by weak and strong actualization]
  3. Then, it would be bad had one less child been gassed in Auschwitz.
  4. It would have been good had one less child been gassed in Auschwitz.
  5. Therefore, either not everything God does is good or God does not control everything.
  6. God is good and everything he does is good.
  7. Therefore, God does not control everything.
It seems like Boyd has posed an interesting dilemma (at least for the Molinist who affirms that God’s means of providence is not exclusively causal, but that he controls all things).  To avoid a dilemma you must either deny a horn or add another premise.  I would add the premise that God has good reasons for his control (control will encompass permission and causality, or, weak and strong actualization).  Control and goodness aren’t mutually exclusive and the dilemma isn’t as clear-cut as the open theist wants it to be [granted they only have to make one case against it to make their point]). A problem with Boyd’s position is that only immediate consequences seem to have the perspectival role.  The temporally distant consequences seem to be ignored, which are many. (i.e. Permitting that one child to live may cause more children to be gassed).  With such a counterfactual it may be the case that the allowance of such an undesirable event actually bring about a greater event in the course of history.  We are not in a spatiotemporally privileged position to make such an assessment, but if God possesses such knowledge then it may be the case that permitting such an action is the choice which enables the most good to come about.  Had that bad not occurred then the greater good could not have come about any other way given the previous counterfactuals of human freedom.  This isn’t to say that God is dependent on the bad to bring about good; it’s to say that God uses bad to bring about good [and perhaps even a greater good]. Whether or not God has such knowledge is the more fundamental grounds for such a discussion.

Auschwitz Gas Chamber

There’s also a distinction between the suffering aspect [of being gassed] and the death aspect because if God merely permits someone to die either by weak or strong actualization that’s God’s prerogative.  God is not morally obligated to extend anyone’s life, the issue is suffering.  If the bad is death and not suffering then I’d merely need an argument for why God is morally obligated to extend one’s life; thus, I’ll assume we agree the bad is suffering.  In the end, it doesn’t seem to be the case that Boyd’s dilemma is a true dilemma.  As long as God has a morally sufficient reason to allow the bad to occur, then God’s control is still good.  For more information, see Boyd’s contribution to Four Views on Divine Providence.
April 20th, 2011

Academic Maturity

by Max Andrews

As I’ve progressed through academia, looking back at my undergraduate years, I wish that I focused more on my studies.  It’s unfortunate it has taken me so long to pick up on this.  My degree is demanding an I’m in the adulthood of academia–the graduate years.  There’s a need for academic maturity and I hope that many of you will apply this at your current stage in academics, even out of school.

Yesterday one of my professors was discussing Christian maturity, which is setting aside current pleasures for the greater goal.  I thought about it and put it in the perspective of school.  Academic maturity is the same, it’s putting aside current pleasures for the greater goal. The greater goals for me is to finish my thesis, publish, graduate, get into a Ph.D. program, get my Ph.D., and have a professorship.  These current pleasures would include:  the social buzz, video games, reading books unrelated to classes, movies, going to the park, disc golf, and similar things.  This academic maturity would be being organized and knowing when assignments are due, beginning assignments with plenty of time to finish, getting your hands dirty in the research, and studying in your extra time.  I look at many scholars today and realize that it takes hard work to get there and everything doesn’t just fall in your lap.  I wish I were more disciplined as an undergraduate freshmen…

April 19th, 2011

A Philosophical Case for the Existence of Hell

by Max Andrews

Questions about hell have permeated cultural discussions recently, primarily at the rise of Rob Bell’s book Love Wins.  I’m not going to look at Scriptural evidences or passages for hell; rather, I’m going to take concepts and allow them to develop on their own (I would argue that this is consistent with Scripture).  For more on the Scriptural case for hell I would recommend Four Views on Hell.  I’ll be working with an idea argued by William Lane Craig (here, here, and here).

Let’s start with God being a maximally perfect being, that which nothing greater can be conceived.  He is perfect in every way and his perfections do not and cannot contradict.  Humans freely do morally wrong actions.  This would include not doing what we ought to do and doing what we ought not to do. These sins are wrongs against an ontologically perfect being.  If God is just and justice is a moral principle to attain (such that being fair is a virtue), then God must compensate for the wrong.  There must be atonement.  There are consequences for every action, good and bad.  Good actions are rewarded and bad actions are punished (what these rewards and punishments are don’t necessarily have to be defined, it’s just that there are consequences).  Let’s modestly assume that sins require finite punishments.  I will deny Thomas Aquinas’ position that one finite sin requires an infinite punishment because it was done against an infinite God.  I’ll take a more modest approach (I’m not necessarily saying that Thomas is wrong either).

Based on experience, I believe there is sufficient warrant to believe that some people who have not had their sins atoned for by Jesus Christ die without atoning for their sins in this lifetime.  In the afterlife, this person must atone for his own wrongs in order for God to be perfectly just.  Each sin warrants a finite punishment; however, this person will not cease to sin in the afterlife since he has not had his sins atoned for by Christ.  He will not be ushered into a state of beatitude (which can be warranted based on rewards and the concept of justice and the moral beatification of atonement).  Because this person continues to sin he will always receive respective punishment for each sin and if there are a[n] [potential] infinite set of sins then the duration with last without end as well.  Punishment without beatification (because this person chose to atone for his own sin) will be eternal by the successive addition of sins.  Sins imply punishment, so an infinite duration of punishment is warranted as well.

I don’t believe this contradicts God’s love for this person either.  I’m assuming that God genuinely desired this person to be atoned for by Christ but this person freely rejected the propitiatory substitutional atonement.  By rejecting that loving offer, the only alternative, by the necessity of justice, is to atone for his own sins.  Yes, love wins and Christ’s atonement is that love, but let’s not forget that justice win’s as well since God’s attributes are equally perfect.

April 15th, 2011

The Pelagian Equivocation

by Max Andrews

Pelagianism argues that man is naturally able to obey God.  Semi-Pelagianism argues that though man cannot be saved apart from grace he is naturally able to turn to God.  It’s quite frustrating when Arminianism and Molinism are equated with Pelagianism.  It seems as though those who make these arguments fall short of fully knowing the two positions and play the P-card as a the trump card.  To briefly state the differences, Pelagianism isn’t even close to Arminianism and Molinism and if you play that card you need to stop before your get to the bulb of the TULIP or ROSES and go back to the soil and seed.  Semi-Pelagianism can’t be dismissed off the bat like that though.  The difference is that prevenient grace is what enables the will to turn to God as a catalyst.  If semi-Pelagianism is true, theoretically, I could be wanting salvation from God and he not give it to me.  If Pelagianism is true I can will myself to God and salvation.  For the Arminian and Molinist, neither of these are true; rather, the sinner rejects God and salvation prior to being overcome by God’s ever-present prevenient grace catalyzing the will and God saving.

The teaching of Scripture seems to assert that post-Genesis 3 humans possess libertarian free will, including freedom to choose between opposites on matters pertaining to salvation or any other spiritual good.  This immediately raises questions surrounding the concept of original sin.  Augustine first used the expression “original sin” in the wake of the Pelagian controversy.[1]  Upon arriving at Rome in A.D. 400, the British monk Pelagius was horrified to see the open immorality prevalent among so-called Christians.[2]  This was the direct result of Theodosius I nineteen years earlier (A.D. 381) declaring Christianity to be the state religion so decreeing that anyone living within its borders to be Christian. This was a transformation of Christianity from a voluntary religion (one that people freely choose to join) to a natural religion (one into which people are born) spawned immense immorality in many people who bore the name of Christ without ever having personally committed their lives to Jesus.[3]  Pelagius exhorted the Romans to live worthy of their Christian calling with an argument logically summarized in two steps:

1.  Humans possess libertarian free will.

2.  Humans should use their libertarian freedom to be good enough people to earn their own salvation.[4]

Unfortunately, as so often happens in the history of thought, one extreme position meets the response of an equally extreme opposing position, thus swinging the ideological pendulum from one side to the other.  Very rarely is prudence taken in shifting the pendulum back to the center, where the truth is most likely to be found.[5]  Augustine affirmed that both Adam and Eve were created with libertarian free will pre-Genesis 3 whereby one could freely respond to the grace of God.[6]  However, in response to Pelagius, Augustine was not content merely to reject Pelagius’ conclusion but insisted on preventing the argument from getting off the ground.  Denying both Pelagian premises, therefore, Augustine asserted that post-Genesis humans lacked libertarian free will and so could not use this ability to earn salvation.[7]  Augustine proposed an innovative interpretation of Genesis 3, henceforth styled “the Fall,” according to which Adam and Eve, in the supreme act of self-violation, paradoxically committed “spiritual suicide” by freely employing their mental faculty whereby they could freely respond to God to destroy that very faculty.[8]

If grammatico-historical exegesis is performed upon each of the pertinent Scriptural passages rather than theological eisogesis, it quickly becomes apparent that post-Genesis 3 unregenerate humans in fact possess the freedom to choose between opposites including response to grace, which is precisely what the late-Augustinian doctrine of original sin denies.[9]  As for Genesis 3, nothing in the text even remotely suggests that humans surrendered the libertarian freedom with which they were created.

When Paul asserts that unregenerate humanity is spiritually dead or dead “in transgressions and sins” (Eph. 2.1), he means that their spirits are alienated from Divine Spirit and thereby relegated to lives of pointlessness; this is why Paul interchanges phrases connoting spiritual death with such descriptive phrases as “separate from Christ,” “without hope and without God in the world” (2.12), “living in the futility of their thinking” (3.17), and “darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God” (3.18).[10]  Granting in grammatico-historical fashion of the sense of literary context as well as the normal connotations of and relationships between terms, it follows that any text where God offers people a choice requires that people have the mental faculty necessary for making that choice.[11]  Denying this inference not only makes the text meaningless, but it carries the deleterious theological consequences of either invalidating God’s omniscience (for wrongly thinking people could make the impossible choice) or God’s veracity (for intentionally deceiving people into thinking they could make a choice which He knew they lacked the ability to make and for inspiring a Scripture which foisted the ruse upon its readers).[12]


            [1] Augustine, De Gratia Christi, et de Peccato Originali, contra Pelagium, First Series, ed. Philip Schaff. (Christian Literature Publishing Company, 1887; rep. ed., Peabody, MA:  Hendrickson, 1994), 2.1-5.

            [2] Pelagius, Commentary on St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, trans. Theodore de Bruyn (Oxford:  Oxford University Press, 1995), 107.

            [3] Earle E. Cairns, Christianity Through the Centuries, 3rd rev. ed. (Grand Rapids, MI:  Zondervan, 1996), 120-121.

            [4] Pelagius, Commentary on St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, 108-112.  It should be noted that the second premise is entirely unbiblical. Anselm in his Cur Deus Homo, 1.20-23, 2.6, decisively overturned this inference.  Accordingly, it is beyond the power of any person to make compensation for his or her sin by right employment of libertarian freedom.

            [5] Kirk R. MacGregor, A Molinist-Anabaptist Systematic Theology, (Lanham, MD:  University Press of America, 2007), 22.

            [6] Augustine, De Peccatorum Meritis et Remissione, 2.

            [7] Augustine, De Gratia et Libero Arbitrio, 29-30.

            [8] Augustine, De Peccatorum Meritis et Remissione, 5-16.

            [9] MacGregor, A Molinist-Anabaptist Systematic Theology, 24.  For further exegetical and grammatical relationships see William W. Klein, Craig L. Blomberg, and Robert L. Hubbard, Jr., Introduction to Biblical Interpretation, (Dallas, TX:  Word, 1993), 155-214.

            [10] Ibid., 25-26.

            [11] Irenaeus, in Against Heresies, 4.37.2-3, averred in the face of Gnostic determinism that the prophetic rebukes for spiritual evil and exhortation of spiritual good presupposed human ability to obey, as did the religious teachings of Jesus.  Hence both Old and New Testaments substantiated the self-determination of humanity.   By libertarian freedom I mean that our freedom is a derived freedom, humans are not completely independent or completely autonomous.  In Molinism, unlike Calvinism, God is completely sovereign over the eternal destinies of a world of libertarian free creatures who have, in Augustinian terminology, “free choice” and not merely “free will.”  MacGregor explains that for Augustine, “free choice” (i.e. libertarian free will) entailed the freedom to choose between opposites in both the physical and spiritual realms.  Thus fallen humanity, by virtue of the imago Dei, can freely choose whether or not to respond to God’s prevenient grace.  By contrast, Augustine defined “free will” (i.e. compatibilist free will) as the ability to choose without any external constraint between the options compatible with one’s nature.  On this view, unregenerate humans, due to original sin, lack the ability to choose between spiritual good and evil.  Just as a bad tree can bear bad fruit or no fruit at all, unregenerate humanity can either perform spiritual wickedness by actively rebelling against God or do nothing spiritual at all by displaying passivity toward God.  See Augustine, On Forgiveness of Sins and Baptism, in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, ed. Philip Schaff (Christian Literature Publishing Company, 1887; rep. ed., Peabody, MA:  Hendrickson, 1994), 5:57-59, 74-76.  MacGregor, A Molinist-Anabaptist Systematic Theology, 84-85. The Scriptures breathe libertarian human freedom, even if the Bible makes no explicit mention of it. Take, for example, 1 Cor. 10.13, which promises that God “will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, that you may be able to endure it.” It follows that any Christian who does not in some circumstance endure but succumbs to temptation had it within his power to take the way of escape instead, i.e., he had the liberty of opposites in those circumstances. Again, we can at least agree that if the Scriptures do presuppose or affirm libertarian freedom, then there is no basis for denying that sentences like 1 Cor. 2.8 are true counterfactuals of freedom. William Lane Craig, “Ducking Friendly Fire: Davison on the Grounding Objection.” Philosophia Christi 8 (2006): 166.

            [12] MacGregor, A Molinist-Anabaptist Systematic Theology, 26.

April 14th, 2011

Good God: Calvinists Got It Wrong

by Max Andrews

In the chapter titled “A Reformed Tradition Not Quite Right” Baggett and Walls contend that the fundamental divide between Calvinism and [say] Arminianism is how God’s love and goodness are understood.  This section is a [ironically] five-point objection to Calvinistic compatibilism.   Before the authors make their case they assemble a philosophical justification for their method.  Their epistemic framework gives a strong platform for the acceptance of a priori natural revelation going into the biblical hermeneutic.  Without further ado they present their case against compatibilism (I once heard Dr. Baggett say that it’s not adieu*, as it was once corrected in the drafts by the editors [*Okay, it wasn’t for this work, but it was funny when he said it.  Thank you Dr. Baggett for correcting me!).

  1. Obligation Objection:  Simply put, ought implies can and moral duties make no sense in compatibilism.  1 Cor. 10.13 is cited as an example for libertarian freedom (God gives a way out of sin, yet we still sin).  Prevenient grace seems to be a legitimate postulation, that is, the grace that precedes salvation that enables one to repent and turn from sin. Their example:  P is “we ought to avoid all sin,” and Q is “we can avoid all sin” (ought implies can).  However, it seems that some theologies (mainly Reformed), after the fall, P is true and Q is false (counterexample?).  How about:  P1, For any x, if x is a sin, then we ought to avoid doing x; Q1 For any x, if x is a sin, then we can avoid x.  Here Baggett and Walls show the Calvinist’s fallacy of equivocation.  Clearly, P1 and Q2 are true but to understand where P is true and Q is false one would need to equivocate “all” for P as “for each individual sin x, taken on its own” and for Q “for the sum total of all sins added together.”  An argument on equivocation seems to break at the seams.  Thus, the principle of ought implies can perseveres and libertarian freedom is true.
  2. Culpability Objection:  “If the unregenerate aren’t able to avoid all sin, have we found a counter example to ‘ought implies can?’  For what would seem to suggest that they don’t have enough grace to avoid sin for which they’re culpable.”  Compatibilism entails that we cannot do otherwise (where some secular philosophers say we should abandon the category of retribution). When asked, “Could the person have done otherwise?”, the reply would be “Yes, if he had willed to do otherwise (but, he could not have willed otherwise).  Sure, let’s let the naturalist play out retribution, but the Calvinist cannot do so since it’s a pertinent part of their theology.  They believe sinners are to be held accountable for this life and that some may be “consigned to eternal perdition for lives they could not have possibly lived any differently.”
  3. Bad God Objection:  If compatibilism is true, then God could have saved everyone without violating free will.  Some are not saved and are sentenced to eternal perdition, so what’s the deal?  If compatibilism is true, why did God not elect all to salvation rather than sentence some to hell?  Assuming salvation is a greater good than damnation, something has gone wrong.  “If this is true, there is no intelligible sense in which God loves those who are lost, nor is there any recognizable sense in which he is good to them.”
  4. Love Objection:  By the intrinsic nature of love relationships, love must flow in both directions.  If God’s grace is irresistible then it necessarily follows that fellowship with God culminates (as the authors put it, a “divine love potion”).  However,  this creates an eternal infatuation in the beloved, but not genuine love; it seems love requires a more substantial element of volition.
  5. Virtue Objection:   The Calvinists emphasize that “morally responsible actions must reflect one’s character or they aren’t culpable reflections of who one is.” However, It seems to be the case that culpable moral development in virtue ethics starts with thoughts, leads to actions, and then follows with a descriptive character.  It seems Calvinists have it backwards.  According to Calvinists, our actions are “determined by an already existing character with which we are unavoidably saddled.”
This post isn’t an exhaustive representation; rather, it’s a mere summation of the material.  The main point was to demonstrate that the Calvinistic concept of God and morality run afoul in theory ethics.  To follow up more see the chapter “A Reformed Tradition Not Quite Right” in Good God:  Theistic Foundations of Morality.
April 14th, 2011

Good God: The Theistic Foundations of Morality

by Max Andrews

Michelangelo's Abraham Sacrificing Isaac

I’ve begun to read through David Baggett and Jerry Wall’s new book Good God:  The Theistic Foundations of Morality and I’m convinced that this will be a prominent resource for future works on basing morality in theism.  I’ll be going through and making a few posts here and there on certain aspects of the book.  It not only goes up against competing atheistic alternatives but it also takes Calvinism to task.  Baggett and Walls are ardent Arminians and their method of theological inquiry and their arguments can’t be ignored nor can they be easily dismissed by the Calvinist.  I wrote a paper concerning the arbitrariness horn of the Euthyphro dilemma (an appendix to the book) and now I’m going back through as much as I can.  Hopefully I’ll be able to provide some review and insight for those who don’t have the book (and incentive to add it to your library!).

April 4th, 2011

Science and Religion From Rudolf Bultmann

by Max Andrews

The more I study recent theologians the more I discover how much Newton and Kant permeate modern philosophy and theology.  Kant reshaped knowledge to his twelve categories of the mind and the two intuitions of space and time from Newton.  Many 18th, 19th and 20th century theologians denied God’s immanence and activity in creation and over-emphasized God’s transcendence.  It wasn’t until the rise of Einstein and relativity did the relationship of science and religion be rekindled.  Rudolf Bultmann denied miracles and embraced science and had much esteem for it.  Listen to his words:

It is the word of God which calls man away from selfishness and from the illusory security which he has built up for himself.  It calls him to God, who is beyond the world and beyond scientific thinking.  At the same time, it calls man to his true self.  For the self of man, his inner life, his personal existence is also beyond the visible world and beyond rational thinking.  The Word of God addresses man in his personal existence and thereby it gives him freedom from the world and from the sorrow and anxiety which overwhelm him when he forgets the beyond.  By means of science men try to take possession of the world, but in fact the world gets possession of men.  We can see in our times to what degree men are dependent on technology, and to what degree technology brings with it terrible consequences.  To believe in the Word of God means to abandon all merely human security and thus to overcome the despair which arises from the attempt to find security, an attempt which is always vain. (Bultmann, Jesus Christ and Mythology, 40.)

I don’t agree with Bultmann’s de-mythologizing hermeneutic or his use of the kerygma.  However, I do appreciate his emphasis on reliance on God.  I’m sympathetic to existentialists because it’s honest philosophy (for the most part).  Notice how Bultmann treats science in this section.  Man selfishly builds security in his own attempt to overcome his despair by means of science [which seems to produce more despair], taking possession and control–a personal transcendence via his own means.  I agree with Bultmann here, the Word of God is what allows man to transcend this despair and this encapsulation of vanity.

I’m certainly a proponent of emphasizing the inseparability of science and religion and Bultmann is pointing out that science without religion is vain.  The Word of God, according to Bultmann, is abandoning your own security in the world and keeping that security in God.  It’s not abandoning the world [or science].