Sunday, June 14, 2009

In defence of the OPC Minority Report

Dr. Bob Gonzales, in his rejoinder to Sean Gerety defending himself from the charge of irrationality for promoting the Well-meant Offer, attacked the Minority Report of the 15th General Assembly of the OPC in their denial of the Well-meant offer. The statement in the Minority Report reads as follows:

Desire suggests a want or lack in the one who desires which can be fulfilled only by the gratifying of the desire. This is incompatible with the self-sufficiency of God. Desire is something weaker than the firm determination of the will. No such weak wishing can properly be ascribed to God whose will is firmly fixed and fixes all things.

This is the whole quote in context:

(b) Elements in human desire unsuited to the perfection of God can be mentioned. Desire suggests a want or lack in the one who desires which can be fulfilled only by the gratifying of the desire. This is incompatible with the self-sufficiency of God. Desire is something weaker than the firm determination of the will. No such weak wishing can properly be ascribed to God whose will is firmly fixed and fixes all things. God has not a will that can be frustrated as well as one that cannot be.

In his critique of the reasoning in the Minority report, Gonzales arranged what he thinks is the report's reasoning in this way:

Major premise: “Desire suggests a want or lack in the one who desires which can be fulfilled only by the gratifying of the desire.”

Minor premise: “This is incompatible with the self-sufficiency of God.”

Conclusion: Therefore, “No such weak wishing can properly be ascribed to God …”

He then argues against the position as follows:

Why should the logical syllogism above confine itself with “weak wishing”? It would seem that the all-sufficient God who needs nothing could not, according to the logic above, desire anything. He’s perfectly sufficient and does not need a world or human beings or a fall or the cross, etc (see Acts 17:24-25). Consistency of logic would seem to demand that God couldn’t desire anything except himself. Yet God created the world because He freely desired to create the world and all therein. That fact doesn’t seem to fit well with the minority report’s logic. For that reason, I question the first premise. In the realm of human experience, “desire” may suggest a “lack” in the one who desires which can be fulfilled only by the gratifying of the desire. But desire doesn’t suggest such a “want” or “lack” in the experience of all-sufficient deity. God desires, whether less strongly or more strongly, certain objectives outside himself simply because he is free to so without any constraint. For this reason, I do not find the minority report’s logic cogent. I may be incorrect, but it would be helpful if someone would graciously point out where I’m mistaken.

In a footnote linking to this paragraph, Gonzales writes:

Some might suggest that the minority report is only referring to non-determined desires in the major premise. I would respond, first, by noting that even decretive desires are not-yet-fulfilled desires in their pre-creation state. In human experience, not-yet-fulfilled often denote a prior state of need, lack, or want. So I don’t see how the insertion of “non-determined” or “weak wishing” rescues the major premise. Here is how I would construct the syllogism: major premise-Scripture predicates desires of God that are actuated in history (because decreed) and also desires of God that are not actuated in history (because not decreed); minor premise-Scripture portrays God as independent of creation and as completely self-sufficient; conclusion-Desire predicated of God, whether determined (decretive) or non-determined (preceptive), cannot, by the very nature of the case, suggest a want or lack that can be fulfilled only by the gratifying of the desire since God is by nature independent or self-sufficient. A more common argument goes something like this: God desires certain states of affairs. God is absolutely sovereign. Therefore, all God’s desires must come to futurition. I fail to see, however, why God must actuate every state of affairs that he might find intrinsically good and desirable.

In defence of the minority report, the short answer to Dr. Gonzales is that he has not shown himself to understand the reasoning behind the Minority Report.

The larger context of the Minority Report shows that the word "desire" is used in varous senses throughout the text. While part (1b) seems to define desire as "a want or lack in the one who desires which can be fulfilled only by the gratifying of the desire", that is so ONLY for section (1b) of the report and not for the other sections, for in the same report (2) and (2a) the word God is said to have 'desires', whereas in (1b) it is emphatically denied that God has 'desires'.

Perhaps more than anything else, a hint of the meaning of section (1b) can be found in the beginning phrase in that section, a phrase Gonzales surprisingly ignores. The first part reads "Elements in human desire unsuited to the perfection of God can be mentioned" (Bold added). The text of the minority report therefore makes it clear that 'human desire', in the sense of frustratable and frustrated desires is what the authors of the minority report had in mind, which is clearly seen in the last phrase which states that "God has not a will that can be frustrated as well as one that cannot be".

The argument of the Minority Report is therefore nothing like what Dr. Gonzales has (mis)construed it to be. Here is a better syllogism of what the Minority Report actually teaches:

Major premise: “Desire suggests a want or lack in the one who desires which can be fulfilled only by the gratifying of the desire, which is frustratable by Man and circumstances.”

Minor premise: “This is incompatible with the self-sufficiency of God.”

Conclusion: Therefore, “No such weak wishing [which can and has been frustrated] can properly be ascribed to God …”

As we can see, this syllogism is logically sound, for the reason that self-sufficiency necessarily implies that God does not depend on anything outside Himself. Yet, the major premise must have us believe that the fulfilment of God's desire depends on Man and circumstances, which contradict the aspect of God's self-sufficiency. So therefore, God does not have such frustratable desires.

3 comments:

rbseminary said...

Daniel,

I'm honored you would take the time post a special post about me.

In brief, I do not accept the minority report's premise that the violation of God's preceptive will equals a "frustration" of God's will. Here's how I stated it on Sean's blog in response to one of the defenders of the "minority report":

Roger writes:
But the notion of a frustratable “desire” in God creates far more serious errors than the mere “lack” or “want” of His desired end being accomplished.

Bob replies:
The concept of “frustration” presupposes the thwarting of one being’s will by another. God did not chose to convert all those of whom he spoke in Deuteronomy 5:29 or those of whom he spoke in Ezekiel 33:11. He chose to leave them to die in their sins in order to pursue a higher objective. Ergo: God’s decretive will was not nor ever can be frustrated. God’s preceptive will or, as Calvin calls it, “wish,” can be violated for the simply reason that God has chosen to allow it to be so. God has the prerogative and freedom to pursue whatever state of affairs he perceives is in his best interests even though other states of affairs may have intrinsic value.

Moreover, regarding divine emotivity and anthropopathic language, I've addressed where I believe a number of the Reformers and Puritans were, frankly, wrong. Consequently, I side with Reformed theologians like Hodge, Warfield, Reymond, Horton, Frame, and Ware. Once again, here's the response I left on Sean's blog:

Roger writes:
If by “volition” and “movement” you mean God’s “act of willing,” then of course God’s work of creation and providence includes “volitional movement or motion.” But I fail to see how this relates to the objections I raised regarding your view of fluctuating “emotions” in God. My position in no way calls into question volitional motives, inclinations, or willing within the being of God ad infra.

Bob replies:
Volitional movement or motion ad intra does not violate God’s immutability because such movement and motion are in accord with God’s immutable purpose and ethical nature. Similarly, affectional movement or motion ad intra does not violate God’s immutability because such movement and motion are in accord with God’s immutable purpose and ethical nature. See Bruce A. Ware, God’s Greater Glory: The Exalted God of Scripture and the Christian Faith (Crossway, 2004), 144-55.

For a fuller articulation of my position, see "There Is No Pain, You Are Misreading": Is God "Comfortably Numb"?

Daniel, I have developed my premises and conclusions above based on the exegetical data derived from Scripture. I am perfectly willing to debate the biblical data. You can go to any one of my posts where I engage the biblical data and give me exegetical reasons why you think I'm wrong. However, when it's all said and done, I'm much less concerned about what Calvin and the Puritans say as I am about what Moses, Christ, and Paul say. So gird up your loins like a man and use the Bible--and by that I don't mean simply quote what others say about the Bible. If you're not competent to exegete Scripture from the original languages and engage in grammatical-historical exegesis in order to form the very premises from which you endeavor to base your conclusions, then you'll be wasting my time and yours.

Your servant,
Bob Gonzales

PuritanReformed said...

Bob,

thanks for your response.

First of all, I must respectfully contest your last paragraph. While I have no problem turning to the Scriptures, indeed am glad to do so, the issue you have brought up in your rejection of the minority report is logical unsoundness. In other words, your argument is not based on Scripture per se, but on the logical soundness or lack thereof of the argument found in the minority report.

Secondly, David Ponter and Tony Byrne has been flooding the Internet with quotes from various Reformers and theologians of ages gone past. This is the realm of historical theology, which is not based on Scripture per se either.

So I simply must disagree with you sir with regards to your statement about wanting to go to Scripture. If you are indeed intent to "go to Scripture", may I suggest you refute the minority report's position according to Scripture and not logical soundness, and representing the argument using wrong premises? Also, please ask Ponter and Byrne to do the same also. Please ask them to desist from their philosophical arguments and historical quote-mining activity.

PuritanReformed said...

Dear Bob,

I most certainly do not deny that God's preceptive will can and has been frustrated. The issue is this: Does that will constitute "desire", or rather, as the Bible puts it, his commands and rules (Ps. 119:4, 7)?

With regards to Deut. 5:29, is that an expression of God's desire for Israel to be saved, or God's "wish" and preference of that state of affairs? Furthermore, isn't it true that representatives of the group "Israel" do indeed have such a mind to obey God and His commandments? So therefore, if we interpret the word Israel colllectively and indefinitely as in "anyone who is an Israelite", then such a wish can be said to be fulfilled.

As for Eze. 33:11 (and 18:23, 32 also), surely we can read that to say that God does not desire that the wicked as a group perish, so therefore God WILL indeed save representatives of the wicked from their sins? Isn't that what we see in the case of Jonah and the Ninevites for example, in which wicked people are saved from their sins? Isn't that the same form of reasoning that Reformed orthodoxy has always given to passages such as 1 Tim. 2:4?

With regards to divine impassibility, I will pass the opportunity to put foward my position, as I do not feel the urge to draw diagrams now. Suffice it is to say that I do not think that God needs to react to our actions and change emotions accordingly. Why can't we believe in a God with affections but not passions? It seems to me that you have not considered that option at all, instead postulating a paradox of ' "impassible” from the perspective of his transcendence and “passible” from the perspective of his immanence', which may very well prove to be an illogical contradiction.

As for a God who we can interact with and genuinely feel our pain, isn't the entire incarnation whereby God the Son took upon Himself a human nature meant to solve that problem? After all, this is what Scripture itself teaches in Heb. 4:14-16.