Saturday, June 27, 2009

Reply to Tony Byrne's attempted rebuttal (part 1)

I have been working out a response to Tony Byrne's attempts (here and here) to defend his "interpretation" of John Bunyan's quote, which in the process a lot of fundamental concepts must be rehashed in order to create a proper framework from which a response can be made. In the process, I have, it seems, refuted some [not all] of Dr. Bob Gonzales's attack on the impassibility of God and the defence of the well-meant offer.

Anyway, here is a small part of the response, pending completion in the near future.


I. Biblical teachings and logical errors

I.1.1 On God’s desire

What exactly IS God’s desire? According to Dictionary.com based on the Random House Dictionary [1], ‘Desire’ is “a strong feeling, worthy or unworthy, that impels to the attainment or possession of something that is (in reality or imagination) within reach”. Desire therefore has the connotation of something that involved the emotions of the person involved, and non-fulfillment of that desire would negatively impact the feelings of the person who has that desire.

What does the Scriptures therefore teaches us about God’s desires?

The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; he frustrates the plans of the peoples. The counsel of the Lord stands forever, the plans of his heart to all generations. (Ps. 33:10-11)

Whatever the Lord pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps. (Ps. 135:6)

For the Lord of hosts has purposed, and who will annul it? His hand is stretched out, and who will turn it back? (Is. 14:27)

remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,’ (Is. 46:9-10)

[Nebuchadnezzar:] all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, “What have you done?” (Dan. 4:35)

First of all, it can be seen from these verses that God’s absolute sovereignty over all things is asserted, and that God does whatsoever he pleases to do, and absolutely nothing and no one can stop Him or even ask of Him an account. If God does not want to do something, it is not done, and if He wants to do it, it will be done.

Before we look into this idea of God’s plans and purposes with regards to His desires, it may be instrumental to look at how the Bible uses the word ‘desire’ when predicated of God [2].

For the Lord has chosen Zion; he has desired it for his dwelling place: (Ps. 132:13)

But he is unchangeable, and who can turn him back? What he desires, that he does (Job 23:13)

In both of these texts, the word ‘desire’ when predicated of God is based on the Hebrew word ‘avah, which carries the connotation of desire/craving/ longing. As Job 23:13 states, whatever God desires, that HE DOES. Certainly, it seems therefore that there is nothing in God’s desire that He doesn’t do.

I.1.2 Non-decretive desires?

To propound the idea of the well-meant offer, the idea of God having non-decretive desires [3] is postulated. However, is this phrase even a coherent concept? We have seen that the Bible portrays a God who does all He desires. All that God wills to do is theologically referred to as God’s decretive will. So therefore, logically, all of God’s desires must fall into the category of God’s decretive will [4]. The idea of non-decretive desires therefore is a contradiction in terms, reducing itself to the nonsensical phrase “non-desire desires” or “non-decretive decrees”.

Much has been made about passages like Deut. 5:29 [5], which states:

Oh that they had such a mind as this always, to fear me and to keep all my commandments, that it might go well with them and with their descendants forever! (Deut. 5:29)

This and other passages like Ex. 32:14, which mention God relenting (literally repenting) of what He wanted to do, in order to prop up the idea of God having non-decretive desires. However, the Scriptures themselves do not allow for such an explanation. One basic hermeneutical principle is that of the Analogia Scriptura or the Analogy of Scripture: that more obscure verses are to be interpreted by those with greater clarity. Another principle is that the didactic portions of Scripture take precedence over the narrative portions of Scripture. The various verses where it is said of God’s wishes like in Deut. 5:29 and of God’s “repentance” in Ex. 32:14 are found in the narrative, and therefore the senses and meaning of these verses are to be interpreted in light of the more didactic passages like those found in the Psalms and Is. 46:9-10. When we do so, such passages can be seen to be a form of language called anthropopathism, in which truths regarding God and His attitude towards what He commands are couched in human emotive language in accommodation to our finite understanding [6].

So what are verses like Deut. 5:29 supposed to teach us? They are written to teach us more regarding God’s precepts and the attitude of God towards their fulfillment as precepts qua precepts, which brings us to the next point.

I.1.3 Deducing intentions from imperatives?

God’s commands and laws are normally termed God’s “perceptive will”, which refers to what God commands of men, both individually and generally. Verses like 1 Thess. 4:3 uses the word ‘will’ in this sense, and tells us what God wants of us in His commands.

Is it possible to deduce God’s desires from His ‘preceptive will’? Is it possible to deduce God’s intentions at all from His commands? No, for such is logically fallacious! Certainly, in real life, we can possibly discern the intention and the desire of the person giving commands, but that is because we have a context and environment where hints are given so that we can make educated guesses of the desires and intentions behind the giving of such commands. Therefore, the claim that intentions can never be deduced from imperatives seems counter-intuitive. However, it need not be so. Even in human relations, a parent may “command” their child to study hard to score 90% or higher for his exam, but he may actually intend the command to be meant for pushing the child to study hard with the high grade being a good thing which is not absolutely necessary. And in the case of God, we do not have any “environment” and the only context we have is Scripture, which therefore in its totality must inform our view [7].

Without even discussing the issues of God’s intentions with regards to the well-meant offer, a more basic idea in theology is the issue of Law and Gospel, and it is here that we already see God’s principle differentiating His desires and intentions from His commands. As it is written:

The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good. (Rom. 7:10-12)

Notice that it is written that the Law, the commandment, promised life. This is what is revealed in God’s perceptive will. Yet we can see in passages like Gal. 3:19-24 that the intention of God in giving the Law was so that it would function as a guardian leading Man to Christ, and also as a guide for Christian living (Gal. 5:14, Jas. 2:8)! God’s intention in giving the Law therefore is different from what is stated explicitly in the Law, thereby proving that even in the most foundation area of Law and Gospel, God’s intention and God’s commands are not necessarily linked.

Scripture therefore shows us at least one example showing the error of deducing intention from imperatives. God’s perceptive will therefore cannot be used to deduce or infer anything about God’s intentions at all. Not only it is logically invalid, it has been shown to be biblically in error even and therefore any reasoning from imperatives to intentions or desires is illogical and unbiblical.

I.1.4 Illogicity runs amok

Christ is the Logos of Scripture (Jn. 1:1) [8]. He is thus always logical. While God is not logic, logic is the manner in which God thinks. Ontologically, God precedes Logic, yet Logic precedes God epistemologically [9]. The Scriptures even makes it clear that those in rebellion against God are irrational (Gr. aloga) (2 Peter 2:12) – without logos. Therefore, God is supremely rational and one aspect of rebellion against God is irrationality. To the extent that we are still irrational in our thoughts, we have not loved God with all our minds (Mt. 22:37) and are therefore still sinning in this regard.

Ignorance and irrationality is tolerable, in the sense that that is the natural state of fallen Man. Christians who have been regenerated will grow progressively in godliness which include (but is not limited merely to) rationality, and therefore will be more knowledgeable about the things of God and think more rationally on spiritual issues as a consequence. Celebration of ignorance and irrationality in the name of “mystery” however is a different ball-game altogether; an exhibition of false piety in mystifying what God makes clear in Scripture, and a celebration of this act as something to be celebrated instead of grieved over.

Having made and proved the previous points according to Scripture, it is now time for us to evaluate Byrne’s response in light of the biblical principles we have deduced from Scripture.

Byrne in his response commits the error of deducing intentions from imperatives, as this statement shows:

We’re only claiming that Bunyan thinks God is willing to save the reprobates inefficaciously according to the revealed will …

This is logically nonsense statement, as a rephrase of that statement according to its logical equivalence would show

We’re only claiming that Bunyan thinks God [desires] to save the reprobates [in a manner that does not reflect His desire] according to the revealed will …

Byrne could very well talk about a “round square” and a “quadrilateral triangle”, and it would have the same meaning as the sentence he wrote above – absolutely zero! Logically contradictory sentences or [real] oxymorons as opposed to reconcilable paradoxes have zero knowledge content at all, and are not even worth arguing in the same way as it is ridiculous to argue about the existence of a “non-Christian Christian”. Unless such sentences can be shown to be a real paradox in the sense that both are referring to two different non-contradictory senses, appeal to mystery is basically appeal to ignorance. If a person is ignorant about the subject, then he should keep quiet and not celebrate his ignorance, much less arrogantly think that his ignorance means that no one else can solve the problem he cannot solve.

The problem with Byrne here is that his statements and beliefs in this regard flatly contradict the Scriptures. Only the Bible is the norming norm that is not normed (norma normans non normata), not even the Creeds and Confessions and most definitely not what Christian theologians and pastors have written. Failure of Byrne to ever exegete the texts properly (quoting men’s interpretation of scriptural texts do not count) means that even if the Reformed giants truly taught what Byrne and his fellow Neo-Amyraldians teach, Byrne is nowhere nearer the Truth. However, even Byrne’s interpretations of historical sources are in error, as we shall see in the case of John Bunyan later


References:

[1] desire. Dictionary.com. Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.1). Random House, Inc. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/desire (accessed: June 22, 2009).

[2] The Greek word that can be translated desire, ‘thelo’ (θελω), has a broader range of meaning as a glance at Strong’s Concordance shows. Nevertheless, a cursory look does not indicate many instances whereby it is predicated of God’s desires, except 1 Tim. 2:4 where the context makes it very clear it is talking about classes of men – all men without distinction and not all men without exception. For exegesis of this verse and others like it, check out James R. White, The Potter’s Freedom (Merrick, New York, USA: Calvary Press, 2000), pp. 139-145.

[3] Comment #14 in Robert Gonzales, Gerety’s Hammer misses the mark (http://blog.rbseminary.org/2009/06/geretys-hammer-misses-the-mark/#comment-2381), accessed: June 26th 2009.

[4] If all God desires He does (Job 23:13), then the subset of “God’s desires” [R] is within the subset of “God’s decrees” [C] (R ⊆ S). Since the Scriptures teaches that God does all He desires and does not anywhere teaches God decreeing what He does not desires, by exhaustive induction based on Sola Scriptura, R ≡ S

[5] Robert Gonzales, God makes a wish: That each and every sinner might be saved (http://blog.rbseminary.org/2009/05/god-makes-a-wish-that-each-and-every-sinner-might-be-saved/), accessed: June 26th 2009

[6] It is a far cry from denying that God has mutable emotions to stating that He has no [real] emotions. Yet Dr. Robert Gonzales in “There Is No Pain, You Are Misreading”: Is God “Comfortably Numb”? (http://blog.rbseminary.org/2009/02/there-is-no-pain-you-are-misreading-is-god-comfortably-numb/), (accessed: June 26th 2009) commits this non sequitur logical fallacy. Furthermore, the direction of reasoning should be from what Scripture teaches, THEN to have it transform our philosophical framework, not choosing an interpretation of Scripture that conforms to a particular a priori philosophical framework.

[7] I find it supremely ironic that those who like to teach about the incomprehensibility of God; that He is “Totally Other”, are nevertheless so sure of what God intends when He gives His commands.

[8] For a better understanding of the word logos as used in Jn. 1:1, check out Gordon H. Clark, The Johannine Logos (Jefferson, Maryland, USA: The Trinity Foundation, 1972 [1989])

[9] C. Matthew McMahon, The Two Wills of God (New Lenox, IL, USA: Puritan Publications, 2005), p. 24

8 comments:

Joel Tay said...

Fantastic Reply.

Now... for a picture of a square circle.

http://companycason.com/The-Amazing-Square-Circle.jpg

PuritanReformed said...

Joel:

thanks. As for your picture... 8-). At least you did not think of non-Cartesian geometry.

Augustinian Successor said...

Dear Bro. Daniel,

I have added you to my blog. So, each time I can click to go on your blog. Are you from Covenant ERC?

Jason

PuritanReformed said...

Jason:

thanks. Yes, I am attending CERC. How about you?

Augustinian Successor said...

I'm a member of the Lutheran Church in Malaysia and Singapore (LCMS). However, my roots are Reformed. I'm still a Five-Point Calvinist. But on christology, sacramentology, etc. I'm a Lutheran. It was while I was in the UK, that I was first exposed to the PRC. And then when I came back to Malaysia, got in touch Pastor Lau.

Keep up the good work! Love for the Reformed truth is, well, scarce these days despite so-called resurgence in Calvinism.

Mark Farnon (Tartanarmy) said...

Very much enjoying reading this Daniel..Well done brother!

Mark

PuritanReformed said...

Jason:

I see. =)

PuritanReformed said...

Mark:

you're really welcome. The full response is already ready; hope it adequately refutes Byrne.