Monday, March 20, 2017

On the nature and will of God

Clark’s solution is to distinguish human responsibility from God’s causative agency. This is certainly a helpful solution which the Reformed world should utilize, yet I do not see it as solving the question completely. (from my review of The Presbyterian Philosopher: The Authorized Biography of Gordon H. Clark, here)

Chalcedonian theism marks the high point of orthodoxy with regards to the doctrine of God. This catholic (small "c") tradition defines God as one being/ essence, three persons, and this one God has one will and one nature in His being. Jesus Christ, the second person of the Trinity, is one person with two natures (human and divine), and thus two wills. In traditional theism, a nature has a will, and thus Christ's two natures necessitates the existence of two wills. One could also extrapolate that to mean Christ has two minds, as indicative of the fact of Him having two wills.

What, then, is nature? What is will? What is person? Such questions should not be difficult to answer, especially when one looks at the Greek words behind these concepts: nature (φυσις), will (θελημα), person (προσωπον). "Nature" is an ontological terms defining what a thing is. "Will" originates decisions and actions. "Person" is more complicated and much confusion reigned over the term, but in association with the term hypostasis (ὑποστασις), a "person" is a subsistence, an instantiation. To simplify things, I would use the term "individuated consciousness." Note here that I did not say "individual consciousness," or "individuated center of consciousness," in order to keep the definition generic, since the three persons of the Trinity are one and the same being.

A "nature" is what a thing is. A "will" originates decisions and actions. What a thing is is separate from what a thing decides. Socrates is a man; that is his nature. Socrates ate his dinner; that is his will originating a decision to eat, and his body obeying his will to eat. Such is basic English and basic philosophy 101. A "nature" is never a "will," and, as we can see in recent times, it is possible for people to will something (transgender surgery) contrary to their nature (humans as inherently male and female).

God has His own nature, which is who He is ad intra. God wills, and acts accordingly, ad extra. Whatever God wills has its origin ad intra, but is manifested ad extra, where it then effect His works. There should be no question whatsoever that God's nature and God's will is distinct. To be sure, God is consistent, as God is one and simple. Therefore, according to traditional theism, God's will should be consistent with God's nature.

Since we never know God's nature simpliciter, in the history of theology, we come across the debate between realism and voluntarism, in the debate over the potentia Dei absoluta et ordinata (power of God absolute and ordained). Is the power of God absolute, in the sense that He can will anything including alternate past events, round squares and evil as good (divine voluntarism). Is it the power of God restricted to what He ordained to come to pass, and thus is not "absolute" in that sense (realism). Radical divine voluntarism, as held to by the nominalists, have God's power extending over contingency (possible past events), logical contradictions (round squares) and moral contradictions (evil as good). The orthodox position would deny the latter two (at least in their crude form) since they make no sense, but debate remain over contingency. As an example, can God create a world where He can forgive sins without the atonement of Christ? Those who hold to voluntarism might answer yes, while the realists would definitely say no.

So what does this obscure medieval debate has to do with Gordon Clark's theodicy? This "obscure" debate is relevant only because it brings up the same issues concerning God's nature and God's will. It must be noted that we are not talking about whether Clark's solution to the problem of theodicy is helpful. We are speaking concerning those who think that Clark's solution to the problem of theodicy is THE solution. Those who think that appeal to a fiat declaration that God is by definition good and therefore the entire question of theodicy is solved have not begun to scratch the surface of the problems it creates within the doctrine of God. In Clark's solution, we have the following propositions:

(1) God (by definition) is good

(2) God wills evil things

(3) God is ex lex (outside the law) and thus cannot be judged by His law.

Conclusion: Therefore, God is good even though He wills evil

As ONE solution, it is helpful. But we note here there are two propositions concerning the doctrine of God that we need to take note also:

(4) God is one and simple, therefore His will and His nature within Him are one and the same.

(5) God's law is a reflection of His nature

Putting propositions 1-5 together will create a problem, which shows that theodicy is not as easily solved just by Clark's solution. For, yes, God is ex lex in the sense that God is not culpable of evil just because He wills evil. But what is the law? What does willing evil say about the nature of God? For since God is one and God is simple, then His will (as originating ad intra) is equivalent to His nature, but if His will is His nature, then does willing evil things mean that God's nature is evil? But then it is protested that God by definition is good? Well then, you have a contradiction between proposition 1 and 4, and merely repeating proposition 1 does not solve the contradiction you will have. Unless of course, you do not mind throwing away the doctrine of divine simplicity. The same problem will arise when we ask how we can square propositions 3 and 5.

The radical followers of Clark will just assert propositions 1-3 over and over again, and either ignore or deny propositions 4 and 5. Such an emphasis on the divine will as dissociated from the divine nature is a characteristic of divine voluntarism. To be sure, they do not affirm clear logical or moral contradictions, but their emphasis on the divine will blind them to the problems such voluntarism have concerning one's doctrine of God. Perhaps they wish to deny propositions 4 and/or 5? But for those of us who do not reduce everything to "will" alone, we can affirm Clark's solution solve the moral aspect of theodicy, but acknowledge it leaves untouched the ontological problem of theodicy. (For those wanting to know how to solve that latter problem, a pointer would be to distinguish God's will concerning evil as primarily good, while secondarily evil.)

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Review: The Presbyterian Philosopher: The Authorized Biography of Gordon H. Clark by Doug Douma

Douglas Douma has recently published a biography of the Presbyterian philosopher Gordon Haddon Clark (1902-1985), entitled The Presbyterian Philosopher: The Authorized Biography of Gordon H. Clark. I have just finished reading it, and here is my review of the book. An excerpt:

Gordon Haddon Clark (1902-1985) was a prominent American Presbyterian philosopher and churchman in the 20th century, yet one would not know it by living in many contemporary 21st century American Presbyterian and Reformed circles. In this biography of this neglected American thinker, Douglas Douma does us all a great service by opening a window into the life of this man, helping us to understand his situation in life, and especially into the major controversy that has played a big influence in the formative years of one Presbyterian denomination, the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) — the “Clark-Van Til Controversy.”

[more]

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Turretin concerning the Free Offer

XII. … Thus the promises added to the precepts signify only what God will grant to believers and penitents, not what he wills to grant to all those to whom the precept is proposed. [3.XV.12]

XVIII. There cannot be contrariety between those two wills because they do not will and nill [sic] the same thing in the same manner and respect. … [3.XV.18]

XXIV. If God by this will had signified that he willed the salvation of all without exception, he would have signified that he willed what he least willed (since by passing over the greater part, he has not willed to give them salvation). But when he signifies that he wills the salvation of all believers and penitents, it signifies that he wills that which he really wills and nothing is more true, nothing more sincere than such a declaration. [3.XV.24]

XII. This twofold will [of an antecedent and consequent will as per Amyraut -DHC] cannot be proved from Mt. 23:27, ... Therefore, Jerusalem is here to be distinguished from her sons as the words themselves prove. ... [3.XVI.12]

XVIII. When God testified that "he has no pleasure at all in the death of the sinner, but that he should return from his ways, and live" (Ezek. 18:23), this does not favor the inefficacious will or the feeble velleity of God because the word chpts (which occurs here) does not denote desire so much as delight and complacency. ... [3.XVI.18]

- Francis Turretin, Institute of Elentic Theology

It seems Francis Turretin did not hold to the well-meant offer as taught by John Murray and the Neo-Amyraldians.

Friday, March 03, 2017

The usage of words and power plays

Over in an article at the Desiring God website, the word "homophobia" is used once again. While the article does expresses certain truths (i.e. one's opposition to homosexuality should be based on Scripture and love not on emotions), the use of the word "homophobia" is extremely disturbing.

Words have meanings, and while it is a stretch to say that words are instruments of power, it is nonetheless true that terms and phrases direct the flow of thought and conversation. Even if a concept is rejected, the mere naming of the concept (particularly as a neologism) creates a conceptual space for it to be conceived in, with all its connotations. If mentioned and brought up frequently enough, the terms and what it conveys will become part of normalized discourse, even IF the concepts continue to be rejected. On a subconscious level, such normalization in discourse will create an impetus towards seeing such things as part of normal everyday life.

The usage of the neologism "homophobia" therefore functions in such a manner, as a trojan horse towards the normalization of deviant sexualities. Instead of telling people they ought to be compassionate towards those who struggle with deviant sexual temptations, those people are tarred with the neologism "homophobia." Thus, those who buy into the deceptive words of the LGBTQIAXXX agenda have lost half the battle when they adopt the terms and phrases of wicked men, even when they do correctly reject the actual wicked practices themselves. But when you allow wicked activists to direct the flow of thought and conversation, then those who reject the sexual deviancies will be increasingly perceived to be backward intolerant bigots and be on the defensive, no matter how much Desiring God and others will claim otherwise.

If one wants to actually promote the truth of Scripture on the issue, then one should stop adopting the terms of the wicked. Call a thing as what it is, and not what the world thinks it is, and refuse to compromise even on the terms one uses. Terms such as "homophobia" should never be used towards Christians, and should be qualified even in apologetics towards unbelievers.

Thursday, March 02, 2017

The idolatry of nationalism

Nationalism is not patriotism. Whereas patriotism is the love of one's country, nationalism is the divinization of one's country, to worship one's nation as a god. During World War One, the various European nations were transmogrified into the divine instruments of God and His wrath on earth, with catastrophic consequences. The Liberal Protestant clergy were one of the chief culprits, and here is one such blasphemous prayer from a German pastor:

Our Father, from the height of heaven,
Make haste to succor Thy German people.
Help us in the holy war,
Let your name, like a star, guide us:
Lead Thy German Reich to glorious victories.
Who will stand before the conquerors?
Who will go into the dark sword-grave?
Lord, Thy will be done!
Although war’s bread be scanty,
Smite the foe each day
With death and tenfold woes.
In thy merciful patience, forgive
Each bullet and each blow
That misses its mark
Lead us not into the temptation
Of letting our wrath be too gentle
In carrying out Thy divine judgment.
Deliver us and our pledged ally [Austria-Hungary]
From the Evil One and his servants on earth.
Thine is the kingdom
The German land.
May we, through Thy mailed [sic?] hand
Come to power and glory

[As cited in Philip Jenkins, The Great and Holy War: How World War I Became a Religious Crusade (New York, NY: Harper One, 2014), 13]

Loving one's country is good, but never, ever treat any country or government as divine or semi-divine, as having absolute authority over the souls and consciences of men. Such is idolatry, and idolatry can have real-life consequences, as the First World War and the Second World War has shown us.