Tuesday, February 25, 2020

The issue of change: Zeno's Paradox revisited

[continued from here]

For Parmenides to work through the steps of his argument, he has first to entertain its initial premise, then to entertain its succeeding premises, and then to entertain its conclusion. He will also thereby have gone from believing that change is real to wondering whether it is in fact real, and finally to being convinced that it is not real after all. But all of that entails the existence of change. If he considers such an objection, wonders how he might reply to it, and then finally puts forward a response, that too will involved change. The truth of static monism would thus be incompatible with the existence of static monists like Parmenides. [Edward Feser, Aristotle's Revenge: The Metaphysical Foundation of Physical and Biological Science (Neunkirchen-Seelscheid: editiones scholasticae, 2019), pp. 14-15]

According to Parmenides and his disciple Zeno, change is illusionary. Zeno's paradox on motion was meant to show that real change is impossible. Obviously, Zeno was not saying that change does not seem to happen. Rather, he would probably be happy with the cliche phrase "the more things change, the more they remain the same," interpreted literally. Behind the illusion or facade of change is the reality of changelessness, according to Zeno.

In a book heavily promoting Aristotelian philosophy, Edward Feser puts forward what he thinks is an impeccable argument against the "changelessness" view. Feser argued that change within a person happens and therefore change is real. While this argument is indeed applicable to a naive interpretation of Parmenides and Zeno, I do not believe it actually works.

Feser's argument essentially shows that change does in fact occur, and that a denial of change is a contradiction. However, as we have seen, Zeno does not deny change. Rather, he denies the reality of change. What does this actually mean? From Zeno's position one can go in diverse directions. One can claim that even our responses and thoughts are illusions of change. One can instead hold that there is true change mentally but not physically. One can claim that all change is phenomenal while the noumenal never changes. The common theme here is Idealism. Feser's argument, at least in dealing with Parmenides and Zeno, only proves that some form of succession is necessary, but it does not prove change, or at least the type of "change" that most people would consider change.

Sunday, February 23, 2020

CT on Polyamory

As if signs of apostasy in the American Evangelical church were not clear enough, Christianity Astray Today decided that an article about polyamory (what used to be called fornication and adultery) is acceptable to be published by them. While the article does assert that polyamory is sin, it also says this:

Another important pastoral step is to distinguish elements of polyamory that are in violation of God’s will from elements that are simply culturally unfamiliar to us. When we want to lovingly call people to repentance, we should be precise about what needs repentance and what relationships or elements can and should be sanctified in Christ. For example, the notion of kinship in polyamory is a secular echo of the way Scripture calls the church to function as a new family. In cultures that idolize individualism (but actually isolate individuals), polyamory’s focus on relationship, care, and affection can have a powerful pull. And in churches that idolize marriage and the nuclear family, polyamory’s focus on hospitality and community can be an attractive alternative. We can acknowledge that many of the elements that draw people to polyamory—deep relationships, care for others, hospitality, and community—are good things.

Whereas Scripture says:

Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. (1 Cor. 6:18)

Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. (Eph. 5:11-12)

The problem with this article is less about the issue of trying to "redeem" elements from something that is so obviously sinful, but rather that this article has to be even written at all! As Jesus revealed in Ephesians 5:11-12, some evil are just too depraved that it is even shameful to be speaking about them, and the immediate context of Ephesians 5 is about sexual sin. The world has slowly desensitized even believers such that something so depraved can be treated as a legitimate topic of discussion, as if we are talking about ways to "redeem" food.

The sad thing is that this type of article was used to desensitize Christians on the issue of LGBTQ+, and now in certain circles of professing "Presbyterian" circles, calling LGBTQ according to its biblical category ("abomination") is grounds for rebuke by the pastor! Substitute polyamory with LGBT in any of the arguments that have been used by many liberal Christians (inclusive of "Side B" proponents aka Revoice), and the form of the arguments are identical in every way. When will Christians wake up and realize that we are being manipulated into tolerating sin?

It is grievous that Christians by and large have lost the vision of the holiness of God. We fail to recognize that what God says is the truth, period. We fail to recognize that what God says about sin is what sin is, and "abomination" is indeed "abomination." We are not given the liberty to alter God's Word and make God "kinder" than He really is. If God says something is an abomination, then the only right response is detestation and a holy hatred of that sin, and woe to the pastor who thinks himself smarter and kinder than God! Exactly who does he thinks he is, to go against the words of the Almighty God?

Monday, February 17, 2020

The continual simplification and misrepresentation of those who do not subscribe to Classical Theism

Over at Ligonier, Keith A. Matthison has written an article for Table Talk on the importance of Classical Theism. Matthison asserts the importance of Classical Theism and strongly asserts that "classical theism is simply a shorthand way of describing God as He has revealed Himself in His Word." The problem however is that Matthison's assertion is simply that: a mere assertion, without proof.

It may not seem obvious, but the problem with Matthison's article is surprisingly simple: Matthison asserts that it is important that we hold on to the biblical doctrines of God's simplicity, immutability, and impassibility, and that without those we would have a different God than the God of Scripture. But Matthison nowhere argues that Classical Theism is necessary or we would have a different God than the God of Scripture. The whole article assumes that Classical Theism, and only Classical Theism, will preserve the biblical doctrines of God's simplicity, immutability, and impassibility. However, for orthodox Christians who object to Classical Theism, that is precisely the point of contention. We do not agree that Classical Theism is the only way to preserve the biblical doctrines of God's simplicity, immutability, and impassibility. From my own perspective, while I do not think that Classical Theism is totally wrong, I do think that there is a bit too much paganism in Classical Theism which corrupts our understanding of God, if taken to its logical conclusions.

Take for example, the idea that the will is a property of nature. From that assumption, it is denied that the Triune God can have three wills, because if He has three wills, then He has three natures and thus there are three Gods. But why should we assume that will is necessarily a property of nature? On the contrary, if we insist that will is a property of nature, then it would seem that communion with any Person of the Godhead is impossible. One communes with the whole God, but it is not possible to commune with Jesus, or with the Father, for they are all one will. After all, anything that smacks of "Social Trinitarianism" must be rejected right? Even Jesus' High Priestly Prayer was interpreted to mean Jesus in his human will submitting to His divine will, so I guess any communion with Jesus is only with his human nature, and any communion with the divine nature is with the whole Trinity?

The fact of the matter is that there is just too much Aristotle and not enough Scripture in Classical Theism. That is why I reject Classical Theism. There is just too much philosophical baggage from Aristotelian categories that are not philosophically or theologically tenable. One example is the idea that "infinity" is a divine attribute, an assertion which is not tenable in light of Cantor's mathematical insights. Thus, we should reject the notion, prevalent in Classical Theism, that infinity is necessarily a divine attribute. Rather, we must say that created infinities point us to the ultimate infinity that is God, and thus infinity becomes a communicable attribute not an incommunicable one. This is just one of many potential modifications that have to happen in our thinking about God, for a blind adherence to Aristotle may give us a coherent system, but a system that is philosophically untenable and intellectually bankrupt.

It is of course hoped that Reformed adherents to Classical Theism may be a bit more critical in their theology, and more receptive to criticism instead of circling the wagons of "orthodoxy." The conduct of many Reformed leaders during the 2016 ESS fiasco however does not give me confidence that that will happen anytime soon. Thus, there will continue to be articles like this that essentially ignore the critics and ignore the many problems with Classical Theism, and, like the ostrich with its head in the ground, continue to sound off in the Big Reformed echo-chamber that only a limited audience will hear.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Did John Calvin teach a doctrine of secondary justification?

Steven Wedgeworth over at The Calvinist International had written a blog article arguing that the notion of a "secondary justification" is a Reformed doctrine, taught by no less than John Calvin himself. According to Wedgeworth, John Calvin does in fact teach Justification by Faith Alone, but alongside that he taught a secondary or "different kind of justification" which "remains a forensic and declarative act" and takes account of the "transformative work of regeneration" and "render(s) a sort of judgment on the spiritual fruit of sanctification." This secondary justification is "built atop" and "dependent on" the initial justification, and thus it can be said that there is a sense in which justification is by works, as long as one holds to that justification as a "secondary justification." But are Wedgeworth's arguments sound? We will address them theologically, then historically.

Theologically, it is unclear how this view of initial and secondary justification is not functionally similar to Federal Vision, Arminian and Roman Catholic soteriologies. Just because the "secondary justification" is built upon and dependent on the initial justification does not solve anything, for after all Arminians and Roman Catholics believe that too. For the latter, here is what Trent says about justification and works:

Of this Justification the causes are these: ... the efficient cause is a merciful God who washes and sanctifies gratuitously, signing, and anointing with the holy Spirit of promise, who is the pledge of our inheritance ... (Chapter VII, Council of Trent Sixth Session, On Justification - First Decree)

And whereas the Apostle saith, that man is justified by faith and freely, those words are to be understood in that sense which the perpetual consent of the Catholic Church hath held and expressed; to wit, that we are therefore said to be justified by faith, because faith is the beginning of human salvation, the foundation, and the root of all Justification; without which it is impossible to please God, and to come unto the fellowship of His sons: but we are therefore said to be justified freely, because that none of those things which precede justification-whether faith or works-merit the grace itself of justification. For, if it be a grace, it is not now by works, otherwise, as the same Apostle says, grace is no more grace. (Chapter VIII, Council of Trent Sixth Session, On Justification - First Decree)

As it can be seen, in Tridentine Roman Catholicism, justification is "free," and faith and works do not merit the grace itself of justification, since the efficient cause of justification is the God who is merciful and washed and sanctify gratuitously sinners through the Holy Spirit. In popular Evangelical rhetoric, it is assumed that Roman Catholicism teaches justification by faith and works, or by works. However, while Roman Catholicism ends up being about salvation by faith and works, it is not technically true that it teaches justification by faith and works. Rather, justification is by grace through faith without works, but justification in Roman Catholicism is a process and thus the works is the "outworking" of grace through works. In orthodox Roman Catholic theology, the works are treated as the outworking of faith in justification, and therefore works become essential for one's status before God, albeit in a round-about way.

Once the Tridentine Roman Catholic teaching on justification is properly understood, it is unclear how it differs from what Wedgeworth is proposing, except that instead of a process of justification we have two acts of justification—the initial justification and the secondary justification. Since the term "justification" is literally "to make just," this calls into question Wedgeworth's assertion that the "secondary justification" does not change the verdict given by the initial justification. In what sense is that secondary justification "justification" if it does not actually "make [the person] just"? Therefore, whatever the intent of those promoting this view of "secondary justification" is, it seems clear that this "secondary justification" smuggles works into the act of justification by a more sophisticated route compared to Roman Catholicism, a move which coincides with the redefinition of "faith" to become "faithfulness" in Federal Vision discourse.

Historical theology is where Wedgeworth's assertions about the historical pedigree of his view come undone. Wedgeworth asserts that John Calvin teaches this secondary justification, but the passages cited from Calvin clearly states that God justifies the unclean works of believers. This "secondary justification" if you may is God declaring that the works of believers are acceptable to Him, or as cited and emphasized by Wedgeworth, "their works are esteemed righteous by the same gratuitous liberality. (Comment. on Ezekiel 18:17)." Note here that the object of this "justification" is the believers' works, not believers themselves. It is the works which are justified, not believers who get doses of justification every time they do a good work. This view of God justifying our works is taught by the Westminster Confession of Faith in the chapter on good works:

Notwithstanding, the persons of believers being accepted through Christ, their good works also are accepted in him, not as though they were in this life wholly unblamable and unreprovable in God’s sight; but that he, looking upon them in his Son, is pleased to accept and reward that which is sincere, although accompanied with many weaknesses and imperfections. (WCF 16.6)

Wedgeworth's argument that Calvin taught a doctrine of secondary justification is therefore a misinterpretation of what he actually wrote. Knowing what Tridentine Roman Catholicism actually teaches, and that the orthodox Reformers unanimously rejected it, we must understand that the orthodox Reformed position is a denial of any kind of two-stage justification or process of justification. The scandal of the Reformation was not because Roman Catholicism believed in works meriting justification (a typical Evangelical caricature), but that the Reformers taught that justification requires no work of any kind at all. That is the essence of the Gospel message of Justification by Faith Alone that scandalized the Pope and the entire structure of Medieval Catholicism. Why is it that charges of antinomianism were leveled against the Reformers? Were 16th century Roman Catholic theologians so dense that they did not know (if it were true) that Protestants have a place for good works in justification (beyond evidence), and therefore the dispute is one of semantics rather than substance?

So did John Calvin taught a doctrine of secondary justification? He did not. Moreover, knowing the centrality of the Gospel and the importance of justification, I think it is very dangerous that such teaching is deemed acceptable in Reformed circles, for once we lose the Gospel, we lose the faith. It is my sincere hope that all of us including Wedgeworth would one day come to reject this teaching as misleading at best, and heretical at worst.