Calvinists tend to immediately dismiss non-Calvinists who critique Calvinism on the basis of philosophical or logical reflection and moral intuitions. Calvinists believe that they have Scripture “on their side” despite any incoherencies, inconsistencies or contradictions that non-Calvinists identify in Calvinism. After all, according to the Calvinist, human reason has been so drastically affected by the fall that it cannot be expected to function properly when critiquing the doctrinal truths of Calvinism. That is why, according to Calvinists, we can never fully fathom the Calvinist doctrines. Calvinists believe their doctrines are not subject to the assessment of human reason and moral intuition. Indeed, since “Gods ways are higher than our ways” we should actually expect that God’s revelation should not accord with human reason and morality.
But this seems rather an excuse to deflect our attention away from the logical and moral problems of Calvinism while laying the red-herring of a more “spiritual” approach across our path. This is done in an attempt to foster assent to the Calvinist doctrines on the basis of claiming that this approach exalts God’s sovereignty as a theistic determinism which, for the Calvinist, is the God ordained means to crush human pride and instill an utmost humility. In light of the prospect of adopting a theology which presents to the Christian such lofty heights of spiritual dedication in the cause of exalting God’s sovereignty and glory to its “logical conclusion” by a universal divine causal determinism, no wonder a rational and moral assessment of Calvinism may be viewed as inconsequential. But the problem with this approach is that the logical and moral incoherencies, inconsistencies and contradictions within Calvinism persist and are left unaddressed.
The Calvinist’s claim of exegetical support for their doctrines apart from the logical and moral critiques brought against those exegetical, interpretive and doctrinal conclusions seems to be unconvincing from a hermeneutical point of view because it creates a false dichotomy between exegesis and philosophical and moral reasoning. Dichotomizing exegesis from philosophical and moral reflection is a false dichotomy and bad interpretive practice. It should go without saying that the historical-critical methodology does not shun philosophical reflection or moral intuition but employs these to glean a better understanding of the text. The conjunction of all these disciplines are necessary to achieve proper interpretation.
The testimony of preeminent biblical interpreters is that human reason is reliable and essential for the interpretive task. Let’s survey the material.
Milton S. Terry on Reason in Interpretation
Biblical scholar Milton S. Terry writes,
“But, above all things, an interpreter of Scripture needs a sound and sober judgment. His mind must be competent to analyze, examine, and compare. He must not allow himself to be influenced by hidden meanings, and spiritualizing processes, and plausible conjectures. He must weigh reasons for and against a given interpretation; he must judge whether his principles are tenable and self-consistent; he must often balance probabilities, and reach conclusions with the greatest caution. Such a discriminating judgment may be trained and strengthened, and no pains should be spared to render it a safe and reliable habit of mind.
…The use of reason in the interpretation of Scripture is everywhere to be assumed. The Bible comes to us in the forms of human language, and appeals to our reason and judgment; it invites investigation, and condemns a blind credulity…Even in passages which may be said to lie beyond the province of reason, in the realm of the supernatural revelation, it is still competent for the rational judgement to say whether, indeed, the revelation be supernatural. In matters beyond its range of vision, reason may, by valid argument, explain its own incompetency, and by analogy and manifold suggestion show that there are many things beyond its province which are nevertheless true and righteous altogether, and to be accepted without dispute. Reason itself may thus become efficient in strengthening faith in the unseen and eternal.
But it behooves the expounder of God’s word to see that all his principles and processes of reasoning are sound and self-consistent. He must not commit himself to false premises; he must abstain from confusing dilemmas; he must especially refrain from rushing to unwarranted conclusions. Nor must he ever take for granted things which are doubtful, or open to serious question. All such logical fallacies will necessarily vitiate his expositions, and make him a dangerous guide. The right use of reason in biblical exposition is seen in the cautious procedure, the sound principles adopted, the valid and conclusive argumentation, the sober sense displayed, and the honest integrity and self-consistency everywhere maintained. Such exercise of reason will always commend itself to the godly conscience and the pure heart.”
Terry’s instruction here on the role of reason in interpretation and what makes for sound hermeneutical principles is directly applicable to Calvinist exegesis and interpretation. It is important to ask whether Calvinism properly fits these criteria of good interpretation. It is hard to see how they do given everything that Terry points out here as to the role of reason in interpretation and his affirmation that reason “is still competent for the rational judgement to say whether, indeed, the revelation be supernatural.” It is one thing for reason to tell us of its limitations, it is another to produce interpretations that are contrary to reason. It is one thing for reason to identify and affirm things that are beyond reason, it is quite another thing to justify interpretations that are against reason, that is, interpretations that are incoherent, inconsistent or contradictory. Such interpretations cannot be justified on the basis that they are “supernatural,” that is, above our “natural” reasoning capacities to understand. These are not legitimate limitations of reason when reason itself is identifying these incoherencies, inconsistencies and contradictions. These are not an affirmation of the supernatural but evidences of faulty interpretations. Terry states, that “the use of reason in the interpretation of Scripture is everywhere to be assumed.” Reason is always in play. The supernatural is beyond reason, not against reason.
To apply Terry’s characteristics, principles and processes of reasoning to the Calvinist exegetical and doctrinal conclusions certainly seems to indicate that they are not beyond reason’s capacity to know, but the use of reason, and we may add moral intuition, renders them implausible as valid interpretations.
The Proper Relationship between Faith and Reason
Philosopher Robert Audi has written,
“It is obvious that rational persons disagree about some important matters and that even a high degree of rationality in persons is consistent with great diversity among them…But there are also constant elements that play a prominent role in the make-up of rational persons, least controversially a measure of simple logicality.”
And amidst the several ways in which one may be justified in their beliefs with regard to the question of their defeasibility Audi writes,
“Descartes surely believed something to the effect that one has indefeasible justification for the proposition that one exists. Simple logical truths seem to be an even better candidate, for instance the proposition that if Jane Austen is identical with the author of Emma, then the author of Emma is Jane Austen.”
The logical and moral incoherencies, inconsistencies and contradictions inherent in Calvinism require us to defend the nature, potential and essential role of reason in biblical exegesis and interpretation. The logical difficulties inherent within Calvinism make it necessary to doubt that its interpretations can be justified. They also force the Calvinist, and Christians in general, to address certain misconceptions they have, not only with regard to the relationship of faith and reason, but also reason and interpretation. Let’s discuss some of these misconceptions.
Note first that Calvinists will claim that due to our fallen and sinful condition which has left us “totally depraved” or in a moral condition of “total inability,” human reasoning is therefore incapable of making sense of various Calvinist teachings. For example Calvinists claim the Bible teaches that God predetermined and causes all things to occur as they do – including every thought, belief, desire, action and eternal destiny of every person throughout all of human history. Yet, Calvinists also affirm that God is not responsible for these people’s thoughts, beliefs, desires, actions and eternal destinies but the person’s themselves are responsible. They are responsible moral agents that determine and cause the majority of their own thoughts, beliefs, desires and actions, including their eternal destinies by their acceptance or rejection of the gospel. This is just to say that God predetermines and causes all things to occur as they do and God doesn’t predetermine and cause all things to occur as they do. Human beings also determine and cause many of the things that they do and the things that occur in this world.
Now Calvinists will claim that because our minds have been so negatively affected by the fall it is impossible for us to comprehend this problem. We cannot reason these biblical truths out. Despite the fact they certainly present themselves to our thinking as contradictory, we are to trust and believe that both are true on the basis of the Calvinist’s exegesis of certain biblical texts. According to Calvinists this is what the Bible teaches – God’s universal causal determinism and human responsibility. Calvinists maintain that it is impossible to understanding how these doctrinal claims logically and morally cohere.
But the Calvinist does not want to embrace a position that can be deemed irrational, therefore we are to believe that what presents itself to us as a contradiction is only apparent and not real. So despite the intellectually and morally problematic nature of those doctrines, the Calvinist asserts they are taught in Scripture and therefore true and to be believed. But they cannot be in real contradiction lest the Calvinist finds himself condoning contradiction in Scripture and interpretation. Even the Calvinist at this point affirms the legitimacy and efficacy of human reason. Hence, Calvinists must merely assert that the rational or moral reconciliation of certain of their doctrines will always be a “mystery” due to our fallen, limited human understanding.
Philosopher theologians J. P. Moreland and William Lane Craig offer a corrective to this Calvinist position.
“…the claim is made that human depravity has made the mind so darkened that the noetic effects of sin, that is, sin’s effect on the mind, render the human intellect incapable of knowing truth. However, this is an exaggeration. The Fall brought about the perversion of human faculties, but it did not destroy those faculties. Human reasoning abilities are affected but not eliminated. This can be seen in the fact that the writers of Scripture often appeal to the minds of unbelievers by citing evidence on behalf of their claims, using logical inferences in building their case and speaking in the language and thought forms of those outside the faith.”
Moreland and Craig also dispel the common Christian suspicion that faith is antithetical to reason.
“…it is sometimes claimed that faith and reason are hostile to each other, and whatever is of reason cannot be of faith. But this represents [sic] misunderstanding of the biblical concept of faith. The biblical notion of faith includes three components: notitia (understanding the content of the Christian faith), fiducia (trust) and assensus (the assent of the intellect to the truth of some proposition). Trust is based on understanding, knowledge and the intellect’s assent to truth. Belief in rests on belief that. One is called to trust in what he or she has reason to give intellectual assent (assensus) to. In Scripture, faith involves placing trust in what you have reason to believe is true. Faith is not a blind, irrational leap in the dark. So faith and reason cooperate on a biblical view of faith. They are not intrinsically hostile.”
Moreland writes in another work that,
“We are committed to Christianity in general, or some doctrinal position in particular, because we take that commitment to express what is true. And we are committed to the importance of our God-given faculty of mind to aid us in assessing what is true.”
Philosopher and apologist Douglas Groothuis writes,
“There is no doubt that human reasoning and human reasoners have been adversely affected by the fall. However, reason itself – the logical structure of being and argument – is based on the eternal character of God as the Word (the Logos [John 1:1]), and on his bestowal of reason to creatures made in his image and likeness. In that sense, reason is not fallen. Reason in itself cannot be fallen and remain reason.”
Because of the strength of the above arguments, Calvinists will artificially claim that their doctrine of “total inability” applies only to our “moral” sense or capacity, that is, that we are unable to respond to God and the things of God like the gospel message. So on pain of irrationality Calvinists must acknowledge that logic functions in all other areas of life and thought. But then to eliminate it from functioning in the “moral” or “spiritual” concerns is quite ad hoc. If our logical and moral reasoning function sufficiently well to lead us into what is true in all other respects, then why not in the exegesis of a written text and construction of one’s theology. If it is said that the Bible tells us this, then that seems to be self-defeating or begging the question. If our reasoning is so inadequate regarding spiritual things, how do we know that the Calvinist’s interpretations of Scripture are correct?
In effect, Calvinists are claiming that their doctrines are the teaching of Scripture despite the fact that they generate incoherence. Calvinists are therefore predisposed to dichotomize reason from exegesis to secure their exegetical conclusions. Therefore Calvinists make the point that Scripture is the only reliable means of knowing the truth about God and salvation – a point with which the non-Calvinist agrees – but the Calvinist will preserve the contradictory nature of their beliefs by discounting the deliverances of reason as determinative of the validity of their exegesis from which they derive those beliefs. That is, they safeguard their claim that the Bible teaches divine sovereignty as theistic determinism by ignoring the role of logical reasoning and moral intuition in the interpretive task. They do not believe that the interpretive task requires the clear logical thinking of philosophical reflection or the moral clarity of our moral intuitions. They do not believe these to be essential elements in establishing the validity of a particular exegesis and interpretation, nor reliable arbiters between interpretations that reveal themselves to be incoherent, inconsistent or contradictory as opposed to those that don’t. The Calvinist can therefore exegete their way into the logical and moral problems of the Calvinist position without applying the probative force of logical and moral reasoning to determine the validity of the Calvinist’s exegetical conclusions. But this entails that the very means one has to evaluate the validity or invalidity of the Calvinist’s exegesis has been put out of court. It has been knocked out from under us.
Therefore we can readily see that the Calvinist’s claim of the effects of “total inability” on our reason and morals is self-defeating. It is self-defeating because exegesis, or the interpretation of Scripture itself, along with the evaluation of an exegesis or interpretation of Scripture requires the use of the very same logical and moral reasoning that is so distrusted and ultimately dismissed under the rubric of “mystery.”
“Logic is the science of thought as thought, that is, the necessary conditions to which thought, in itself considered is subject.”Sir William Hamilton (1788-1856), Scottish Metaphysician.
So Calvinism faces serious difficulties with regard to this interdependence of faith and reason along with reason and interpretation. To the degree that Calvinism shows itself to be an incoherent and contradictory theology, we lack reasons to give it intellectual assent. And what we cannot give intellectual assent to by the use of reason (which, again, should not be confused with rationalism), we cannot and should not believe is true. If we lack reasons to give intellectual assent to a certain theological teaching, then we cannot trust that the teaching is true to Scripture. We can’t believe in a proposed interpretation or doctrine when we can’t believe that it is true. The heart cannot give its trust to what the mind cannot affirm as true. To do otherwise is intellectually irresponsible and not the nature of biblical faith.
Therefore, the Calvinist’s claim that exegesis may require us to discount our reason with regard to evaluating the Calvinist’s exegetical conclusions should be deemed unacceptable as part of a sound hermeneutic. The demand that we discount our reason in evaluating exegetical and doctrinal conclusions points to an error in exegesis and interpretation, not to a problem with reason or the identification of any true biblical mystery. This is so due to the nature and purpose of logic itself. Let us elaborate on this further.
Norman Geisler on the Nature and Use of Logic
Dr. Norman Geisler in his Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics in the section on “Logic” does a fine job of explaining the role human logic plays for properly understanding even “spiritual” things and the nature and ways of God. I believe he encapsulates what goes through most people’s minds when they find themselves baffled by Calvinism. The popular response for most people is that “It just doesn’t make sense,” “It just doesn’t add up,” or “God can’t be that way.” They are then told by Calvinists that their minds just cannot comprehend the ways of God and they are to simply bow in awe of his absolute sovereignty as defined by Calvinists as theistic determinism. This diverts the inquiring Christian’s thinking away from what his logical and moral senses are telling him about the Calvinist doctrines and terminates further input from these fundamental laws of logic and moral intuitions for determining the validity of those doctrines. This diversion is initially successful and somewhat intimidating. Who would ever claim they can completely understand the will and ways of God or deny his “absolute sovereignty?” To question Calvinism on rational or moral grounds is pitted against the pride of seeking human autonomy, approaching God in humility and worshiping him in the glory of his sovereignty. But this is a false characterization of the real issue at hand which is how to discern the proper interpretation of Scripture.
Geisler states the logical principles that when applied to Calvinism render it unconvincing. He also provides us with an apologetic against the premature dismissal of logic so prevalent in Calvinism. I quote him at length. He writes,
“Logic deals with the methods of valid thinking. It reveals how to draw proper conclusions from premises and is a prerequisite of all thought. In fact, it builds from fundamental laws of reality and truth, the principles that make rational thought possible. Logic is such an indispensable and inescapable tool for all thought that even those who eschew it still use logical forms to argue for their rejection of it.
The three fundamental laws of all rational thought are:
1. the law of noncontradiction (A is not non-A),
2. the law of identity (A is A), and
3. the law of excluded middle (either A or non-A).
Each serves an important function. Without the law of noncontradiction we could say that God is God, and God is the Devil. Unless the law of identity is binding, there can be no unity or identity. Without it there is no difference in stating, “I am I” or “I am a chair.” If the law of excluded middle does not hold, then opposites could both be true.
Beyond these basic principles, there are the principles of valid inference. These inferences traditionally were classed under deductive or inductive logic, or under transcendental arguments. All of these, however, use some form of the three basic laws.
Logic and God. If logic is the basis of all thought, it is the basis of all thought about God (theology). Some object that this makes God subject to logic. But God is sovereign and not subject to anything beyond himself. So, how can thought about God be subject to logic?
In one sense God is not subject to logic; rather, our statements about God are subservient to logic. All rational statements must be logical. Since theology purports to make rational statements, theological statements are subject to rules of rational thought, as are any other statements.
In another sense, God indeed is subject to logic, but not because there is something more ultimate than he. Since logic represents the principles of rational thought and since God is a rational Being, God is subject to his own rational nature. Insofar as logic manifests reason it flows from the very nature of God, and God is subject to his own nature. Indeed, he cannot act contrary to it, ethically or logically. For example, “It is impossible for God to lie” (Heb. 6:18). Likewise, it is impossible for God to contradict himself. Both violate his basic nature.
God is not only subject to his own rational self-consistency; he also is subject to logic which is derived from it. For we could not even begin to think about or talk about God without the law of non- contradiction. In this sense, logic is prior to God in that we need to use logic before we can even think about him rationally. Logic is prior to God in the order of knowing, but God is prior to logic in the order of being. Logic is prior to God epistemologically, but God is prior to logic ontologically.
To object that this makes God subject to our logic sets up a faulty dichotomy. Logic is logic; it is not “our” logic as opposed to “his.” Ours is based on his. God’s rational nature is the basis of our rational nature. He made it that way so we could understand something about him. The law of noncontradiction applies to God’s thoughts as well as to ours. People did not invent it; they discovered it.”
Geisler points out a misunderstanding and a false dichotomy, both of which are crucial to grasp when trying to understand the Calvinist’s objections to the critiques of their theology.
The misunderstanding lies in thinking that just because God is incomprehensible “our statements about God” need not be comprehensible. These statements, as Geisler points out, “are subservient to logic.” Geisler states that “All rational statements must be logical. Since theology purports to make rational statements, theological statements are subject to rules of rational thought, as are any other statements.” So Calvinists fail to distinguish the incomprehensibility of God’s ontological nature from statements made about God, his actions, his coming in Jesus, salvation and all the other teachings recorded for us in his written revelation. The fact that God cannot be fully comprehended is not the issue here. We are concerned with the principles and practices of interpreting the written documents (i.e., the Scriptures) that make revelatory statements about God. Those principles and practices must not condone interpretive and doctrinal conclusions that are incoherent, inconsistent or contradictory. For understanding the Scriptures aright, reason and logic must apply.
The Calvinist’s false dichotomy lies in their objection that this affirmation of the necessity and reliability of reason for understanding God makes God subject to our logic and reason. But Geisler rightly points out that “God indeed is subject to logic, but not because there is something more ultimate than he. Since logic represents the principles of rational thought and since God is a rational Being, God is subject to his own rational nature. Insofar as logic manifests reason it flows from the very nature of God, and God is subject to his own nature. Indeed, he cannot act contrary to it, ethically or logically. For example, “It is impossible for God to lie” (Heb. 6:18). Likewise, it is impossible for God to contradict himself. Both violate his basic nature.”
Hence, there is a misunderstanding and a false dichotomy within Calvinist thought and interpretation. First, our talk about God needs to be logical and comprehensible. Geisler points out that, “If logic is the basis of all thought, it is the basis of all thought about God (theology).” Secondly, Geisler also states, “To object that this makes God subject to our logic sets up a faulty dichotomy. Logic is logic; it is not “our” logic as opposed to “his.” Ours is based on his. God’s rational nature is the basis of our rational nature. He made it that way so we could understand something about him. The law of noncontradiction applies to God’s thoughts as well as to ours. People did not invent it; they discovered it.”
Calvinists Inconsistently Affirm Logic and Reason
Ironically, yet inconsistently, many Calvinists agree with these fundamental truths about the source and function of logic. Calvinist James White states,
“I would say logic belongs to God because God created the universe and mankind in a particular fashion. It has been well said that when we think logically were are thinking God’s thoughts after him because we are derivative from God, and that we are never more human in our thought processes than when we are most disciplined and thinking logically…”
Why then does White, along with his fellow Calvinists, hold to doctrines that are incoherent, inconsistent and contradictory especially when White says,
“One of the greatest losses in modern day Western civilization is the ability to think logically, to recognize logical categories, to recognize logical errors in argument…the reality is that the more stringent you are in seeking to be logical and to reason and to speak consistently, the less popular you are going to be.”
It is astonishing that the Calvinist will simply ignore this matter of logical thinking and the recognition of logical errors in their arguments when it comes to defending their interpretation of God’s sovereignty as a universal divine causal determinism.
Defending his presuppositional approach to apologetics, White talks about how the unbeliever inconsistently borrows from the Christian worldview when they speak of things like logic and reason. He states,
“We do not grant to the unbeliever the right of judgment. We do not grant to the unbeliever the right to arrogate to himself that which he is actually borrowing from God. The whole point is to provide that internal critique….of the other person’s world view that demonstrates that they are inconsistently borrowing from the world view they deny to prop their own up. And so if they talk about logic and reason and things like that they can’t give us a reason why this world should function in those ways.”
So according to White, the Calvinist presuppositionalist points out to the atheist the fact that they are borrowing the logic and reason given by God to serve in their arguments against God. Logical reasoning comes to them from the God they claim doesn’t exist. The point it that even White, as a Calvinist, values and employs the criteria of consistency to critique the unbeliever when they employ logic and reason because these are things that are grounded in God – the God the atheist does not believe exists. White sees the unbeliever as being inconsistent in his worldview. Hence White defends his presuppositional apologetic by stating that logic and reason are grounded in God and bequeathed to us as reliable for discerning truth. Yet White will not evaluate his own theology on the basis of the logical and moral reasoning grounded in God and bequeathed to us as reliable for discerning the truth. The Calvinist refuses to employ these same God given gifts of logical and moral reasoning in discerning the validity of their interpretations.
Calvinist D. A. Carson also affirms the indispensability, reliability and universality of the laws of logic. He distinguishes four uses of the term “logic” but it is the first sense given here that he goes on to defend. He writes,
“… “logic” at the theoretical and symbolic level is a comprehensive term that refers to sets of axiomatic relationships, “an analysis and evaluation of the ways of using evidence to derive correct conclusions.”…logic in the first sense is universal. It is not to be dismissed as the peculiar debatable theory of Aristotle. Rather, it is the set of relationships (nicely formulated by Aristotle and others) that must apply if any knowledge is possible and if any communication of propositional knowledge is possible…a dialectical theologian either holds that his apparently contradictory beliefs are ultimately logically compatible or he is talking nonsense…The necessary substratum of all coherent knowledge and of all rational communication is simple logic in the first sense. The fundamental “laws” of logic, such as the law of non-contradiction and the law of the excluded middle, are universally true.”
According to Carson, logic “must apply if any knowledge is possible and if any communication of propositional knowledge is possible.” But as a Calvinist, Carson gives his textual interpretations and theology a pass on applying the laws of logic by stating that his “contradictory beliefs” are only “apparently” so and “ultimately logically compatible.” What he means to say here is that his Calvinist beliefs are ultimately logically compatible despite the fact that they present themselves to us here and now as logically incompatible, that is, that they violate the laws of logic, particularly the law of non-contradiction. So, on the one hand, on pain of being irrational, Carson knows his hermeneutic cannot violate the laws of logic, yet, on the other hand, since his interpretations do result in incoherencies, inconsistencies and contradictions, he declares his interpretive contradictions to be only “apparent.” But this, of course, is ad hoc. It is a mere assertion that his interpretations and theology are “ultimately” logical and rational and therefore possibly correct, but right now they only “appear” to be illogical and irrational. The point being that if they are really illogical and irrational they would surely be incorrect. By claiming “apparent contradiction” Carson can give lip service to the need to be logical in his thought and communications while maintaining his logically problematic interpretations of key biblical texts and the theology he has constructed upon them. This ad hoc assertion of “apparent contradiction” is just a way to dismiss having the probative force of the laws of logic critique his Calvinist beliefs. It in effect eliminates the laws of logic from being hermeneutically significant. It is to embrace a hermeneutic that allows for incoherence and contradiction. For the Calvinist, interpretive coherence, consistency and non-contradiction are not reliable or necessary for determining the validity of their interpretations. Carson, like all Calvinists, must jettison logic along with moral intuition from his hermeneutic to maintain his deterministic doctrinal beliefs. The Calvinist position is not “apparently contradictory” but a real contradiction. There is no reason to think otherwise. And therefore, according to Carson, the Calvinist is “talking nonsense.”
Calvinists also make an attempt to present their contradictory beliefs as logically rational, that is, that their contradictory beliefs are logically compatible. They label this attempt compatibilism. But this compatibilism ultimately fails. It fails because it never relieves the contradiction. It only produces more incoherence and contradiction.
Dr. Erwin Lutzer, former pastor of The Moody Church in Chicago, Illinois, clearly states,
“Nobody can believe a contradiction.”
So Calvinists themselves affirm that it is essential to acknowledge the laws of logic and adhere to them if our thinking is to be coherent and our communication rational, that is, to avoid thinking and talking nonsense. But given these affirmations, we must ask whether the Calvinist values logic and reason in his own biblical exegesis. Are these Calvinists credible when they make these claims about the need for logic and yet they offer up a theology that contains incoherencies, inconsistencies and contradiction? Shouldn’t the Calvinist’s interpretive conclusions also exhibit consistency, coherence and non-contradiction? Or, have they actually convinced themselves that as “dialectical theologians” that their “apparently contradictory beliefs are ultimately logically compatible?” How so? Does the Calvinist have the prerogative to disregard reason and logic when it comes to their own interpretations and theological conclusions?
What is precisely at issue here is whether Calvinist’s can convincingly argue that their “apparently contradictory beliefs are ultimately logically compatible” or whether they are “talking nonsense.”
I submit that their assertion of apparent contradiction is an example of the cavalier dismissal of the laws of logic in an attempt to justify and retain their theology despite its logical and moral difficulties which I contend have been clearly exposed by non-Calvinist scholars. It is an attempt at “compatibility” (e.g., compatibilism) between incompatible propositions (e.g., theistic determinism and human responsibility), that ultimately fails the test of the logic that White, Carson and Lutzer, as Calvinists, affirm above. Therefore, as I will attempt to demonstrate, the Calvinist is ultimately talking nonsense.
We will see that Calvinists do not carry through with the truth they say they affirm, that is, that logic and reason are grounded in God, are reliable, and must be employed in the search for truth. When the search for truth involves interpreting divine revelation, the Calvinist does not hold the laws of logic along with moral intuitions to be essential for determining the validity of an interpretation. The evidence will show that the Calvinist does not value logic, reason and consistency especially when it comes to their soteriological interpretations. They themselves admit to and evidence exegetical and doctrinal incoherence, inconsistency and contradiction.
Confusing Reason with Rationalism
Although the Calvinist gives lip service to the indispensability of the laws of logic for rational communication, due to the logical and moral difficulties inherent in the Calvinist’s biblical interpretations and theological positions they are inevitably forced to downplay the reliability and role of human reason in biblical interpretation and theological construction. They do not want the searchlight of reason and moral intuition to shine upon their exegetical conclusions. Therefore they will criticize non-Calvinists for relying too heavily on their human reason when rejecting Calvinism for its logical and moral incoherence, inconsistency and contradiction. But the Calvinist seems to be confusing, or worse, equating the legitimate use of reason or rationality in biblical interpretation, with the illegitimate exaltation of reason as found in rationalism as a philosophical position.
What is rationalism? It is basically the perspective that something can or cannot be true as determined by the capabilities and standards of a particular presupposed worldview. Professor A. Berkeley Mickelsen gives a good illustration when writing about Rudolph Bultmann’s view of history. Mickelsen states,
“Bultmann…claims to be the kind of historian who holds to an unbreakable chain of cause and effect in history. This view of history is also held by philosophers known as logical positivists.
The historical method includes the presupposition that history is a unity in the sense of a closed continuum of effects in which individual events are connected by the succession of cause and effect… This closedness means that the continuum of historical happenings cannot be rent by the interference of supernatural transcendent powers and that, therefore, there is no “miracle” in this sense of the word.”
Bultmann “reasons” that history is a closed continuum of cause and effect and therefore miracles simply do not occur. But this kind of “human reasoning” is characterized by “reasoning” from one’s philosophical presuppositions or pre-understandings rather than reasoning according to the laws of logic and our moral intuitions. The non-Calvinist affirms that rationalism can lead us astray in our thinking, but reasoning according to the laws of logic and moral intuitions is not this type of rationalism. And as much as the Calvinist would rightly reject this kind of rationalism, they must also avoid the scrutiny of legitimate logical and moral reasoning due to the problematic nature of their theology. And for the Calvinist to equate the legitimate use of reason in a logical and moral critique of Calvinism to this kind of rationalism so as to place Calvinism outside the realm of the rational and moral critiques brought against it is dis-analogous and disingenuous. The “use of reason” that rejects the supernatural intervention in history because it presupposes a closed view of history is not the same use of reason whose purview it is to discern what is true from what is false in any sphere of life, including biblical interpretation and theology. Just because one is interpreting a divine Word does not mean that the “use of human reason” should be used to excuse incoherence, inconsistency and contradictions in one’s interpretations of that divine Word. The rationalist rejects supernatural intervention because he “reasons” that history or the universe is a closed system. The Calvinist would have to a priori believe Calvinism to be true to claim it is beyond human reason to comprehend and that any assessment of it by the use of “fallen human reason” will only lead one to reject it. But that would not be rationalism. That would be a failure to think and do one’s Christian duty to test what we are being told we ought to believe.
Dr. Norman Geisler explains the difference between rationality and rationalism.
“Rationality versus Rationalism. Others protest that making truths about God subject to human reason is a form of rationalism. However, this objection overlooks several important things. First, it is not the case that God is being subjected to human reason. God is the author of reason, and he created us to be like himself – a rational being. So, the basic principles of human reason hold sway as true for all human thought and discourse as well thought and discourse about God. They are not arbitrarily imposed on God as if God has the prerogative to act in ways that completely counter to or opposite of the basic principles of logic and reason. Rather, these are rooted in the nature of God himself and therefore come from him. As such they are unalterable and always applicable.
Second, the basic laws of reason are not opposed to God’s revelation. Indeed, they are an essential part of God’s general revelation. Human rationality, with its basic laws, is a manifestation of God’s rationality. God is rational, and humans are made in his image. So using logic is not opposed to revelation, it is part of it.
Third, even special revelation cannot be known or communicated apart from logic. We would not even be able to distinguish the revelation from God from that of the Devil unless the law of noncontradiction is valid. Furthermore, when the Bible reveals that “God so loved the world,” we could not know that love is not hate unless the law of noncontradiction is valid. So logic is essential to special revelation as well as to general revelation.
Finally, there is a difference between using reason and being a rationalist. A rationalist tries to determine all truth by human reason. A reasonable Christian merely uses reason to discover truth that God has revealed, either by general revelation or by special revelation in the Bible.”
Note what Geisler is saying here with respect to the Calvinist dichotomy between exegesis and reason. He states that “the basic laws of reason are not opposed to God’s revelation. Indeed, they are an essential part of God’s general revelation. Human rationality, with its basic laws, is a manifestation of God’s rationality. God is rational, and humans are made in his image. So using logic is not opposed to revelation, it is part of it.” Geisler also affirms the basic laws of reason and human rationality in the interpretation of Scripture when he writes, “A reasonable Christian merely uses reason to discover truth that God has revealed, either by general revelation or by special revelation in the Bible.” The laws of logic and human rationality are essential to a sound, evangelical hermeneutic. Hence, exegesis cannot be divorced from the laws of logic. Exegesis goes hand in hand with philosophical reflection. Any exegesis that claims to provide the accurate meaning of Scripture yet can be seen to be incoherent, inconsistent or contradictory, is not a valid exegesis of the text. Given the essential nature of logic to thought as thought, “that is, the necessary conditions to which thought, in itself considered is subject,” fleeing to mystery or incomprehensibility will not do to justify or establish the validity of that exegesis. Indeed, when mystery and incomprehensibility are proposed in light of sufficient evidence of incoherence, inconsistency and contradiction in one’s interpretations, this is a sure indication of misinterpretation.
Calvinist apologist and philosopher Greg Koukl would agree, albeit indicting his Calvinist beliefs, which again goes to show how the Calvinist dismisses these requirements of logic and reason when it comes to their own interpretations and theology! Although writing in an apologetic context on the virtues of argument, his comments on the role of reason are applicable to biblical interpretation. Koukl writes,
“Imagine living in a world in which you couldn’t distinguish between truth and error… Such a world would be a dangerous place. You wouldn’t survive long.
What protects us from the hazards of such a world? If you’re a Christian, you might be tempted to say, “The Word of God protects us.” Certainly, that’s true, but the person who says that might be missing something else God has given us that is also vitally important. In fact, God’s Word would be useless without it.
A different thing is necessary before we can accurately know what God is saying through his Word. Yes, the Bible is first in terms of authority, but something else is first in terms of the order of knowing: We cannot grasp the authoritative teaching of God’s Word unless we use our minds properly. Therefore, the mind, not the Bible, is the very first line of defense God has given us against error.
For some of you this may be a controversial statement, so let’s think about it for a moment. In order to understand the truth of the Bible accurately, our mental faculties must be intact and we must use them as God intended. We demonstrate this fact every time we disagree on an interpretation of a biblical passage and then give reasons why our view is better than another’s. Simply put, we argue for our point of view, and if we argue well, we separate wheat from chaff, truth from error.
Jesus said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30). Loving God with the mind is not a passive process. It is not enough to have sentimental religious thoughts. Rather, it involves coming to conclusions about God and his world based on revelation, observation, and careful reflection.
What is the tool we use in our observations of the world that helps us separate fact from fiction? That tool is reason, the ability to use our minds to sort through observations and draw accurate conclusions about reality. Rationality is one of the tools God has given us to acquire knowledge.
Generally, sorting things out is not a solitary enterprise. It’s best done in the company of others who dispute our claims and offer competing ideas. In short, we argue. Sometimes we are silent partners, listening, not talking, but the process is going on in our minds just the same.
This is not rationalism, a kind of idolatry of the mind that place’s man’s thinking at the center of the universe. Rather, it’s the proper use of one of the faculties God has given us to understand him and the world he has made.”
Again, it is perplexing as to why Koukl does not apply his teachings here to his own Calvinism and hermeneutic. Nevertheless, Koukl is making an important hermeneutical point when he states that “in order to understand the truth of the Bible accurately, our mental faculties must be intact and we must use them as God intended. We demonstrate this fact every time we disagree on an interpretation of a biblical passage and then give reasons why our view is better than another’s. Simply put, we argue for our point of view, and if we argue well, we separate wheat from chaff, truth from error.” Koukl asks, “What is the tool we use in our observations of the world that helps us separate fact from fiction? That tool is reason, the ability to use our minds to sort through observations and draw accurate conclusions about reality. Rationality is one of the tools God has given us to acquire knowledge.”
What would constitute arguing well for one’s interpretation of a biblical passage given Koukl’s stress on the essential role of reason? It would have to be an argument that conforms to the canons of reason. It would be the acceptance of a hermeneutic of coherence. But as we see over and over, this interpretive coherence is not essential to Calvinists. They are willing to jettison the tool of reason when their exegesis does not conform to its deliverances. Hence, the Calvinist has dichotomized exegesis from reason.
The Mysteries of Faith: Beyond Reason or Against Reason?
But let’s pursue further the Calvinist’s claim that their interpretive conclusions are a mystery of the faith. We may ask, since we all would agree that given our doctrine of the inspiration of Scripture we cannot admit into that Scripture incoherence, inconsistency or contradiction, is it legitimate to justify one’s exegesis as an accurate interpretation of the text on the basis of claiming to have discovered a biblical mystery despite the fact that it results in what certainly can be deemed interpretive incoherence, inconsistency and contradiction?
Geisler goes on to speak of the “mysteries” of faith where he makes a distinction between propositions that “go beyond reason” and those that “go against reason.” He writes,
“Logic and the Mysteries of Faith. Some object that the great Christian mysteries, such as the Trinity, the incarnation, and predestination, violate laws of human reason. There is a difference between propositions that go beyond reason, such as mysteries of faith, and those that go against reason. Those that go beyond human ability to reason do not go against reason. Human understanding unaided by special revelation cannot reach them. They can only be known by special revelation. Once these truths are known, their premises do not contradict other revealed truth….”
This is a critical challenge for Calvinists whose doctrinal propositions, i.e., like their understanding of predestination, contradict other revealed truths. In that Geisler lists predestination as one of “the great Christian mysteries,” this seems to presuppose the Calvinist interpretation of predestination. But we know that that definition contradicts other revealed truths, i.e., like the free will nature of faith, therefore, according to Geisler’s own criteria, we also know that that interpretation of predestination is incorrect. Therefore, according to Geisler’s own criteria, the Calvinist doctrine of predestination is not one of “the great Christian mysteries.” It is rather one of the “great misinterpretations of Scripture.” I submit therefore, that the Calvinist needs to incorporate into their hermeneutic two important points.
The first is the distinction between what is beyond reason and what is against reason. We all agree that to exhaustively comprehend God is beyond the abilities of our finite reason, and this leaves us with things we cannot know about him. Yet, the non-Calvinist insists that their interpretations, or, the things that are revealed and thereby made known about God are not against reason, whereas the Calvinist does allow for their interpretations of what is revealed and thereby made known about God to stand in contradiction with each other, that is, against reason. And this leads to our second point, which we can see is most fundamentally a matter of how each interprets Scripture, or more accurately, what constitutes each side’s hermeneutic.
Secondly, therefore, God has revealed himself in nature and historical events and recorded this for us in a written text. The center of the Calvinist / non-Calvinist controversy does not involve an insufficiency in our knowledge of God or incomprehensibility as to his nature, but a difference in the interpretation of a written text. As such this is a hermeneutical issue, and as Koukl stressed above the only thing that is going to arbitrate between opposing interpretations of a text is the application of the cannons of reason. The fundamental principles of logic are the means by which we discern valid interpretations from invalid ones. If this is not so then the text is left untethered from any criteria by which to discern its true meaning. It is as Koukl says, “We cannot grasp the authoritative teaching of God’s Word unless we use our minds properly. Therefore, the mind, not the Bible, is the very first line of defense God has given us against error.” To claim “the Bible teaches both theistic determinism and human responsibility” only begs the question of what constitutes a proper hermeneutic by which we can know what the Bible actually teaches.
Reason cannot be summarily dismissed as inapplicable to the interpretive matters in this controversy by affirming “God’s ways are higher than our ways” or that these are “spiritual” issues. Such “explanations” insulate Calvinism by diverting our attention from reason’s critique of Calvinism. The question we are dealing with in this controversy is what constitutes the proper interpretation of the biblical texts. And in the pursuit of the true meaning of a text, sound reasoning is obviously essential.
Geisler is correct in observing that there is a difference between doctrinal interpretations that go “beyond reason” as with the Trinity and the incarnation, and those that go “against reason.”  I submit that Calvinist soteriology falls into the latter category simply because we can identify its inconsistencies, incoherence and contradictions. It’s doctrines of total inability, unconditional election, limited atonement and irresistible grace engender incoherence, inconsistency and contradictions with other clear teachings of Scripture and the biblical worldview. As such, the Calvinist’s deterministic theology and soteriology go against reason.
C. S. Lewis also makes this point. Although addressing how we should understand God’s omnipotence, Lewis provides an example of how what we know to be reasonable must also apply to God and therefore must shape our theological conclusions. Lewis writes,
“His omnipotence means power to do all that is intrinsically possible, not to do the intrinsically impossible. You may attribute miracles to Him, but not nonsense. This is no limit to his power. If you choose to say “God can give a creature free will and at the same time withhold free will from it,” you have not succeeded in saying anything about God: meaningless combinations of words do not suddenly acquire meaning simply because we prefix to them the two other words “God can.”
“It is not more possible for God than for the weakest of His creatures to carry out both of two mutually exclusive alternatives; not because His power meets an obstacle, but because nonsense remains nonsense even when we talk it about God.”
In like fashion, neither do meaningless combinations of words gain justification simply by claiming “who can know the mind of the Lord?” or that they are “a mystery,” “only apparent contradictions,” “beyond reason,” or “the Bible teaches both.” These Calvinist rationalizations are various ways of claiming that since we are speaking about God and “spiritual things” we can ignore the problematic logical and moral implications of the Reformed position. As I have demonstrated on this website, many non-Calvinist scholars have pointed out the many ways the Calvinist’s doctrines set Scripture against Scripture in mutually exclusive alternatives. As such, the Calvinist’s interpretations are impossible. They are incorrect. As Lewis says, “nonsense remains nonsense even when we talk it about God.”
Philosopher Linda Trinkaus Zabzebski observes,
“…it is misplaced reverence to think that a religious belief takes precedence over common sense. When faced with a dilemma, I do not see why we should opt for one belief over another either because its content is religious as opposed to metaphysical, or because of its importance. We should opt for one belief over another to the extent to which it seems more likely to be true. It is no less a praise of God to retain what we have come to believe about the structure of time and principles of necessity, whose truth is due to God, than to retain what we have come to believe about God himself.”
In this controversy it is a “misplaced reverence” to think that a religious belief gleaned from a certain interpretation of the text may be in competition with common sense or sound metaphysical reasoning. Our interpretations, and the beliefs we glean from them, should not be placed in opposition to rational or metaphysical reflection precisely because the truth of these too is “due to God.” Reason and revelation come from the same source – God himself. Therefore, God’s revelation, rightly understood, accords with clear thinking and common sense.
Writing on the Calvinist’s attempts to dismiss the contradictions inherent in their theology, Jerry Walls and Joseph Dongell state that,
“Calvinists who believe election is unconditional in this sense do not serve anyone well by obscuring this claim with confusion, ambiguity or inconsistency. Nor does it serve the cause of clear thinking and truth to confuse contradiction with mystery or to suggest that it is a mark of superior piety to be unworried about logical consistency. While the truth about God is beyond our full comprehension it doesn’t contain contradiction. Calvinists can’t eliminate the contradictions in their theology by fleeing into mystery or appealing to notions like antinomy. To the contrary the contradictions we have identified are a telltale sign that something is profoundly awry at the heart of Reformed theology.”
They also observe,
“There are aspects of God that transcend our reason to be sure, but God doesn’t call us to believe anything opposed to reason. This distinction is one that some popular postmodern Christian writers often fail to grasp, and they thereby tend to make a virtue of incoherence.”
For the Calvinist, rational coherence, human reason, fundamental laws of logic, moral givens, etc. simply don’t apply to God’s nature and God’s written revelation when it comes to doing exegesis and assessing the validity of their interpretive conclusions. This leaves the non-Calvinist perplexed. But another option is more likely the truth. Perhaps the problem is with the Calvinist’s interpretive conclusions. Hence I contend that Calvinism doesn’t fit the category of “beyond reason.” Rather, I contend that the problems generated by Calvinist thought are readily discernible problems of logical contradiction, incoherence and inconsistency and therefore “against reason.” As such, they misinterpretations of the consistent, coherent, harmonious Word of God.
The Calvinist “doctrines of grace” are perceived as incoherent and contradictory not because they are beyond our comprehension, but precisely because we understand them all too well. They are incoherent not in the sense of true biblical mystery in which we are left with a limitation of knowledge due to incomplete revelation, but because two knowns are being proposed as the truth on a matter, but those propositions or interpretations land us in a contradiction. The problems generated by the Calvinist definition of sovereignty and election as unconditional in conjunction with human freedom and responsibility are not of the same “rational type” as divine “mystery.” This is because they are problems that go against what we already know, experience, and accept as valid reasoning. Each being sufficiently comprehended, Calvinism ignores the fact that their definition of God’s sovereignty and human freedom are “mutually exclusive alternatives.” There is no mystery involved. “Mystery” is claimed by the Calvinist on the a priori assumption that the Calvinist exegesis is correct and therefore their doctrines are true. But these justifications provided by Calvinists to excuse the incoherence in their theology hold no weight for the one who thinks coherence is of vital importance in interpretation.
We also need to discern between what is “incoherent” and what is “miraculous.” The two must not be conflated or confused. The latter may genuinely be found in Christian theology, such as in the miracles Jesus performed along with his incarnation and resurrection. The miraculous should not be used to excuse what can only be deemed nonsense. To testify to a miracle is not to speak nonsense. But interpretations of the text that lead us into identifiable nonsense are not valid interpretations of Scripture. To claim that all things are predetermined by God alone (the Calvinist divine decree and sovereignty) and also claim that all things are not predetermined by God alone (genuine human freedom) is nonsense, not “mystery.” To claim that each person’s eternal destiny is absolutely, unconditionally and eternally predetermined by God alone and also claim that each person, including the non-elect, are held responsible for their believing or not believing the gospel message, that is, if refusing to believe they are culpable for their willful rejection of God’s sincere offer of salvation, is logical and moral nonsense, not “mystery.” There is nothing “apparently” contradictory about the Calvinist’s soteriology. It’s just contradictory in the plainest and fullest sense of the word. Again, C. S. Lewis is correct, “nonsense remains nonsense even when we talk it about God.”
In light of the above principles I submit that the success or failure of the Calvinist to offer convincing solutions to the logical and moral problems their theological position generates reflects negatively upon the biblical validity of that theology. Many Christians who think through these issues find that on the basis of logic alone, something is seriously amiss within Calvinism. Why don’t Calvinists think so?
John R. W. Stott in his small book Your Mind Matters, points out why Christians must use their reason in all they do.
First, by virtue of being created in God’s image, we are intellectual, rational and thinking beings. We were created to reason and be in thoughtful, reflective relationship with God who is a rational, thinking being.
Second, God is a God who reveals himself to us. As such we need to process with our minds the forms of revelation and what that revelation tells us about who he is. Stott remarks that “all God’s revelation is rational revelation, both his general revelation in nature and his special revelation in Scripture and in Christ.”
Third, God has provided a redemption that is to be proclaimed. Stott writes,
“Indeed, the proclamation of the gospel – again addressed in words to minds – is the chief means which God has appointed to bring salvation to sinners. Paul puts it like this: For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.”
Notice carefully the contrast which the apostle is making. It is not between a rational and an irrational presentation, as if to say that, since that human wisdom could not discover God, God has dispensed with a rational message altogether. No. What Paul is contrasting with human wisdom is divine revelation. But it is a rational revelation, “what we preach,” the kerygma of Christ crucified and risen.”
What then of the Calvinist’s insistence that we are unable to understand the ways of God in unconditional election and predestination because of the fallen nature of our human minds, that is, what the Calvinist calls “total inability?” Stott responds,
“…the fact that man’s mind is fallen is no excuse for a retreat from thought into emotion, for the emotional side of man’s nature is also fallen. Indeed, sin has more dangerous effects on our faculty of feeling than our faculty of thinking, because our opinions are more easily checked and regulated by revealed truth than our experiences.
So then, in spite of the falleness of man’s mind, commands to think, to use his mind, are still addressed to him as a human being. God invites rebellious Israel: “Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord.” And Jesus accused the unbelieving multitudes, including the Pharisees and Sadducees, of being able to interpret the sky and forecast the weather but quite unable to interpret “the signs of the time” and forecast the judgment of God. “Why do you not judge for yourselves what is right?” he asked them. In other words, why don’t you use your brains? Why don’t you apply to the spiritual and moral realm the common sense which you use in the physical?” / 
The Calvinist will reply, “We are not retreating into emotion, but leaning upon the revealed truth in the biblical text.” Granted. But Stott affirms the proper working of reason in both the spiritual and moral realms, realms in which the Calvinist says reason cannot function properly. The Calvinist doctrine of “total inability” means just that with respect to responding to God in spiritual matters and especially regarding faith. The sinner cannot believe the gospel unless they are among the elect which God irresistible graces with the ability to believe. But all this just begs the question. The question before us is what precisely is the proper interpretation of the biblical text? How do we know what constitutes a proper interpretation? Surely it is required that at a minimum any proposed interpretation exhibit rational and moral coherence. Are our minds, which do detect incoherence and contradiction, reliable when it comes to interpreting the biblical text, or can our interpretations exhibit rational and moral incoherence by asserting that since our minds cannot comprehend “the things of God” and we are reading and interpreting divine revelation, it may therefore, at some points, be incoherent and contradictory due to our fallen human reason? The Calvinist may not be retreating into emotion, but due to their incoherence they must retreat into mystery.
Regarding the skepticism some Christians have about the role of reason in their religion, philosopher C. A. Campbell writes,
“So far as I can judge, what a great many devout Christians really want is to say to Reason ‘Thus far and no further! By all means subject the superstitions of the benighted heathen to reason’s criticism, but not the one true religion. Hands off the word of God!’ The trouble is that there can be no case for suddenly drawing the line at the Christian religion unless it be that we already know that religion to be true; and there can be no way of knowing that religion to be true, it seems to me, unless we subject it to critical examination by reason. ‘Hands off the word of God!’ is a fine sounding slogan; but it means just nothing at all unless we know, first, that there is a ‘Word of God’, and secondly, if there is, what it has to say to us.”
Although Calvinism may propose a self-contained theological system of doctrine that boasts a certain ‘logical’ consistency, yet when it is subjected to substantial critique from rational, moral, and biblical truths outside its own theological scheme it cannot coherently explain itself. It leaves us in an intellectual, moral, and epistemological void. Within the confines of its own propositions and theological reasonings, all is well. But subjected to the interference of legitimate, probative questioning – what Christian philosophers Jerry Walls and David Baggett call “philosophy” or clear thinking – it proves to be rationally, morally, epistemologically and biblically incoherent. For the Calvinist to cry “Hands off our theology as the Word of God because it is a mystery” is both question begging and a cavalier dismissal of the application of reason to determine the validity of its exegetical interpretations.
My contention here is that even while we acknowledge the results of the fall into sin upon the totality of our being, the use of our rational faculties in philosophical reflection and our moral intuitions, remain reliable and essential elements in the interpretive task. Therefore, the accurate understanding of revealed truth requires confidence in reason to detect what is a valid interpretation of a text on the basis that the interpretation is rationally coherent and non-contradictory.
But this is precisely the hermeneutical divide that perpetuates this controversy. Non-Calvinists require interpretive coherence. Calvinists do not. So the question is whether or not rational and moral coherence are essential elements in a sound hermeneutic and necessary for discerning the validity of a proposed interpretation. Divine warnings, personal responsibility and culpability, the gospel as “good news” and ultimate divine judgment “make no sense” given the Calvinist doctrines of divine sovereignty, unconditional election and predestination understood as deterministic. It is this reality of “sense” or “nonsense” that confronts us given the Calvinist interpretations. Hopefully more and more Christians will see the importance of this matter of whether rational and moral coherence are essential to sound biblical interpretation and theology. Hopefully they will see that what is ultimately at stake here is the very message of the “good news” gospel itself.
Tolerance, Love and Respect is Not Incoherence or Theological Relativism
A word about the role of Christian virtues is in order here. There is a Christian tolerance that demands we love, respect and cooperate as far as possible with our fellow believers in Christ that differ from us on certain theological issues. But to be tolerant, loving and respectful is different than allowing incoherence, inconsistency and contradiction in our hermeneutic and thereby constructing theologies upon flawed interpretations of Scripture. Tolerance, love and respect should not be used to excuse or deny the incoherence in one’s interpretations, beliefs and teachings. Certainly there is a personal element to this controversy, as there are with any differences of opinion that people hold, that requires we refrain from personal attacks and resist the negative influences of anger or resentment. Christian charity and humility are the rule. And it needs to be made clear that this is not a personal matter. In any controversy we need to be reminded that persons are to be treated with courtesy and respect. Moreover, a person’s views should be carefully listened to and accurately represented.
But there is also an intellectual element to this controversy, and it is this element that needs to occupy our minds and check our emotions. Truly Christian tolerance and love cannot ignore the fact that there is a serious controversy here because it is one in which the gospel is at stake. Within churches that identify themselves as “evangelical” defining, defending and proclaiming the gospel is of the highest priority. The prevailing anti-intellectualism and sloppy handling of Scripture which results in theological and soteriological relativism should not be accepted as the norm for the thinking Christian. This theological and soteriological relativism is infecting evangelical life and thought. To be unconcerned about logical and moral coherence in our Bible teaching, textual interpretations and the theological paradigms we develop from them is to accept theological relativism and an intellectually superficial Christianity that cannot serve the cause of truth or the gospel. It is to foster intellectual suicide and denigrate the life of the mind in our churches. It is obvious from this controversy that the evangelical church tolerates contradictory theological and soteriological teachings. This has a direct, negative impact on the gospel as “good news.” This state of affairs should be resisted and remedied.
Many evangelical churches are complicit in fostering an anti-intellectualism that breeds doctrinal and theological relativism, subjectivity and apathy along with interpretive confusion and indifference. J. P. Moreland astutely observes how the Bible study methodologies and mindsets in many of our evangelical churches institutionalize poor reasoning and a lack of intellectual growth and maturity. He writes,
“I have spoken in hundreds of churches and have regularly observed Sunday school classes which divide into small groups to reflect on a passage or discuss an idea. Later, when the groups recombine to share their observations with the entire class, group feedback is almost always affirming no matter how inaccurate or poorly reasoned a point is. Over the years, this creates a feeling of safety in the class but at the price of generating both a false sense of pride and the mistaken notion that all opinions are equal, whether spontaneous and quickly conceived or the result of detailed study prior to class time. It also keeps adults from learning how to receive criticism for their ideas in the interest of truth and stifles growth in the ability to respond nondefensively.
If we don’t work on this in the safety of the company of our own brothers and sisters, we will come off as small, reactionary, and inarticulate in the public square. We need to give one another permission to express inadequately thought-out points to each other and create the expectation that we can learn to argue with one another, critique and defend ideas, or leave class with more work to do on a subject. All of this is in the interest of learning to reason carefully to get to the truth of what we study together.
This may be a bit threatening at first, but over the long haul it will produce a church filled with people who are more secure about what they believe and why. The very forms that define our periods of study together often institutionalize false pride and a lack of intellectual growth. There is absolutely nothing wrong with admitting you don’t know something or that you’re currently inadequately equipped to think a topic through. What is unacceptable, however, is running from this fact and thereby giving up on intellectual and spiritual growth in the interest of avoiding embarrassment or possible rejection. We all need help in this area, and we should care enough about the truth and reason to give that help. Even if we agree with one another’s conclusions, we need to dedicate ourselves for Christ’s sake to refusing to allow each other to reach those conclusions with poor argumentation and sloppy treatment of the data.”
I would just point out here how this Calvinist/non-Calvinist controversy highlights the interpretive theological and doctrinal agnosticism and relativism that abounds in many evangelical churches today. We are not teaching believers how to carefully reason and interpret the Bible and to value gaining a knowledge of the truth. All opinions should be heard, but they are not all equal as far as biblical truth is concerned. We cherish non-confrontation to the point that we convince ourselves that gospel unity exists where there really is none. A “what does it mean to you” approach is the accepted subjective method of Bible “study” while an appreciation and use of more objective scholarly materials and input are anathema. It is no wonder that we either skip over the passages dealing with sovereignty, election and predestination. This is to shut down our minds to avoid disagreements that we fear might lead to division. But as J. P. Moreland points out this only reveals our personal and spiritual fears and intellectual immaturity. It cannot produce intellectual and spiritual growth. It also betrays a disconcerting devaluation of a desire to know and speak what is true, which can be attained while also speaking in love. The use of sound reasoning is essential to spiritual maturity and for coming to the truth so as to resolve this persistent controversy. As Moreland says, we need to learn to reason carefully to get to the truth of what we study together.
Evangelical scholar John R. Stott also observes that flights to ritual, a “social gospel” and emotional experience are symptomatic of Christian anti-intellectualism and “the widespread despair of ever reaching doctrinal agreement.” He observes that Christian reformation, renewal and unity depend upon thoughtful doctrinal reflection and precision in our theological formulations. He writes,
“Ecumenical activism thrives on the rebound from the task of theological formulation, a task which cannot be avoided if the world’s churches are ever to be reformed and renewed, let alone united.”
So we see that reason is foundational in biblical interpretation and essential for progress towards unity in the faith. If there is any point at which the church, as a truly Christian church, should be unified, it is with regard to the biblical gospel. But the Calvinist/non-Calvinist soteriological divide continues because of the church’s indifference to rational and moral coherence in its interpretative task.
This indifference is certainly not Christian, nor is it productive to getting at biblical truth. Such indifference does not serve to maintain or exalt the sovereignty of God, nor does it serve the cause of truth. Neither does it foster the meaningful unity of the body of Christ or the proclamation of the gospel. The evangelical church must come to grips with why it holds to two mutually exclusive “gospels”, each supposedly gleaned from the same biblical testimony.
Stott gives a fourth reason as to why our minds matter. It has to do with the doctrine of divine judgment. He states,
“It is a solemn thought that by our anti-intellectualism, in which we either refuse or cannot be bothered to listen to God’s word, we may be storing up for ourselves the judgment of Almighty God…he will hold us responsible for the knowledge we have.”
It is sobering to consider that the decline of civilized and moral society that we are presently witnessing may be the result of the decline of the gospel as “good news” in our churches. The effects of the gospel upon the heart, mind and life act to preserve a civil society. It just may well be that the spreading influence of Calvinism in our churches is resulting in a dearth of the proclamation of the truly good news message of salvation in Christ that genuinely offers God’s love and hope to all and changes the heart, the mind and the life. I contend that the greater the influence that the determinism of Calvinist theology and soteriology have in the minds of Christian pastors, teachers and lay persons, the greater the loss of a vibrant evangelical spirit sustained by the truth of the gospel. I submit that the Calvinist’s soteriology (i.e., TULIP) cannot be consistently and honestly put into the service of a truly “good news” evangelistic gospel ministry. Calvinism ultimately produces a ministry that is either inconsistent with its underlying theological and soteriological doctrines or results in gospel-less “church” that devolves into a social gathering of religious people of like mind.
Returning to Stott’s quote, note that the thought about God’s judgment is obviously incoherent with Calvinist determinism, for it is God himself who predetermined and caused the anti-intellectualism that he himself will hold us responsible and judge us for! The exercise of Christian virtues and the search for truth through argument, critique and the use of reason are not mutually exclusive. Rather, these all must work together to get at the truth. As J. P. Moreland stated, we need to refuse to allow each other to reach our doctrinal conclusions with poor argumentation and sloppy treatment of the data. We need to learn to respond non-defensively to criticism and refuse to affirm inaccurate and poorly reasoned interpretations and teachings.
The Role of Philosophical Reflection and Moral Intuition in Exegesis and Hermeneutics
Again, the Calvinist will immediately protest that if we challenge their interpretation of sovereignty and election on the grounds that it is logically, morally, and theologically inconsistent and incoherent then we are trying to comprehend the ways of God via our fallen, sinful human reason, and we cannot do that. God’s knowledge and ways are completely “other” than ours. But Dr. Gordon R. Lewis writes,
“The frequent claim that God’s knowledge is totally other than ours implies that God’s truth may be contradictory of our truth. That is, what may be true for us is false for God or what is false for us may be true for God…From a biblical perspective, however, the human mind has been created in the divine image to think God’s thoughts after him, or to receive through both general and special revelation truth from God. Although the fall has affected the human mind, this has not been eradicated.
…Although God’s mind is unlimited and knows everything, it is not totally different in every respect from human minds made in his image. As omniscient then, God’s judgments are formed in the awareness of all the relevant data. God knows everything that bears upon the truth concerning any person or event. Our judgments are true insofar as they conform to God’s by being coherent or faithful to all the relevant data.”
David K. Clark affirms,
“Human knowledge also suffers the serious negative effects of sin (Rom. 1:24-28). But these limits do not entail that all human knowing is illegitimate, untrue, irrational, or unwarranted. Using a variety of strategies, humans test for truth, gradually sorting out better ideas and eliminating false ones. Think of the way science has radically improved our understanding of the world. Thus, human knowing is genuine to the degree it approximates God’s knowledge of truth.”
Philosopher and theologian William Lane Craig upholds the rules of logic in assessing religious claims and coming to the truth in a matter. Speaking about the particularism of the Christian gospel verses the acceptance of the idea of religious pluralism he states,
“…religious pluralism, that is to say the view that there are many roads to God, many equally valid ways of apprehending God, has today…become the conventional wisdom…”
He goes on to point out that.
“There are two forms that this religious pluralism might take. First, a kind of unsophisticated religious pluralism, and then secondly a more sophisticated religious pluralism.
Unsophisticated religious pluralism is typically advocated by college sophomores who say that all religions are equally true and therefore whatever you believe is true and all religions lead to God. This, I say, is unsophisticated pluralism because the law of contradiction requires that contradictory claims cannot all be true, and the world’s religions make contradictory claims about things like the existence of God, the nature of the soul, sin, how salvation is to be achieved, life after death, and so forth. They cannot all be true because they are mutually contradictory.”
This same “law of contradiction” directly applies to the Calvinist / non-Calvinist soteriological controversy. Note that Craig invokes “the law of contradiction” to state what must be true or what must be false when people make claims about religion that are “mutually contradictory.” He states that, “the law of contradiction requires that contradictory claims cannot all be true… They cannot all be true because they are mutually contradictory.” I submit that Calvinists and non-Calvinists are presenting contradictory claims, especially about “how salvation is to be achieved.” Thus, the gospel is at stake in this controversy.
The irony is that the Reformed tradition is generally noted for its emphasis on the intellect. It is characterized as theologically and doctrinally “deep.” But it can be argued that whatever emphasis there is in Calvinism on the “intellectual” in the Christian faith, or whatever reputation it has for emphasizing the life of the mind, this mostly refers to their thinking about their own theological teachings and doctrines. It refers to their own Calvinist theology. But to be “deep” theologically should also reflect a depth in logical and moral reasoning. Calvinists boast about the “depth” of their doctrines of divine sovereignty and unconditional election because we cannot ultimately fathom how it is that they can be reconciled with human freedom and responsibility. But this is not anything theologically “deep.” Rather, it is rationally contradictory. The reason this is the case is because their definitions of sovereignty and election are deterministic. So it is these types of incoherencies and contradictions that the Calvinist would have us believe are biblical by presenting them as theologically “deep.” So logical and moral reasoning are abandoned when it comes to the integration of their determinism with the majority witness of Scripture to contingency and human freedom and responsibility. Interpretatively, this is just the Calvinist ignoring the necessity of incorporating logical and moral coherence, consistency and non-contradiction into their hermeneutic.
Hence, human reasoning is reliable and therefore essential to the interpretive task. The logical, moral and theological coherence of theological propositions and constructs must be brought to bear in discerning the interpretive validity of those propositions or constructs. Each side in the Calvinist/non-Calvinist debate can produce their “proof texts.” Each claims that the proper exegesis of these texts supports their doctrinal conclusions. Yet, they also result in contradictory views. Which is correct? Calvinists claim that exegesis takes priority over philosophical and moral objections brought against their theology and soteriology. For the Calvinist, since the non-Calvinist’s critique of the Calvinist’s exegesis is philosophical and moral, this only confirms for the Calvinist that their position is based on Scripture and the non-Calvinist view is based merely on those philosophical and moral objections to Calvinism. But this Calvinist perspective not only begs the question as to the validity of their exegesis, but also establishes a false dichotomy between exegesis and reason. It is a flawed hermeneutic to dichotomize exegesis from philosophical and moral reasoning. All of these make for a proper hermeneutic. This false dichotomy also ignores the fact that the non-Calvinist position rests on sound exegetical support and therefore has the interpretive advantage of being both exegetically grounded and coherent, consistent and non-contradictory.
What this controversy makes clear is that the Calvinist does not meaningfully incorporate philosophical reflection and moral intuition into their hermeneutic. The fact that the Calvinist’s theology and soteriology generate incoherence, inconsistency and contradiction with other aspects of Scripture that Calvinists themselves recognize to be biblical truth, such as human freedom and responsibility, is a tell-tale sign that something is very wrong in their exegesis. Simply to have an exegesis of a text is no guarantee that that exegesis is correct. And the fact that we can be assured that in Calvinism we have a real contradiction is not only a tell-tale sign that Calvinism is false, but also a tell-tale sign to the church that the controversy can and must be resolved. The contradictory nature of Calvinism adds clarity to where the problem lies and to how it can be resolved. The matter of whether interpretations that exhibit incoherence, inconsistency and contradiction can still be considered valid or accurate interpretations – as we find is the case within Calvinism – is the issue that must be addressed.
The evangelical church cannot abandon the fundamental rules of thought and think that they can arrive at truth. Moreover, evangelicals cannot allow a logical contradiction at their core message of the gospel to stand and think it will remain credible to thoughtful unbelievers, effective in evangelism or encourage believers to cherish intellectual integrity, theological learning and the life of the mind as essential to Christian living.
Therefore, the solution to the problem must be found in a fuller consideration of what makes for a proper hermeneutic. What will adjudicate between conflicting, contradictory exegetical conclusions? Baggett and Walls submit that we must incorporate what we have been given in general revelation, what they call “philosophy,” which simply is the use of reason to the end of thinking clearly about interpretive claims. They write,
“We think of our argument as unapologetically appealing to general revelation, which means we reject the claim that philosophy can or should be ignored in the process of figuring out the answers to such questions. The Protestant principle of sola scriptura is sometimes today misunderstood to imply that clear thinking and good reason play no part in figuring out God’s revealed truths. The primacy of the Bible in terms of its theological truth is taken to imply that exegesis, biblical interpretation, carefully isolated from any other sources of insight, ought to be able to answer any and all theological disputes that may arise.
Skepticism toward philosophy often reaches fever pitch in the Calvinism / Arminianism debate, where disputants on both sides of the divide often eschew the deliverances of philosophy and insist that the question must be settled on biblical and exegetical grounds alone. Any hint of even bringing philosophical analysis into the conversation is thought to be anathema, abandoning the authority of scripture to provide reliable revelation.
Here we need to draw an important distinction. Whereas biblical authority trumps in the realm of theological norms, there are more basic philosophical processes at play that hold logical priority in the realm of basic epistemology….take the choice of the Bible as authoritative rather than, say, the Koran; this selection, to be rational, requires that we have good reasons for believing the Bible to be God’s real revelation. Appeal to those considerations involves trust in reason, which involves trust in our ability to think philosophically. The Bible is to be taken as authoritative in the realm of theological truth. But before we can rationally believe such a thing, as human beings privy to general revelation and endowed with the ability to think we must weigh arguments and draw conclusions, that is, do philosophy. Proper trust in the Bible altogether involves the process of thinking rationally. It’s a fundamental mistake to think otherwise.
…When someone suggests that we “don’t need philosophy, either in this debate or more generally, their words at best reflect a huge misunderstanding. The sentiment wrongly assumes that we are even able to understand the Bible, let alone discern that it is the ultimate revelation from God, without the capacity to think. Philosophy is, to put it most succinctly, clear thought. Perhaps it sounds pious to say that all we need is the Bible, and Protestants do in fact believe there’s a sense in which it’s true that Christians are to be a people of one book, but it’s at worst a sentiment predicated on a laughably shallow, simplistic, naïve epistemology and hermeneutic. It’s just not that simple. We can’t open the Bible and begin to understand it without engaging our reason, and using our critical faculties in this fashion as an interpretive tool is not to exalt the deliverances of reason above the deliverances of scripture. If, in addition to building a strong biblical and historical case against Calvinism…we can also build a strong philosophical case, that’s significant. Indeed, it’s essential to the very process of biblical interpretation…Philosophy can and ought to help adjudicate this intractable debate among Christians.”
My point here is that when reason or “philosophical analysis” (i.e., more popularly expressed as using our “common sense”) is applied to the controversy, Calvinism is found wanting. In response, the Calvinist too prematurely, and somewhat cavalierly, dismisses the fact that their soteriology is marked by the contradictions and incoherencies brought forth against it. Therefore they fail to incorporate the “more basic philosophical processes at play.” They fail to incorporate what reason is telling them. And even when such incoherencies are acknowledged, the Calvinist does not question the accuracy of their interpretation. Yet, Baggett and Walls argue that these incoherencies should be weighty indicators that something is amiss in Calvinist textual interpretations. They cannot simply be rationalized away.
Obviously the Calvinist implicitly admits to some significant degree of human freedom being taught in Scripture, otherwise they would not have to strive to reconcile their deterministic doctrines by via compatibilism. Yet the Calvinist also offers explanations like “antinomy” or “apparent contradiction” or “the Bible teaches both.” But either compatibilism does the job or it doesn’t. And this last “explanation” that the “Bible teaches both” is of course question-begging, it merely presupposes the truth of their deterministic interpretations, and that is not an argument in defense of those interpretations. If the biblical teaching were as clearly Calvinistic as Calvinists teach it, there would be no problem here to reconcile. But “antinomy,” “apparent contradiction” or “the Bible teaches both” amount to mere assertions and beg the question. Why are these explanations convincing with regard to the Calvinist problems of interpretive incoherence, inconsistency and contradiction?
Calvinists are defending the accuracy of their interpretations while claiming that human reason cannot comprehend the deliverances of those interpretations despite the fact that they lead to logical, moral, epistemological, practical, and theological incoherence and contradictions. The point is that rather than question the accuracy of their interpretations because they are incoherent, they find refuge in “mystery,” “incomprehensibility,” “biblical tension” and “God’s greater glory.” They even go so far as to assign a lack of humility and stubborn pride to non-Calvinists who don’t embrace their “doctrines of grace,” even though these non-Calvinists can provide sound interpretive explanations of these troubling yet enduring theological problems. This certainly seems to suggest that in order to embrace and/or remain a Calvinist there needs to be significant suppression and/or an abandonment of one’s logical and moral reasoning.
So all that the Calvinist has done is to merely assert that we cannot comprehend divine sovereignty, human freedom, and election as they have interpreted them. But that is not a convincing defense of the hermeneutic involved that brought them to that position. What they are making very clear is that their hermeneutic does not include the light shed upon the difficulties of their interpretations by philosophical deliberations and our moral intuitions. What the Calvinist has done is actually incorporate incoherence and contradiction into his hermeneutic and interpretive/theological method.
There is no disagreement from the non-Calvinist that exegesis is foundational for gleaning the meaning from a text. What we are insisting upon is that the validity of one’s exegesis needs to be established and that there are other considerations by which that is achieved. And although philosophy is not a sufficient discipline for doing theology, it is a necessary discipline. Biblical exegesis, although foundational to biblical interpretation and the task of biblical and systematic theology, is not done in an intellectual vacuum. Philosophical reasoning provides a check on interpretive propositions and conclusions so as to ensure they are coherent and non-contradictory. Hence, biblical exegesis is also not a sufficient condition for proper interpretation. It is a necessary condition, but we cannot think of engaging in any discipline without being sure we are reasoning correctly; and that is the purview of philosophy.
When we insist on coherence and non-contradiction as indispensable to a proper hermeneutic, and we let their light shine upon the Calvinist doctrines and the reasonings offered in defense of those doctrines, we can better see the full scope of their logical, moral, theological and practical incoherence and contradiction. Only when this is done does the Calvinist’s theistic determinism show itself as an extremely problematic theology.
Baggett and Walls think these additional God-given “philosophical” considerations (i.e., the use of our logical faculties and moral intuitions) are essential to a sound hermeneutic. Although a thorough exegesis is surely fundamental and essential to any sound interpretation and subsequent theology, the question of whether that exegesis is proper and requires other considerations that involve the use of our logical faculties and moral reasoning is also part of good interpretation. Note again what Walls and Baggett conclude,
“If, in addition to building a strong biblical and historical case against Calvinism…we can also build a strong philosophical case, that’s significant. Indeed, it’s essential to the very process of biblical interpretation.”
What Calvinist’s make clear is that ultimately their hermeneutic does not include the light shed upon the issues by philosophical reflection and moral intuitions. Again, there is no disagreement from non-Calvinists that exegesis is foundational. We affirm our commitment to biblical authority. But we do so by insisting that there are rational and philosophical considerations by which the validity of one’s exegesis is to be evaluated.
A high view of biblical authority cannot be taken to mean we must believe interpretations regardless of how incoherent or contradictory they show themselves to be. This again only begs the question as to whether or not those interpretations gleaned from authoritative Scripture are correct. If we have dispensed of coherence as an essential part of distinguishing accurate from inaccurate interpretations of the text, how would we ever know whether an interpretation reflects the author’s intended meaning which just is the authoritative meaning of the text? Baggett and Walls think these extended “philosophical” considerations are essential. Indeed, they are God-given. They state,
“Using rationality and logic and our best philosophical tools and moral insights isn’t contrary to God’s plan for Christians. It’s all part of our God-given nature and his general revelation to us, by which we can determine in the first place that the Bible is God’s special revelation to us and by which we can best interpret it in a way that accords with God’s morally perfect and recognizably good nature.
There are aspects of God that transcend our reason to be sure, but God doesn’t call us to believe anything opposed to reason. This distinction is one that some popular postmodern Christian writers often fail to grasp, and they thereby tend to make a virtue of incoherence.”
The basics of logical and moral reasoning are part of God’s general revelation to us and therefore they cannot be put out of court in discerning the validity of the proposed interpretations of his special revelation and our subsequent theological constructs built upon them. A sound hermeneutic concerns itself with where certain interpretations lead us with respect to their logical and moral implications. A sound hermeneutic must consider whether one’s exegesis leads us into logical, moral, practical and theological coherence or incoherence. I submit that incoherence, inconsistency and contradiction are reliable indicators of inaccurate and invalid interpretations of particular texts.
So herein lies the frustration a non-Calvinist experiences in listening to Calvinist preaching and teaching, reading their literature or discussing theology with them. The Calvinist and non-Calvinist are operating on two very different hermeneutical criteria. The non-Calvinist believes that logical, moral, theological and practical coherence and non-contradiction are essential to any claim that one has properly interpreted the text. They are indispensable to biblical hermeneutics just as they are indispensable to rational thought and communication. In contrast, this interpretive coherence is discounted by the Calvinist. Rather than use rational and moral incoherence as interpretive “red-flags” indicating that their interpretations may be incorrect, Calvinists dismiss this incoherence through the various conceptual and rhetorical devices mentioned above. Rather than using logical, moral, theological and practical coherence and consistency as interpretive tools that would either affirm one’s interpretive conclusions or cause one to re-evaluate them anew, they are explained away by the “reasonings” given above. As far as I can see this is not a biblically adequate hermeneutic. It is a hermeneutic of incoherence. In contrast, the non-Calvinist position adequately embraces elements of critical reasoning that cannot be, and need not be jettisoned to come to sound textual and theological conclusions. It is not more spiritual or glorifying to God to ignore logical, moral, theological and practical incoherence, inconsistency and contradictions. This is the reason why Calvinists and non-Calvinist just cannot communicate effectively and reach a consensus on the meaning of the controversial texts. They have very different criteria by which they read and interpret Scripture. They work under two very different, irreconcilable hermeneutics. In summary, the non-Calvinist perceives that the Calvinist’s interpretations are not making sense. This certainly seems to be the case. The following section is an example of the incoherence of Calvinism in relation to God’s character as good and what we know to be good.
Baggett, Walls and Lewis on Whether God is Good as We know Goodness
Philosopher theologians David Baggett and Jerry Walls wrote a book titled Good God: The Theistic Foundations of Morality. Now, their primary focus in the book is the moral argument for God’s existence. It is not an extensive critique of Calvinist soteriology. Nevertheless, Baggett and Walls show how the Calvinist view undermines the Christian apologist’s moral argument for the existence of God.
In Chapter 4, “The Reformed Tradition Not Quite Right,” they lay out the several problems of Calvinism in the context of the voluntarist horn of the Euthyphro Dilemma – that is, whatever God commands and wills is good simply by virtue of him willing and commanding it. This is the approach to knowing what is to be considered good that we find in Calvinism. Something is good simply y virtue of God having willed it to be. Hence, it is right and good that a multitude of persons be predestined to eternal punishment in hell simply because God wills it. And therefore we are to believe it. But this raises perplexing moral questions and issues. The Calvinist view sounds so strange in relation to what else we know of God – that he is loving, gracious, just and equitable (he does not show favoritism) in his nature. It also appears to be in conflict with what we know of the definition and content of the “good news” and the way God has established salvation by faith as we read of the nature of salvation and faith in the Bible. It also sounds so foreign to what we know to be loving, gracious and just. Calvinist predestination appears contrary to our own human sense of morality and justice. Hence, if that is what the Calvinist is saying God is like, and that is vastly different than what we perceive to be morally loving, just and good, along with other things we know about God’s character from Scripture, then do we and can we really know the true character and nature of God? Shouldn’t God’s nature be recognizable to us in what seem to be his most fundamental characteristics? For if they are not recognizable to us such that there is a consistency between our logical and moral sense and God’s will, then can we really know what God is like? Does whatever a certain theological tradition say is God’s will become the right and the good regardless of the logical, moral, theological and experiential incoherencies and contradictions that it generates for us?
C. S. Lewis summarizes the issue well when he writes,
“…if God’s moral judgment differs from ours so that our “black” may be His “white,” we can mean nothing by calling Him good; for to say “God is good,” while asserting that His goodness is wholly other than ours, is really only to say “God is we know not what.” And an utterly unknown quality in God cannot give us moral grounds for loving or obeying him. If He is not (in our sense) “good” we shall obey, if at all, only through fear – and should be equally ready to obey an omnipotent Fiend. The doctrine of Total Depravity – when the consequence is drawn that, since we are totally depraved, our idea of good is worth simply nothing – may thus turn Christianity into a form of devil worship.
Beyond all doubt, His idea of “goodness” differs from ours; but you need have no fear that, as you approach it, you will be asked simply to reverse your moral standards…This doctrine is presupposed in Scripture. Christ calls men to repent – a call which would be meaningless if God’s standard were sheerly different from that which they already knew and failed to practice. He appeals to our existing moral judgment – ‘Why even of yourselves judge ye not what is right?’ (Luke 12:57)”
“God’s good can’t be our evil…We may not always see what God’s goodness entails, but we can be confident of some things it precludes.”David Baggett and Jerry L. Walls, Good God: The Theistic Foundations of Morality (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 80.
What I am arguing is that there is a consistency between God’s nature and our perceptions of what is morally good and just. Our human reason and our moral intuitions are the primary and necessary faculties granted to us by God himself to make sense of our relationship to God, others and the world he has made. There is therefore a reliable correspondence between God’s nature as morally just and good and our conceptions of what is morally just and good. As such, the Calvinist doctrines of an eternal divine decree and unconditional election, with its inevitable corollary of reprobation, do no accurately represent the character of God. Furthermore, in that we need God to reveal himself to us in order for us to know him does not mean that the proper understanding of that revelation need not be logically, rationally and morally consistent. And this must be the case as we understand and practice interpretation otherwise God is made to be arbitrary and we cannot be sure that we know anything true about God. We do not claim that we can fully apprehend God through reason. We are not demanding reason provide what it cannot attain. What we do demand is that what we claim God’s revelation means to say is not against reason, but that reason be employed where it is perfectly suited to function and has been designed and granted to us by God to perform for us. It has been granted to us by God himself to determine the meaning of that revelation once it is given and received. We come to understand the meaning of divine revelation through our reasoning and moral faculties. Once revelation is given, reason or philosophy and our moral intuitions are to be the arbiters among various interpretive and theological claims that we detect are inconsistent or incoherent. Once revelation is given, logical and moral reasoning are absolutely necessary and suited to the task of discerning the truth between competing claims about what that revelation means. It appears plain to me that we need to recognize that reason, formally exercised in the discipline of philosophy, as well as our moral sense, are God-given and therefore are indispensable means by which we evaluate any truth claims, including biblical/theological truth claims.
Craig and Moreland on the Indispensable Role of Philosophy
Christian theologians and philosophers William Lane Craig and J. P. Moreland concur that philosophy plays an indispensable role in assessing the rationality of concepts and theories in the various academic disciplines. Certainly the concepts and doctrines of different theological paradigms may be included here. They too are subject to philosophical arguments and assessments.
Craig and Moreland state the definition and several purposes of philosophy that have direct bearing on this theological and soteriological controversy. They write,
“…philosophy may be defined as the attempt to think rationally and critically about life’s most important questions in order to obtain knowledge and wisdom about them. Philosophy can help someone form a rationally justified, true worldview.”
In the Calvinist / non-Calvinist controversy it is a “rationally justified worldview” that we are seeking. The differences between a Calvinist and non-Calvinist are nothing short of worldview differences due to the determinism that is inherent in Calvinism but rejected by non-Calvinists as incompatible with the biblical worldview.
Philosophy is suitable for evaluating particular concerns and considerations that bear upon this controversy. Note the importance of thinking “rationally and critically” as well as the need to arrive at “a rationally justified, true worldview.” Philosophy can help to achieve this for both the Calvinist and non-Calvinist. Philosophy can therefore help establish what constitutes sound interpretive principles. Those will be the principles that incorporate rational and critical thinking and therefore lead us to logically and morally coherent understandings of the biblical text. But as we have seen, Calvinism has a hard time with the deliberations and deliverances of a philosophical assessment of its doctrinal beliefs and therefore its interpretations of the text. Calvinism’s theistic determinism cannot be rationally justified in light of the overwhelming biblical witness to human freedom and responsibility along with a contingent reality. Moreland and Craig point out that,
“2. Philosophy undergirds other disciplines at a foundational level by providing clarity, justification for or arguments against the essential presuppositions of that discipline. Since philosophy operates as a second-order discipline that investigates other disciplines, and since philosophy examines broad, foundational, axiological, epistemological, logical and metaphysical issues in those other disciplines, then philosophy is properly suited to investigate the presuppositions of other disciplines.”
Universal divine causal determinism is the result of the Calvinist interpretations of Scripture. As such, a philosophical examination as to the viability of determinisms per se can offer a critical assessment and conclusions about the truth or falsity of Calvinism. A philosophical investigation of naturalistic determinism reveals the incoherence of determinism per se. Therefore, philosophy can also offer a critical assessment of Calvinism as a determinism and whether it too is incoherent by virtue of its determinism as a careful scrutiny of naturalistic determinism reveals. (See Chapter 11 – Examples of Calvinist Interpretive Incoherence, Example 23 – Mohler on Naturalistic Determinism and Theistic Determinism: A Distinction without a Difference.)
In addition, whether one’s proposed theological paradigm demonstrates coherent integration also comes to the fore in this controversy. Philosophy is essential for achieving such integration.
“…the discipline of philosophy is absolutely essential for the task of integration. To integrate means to blend or form into a whole. In this sense, integration occurs when one’s theological beliefs, primarily rooted in Scripture, are blended and unified with propositions judged as rational from other sources into a coherent, intellectually adequate Christian worldview.”
Many of the problems in Calvinism are problems of integration. They are problems of coherence among theological beliefs and other sources to form an “intellectually adequate Christian worldview.” Calvinism suffers from internal conflicts involving deterministic theological presuppositions and definitions in light of other clear biblical teachings and doctrines. It also cannot endure the role coherence and non-contradiction play in responsible biblical interpretation. Philosophy is perfectly suitable to arbitrate these matters.
Moreland and Craig point out that philosophy serves to establish conceptual clarity on a matter. This lack of clarity, along with contradiction and circularity are also essential problems within Calvinism. They write,
“3. Philosophy can aid a discipline by helping to clarify concepts, argument forms and other cognitive issues internal to a field. Sometime the concepts in a discipline appear to be contradictory, vague, unclear or circularly defined. Philosophers who study a particular discipline can aid that discipline by bringing conceptual clarity to it.”
Problems of ambiguity, duplicity, circularity and contradiction plague the Calvinists interpretive conclusions and theological constructs. Philosophy can help address and untangle these problems.
And finally, philosophy can act to test whether a concept, theory, or even a theological paradigm is rationally well founded by comparing it to an argument in philosophy that is already considered to be rationally well-founded but with which that concept, theory or paradigm conflicts. Moreland and Craig state,
“5. Philosophy provides external conceptual problems for other disciplines to consider as part of a rational appraisal of theories in those disciplines (and vice versa). A philosophical external conceptual problem arises for some theory in a discipline outside of philosophy when that theory conflicts with a doctrine of some philosophical theory, provided that the philosophical theory and its component doctrines are rationally well founded. For example…if there are good philosophical arguments for the existence of genuine freedom of the will or arguments for the existence of real moral responsibility, and the necessity of full-blown freedom as a presupposition of moral responsibility, then these would tend to count against sociological, economic or psychological theories that are deterministic in nature. In cases like these, a rationally defensible position is present within philosophy, and it runs contrary to a theory surfaced in another field. The philosophical external conceptual problem may not be sufficient to require abandonment or suspension of judgment of the theory in the other discipline; it may merely tend to count against it. Even so, these kinds of conceptual problems show that philosophical considerations are relevant to the rationality of theory-assessment in other disciplines.”
Here we certainly may include hermeneutics and theology in those “other disciplines.” The issue of determinism and human freedom are central to the Calvinist / non-Calvinist controversy. To marginalize the input of philosophy would smack of evading the search for the truth in favor of preserving one’s theological tradition at any intellectual cost. Yet, this marginalization of philosophy is precisely what Calvinist’s do to protect and defend their deterministic theology from the incoherence, inconsistency and contradiction it generates. (See the section “Schreiner and Ware – Logic or Exegesis: The False Dichotomy” in Chapter 9 -Reason as Problematic for Calvinist Interpretation.)
All this is very important because in the mind of many thinkers Calvinism engages in and indeed requires the obfuscation of what is otherwise obvious to reason, moral intuition, and common sense. It would have us suspend the most basic of logical deductions and inferences, and dismiss the clear moral implications of its theological claims by seeking refuge in ‘high mystery,’ “incomprehensibility,’ ‘the Bible teaches both…’ and ‘apparent contradiction.’ Once again Moreland and Craig point out that,
“The Christian philosopher will try to undergird, defend and clarify the various aspects of a worldview compatible with Scripture. This will involve not only working on broad theological themes – for example, the dignity of being human – but on defending and clarifying specific verses in Scripture. Of course, caution must be exercised. One should not automatically assume that one’s particular interpretation of a biblical text is the only option for an evangelical, and one should not automatically assume that the biblical text was intended to speak to the issue at hand. But when due care is given to these warnings, it is nevertheless, important that the Christian philosopher tries to forge a worldview that includes the teaching of specific biblical texts, properly interpreted.”
The key phrase here is “properly interpreted.” Therefore, we have to ask whether or not the Calvinist interpretations of specific texts can be the proper interpretations if they violate the fundamental principles of logic and morality which are foundational to philosophical thought and assessment. Here’s where philosophical reasoning will come into play, not only at the worldview level, which is enough to refute Calvinism due to its determinism, but also at the interpretive level.
At the worldview level Craig and Moreland attempt to discern the truth of a worldview by its ability to avoid contradictory propositions and provide consistency and coherence with reality as we comprehensively understand and experience it. Surely then these same principles would also apply to one’s theological worldview gleaned from an interpretation of the biblical text. The text is not open to various inconsistent, incoherent or contradictory meanings. Even though Moreland and Craig warn us against automatically assuming that our particular interpretation of a biblical text is the only option for an evangelical, I believe they would also affirm that the text has a certain objective meaning that needs to meet rational and moral standards. It is the meaning that is in accord with those standards that needs to be discerned and that would be the meaning of the text when properly interpreted. This is to say that only meanings that evidence rational and moral coherence can be options for evangelical belief. Obviously Craig and Moreland cannot include in a “proper interpretation” the presence of clearly identifiable incoherencies, inconsistencies and contradictions. If so, they may as well pack up their philosophical and moral “principles” and go home. They would play no significant or meaningful role in the interpretive task. Therefore, I believe the intellectually responsible evangelical philosopher must reject the interpretive and theological relativism that holds that two mutually exclusive interpretations of the text are both true and it would be legitimate for an evangelical Christian to hold to either view. As logically and morally mutually exclusive theologies and soteriologies, the Calvinist and non-Calvinist views cannot both be viable options for the evangelical Christian.
My point is that given responsible philosophical assessment and careful examination according to moral intuition, we find that it is impossible that Calvinism is a viable theological and soteriological option for the evangelical precisely because its exegesis generates real incoherencies and contradictions. Hence, the employment of philosophy and its investigative “tools of the trade” – logic, clarification, argument, etc. – are essential for informing, guiding and checking our exegesis, interpretative conclusions and theological constructs. The deliberations and deliverances of philosophical reflection must be considered essential to a sound, evangelical hermeneutic.
Can philosophical arguments be brought to bear upon Calvinist theology to show that it is not rationally or morally well founded? I think so. I have provided Dr. Craig’s philosophical and moral arguments against Calvinism in Chapter 4. I will do so throughout future chapters. Therefore, we may ask what implications these difficulties within Calvinism have for determining whether or not it is an accurate reflection of biblical teaching? Would these philosophical arguments (along with other exegetical assessments), make a compelling cumulative case that something is amiss with the Calvinist interpretations and doctrines? If so, would we lose our intellectual warrant to believe Calvinism to be true? Let’s examine the issues further.
Robert Audi: Reason, Logic and Justified Beliefs
Philosopher Robert Audi considers the relationships between reason and logic and what makes for justifiable beliefs. He states,
“We might say that a justified belief is one that there is adequate reason for the believer to think true; but, as suggestive as this is, it transfers the burden of analysis to the relevant notion of adequate reason. We can say that a justified belief is one that is rationally acceptable, which in turn, might be taken to mean that one does not deserve criticism, from the point of view of rationality, for holding it.”
This raises the question of the nature of the criticism that can be brought against Calvinism or non-Calvinism from the point of view of rationality. Are we more rationally justified in holding one over the other?
With respect to the coherence of one’s beliefs Audi observes that coherence alone cannot create justification for beliefs, but “incoherence can defeat justification.” He states that,
“Incoherence has a definite negative character. The paradigm of it is blatant logical inconsistency.”
Speaking about what justifies a person to hold certain beliefs he states,
“It has been plausibly argued…that one source, and perhaps the basic source, of justification is coherence among one’s beliefs.”
Regarding incoherence and contradiction he writes,
“…incoherence is a prime defeater, as where one discovers that something one believes entails a contradiction and hence one ceases to be justified in holding that belief.”
“…in any case of foundational justification, coherence can be expected as well. This is an important point; and it does much to explain the appeal of coherence as a purportedly basic element in justification.”
As to our beliefs being rational and justified Audi writes,
“A justified belief or action…is also rational… If we call someone’s belief or action justified, we do not question whether it is rational: to say that it is not rational is to take away with one hand something given by the other.”
“A body of evidence can be such as to make it rational to judge a matter either way. If, however, it justifies one in believing p, it does not also justify one in believing not –p.”
Audi is of course pointing out that we are never justified in believing a contradiction. He also writes about prima facie justification for a belief by pointing out “the evident truth of simple logical truths.” Audi states,
“There are intuitive impressions as well, such as the sense of the evident truth of simple logical truths, and these impressions too can ground prima facie justification…”
“The capacities entailed by rationality certainly do imply that there are many logical truths which rational persons are at least disposed to believe. Take the proposition that if it is either snowing or sizzling outside, and it is not snowing, then it is sizzling. If one considers this under normal conditions, one believes it.”
“…incompatible propositions cannot both be true.”
“If I have good enough ground to be justified in believing a proposition, this precludes my being justified in believing an obvious contrary.”
Again, the law of non-contradiction holds for our beliefs to be justified. Regarding that which might override the justification for our present beliefs, Audi gives the following principle formulation.
“…my justification for believing p is overridden if I have, equally accessible to me, a least as good (undefeated) justification for believing a proposition logically incompatible with p.”
Again, Audi can confidently state,
“…mutually incompatible propositions cannot both be true…”
Audi is affirming the indispensable role logic plays in determining justified propositions and beliefs. With regard to biblical interpretation and theology, this issue was stated succinctly by Jerry Walls and Joseph Dongell when they wrote,
“While logical consistency may not be a sufficient condition to show that a theology is true, it is a necessary condition.”
The issue of the logical and moral coherence of one’s proposed interpretations of Scripture and doctrinal formulations must be reckoned with. They raise hermeneutical concerns that cannot be ignored. Calvinists cannot justify interpretive incoherence by baptizing it as a spiritual virtue on the basis that “God’s ways are higher than our ways” or “who are you to talk back to God” and claims about how fallen human reason will never be able to understand the profound mystery inherent in the Calvinist doctrines. Certainly the Bible contains genuine mysteries, but the logical and moral inconsistencies and contradictions of the Calvinist’s interpretations show them rather to be genuine misinterpretations of the text.
Robert Audi: Natural Theology, Natural Reason and the Resolution of Religious Disagreement
Philosopher Robert Audi comments directly upon religious disagreements like the Calvinist / non-Calvinist controversy we are examining here. He states, “To resolve religious disagreements, we need principles of rationally approaching them.” He calls “religious disagreements internal provided they center on a tenet or practice of a religion, are between persons “in” that religion, and concern religiously proper interpretation or practice therein.” Such is the nature of this controversy.
“The problem (prominently discussed in recent epistemological literature) is how to assess possible disagreements one has with someone who seems, in the relevant matter, and epistemic peer: roughly, someone who (a) is as rational and as thoughtful as oneself (in the relevant matter, assessing whether a disputed proposition is true), (b) has considered the same relevant evidence – which need not be all the relevant evidence – and (c) has done so equally conscientiously.”
Whether either side views the other as having properly fulfilled these criteria of an “epistemic peer” is part of the problem. Audi cautions that “Epistemic parity is an idealization and at best rarely realized” and then offers hope of resolving controversies. He states, “It is a difficult empirical question how often such people can reach agreement after long and repeated discussion. But such agreement is possible.” I think he is correct. But note that he adds, “Let us consider how any rational individuals who religiously disagree might achieve, if not consensus, then peaceful coexistence. Here considerations of the types of evidence is particularly important.” 
For the most part there has been peaceful coexistence with regard to the Calvinist / non-Calvinist soteriological controversy. But this peaceful coexistence comes at an intellectual and hermeneutical price that for many of us is just too high to pay. Intellectually it requires that we ignore the mutual exclusivity of the positions. The anti-intellectualism and interpretive and theological relativism within the evangelical church has made this coexistence possible. But surely this is not an acceptable situation for the Christian who is thinking, and doing so according to Scripture. It requires that we ignore Audi’s point that “…mutually incompatible propositions cannot both be true…” along with his other criteria for coming to know what is true from what is false, that is, by applying the criteria of consistency and coherence to what we believe.
To ignore the mutual exclusivity of the Calvinist and non-Calvinist positions is just bad thinking and goes to Audi’s point “a)” above, that is, that rationality and thoughtfulness are needed to get to the truth and bring this debate to resolution. Both parties have to be “rational and thoughtful.” Yet, hermeneutically, or interpretively, two incompatible theologies and soteriologies are claiming to be the teaching of Scripture with the Calvinist position as a universal divine causal determinism creating acute interpretive incoherencies, inconsistencies and contradictions. This is just bad thinking and bad hermeneutics. Therefore, as far as rationality goes, the Calvinist position is lacking. Yet our evangelical churches are indifferent to these issues. So for many of us this is a matter of coming to the truth and living from the truth. It is a matter of intellectual and interpretive integrity. It has direct bearing on our doctrine of God and Scripture. It is especially important in that the truth of the gospel is at stake.
Furthermore, I submit that Calvinism is also deficient regarding point “b).” I have pointed out that the Calvinist does not attend to the deliverances of philosophical reflection and moral intuitions that reveal the incoherence, inconsistency and contradictions in Calvinism. As such, the Calvinist is not considering all the relevant evidence. They also do not consider the exegetical conclusions of non-Calvinists that do not generate logical and moral difficulties. This too is evidence that the Calvinist does not seriously consider that their logical and moral difficulties speak to the invalidity of their interpretations of the relevant texts. As such, point “c)” also is left unfulfilled. Calvinists do not seem to be as conscientious in the exegetical and interpretive process as the non-Calvinist.
Given the importance of rationality to religious and theological agreement, I would like to focus on letter (a) in Audi’s quote above with respect to assessing Calvinism. Can we determine that the Calvinist is being as rational and as thoughtful as the non-Calvinist with regard to the truth of the propositions that are being disputed in this controversy? My contention is that the Calvinist cannot provide a rational (or moral) defense of their theological propositions. They may have an exegesis to present, but we are talking about whether that exegesis, in conjunction with all the other biblical data, can stand the tests of philosophical reflection and moral reasoning. And although Audi suggests peaceful coexistence as a goal, recall his conclusion that “…mutually incompatible propositions cannot both be true…” If Calvinism itself can be shown to be presenting mutually exclusive propositions (e.g., deterministic sovereignty and human freedom and responsibility), and we have a situation of mutual exclusivity between the Calvinist and the non-Calvinist positions in which it can be demonstrated that the Calvinist’s theistic determinism stands in contradiction with other agreed upon clearly taught biblical truths, then on the basis of logical reasoning we can conclude that the Calvinist propositions are flawed and the non-Calvinist interpretations are more likely to be closer to the truth. Therefore we are justified in believing the non-Calvinist’s doctrinal positions over the Calvinist teachings.
What we would like to see is consensus as to the meaning of Scripture on these matters. But that will require us to come to grips with whether or not rational coherence is necessary for one’s interpretations of Scripture to be valid. That will require us to come to terms with whether or not coherence is a necessary rational component within a sound hermeneutic.
Let us see how Audi employs natural theology and natural reason to help in achieving consensus in religious disagreement. He states,
“Natural theology is roughly the reflective employment of natural reason – the ordinary kind manifested in using standard deductive and inductive logic and in responding to the evidences of sense-perception, memory, and a priori reason – in matters concerning the divine.
The significance of natural theology for the topic of religious disagreement is immense.
…Suppose I am confident that God is perfectly good. I will tend to presuppose that any apparent command to do certain wrongs – say, chemical bombings or raping women in conquered territory – cannot come from God. Why presuppose this?
This raises the further question whether natural reason – which is required in interpreting religion – yields knowledge of certain moral principles. Suppose that (as I hold) we may rationally claim not only knowledge that God is omnibenevolent but knowledge (in my view a priori knowledge) of certain moral principles and, on the basis of them together with ordinary facts, can know certain singular, action-guiding moral propositions. Most educated religious people in at least the Hebraic-Christian tradition and some Islamic traditions may be taken to believe or presuppose that we have such moral knowledge. One evidence is how we provide moral education to our children – an activity that tends to reveal where we really stand. The epistemic autonomy of ethics – roughly, the knowability of moral principles through natural reason – does not license dogmatism or making light of religious authority (textual or clerical); but it justifies giving greater credibility to moral judgment in this commonsensical range than to conflicting ones made by certain passages in some scriptures or – especially – by its interpreters, such as authoritarian clergy who seek to rule their followers. What is supported by reason and everyday facts may be rationally viewed (even by religious people) as having prima facie (though not absolute) epistemic priority over moral claims based only on religious grounds, especially if these grounds depend on fallible interpretations of scriptures, on private experiences, or clerical statements.”
Audi’s analysis applies to our evaluation of Calvinism to the degree that Calvinism requires of its adherents to reverse their moral knowledge with respect to their own moral intuitions and what we know of the character of God. Calvinism suppresses what Audi calls “the knowability of moral principles through natural reason.” Calvinism requires believing that God preordains and causes all of the actions and events that occur – especially those that are horrendously evil (e.g., the holocaust, the rape and murder of a child, etc.). Yet, our logical faculties and our moral intuitions, that is, our natural reason, tell us these are incoherent, inconsistent and /or in contradiction with the character of God and other things we know through natural reason and experiential knowledge to be the case. Calvinists insist we believe that God predestines and causes things to occur that our logical reasoning tells us don’t make sense and our moral intuitions and principles tell us are unjust or wrong. Calvinists claim that Scripture, which is our authority for faith and practice, teaches us such things about God and the world. But Audi at least raises the question as to whether such interpretations that conflict with natural reason can legitimately be derived from Scripture and assigned to God in our theology. The claim, for instance, that “the Bible teaches” that God created certain individuals for the purpose of punishing them for all eternity in hell, that is, assigning them to an eternal destiny in which they have no input into either avoiding or bringing upon themselves in which they will be forever separated from God, and God does this for his own glory and to exercise his wrath upon them while predestining all others to eternal life which is a distinction made for no reason we could ever understand – certainly does seems to be a faulty reading of Scripture given our natural reason and moral sense and knowledge. If we are going to resolve the disagreement between Calvinists and non-Calvinists on the basis of biblical interpretation then as Audi states, “…natural reason provides important common ground.” Or at least it should. Audi goes on to say,
“If we think a disagreement is with an epistemic peer, or even someone who approximates parity with us, and we wish to retain our position, we should seek new evidence for it or at least a basis of thinking the disputant is not as rational or as conscientious as we are in appraising the issue.”
Can we show that there is a basis for thinking that the Calvinist is not “as rational” as the non-Calvinist in appraising the issues involved in this controversy. In other words, how does the Calvinist fare with respect to the rationality of their position? I think that I and many other non-Calvinists have convincingly shown that the answer is, “Not very well.” For instance, Glen Shellrude in his chapter in the book Grace for All: The Arminian Dynamics of Salvation refers to and quotes Calvinist Edwin Palmer.
“Edwin Palmer acknowledges the absurdity of what Calvinism affirms: “He [the Calvinist] realizes that what he advocates is ridiculous….The Calvinist freely admits that his position is illogical, ridiculous, nonsensical and foolish.” However he argues that the Scriptural evidence requires one to embrace this intrinsically absurd view of God. If God has created us with a rational and moral discernment which to some extent mirrors his own, then the cluster of logical and moral absurdities inherent in the Calvinist system suggests that there is a problem with the theology itself. The appropriate response is not to celebrate absurdity, or as is more commonly done, to appeal to mystery, but rather to rethink the theology in light of the totality of the Scriptural evidence.”
In addition, Calvinist John Piper is in agreement with Calvinist Mark Talbot when Talbot states that,
“God…brings about all things in accordance with His will. In other words, it isn’t just that God manages to turn the evil aspects of our world to good for those who love Him; it is rather that He himself brings about these evil aspects for His glory (see Ex. 9:13-16; John 9:3) and His people’s good (see Heb. 12:3-11: James 1:2-4). This includes – as incredible and as unacceptable as it may currently seem – God’s having even brought about the Nazi’s brutality at Birkenau and Auschwitz as well as the terrible killings of Dennis Rader and even the sexual abuse of a young child…”
I think it is obvious that the Calvinist has significant problems in being “not as rational” or “as conscientious…in appraising the issue.”
“There is much common ground among human beings, and natural reason provides a framework for meeting on that ground. Natural reason does not depend epistemically on God as creator, but piety is in no way compromised by relying, in the ways I propose, on what one my take to be a gift from God… The search for common ground, moreover, can be guided by efforts to bring natural reason to bear.”
Note that Audi acknowledges what most evangelical Christians would consider to be a biblical truth, that is, that natural reason is a gift from God.
So what is the point here? It is that natural theology provides “common ground” among us as human beings as to what we can consider to be rational or not. Natural theology provides us with a shared natural human reason. By this human reason we can discern whether or not what we presently believe or are being asked to believe is true and thereby justified in believing it. We can evaluate proposed truth claims by their coherence or incoherence using natural reason and, I would add, our moral intuition. These serve to assess interpretive claims as to their validity and whether or not we are justified in believing those interpretations. Hence, a common rationality by which we can determine what is incoherent, inconsistent or contradictory must be applied to biblical interpretations. Therefore, interpretations that are incoherent, inconsistent or contradictory are not viable options as the intent of the author. Moreover, therefore, these principles of coherence, consistency and non-contradiction are essential and necessary principles in a sound hermeneutic. These are some of the indispensable factors by which we determine the truth of interpretive claims. As such, Calvinism, by reason of its determinism, shows itself to be incoherent, inconsistent and contradictory with many clear biblical teachings and our experience that our relationship to others and to God, as well as our experience of reality, is of a substantially contingent nature, and therefore Calvinism must be declared to be irrational and therefore unbiblical.
Ravi Zacharias on Critical Thinking and Logic
Can an exegesis that results in rational and moral incoherence ever be the correct exegesis of a text? Would the biblical authors ever write in a way that resulted in incoherence and contradiction? Could a message or theological point that is inconsistent with other biblical texts or the author’s own writings ever be what the author intended to communicate to his original readers? If not, can we confidently say that incoherent, inconsistent or contradictory interpretations reliably indicate a misinterpretation of the text? Does doing exegesis directly equate to or always guarantee that the exegete will bring forth the true, accurate meaning of a text? Obviously there is good and bad exegesis. So what might we be looking for to help us know the difference? Are the assessments and deliberations of philosophical reflection essential for doing good and complete exegesis? I submit that it is only by incorporating critical thinking that we will know how to discern the difference between good and bad exegesis.
Ravi Zacharias talks about the importance of critical thinking as applied to the evaluation of differing worldview statements as well as interpretative propositions, statements or assertions.
“When you’re analyzing any propositional statement or system of thought you are engaged in critical thinking whether you like or not. So the only question is, are you doing it well, are you doing it in a way that is befitting the subject or are you doing it unjustly…I like to think of critical thinking as an analytical process of evaluating the truth component of the statement or the thought you are processing. That has to be done. If you’re looking at a worldview, if you’re looking at any assertion, if you’re looking at any challenge to your own worldview, you have to evaluate it on the basis of truth and the coherence of what is being claimed….We must think critically, especially in defending our worldview or in challenging a counter-perspective. In a world full of challenges you have to come to something outside of the text you are defending, rather than saying this is the text I believe…. Critical thinking is to lay bare what is readily visible to reason…”
What Ravi is saying is that a defense of the meaning of a biblical text or any other text for that matter, presupposes a standard, or “something outside of the text you are defending. That standard involves “critical thinking” or “an analytical process.” Ravi states that “critical thinking” is necessary in the search for the truth. He also states that worldviews or assertions need to be evaluated on the basis of “the truth and coherence of what is being claimed.” Coherence is a criteria for discerning the truth and legitimacy of what is being asserted. Therefore, when one’s assertions or interpretations result in incoherence, and they also claim that their interpretation are nevertheless true, we are justified in pointing out the incoherence and rejecting the interpreter’s truth claim. That claim cannot be true. Fleeing to mystery or asserting incomprehensibility do nothing to justify the interpreter’s claim as true. Ravi makes an important point when he states, “In a world full of challenges you have to come to something outside of the text you are defending, rather than saying this is the text I believe…. Critical thinking is to lay bare what is readily visible to reason…” Mere assertions about what a text means are unsubstantial without critically thinking about the text. Proposals of what a text means must be made transparent to human reason. Therefore, if “critical thinking” requires the incorporation of logical and moral reasoning to get at the truth of a text, then logical and moral reasoning are essential to an authentic and sound evangelical hermeneutic.
Ravi goes one step deeper asking probing questions about the “first link” in a “line of argument.”
“The first link is this. Is reason rational? Is it defendable? Are the laws of logic so incontrovertible that they are certainly applicable to reality? Does logic apply to reality? We know it does in mathematics, but does it apply also in ethics? Does it apply in sustaining an argument? Do the laws of logic apply to reality?”
Here Ravi is asking the most fundamental questions upon which all our thinking, inquiries and interpretations rest. He is raising the point about the reality, legitimacy and function of reason. He is also raising questions about the applicability of reason, or the laws of logic, to reality and argumentation. Ravi is asking whether reason is necessary for coming to the truth about a certain interpretation, position or worldview. He is asking whether we are all bound to the laws of logic and logical reasoning with regard to whatever we are thinking or whatever conclusions we are arguing for or against.
Ravi, as a philosopher and apologist, affirms the universal applicability and indispensability of logic in discerning the truth or validity of an argument. The laws of logic apply to all of reality. They therefore apply to biblical interpretations and theological constructs. Speaking on the topic of pluralism Ravi warns us that,
“Pluralism may be a good thing, but if it is extrapolated into meaning relativism, then you are on the knife edge of self-destruction…logic will tell you that. This is so important that we understand the nature of what it is that happens when a person lives a life that is systemically contradictory. And I hear these comments again and again and again on television or by the media. You hear such brazenly contradictory statements and you say to yourself, did this person ever have an introductory course in logic? Does this person understand what happens when you hold to mutually exclusive ideas that collide in actuality? I like to often say to you that what contradiction is to reason sin is to life. If your life is embedded in sin, life breaks down. If your argument is contradictory, your argument breaks down.”
Ravi is pointing out that the truth or falsity of an argument can be discerned by the laws of logic. The truth or falsity of an argument or proposition depends upon whether or not it is contradictory. Contradictory arguments and statements are false. This has direct application to the Calvinist / non-Calvinist controversy. Not only are the positions mutually exclusive and therefore they both cannot be true, but I contend that it is the Calvinist who needs to let the light of logical thought that exposes incoherencies, inconsistencies and contradictions into their hermeneutic. To the degree that Calvinism is incoherent and contradictory is the degree to which its theology “breaks down.”
Ravi also states,
“Whenever we argue, whenever we dialogue, whenever we differ from each other on the interpretation of something or the facts of something, what do we rely on? We rely on the use of the laws of logic as they measure out against the truth. Anybody who’s charged in a court of law, ultimately the charge has to meet two tests. The first test is what you call a correspondence test. Are the statements that he is making in correspondence with reality? …But then there is a second test in every court of law. It is not just the correspondence test, it is what you call the coherence test. What is the coherence test? …When you put all the statements together you’re testing it against coherence. Does this story fit together? …So tests of truth and coherence are assumed in any court of law and in any dialogical defense. Reasonableness of reason, the logicality of logic is assumed.”
This, of course, also holds true in biblical interpretation and theology. If it didn’t the “courtrooms” of exegesis and theological systems could be filled with conflicting and contradictory testimonies and we would have to embrace them all as equally valid. Sadly, this is the situation in the evangelical church, not only with respect to the incoherencies and contradictions that the Calvinist’s doctrines generate, but also with regard to the difference between the Calvinist and non-Calvinist theologies and soteriologies. By embracing two mutually exclusive positions without a concern for the illogicality of that situation, that is, in disregard of the “reasonableness of reason” or the “logicality of logic,” then what we are affirming and demonstrating is our theological and soteriology relativism.
Ravi mentions “whenever we differ from each other on the interpretation of something” the “reasonableness of reason and the logicality of logic is assumed.” This also applies to exegesis and theology. The tests of correspondence and coherence must be met. But this is not so for Calvinists. They claim that mutually exclusive ideas – propositions that do not exhibit correspondence with reality and do not evidence coherence – can nevertheless be biblical truth. Calvinists dismiss logical coherence and moral intuition in their interpretive process and conclusions. When this is done, attempts must be made to “justify” the incoherent, inconsistent or contradictory interpretations. This is done via the ad hoc claim that such interpretations are a “mystery” or the question-begging assertion that “the Bible teaches both” or the ad hominem / red-herring response “who are you O man to talk back to or question God?” Another attempt at justification is to claim that we cannot comprehend God or his ways because our reasoning faculties have been distorted by sin. “God’s ways are above our ways.” But this is unconvincing when one’s exegesis exhibits incoherence and contradictions. There is no exegetical method that transcends the laws of logic and is “above our ways.” The problem is not that we simply cannot comprehend these issues because of their divine transcendence but that we comprehend the issues all too well. Reason and the laws of logic are real, reliable and applicable for discerning flawed thinking and interpretations. We know incoherence, inconsistency and contradiction when we see them. And when it comes to one’s interpretive claims, they either stand upon sound reasoning, correspond to reality and exhibit coherence, or they are misinterpretations of the text. The results of one’s exegesis are not valid when they are inconsistent or contradictory. And unless the Calvinist wants to claim that included in the definition of “miracle” is God’s intervention into the laws of logical reasoning, then logical reasoning, as reflective of God’s nature and his gift to us, holds absolute sway in the exegetical process.
What will safeguard us from ad hoc, red-herring and question begging explanations of what certainly seem to be incoherent or contradictory interpretations and theological conclusions? Can a textual exegesis that lands us in logical incoherence, inconsistency and contradiction be an accurate exegesis of the text? I don’t think so, and neither would C. S. Lewis. He writes,
“It is not more possible for God than for the weakest of His creatures to carry out both of two mutually exclusive alternatives; not because His power meets an obstacle, but because nonsense remains nonsense even when we talk it about God.”
Philosopher Linda Zagzebski observes,
“…it is misplaced reverence to think that a religious belief takes precedence over common sense. When faced with a dilemma, I do not see why we should opt for one belief over another either because its content is religious as opposed to metaphysical, or because of its importance. We should opt for one belief over another to the extent to which it seems more likely to be true. It is no less a praise of God to retain what we have come to believe about the structure of time and principles of necessity, whose truth is due to God, than to retain what we have come to believe about God himself.”
It is the same with reason. It is no less a praise of God to retain what we have come to believe about the structure of logic and reason, whose truth is due to God, than to retain what we have come to believe about God himself. Calvinists merely assert the “importance” of their deterministic definition of sovereignty and their definition of what redounds to God’s glory, despite the problems of logic, reason and moral common sense they create. Both Lewis and Zagzebski are grounding reason in the inviolable nature of God himself. As such, reason itself is inviolable. Sound reasoning on the basis of the laws of logic are a truth that is “due to God.” Therefore, the belief and confidence we retain in these laws is “no less a praise to God” than “what we have come to believe about God himself.” Hence, simply because one is doing textual exegesis on a divinely inspired text or talking about “the will and ways of God” does not exempt the exegete from adhering to the cannons of reason.
In fact, to disregard coherence, consistency and non-contradiction in one’s interpretations is to fail to properly reflect the nature of God as a rational being or give to God the praise due his name for giving us the gift of reason. When one’s exegesis and interpretive conclusions land them in incoherence, inconsistency and contradiction, then they need to return to the text in search of the author’s true intent and not pass their interpretation off as mystery or the depth of God’s ways that simply cannot be comprehended by us.
“We cannot have it both ways, and no sneers at the limitations of logic…amend the dilemma.”I. A. Richards, Principles of Literary Criticism, chap. xxv. (from C. S. Lewis, Miracles, chap. III.)
David Allen, Leighton Flowers, Exegesis and Contradiction: 1 Timothy 2:1-6
Whereas in philosophy and apologetics the canons of reason cannot be violated and one still claim their worldview is true, the same applies to biblical exegesis. Exegesis is essential for the discovery of theological truth. As a search for the truth, the rational coherence of that exegesis must be considered in determining the validity of that exegesis and the theological constructs built upon it.
For instance, Dr. David Allen’s exegesis of 1 Timothy 2:1-6 defends a universal atonement in contrast to Calvinism’s limited atonement (the “limitarian” position), and God’s universal saving will in contrast to the idea that God does not desire the salvation of all individuals. On a “Soteriology 101” podcast, which is the website of provisionist Leighton Flowers, Dr. David Allen states,
“This is also one of the most crucial texts in the New Testament that clearly affirms a universal atonement. But now look at the text carefully. Notice that it not only affirms universal atonement Dr. Flowers, but it also affirms what theologians refer to as God’s universal saving will – the fact that God desires that all people be saved. It’s called God’s universal saving will. And notice that statement in verse [sic] 3 – God wants everyone to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. A parallel passage here, by the way, is 2 Peter 3:9, “God is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” So you have the use of the word “all” there, you have the use of the word “all” in the 4 through 6 passage here in Timothy, and these are passages that first of all indicate that God desires to save all people.
Now, there is a branch of Calvinism called hyper-Calvinism that denies…God’s universal saving will – that God desires the salvation of all people. Now, they are labeled as hyper-Calvinists, and other Calvinists reject them and reject that and say that’s an extreme and that’s false to affirm that and so forth…Now there are other things that make a person a hyper-Calvinist, we’re just limiting ourselves to that point, but that’s something that I think is very important to take note of.
This is a text, and there are others, as well as in the Old Testament, that affirm that God doesn’t desire that any perish, but that all should come to repentance. And that’s very clearly stated here in 1 Timothy 2, verse [sic] 3 – God wants everyone to be saved.
Now here’s the problem for the limitarian. The limitarian has the problem of figuring out or of reconciling God’s universal saving will with the fact…that God only designed that Jesus die for certain people’s sins. That becomes a contradictory issue.
Now there have been a number of books that have been written in recent years including more recently John Piper’s book on does God desire everyone to be saved…These books are examples of Calvinist’s trying to reconcile these two because they recognize this is a problem. How do you recognize God’s universal saving will with the fact that he…is limited in atonement? Now the fact of the matter is that can’t be reconciled, and moderate Calvinists and all non-Calvinists make that point very clearly. From a high-Calvinist position it’s very difficult to make that work because you wind up with a logical contradiction. In fact, many of these authors if you read them, both past and present, high-Calvinist theologians and others, will say yeah it’s a problem and we just have to live with it. You know, it’s either an antinomy or it’s a paradox or it’s a mystery – there’s a common term – you know it’s a mystery and you retreat behind a curtain of mystery. Well you know…there are some things that are mysterious – there are legitimate mysteries – but there’s a difference between a mystery and just a flat out contradiction. And you can’t – that’s part of the problem here.”
Note that for David Allen rational coherence and non-contradiction are essential for determining the true meaning of a text. The logical irreconcilability of the Calvinist position is a tell-tale sign to Dr. Allen that their position is incorrect. Meaning to use the word “reconcile”, Allen asks, “How do you recognize [sic] God’s universal saving will with the fact that he…is limited in atonement?” Allen answers, “Now the fact of the matter is that can’t be reconciled, and moderate Calvinists and all non-Calvinists make that point very clearly.” One wonders how Dr. Allen would have finished his truncated thought in his last sentence – “And you can’t…” From what he states later on, I suspect he wanted to say “And you can’t have a contradiction and your exegesis be valid” or something to that effect.
Be that as it may, the point is made. Those Calvinists who affirm God’s desire to save all have landed in a contradiction and do not seem to give this fact interpretive significance whereas Dr. Allen, Dr. Flowers, as non-Calvinists, do. But as we will see below, Calvinists will make an illegitimate semantic “move” to get around their problem.
Counter to statements made by Calvinist’s Thomas Schreiner and Bruce Ware that non-Calvinist objections to Calvinism are mainly logical and moral rather than exegetical, Dr. Allen goes on to carefully exegete 1 Timothy 2:1-6 pointing out Paul’s “further logic” and refuting the Calvinist interpretation that the “all” refers to all without distinction not all without exception.
“So the first thing I point out is notice God’s universal saving will. Now contextually, notice Paul is saying, he’s desiring that prayers be made for all people – for everyone. Then he gives a specific group in verse 2, but he doesn’t intend for people to only pray for kings and those in authority – he’s already said he wants people to pray for everybody. He wants everybody to be prayed for. Alright? So then you come to verse 4, God wants everyone to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth…Now notice the further logic. There’s one God, one mediator between God and humanity. Notice that. CSB translates God and humanity. The reference is to all people. And who is the one mediator between God and all people? The man Christ Jesus. Then you have the relative clause that begins verse 6 that further describes who this mediator is and more specifically in verse 6 what this mediator does. Who he is verse 5, what he does is verse 6. “Who gave himself as a ransom for all.” Notice he doesn’t say gave himself a ransom for the elect. It says he gave himself a ransom for all. That is a clear statement that affirms universal atonement.
Now, what limitarians are forced to do with this text is to come up with an ingenious way of getting around the obvious meaning by pulling out this all without distinction verses all without exception. And so they’re saying well now all doesn’t always mean all. By the way, nobody ever said it did….I understand that “world” and “all” have varieties of meaning. That’s not the point. The point is that in atonement contexts it becomes very clear that contextually “all” means all without exception and not just all without distinction…The “all without distinction” concept for the high-Calvinist becomes something of a code for “some of all without distinction.” So now we’re making a move here. Watch the move. The “all” becomes “some of all kinds.” That’s an unwarranted move that’s made first by Owen and all who follow Owen who are high-Calvinists. So, ask yourself what the statement “all without distinction” means in the context of atonement passages. The answer is it means all kinds of people, that is, all people of every kind, not some people of every kind. The problem with applying this distinction to passages like 1 Timothy 2:4 is the use of “all” in the text gets transmuted into meaning “some of all kinds of people.” Do you see that? Do you see how the word “all” there gets transmuted into a meaning of “some of all kinds of people?” That’s not what Paul said. Alright. That is eisegesis. Reading into the text or out of the text something that’s not there…Since the adjective “all” modifies “men” in the Greek text of 1 Timothy 2:4, it is not possible to change “all” into “some men of all kinds,” thus making the “all” modify “kinds” and not the word “men” as is properly considered in the text.
Now we’re doing here careful exegesis in the Greek text. Alright? But that is a semantic shift that all high-Calvinists make on this text in order to make it fit…But apparently then for some of these Calvinists, since “all” sometimes can mean “all of some sorts” or “some of all sorts” it can never mean, in any atonement context, all humanity that includes each and every person. The logical fallacy should be evident. In context, Paul was asking Christians to pray for actual people, not classes of people! The point is this, “Don’t exclude anyone from your prayers no matter their social status.”
…So you get this issue where you are converting all without…exception. You’re trying to avoid a universal atonement here by creating a category that Paul disallows, that first of all hermeneutically, secondly exegetically, thirdly theologically can’t be wheedled out of this passage. It’s just not possible to do that. That’s a misuse of the text to try to force it to mean something that it doesn’t mean.”
Now, note that Dr. Allen observed that Calvinists who would affirm limited atonement and yet also affirm that God desires the salvation of all individuals are trying to reconcile these two views because they recognize they have “a problem.” But what is the nature of their “problem?” It is that they ultimately find themselves in “a contradictory issue.” Indeed, Dr. Allen states that the fact of the matter is they “can’t be reconciled…because you wind up with a logical contradiction.” Recall again that he stated, “there’s a difference between a mystery and just a flat out contradiction.” Now, the important thing to see here is that when an interpretation “winds up in a logical contradiction” we know that some element of that interpretation must be wrong. Note that Dr. Allen presupposes that he knows a contradiction when he sees one. The laws of logic, his human reason and moral intuitions are in play here. Interestingly, the limitarian Calvinist is also affirming the necessity, utility and reliability of human reason for they recognize the logical problem they are in given texts like this that affirm that God desires to save all individuals. God’s desire to save all is incoherent and in contradiction with the claim that God has limited the atonement. This only goes to show that the Calvinist’s flights to mystery and incomprehensibility are concocted to dodge the incoherencies, inconsistencies and contradictions their interpretations of Scripture generate.
Dr. Allen demonstrates that both exegetically and in light of a clear and plain reading of the text ““all” means all without exception and not just all without distinction.” Note carefully that Dr. Allen takes context into consideration in his exegesis. He specifically states, “The point is that in atonement contexts it becomes very clear that contextually “all” means all without exception and not just all without distinction.” So what does the Calvinist do with the logical problem raised by texts that state that God desires all people to be saved in light of their doctrine of limited atonement, that is, that Jesus died only for a limited number of elect persons?
Dr. Allen points out that the Calvinist makes a “semantic shift.” He states,
“Watch the move. The “all” becomes “some of all kinds.” That’s an unwarranted move that’s made first by Owen and all who follow Owen who are high-Calvinists…The problem with applying this distinction to passages like 1 Timothy 2:4 is the use of “all” in the text gets transmuted into meaning “some of all kinds of people.” Do you see that?”
Note the scope of the problem the Calvinist has created for themselves in terms of our hermeneutical principles of consistency and comprehensiveness. Dr. Allen observes,
“Now we’re doing here careful exegesis in the Greek text. Alright? But that is a semantic shift that all high-Calvinists make on this text in order to make it fit…But apparently then for some of these Calvinists, since “all” sometimes can mean “all of some sorts” or “some of all sorts” it can never mean, in any atonement context, all humanity that includes each and every person. The logical fallacy should be evident. In context, Paul was asking Christians to pray for actual people, not classes of people! The point is this, “Don’t exclude anyone from your prayers no matter their social status.” (emphasis mine)
According to the Calvinist, Paul’s use of the word “all” (men) is turned into “some” (men). The Calvinist’s interpretive approach violates the principles of context (the context dictates “all men”) along with consistency and comprehensiveness (other atonement passages must be read as meaning “some men” and could never mean “all men.”)
Dr. Allen’s conclusion is,
…So you get this issue where you are converting all without…exception. You’re trying to avoid a universal atonement here by creating a category that Paul disallows, that first of all hermeneutically, secondly exegetically, thirdly theologically can’t be wheedled out of this passage. It’s just not possible to do that. That’s a misuse of the text to try to force it to mean something that it doesn’t mean.”
The Calvinist runs up against a three-fold problem – hermeneutically, exegetically and theologically – that he does not consider to be interpretively significant. The original problems of inconsistency and contradiction is ignored. These do not cause the Calvinist to go back to the text to seek an exegesis that is both exegetically sound and free from contradiction, which is what Dr. Allen offers us here. Rather, these high-Calvinists attempt a semantic shift to create a category of “some people of every kind” – a category Paul does not intend by his use of the word “all.” It is a classic case of eisegesis rather than exegesis, which goes to show how a particular doctrine or doctrines in one’s theological paradigm may mistakenly be considered a priori to be the biblical truth. Here they are the Calvinist doctrines of an eternal decree and sovereignty understood deterministically. Such presuppositions can influence the interpreter to rewrite a text, altering it from a proper exegesis and plain reading in its immediate and broader biblical context. Dr. Allen states,
“Do you see how the word “all” there gets transmuted into a meaning of “some of all kinds of people?” That’s not what Paul said. Alright. That is eisegesis. Reading into the text or out of the text something that’s not there…Since the adjective “all” modifies “men” in the Greek text of 1 Timothy 2:4, it is not possible to change “all” into “some men of all kinds,” thus making the “all” modify “kinds” and not the word “men” as is properly considered in the text.”
Now, with respect to this (or any) controversy, once logic is dismissed, then to what purpose is the exegetical enterprise or discussion about interpretive conclusions? The discussion ends in a dead-end of relativism. This is precisely what we have in this controversy. Each side can bring out their exegesis, but the bottom line with respect to discerning whether one’s exegesis accurately reflects the meaning of the text is going to be its coherence, consistency and non-contradiction with the text itself, its broader context and other exegetical and theological conclusions gleaned from the whole scope of Scripture. But if these foundational hermeneutical principles can ultimately be put out of court when one’s interpretations contravene these principles, then there will be no consensus on the meaning of the controversial texts. I submit that the interpretations that best incorporate these principles are those that are closer to the true meaning of the passage, that is, the authorial intent. And those that ignore these principles are simply preserving their traditional doctrines that have been permanently deemed, a priori, to be what the Bible teaches.
In other words, at the point that logical and moral considerations are dismissed from our hermeneutic, there is nothing left for us to do interpretively that would ever be productive in coming to agree on the meaning of the texts in question. Without a common logical and moral framework in place, what would discussion on this matter amount to or be able to achieve? What would we be attempting to do? Without a common understanding that the rules of logic and moral intuitions are essential to a proper hermeneutic, there would be nothing more to say. There would be nothing by which to ground an exegesis such that agreement on the objective meaning of a text could be achieved. We could never validate that one or the other of two mutually exclusive interpretations of a text is correct and the other in error. Exegetical relativism results. Your interpretation is valid for you and my interpretation is valid for me. We cannot talk about an identifiably objective meaning of a text if when our exegesis proves itself to be incoherent, inconsistent or in contradiction with other texts, we are always allowed to “defend” our exegesis by claiming it to be “incomprehensible to human reason” or a “mystery.” Neither side could persuade the other of the truth of their position. The grounds for persuasion have been put out of court. The Calvinist can always discount any objection to their interpretations based on their incoherence or inconsistency as attempts to employ and apply our faulty, sin-laden human reasoning to understand what the text says about God and his ways, while the non-Calvinist will never be persuaded by the flight to mystery when exegetical conclusions evidence incoherence, inconsistency and contradiction. The problem is clear. There is a hermeneutical divide that consists as to whether or not our hermeneutic should include logical and moral coherence.
David Allen, Leighton Flowers, God’s Love and Logical Entailment
Dr. Allen and Dr. Flowers will ultimately place their finger on the divide between Calvinists and non-Calvinists located precisely at the point of the logic of one’s interpretations. This matter lurks in the background of all discussions about whether Calvinism is biblical or not.
In delineating the theological beliefs that place a Calvinist in the “hyper-Calvinist” category, Dr. Allen points out that one of them is the denial of God’s universal love, that is, that God loves all people. Note carefully the conclusions that Dr. Allen and Dr. Flowers draw regarding the logical incoherence of the Calvinist position on this matter. Dr. Allen states,
Dr. Allen: “Orthodox Calvinism does distinguish aspects of God’s love. That’s most clearly brought out in D. A. Carson’s The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God…It’s important to recognize the distinction there between God’s love for all people – there’s a sense in which God loves all people, including the non-elect – and there’s a sense in which Calvinists have referred to as a special love for the elect only. So a denial of God’s universal love, just flat out saying God does not have any love for the non-elect, that is a hyper-Calvinistic tendency…And it is important to state that most high-Calvinists do want to affirm there’s a sense in which God loves all people. We don’t want to say that high-Calvinists don’t believe God loves all people – they actually do. Now, by their concept of election we can debate with even our moderate Calvinist friends, and for sure our high-Calvinist friends – if they’re going to argue that there’s no atonement – what kind of love is it that God does not even provide an atonement for some people. Then we can argue that – and we should by the way. But it’s just important to note…the distinction between what somebody believes and then what others think is entailed by what somebody believes. That’s a crucial distinction to make. High-Calvinists affirm that God loves everybody. But now they do distinguish ways that God loves everybody, and some of us may think that there are some conflicts there and some inconsistencies, but we’re arguing that’s entailed in their position, not that they themselves are affirming that God does not love everybody.”
Dr. Flowers: “It’s what we call the logical implication.”
Dr. Allen: “Right. Logical implications is the definition of the word entailment in terms of philosophy and logic. Something that entails something means that there’s a logical implication. And that’s where we differ. We would differ with our moderate Calvinist friends, just like they would differ with us, over some of the entailments of our positions.”
Dr. Flowers and Dr. Allen have stated the crucial issue in this controversy when it was said that “some of us may think that there are some conflicts there and some inconsistencies, but we’re arguing that’s entailed in their position.” Logical entailment is precisely what needs to be brought to the fore in this controversy with respect to discerning the plausibility of proposed interpretations. If something illogical, inconsistent, incoherent or contradictory is entailed in a position, belief or system of beliefs, then it is false. It is false because the canons of reason enable us to discern what is true from what is false. They tell us what is true and what is false. That is their very purpose. And as Dr. Allen states, “that’s where we differ.”
For instance, regarding the dual Calvinist claims of God’s limited provision of atonement for the elect only and that God loves everybody, the entailment here is the incoherence between the two as to the meaning of love. That is, it is incoherent to say God loves everybody and yet only provides atonement for a limited number of elect persons, the corollary of which is that God has predestined those non-elect people he supposedly also “loves” to an eternity separated from himself in punishment for the sin God preordained and caused them to commit. The incoherence is expressed in Dr. Allen’s question, “what kind of love is it that God does not even provide an atonement for some people?” Hence, when a Calvinist claims that “God loves everybody,” in order for that to be a coherent statement the atonement must be unlimited. To believe the atonement is limited, precludes the idea that God loves everybody. In other words, what is logically and morally entailed by the claim that the atonement is limited is that God does not love everybody. What is logically and morally entailed by the claim that God loves everybody is that the atonement must be unlimited.
The same applies to unconditional election. What is entailed in the Calvinist doctrine of unconditional election is that God does not love everybody. By what concept of love can it be said that God loves those he has created precisely so that he might predestine them to eternal damnation, punishment and separation from himself? Therefore, what is entailed in God’s loving everybody is some other definition of election that is not an unconditional divine choice of who will believe and be saved as opposed to those who are not among the unconditionally elect and cannot be saved as understood in Calvinism.
It is true that there is a crucial distinction between what someone believes and “what others think is entailed by what somebody believes.” And it is agreeing on this matter of entailment that is the ultimate issue here. But coming to see what is entailed by a propositional or interpretive claim rests upon and involves us in logical and moral reasoning. We must come to agree that logical and moral entailments can be correctly identified as such and cannot be cavalierly and summarily dismissed in the interpretive process. Logical and moral reasoning cannot be dismissed in this process precisely because they are the very foundation of rational thought, discourse and exegesis. Whether or not sound logical and moral reasoning and what is entailed from these are considered essential for proper interpretation is the essence of this controversy. And I submit that the resolution of this controversy requires the Calvinist to acknowledge that logical and moral reasoning and their entailments are reliable indicators of the validity or invalidity of one’s exegetical and interpretive conclusions.
Vincent Cheung, David Allen, Leighton Flowers and Logical and Moral Entailments
Regarding logical and moral entailments, can a Calvinist accept the doctrine of unconditional election and reject the doctrine of reprobation and remain logically consistent? All Calvinists accept unconditional election. It is essential to what it means to be a Calvinist. Without it you do not have Calvinism. But some more “moderate” Calvinists reject what seems to be the logical entailment of unconditional election which is reprobation.
Interestingly, Calvinist Vincent Cheung takes his moderate Calvinist brothers and sisters to task for not holding to what he sees as the logical implication of their doctrine of unconditional election. Cheung maintains that the Calvinist cannot dismiss the logical entailments of his doctrines. Logical necessity cannot be jettisoned if the Calvinist theological system is to remain credible. As to whether or not the reprobation of certain individuals as a positive divine act is a “logical necessity” of God’s unconditional election of others, Cheung writes,
“The corollary of election is reprobation. Just as God has chosen those individuals who would be saved, he has also deliberately and individually (that is, “by name”) decreed the damnation of all others. Many of those who affirm the doctrine of election nevertheless reject the doctrine of reprobation. However, just as election is a necessary conclusion from the sovereignty of God, reprobation is also true if by nothing else other than logical necessity, although it is also supported by direct biblical teaching. Those who reject the doctrine do so on the basis of their irrational prejudice instead of on biblical argument or logical inference.”
Note that Cheung affirms the point I am making. The truth or falsity of a theological conclusion can be reliably determined “if by nothing else than logical necessity.” So as much as one may claim exegetical support for a position or doctrine, the matter of a violation of “logical necessity” or a “necessary conclusion” is in and of itself sufficient to declare one’s thinking or their interpretation in error. One cannot simply ignore what logically follows from one’s interpretive claims. If the interpreter dismisses the logical and moral entailments of their position, then that is sufficient to deem their position an “irrational prejudice” at some point. The point is that the rationality or irrationality, truth or falsity of a proposition or interpretation can be determined on the basis of “logical inference” regardless of claims about it being rooted in the exegesis of the text. If it doesn’t make sense it is not a correct interpretation of Scripture. In fact, according to Cheung, if one’s doctrinal position violates logical inference or entailment, then that doctrinal position or interpretation would be incorrect. The thing to note is that Cheung’s Calvinist definition of divine sovereignty as a theistic determinism creates logical and moral incoherence, inconsistency and contradiction throughout the Scriptures. But these many incoherencies, inconsistencies and contradictions do not cause Cheung any concern. As such, he is inconsistent in the application of his own principle of entailment or “logical inference.” And this reveals the a priori status of his definition of God’s sovereignty as a universal divine causal determinism. The Calvinist holds to this theistic determinism no matter how much incoherence, inconsistency or contradiction it causes.
So according to Cheung, if the Calvinist is going to be rational in this matter they must accept the doctrine of reprobation as a logical entailment or logical necessity of the doctrine of unconditional election. This certainly seems correct. But the question becomes whether or not the Calvinist doctrine of unconditional election is the teaching of Scripture. How would we be able to find out? Well, within his own interpretive system Cheung requires logical consistency. We can apply the same criteria of “logical necessity” or “necessary conclusion” to determine whether or not unconditional election is biblical. We can inquire into whether there are logical entailments of the doctrine of unconditional election that would require us to reject unconditional election as the teaching of Scripture. We are asking whether there are logical entailments to the Calvinist doctrines that end up pitting Scriptural truths against each other or reality as we know it. Interestingly, the common flight to mystery seems to confirm that there is a problem of doctrinal incoherence and inconsistency inherent in Calvinism. It seems to me that the Calvinist has to dismiss or ignore the logical entailments of certain of their theological doctrines by hiding behind a curtain of mystery or incomprehensibility. This speaks to Cheung’s and the Calvinist’s use of the principles of logic and moral intuitions as applying to certain doctrinal conclusions but not others. The point is that as much as the high-Calvinist might consider such entailments as significant within their systematic theology, Calvinists in general do not consider such entailments to be imperative and indispensable for determining the validity of their own exegetical conclusions and subsequent soteriological interpretations given the whole scope of Scripture and other external experiential considerations. In contrast, the non-Calvinist is more inclined to include the full scope of logical and moral considerations as a determining factor in the validity of their interpretations. And there lies the hermeneutical difference. That is the hermeneutical divide. So let’s inquire into whether there are logical entailments of the doctrine of unconditional election that would require us to reject unconditional election as the teaching of Scripture.
Cheung has stated above that “election is a necessary conclusion from the sovereignty of God.” Obviously he is referring to his Calvinist doctrine of unconditional election and the sovereignty of God as defined deterministically as Calvinists do. So I agree. Unconditional election certainly seems to be “a necessary conclusion” or logically follow from the sovereignty of God defined as a universal divine causal determinism. Since God predetermines all things, this includes who will and will not be saved. So we might press this point and ask what else is logically entailed in divine sovereignty defined as a theistic determinism? It certainly seems that the loss of human freedom and responsibility is a logically necessary conclusion or entailment of Calvinism’s universal divine causal determinism. That is, it seems that for human freedom and moral responsibility to meaningful, both logic reflection and moral intuition require some other non-deterministic definition of divine sovereignty. Can this non-deterministic definition be the result of a sound biblical exegesis? If so, that would be the more biblically accurate understanding of divine sovereignty. As such, the logical entailments would not have to be ignored as is the case in Calvinism, and logical and moral entailment would constitute an indispensable element of our hermeneutic. When the logical and moral entailments of a proposition or doctrine land us in incoherence, inconsistency or contradiction then we must go back to the Bible to see if there is an interpretation that would not cause this incoherence, inconsistency or contradiction.
So Cheung has applied logical entailment internally within his Calvinist system. I believe he is correct in doing so. Given unconditional election, “if by nothing else other than logical necessity” he concludes that reprobation is to be believed. But if this is correct, then the other logical entailments of unconditional election and theistic determinism must be faced and deemed interpretively significant. But can Cheung follow through on this when his Calvinist doctrines seem inconsistent with other theological truths outside his Calvinist system. For instance, why aren’t the loss of meaningful human freedom and responsibility the logical and moral entailments of Cheung’s definition of sovereignty as theistic determinism? This leaves the non-Calvinist baffled, and Cheung’s explanation does not help. He writes,
“One common objection is that this biblical doctrine of divine sovereignty removes or contradicts the moral responsibility of man. That is, if God controls everything, including human beliefs, thoughts, decisions, and actions, then it seems to some people that man would not be morally responsible for anything. However, man is responsible precisely because God is sovereign, since for a person to be responsible means that he will be held accountable to his actions, that he will be rewarded or punished according to a certain standard of right and wrong. So moral responsibility has to do with whether God has decreed a final judgment, and whether he has the power to enforce this decree. It does not depend on any “free will” in man. In fact, since human responsibility depends on divine sovereignty, and since divine sovereignty indeed contradicts human freedom (not human responsibility), this means that man is responsible precisely because he is not free.
Man is responsible because God will reward obedience and punish rebellion, but this does not mean that man is free to obey or rebel. Autonomy is an illusion. Romans 8:7 explains, “The sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so.” The Bible never teaches that man is responsible for his sins because he is free. That is, man is responsible for his sins not because he is free to do otherwise – this verse says that he is not free, but he is still counted as sinful. Whether man is responsible has nothing to do with whether he is free, but whether God decides to hold him accountable. And man is responsible because God has decided to judge him for his sins. Therefore, the doctrine of human responsibility does not depend on the unbiblical teaching of free will, but on the absolute sovereignty of God.”
Cheung states, “…man is responsible precisely because he is not free.” He also states, “Man is responsible because God will reward obedience and punish rebellion, but this does not mean that man is free to obey or rebel. Autonomy is an illusion.” What is the “rationale” for these statements? A misinterpretation and misapplication of Romans 8:7? Are these statements in accord with Cheung’s own standards of “logical necessity” and “logical inference” that he demanded of his fellow Calvinists on the issue of reprobation? It seems that because Cheung holds to a deterministic definition of God’s sovereignty as non-negotiable he must therefore reject human freedom. To his credit, he is being consistent and sees this conclusion to be a logical inference or entailed by his theistic determinism. Theistic determinism and human freedom are mutually exclusive. Recall that Cheung insists on logical consistency and chided his fellow Calvinists for not accepting reprobation as the logical entailment of unconditional election. Yet, even though there is no such thing as free will, Cheung insists that there is such a thing as “the moral responsibility of man.” But can a person be held morally responsible for their actions without having some degree of autonomy and the freedom to have done otherwise? Now, Cheung claims that man is morally responsible “precisely because he is not free.” How so? Cheung states that “…for a person to be responsible means that he will be held accountable to his actions, that he will be rewarded or punished according to a certain standard of right and wrong.” But does this really help us in defining “responsibility” or understanding his position? What does it mean for a person to be “held accountable for his actions?”
First, given universal divine causal determinism, whose actions will a person be held responsible for if, as Cheung makes clear, “God controls everything, including human beliefs, thoughts, decisions, and actions?” This certainly seems to be incoherent and therefore requires either a different view of the nature of God’s sovereignty or clarification as to what is meant by “responsibility.” As to “responsibility,” for Cheung it seems that this is something God simply bestows or imposes upon people even though God causes them to do what they do. God seems to be saying, “I know that people are not free to do right or wrong of their own accord because I control their every thought and action. Yet, because I am also sovereign in the sense that what I say goes, I will decree that by virtue of my decision to judge people by a standard of right and wrong, they will therefore become morally responsible for what I have caused them to do,whether right or wrong, good or evil.” Therefore, Cheung says, “Whether man is responsible has nothing to do with whether he is free, but whether God decides to hold him accountable. And man is responsible because God has decided to judge him for his sins.” But is this really the way God thinks about his judgment of persons for their sins? Don’t those sins have to be their sins? And for that to be the case doesn’t there need to be some degree of human freedom or autonomy which certainly seems to be in contradiction with theistic determinism as even Cheung admits? Given theistic determinism, what is the purpose of a “standard of right and wrong?” And if this “standard” reveals that God is a moral being, can he hold person’s responsibility for things he has caused them to perform? Is that not wrong in and of itself and therefore something God cannot do? So rather than alter his deterministic definition of sovereignty, Cheung does away with human freedom. Cheung states, “Whether man is responsible has nothing to do with whether he is free, but whether God decides to hold him accountable.” But again, how does the mere fact that God has decided to judge people and “hold them accountable” for their sins get at what it means to be morally responsible for one’s actions? Is moral responsibility established merely on the basis that there will be a judgment according to standards of right and wrong? Is “responsibility” created out of “thin air” by virtue of a divine fiat that states, “I, God, have decided that I will judge human beings. Therefore that fact makes them morally responsible.” And what purpose do standards of right and wrong serve if people are predetermined by God to do right or do wrong? The mere fact that there will be a judgment seems to entail that there is at least some degree of human autonomy and freedom of the will. Otherwise how can any judgment be assigned to the person and not be merely a declaration about the rightness or wrongness of an act? Indeed, the fact that there is going to be a judgment implies that persons are culpable for the right or wrong they have done as substantially free moral agents, otherwise what is God judging but his own predeterminations. Some degree of real freedom of the will in which the source of an action is of a person who is “response-able” as an autonomous, free moral agent with an ability to do otherwise, seems to be entailed in the word responsibility and in the concept of judgment itself. But Cheung’s definition of sovereignty as theistic determinism does not allow for any degree of human autonomy and moral responsibility that will result in a genuine judgment and not merely established on the fact that God will make judgments about the rightness or wrongness of what he preordained and caused people to do. That seems to be what is logically entailed by Cheung’s theistic determinism. So according to Cheung, “moral responsibility,” that is, holding people “responsible” for what they do is grounded in the divine will to simply do so. This seems to have no reference to the character of God and how we would expect God to think and act in accord with that character, but merely to the will of God as absolute. According to Cheung people are neither free nor autonomous and yet God has decreed to hold people morally responsible for what they do in complete disregard for how God’s character enters into these issues and that God causes all people to do what they do because Cheung must preserve his definition of “sovereign” as a universal divine causal determinism.
So is Cheung following the logical and moral entailments of what he believes where they lead? I don’t think so. He believes the fact of divine judgment, or the mere divine decree that “I will hold persons responsible for their actions” is enough to ground the claim that they are responsible for their actions without having any human autonomy, freedom or other type of “responsibility.” The only type of responsibility we have is “moral responsibility,” and we have that because God will judge us for the right or wrong he himself, who is also the judge, caused us to do. That being the case, how can Cheung speak coherently about the “right and wrong we have done” in anything more than merely an instrumental sense? The incoherence between his theistic determinism and the common sense necessity that there be some degree of human freedom to justly and coherently hold people responsible for their actions is completely ignored. It is completely ignored due to the force that theistic determinism has in distorting one’s thinking in these matters. But logical reflection and our moral intuition would tell us something more is needed in the context of theistic determinism than merely a courtroom and a judge to constitute a just judgment in holding persons morally responsible for their actions. You need a viable concept of human freedom as it is human persons made in the image of God who are going to be judged.
So if Cheung uses “logical necessity” with regard to the implications of his determinism on human freedom, he should come to a different conclusion about human freedom or his definition of God’s sovereignty. The loss of meaningful human freedom and responsibility is logically entailed, or, is a “necessary conclusion” of universal divine causal determinism.
So does “sovereignty” in Scripture entail universal divine causal determinism? If this concept of sovereignty, or theistic determinism, wreaks havoc throughout the Scriptures which overwhelmingly testify to human freedom, responsibility and a contingent reality, then the Calvinist’s deterministic definition of God’s sovereignty is incorrect. And that would be true using Cheung’s own standards for the need for coherence and logical consistency among our interpretive conclusions and doctrinal beliefs.
Recall Cheung has stated that “God controls everything, including human beliefs, thoughts, decisions, and actions.” It is hard to see how human responsibility is coherent with Cheung’s Calvinist theistic determinism. The logical entailment of such determinism is that there is no such thing as moral responsibility. The logical entailment of moral responsibility seems to be human free agency which is incoherent with theistic determinism as Cheung does admit when he says, “divine sovereignty indeed contradicts human freedom.”
Furthermore, we can raise the issue as to how this definition of sovereignty does not make God the source and cause of all evil. That seems to be a logical entailment of this theistic determinism. But also entailed in the moral perfection, goodness and love of God is the fact that God is not evil and cannot do evil. Therefore, shouldn’t we conclude that theistic determinism is a misinterpretation of Scripture on the matter of God’s sovereignty? Recall Cheung’s criteria that something can be declared true of false “if by nothing else other than logical necessity.” Hence, it seems incumbent upon the Calvinist, on pain of irrationality, to perform his textual exegesis according to a hermeneutic that requires coherence, consistency and non-contradiction in handling and interpreting the text. Subsequently, the theological system that will be constructed on such interpretations will also exhibit rational and moral coherence.
So we see that Cheung, as a Calvinist, does not remain consistent as to logical and moral entailments and logical and moral necessity. Neither will he allow this incoherence to examine his exegetical interpretations of the text. For as much as Cheung has rightly observed that we can discern something to be true or false “if by nothing else other than logical necessity,” he does not seem to apply this to his own interpretations. He does not consider the incoherence in his own theology hermeneutically significant.
Entailments are stubborn things because logic is tenacious and inescapable. Entailments are a matter of logical implication. As such, they are based in and bound by the laws of logical reasoning. What a belief entails is not a relative matter or open to subjective acceptance or rejection. Entailments themselves are not open to “interpretation,” rather, they act as a check on interpretive relativism. That is the point. Sound interpretation must be guided by its logical and moral entailments. If this were not the case the text can mean anything the interpreter wants it to mean or thinks it means. Something is either a logical or moral entailment of a position or it is not. We are all bound to accept or reject our interpretations and beliefs according to the logical and moral entailments of those interpretations and beliefs precisely because all sound reasoning rests upon logical reasoning and moral intuition. Christian beliefs are not irrational or immoral beliefs. Mystery is not an excuse for irrationality and immorality in interpretation and belief. By definition, logical and moral entailments are essential, reliable and definitive as to discerning the validity of a biblical interpretation. These entailments indicate to us the validity of those interpretations and beliefs. The only way to avoid what is entailed in a position is to obscure the matter by asserting mystery, or attempt to convince others that they should think differently about the position so as to avoid the logical and moral entailments, i.e., it’s an antinomy, paradox, ‘apparent’ contradiction, incomprehensible, etc.
We are not talking here about what someone believes and what someone else thinks the other person believes. That would merely be to understand or misunderstand, as the case may be, the other’s beliefs. Dr. Allen’s warnings from the previous sections are correct. For instance, we should not say that because Calvinists believe in total inability, irresistible grace and unconditional election they do not believe in evangelism. We should not say that because Calvinists believe in unconditional election they do not believe God loves everybody. What the Calvinist says he believes, the non-Calvinist should clearly accept as their beliefs and represent them accurately and fairly. But that is a separate issue. What we are emphasizing here is what is entailed by a person’s beliefs and propositions, that is, whether or not what follows from their interpretations and beliefs is logically or morally coherent, consistent and non-contradictory.
It is incumbent upon both sides to acknowledge that entailments, as the conclusions derived from logical reasoning and moral intuitions, are essential for discerning whether or not one has correctly interpreted a text. Once one’s beliefs are clearly stated and understood there are certain entailments that logically flow from those beliefs. One’s exegesis and beliefs don’t exist in a logical or moral vacuum. These entailments are either logically coherent or incoherent. They are either logically consistent or inconsistent. They are either non-contradictory or contradictory. If they are the later or these, then we may confidently declare those beliefs to be the results of a mistaken reading and exegesis of the biblical text. They have shown themselves to be false. This is essential to good exegesis precisely because we cannot abandon reason in the interpretive process and claim we are properly representing the intent of the author. Think about it. If reason is dismissed, not only does that possibly impugn a biblical author’s thought process and skill to clearly communicate, but also makes it such that it is never incumbent for anyone to accept another’s interpretation as biblical truth. The text means whatever the interpreter thinks and says it means, and any entailments cannot be genuine entailments because logic and moral intuition have been forfeited. If one offers a logical and moral assessment of another’s position, showing it to be incoherent, inconsistent or contradictory, and one can simply avoid that critique by asserting mystery, then no progress can be made to reaching a consensus on the author’s intended meaning. One’s exegesis cannot stand as the only consideration in determining the validity of one’s exegesis. A proposed exegesis as it stands, and the question of whether or not it accurately represents the meaning of the text, are two different matters. If one’s position ultimately maintains that the Bible teaches that God is sovereign in a way that requires us to ignore or rationalize away the logical and moral difficulties of such a teaching, then any meaningful thought and discourse is impossible.
While Dr. Allen and Dr. Flowers identify “conflicts” and “inconsistencies” in a position and deem these hermeneutically significant, and the Calvinist refuses to acknowledge those “conflicts” and “inconsistencies” as hermeneutically significant, then there can be no reconciliation of the disparate interpretations of the text or consensus omnium reached regarding biblical soteriology. The Calvinist can just ignore the logical and moral entailments of their exegesis and continue to hold their position. The present state of the controversy has it that these “conflicts” and “inconsistencies” are either real (the non-Calvinist) or they are only “apparent” (the Calvinist) without an intentional decision being made as to the actual state of affairs. Therefore intentional sustained thought must be given to decide which of these approaches is the intellectually responsible, and rationally acceptable hermeneutical stance.
I submit that if the laws of logic hold in biblical interpretation, these “conflicts” and “inconsistencies” must be real, and if they are real, then where the Calvinist interpretations generate these “conflicts” and “inconsistencies” they must be declared to be in error if we are to be intellectually responsible. This is the only way forward towards a resolution to this controversy. To claim real incoherence, inconsistency or contradictions to be only “apparent” is an intellectual dodge, a mere assertion and continues to beg the interpretive question. It is one of the things that keeps the controversy alive.
If this hermeneutical divide is not reckoned with, this controversy will never be resolved. It will never cease. But let us be clear why it will never cease. It is not because of any mystery inherent in the text or lack of comprehension or because the Bible teaches both in “apparent contradiction,” but because the most foundational of hermeneutical principles – coherence – has been put out of court. The laws of logic and our moral intuitions are indispensable for determining the validity of an interpretation and must be brought to bear upon the exegetical and interpretative process.
For instance, speaking about a fifth point that distinguishes someone as a “hyper-Calvinist,” that is, one who denies God’s universal saving will, Dr. Allen states,
“Most Calvinists believe that God desires the salvation of all people – 1 Timothy 2:4-6; 2 Peter 3:9, passage in Ezekiel, some other passages. Most Calvinists affirm that. However, they argue that he has sovereignly chosen to save only some people. So he desires to save all. He sovereignly chosen to only save some. Now you and I would argue there’s a real problem there. But now Calvinists say well no it’s not a real problem because most Calvinists today – moderate Calvinists – will affirm what is called God’s two wills. God’s decretal will, his hidden will…verses God’s revealed will. And they will say now in God’s revealed will in Scripture God clearly says he desires everybody to be saved. But nevertheless in the decretal will he has decreed that only the elect will be saved.
Now, Calvinists don’t see a contradiction there. You and I do. But that’s a debate for another time.”
Here the difference between the non-Calvinist and Calvinist with respect to the weight given to the logical entailments of the Calvinist’s interpretations becomes clear. Dr. Allen states, “Now you and I would argue that there’s a real problem there.” With regard to the Calvinist solution of the two wills in God, Dr. Allen states this does not help because we still have a contradiction in that solution as much as we did in the original theological propositions. In fact, the solution only deepens the incoherence because it involves God in a duplicitous confusion of will, thus impugning the character of God. The non-Calvinist sees the “two wills” solution as no solution at all. It only exacerbates the incoherence of Calvinism.
It certainly seems that the Calvinist is struggling to escape the vortex of his theistic determinism, but it cannot be done. Observe that even in their supposed solutions to the logical problems in their original soteriology, the Calvinist only compounds the logical problems in those solutions. The logic of the solution is as bad as the logical problems of the original soteriology. I contend that the Calvinist will never be able to extricate himself from the logical problem of his original soteriology precisely because it is a real contradiction. Real contradictions cannot be logically resolved unless you alter some belief or premise that is causing the contradiction. You cannot reason around a contradiction. That’s what makes it a contradiction in the true sense of the word. Hence Calvinist attempts to reason around their contradictions without altering the premises in their theology will only serve to continue to confirm that their theology contains real contradictions. The non-Calvinist views the problematic theology as well as these “solutions” to that problematic theology as exegetical red flags. Something is wrong in the interpretation of the text. The Calvinist has learned to think about them differently so he can “live” with them. But according to the non-Calvinist the Calvinist pays too high an intellectual price to do so.
Now exegesis is first and foremost the means by which we determine the meaning of the biblical text. But the point to be grasped is that the particulars of one’s exegesis and the determination of the validity of that exegesis are intricately bound to its resulting entailments. Recall above that entailment has to do with the logical implications of one’s interpretations and subsequent beliefs. Dr. Allen and Dr. Flowers perceive the Calvinist position to entail a “contradiction.” God reveals that he desires everyone to be saved, but also reveals that he has determined that only a limited number of persons he has chosen will be saved. It seems obvious then that God did not desire everyone to be saved. So in light of the Calvinist’s deterministic doctrines of divine sovereignty and unconditional election, the Calvinist is in effect saying “God desires everyone to be saved” and “God does not desire everyone to be saved.” This is what is logically entailed in the Calvinist doctrines. But this is a blatant contradiction. As to who these particular elect ones are, that is hidden from us. But the fact that there is a limited number predestined to salvation is revealed to us.
This presents a logical and moral problem for Dr. Allen and Dr. Flowers regarding the mind and character of God, but not so for the Calvinist, at least in the sense that it has bearing upon the validity of their textual interpretations and causes them to go back to the text in search of a more logically and morally consistent interpretation of the text. The Calvinist inconsistencies and contradictions are grounded in what they are convinced it must mean for God to be sovereign defined deterministically, and what it must mean for man to be a sinner defined as his total inability to respond in faith to God. As long as these “musts” remain, the Calvinist will never allow for a more coherent interpretation as to how God relates to man and man relates to God given what they also acknowledge about the nature of and man from that same Scripture. It seems that the Calvinist will never allow God to dictate the terms upon which he relates to man and man relates to God by virtue of a more coherent, consistent and non-contradictory reading of Scripture.
Does Scripture witness to a universal divine causal determinism? Not when you take logical and moral coherence on board in your hermeneutic. Scripture certainly does allow for an exegetically sound view of God’s sovereignty that is not deterministic. Calvinist claims that non-Calvinist objections to their theology are mainly philosophical and moral and not exegetical are simply false. Non-Calvinists produce exegetically sound interpretations for all the relevant texts in this controversy. The “Soteriology 101” podcast cited and discussed above, along with the writings of David Allen and Leighton Flowers, are prime examples. Not any exegesis will do for the non-Calvinist. It has to be a faithful representation of the author’s intent based on all the factors that make for good hermeneutics and exegesis, especially that of coherence, which is synonymous with the principle of the immediate and broader contexts. As I will demonstrate elsewhere, the principle of interpretive coherence just is the fundamental interpretive principle of context. Context is coherence and coherence context.
Let’s go back to Dr. Allen’s point when he says, “Calvinists don’t see a contradiction there. You and I do. But that’s a debate for another time.” Well the time has come for that debate because the gospel message is at stake. At present there are two incompatible gospels in the Christian evangelical church. Both cannot be true. This hermeneutical divide must either be bridged or there will never be a resolution to this matter. The essential problem of the difference between the two hermeneutical frameworks will always remain. I submit that rational and moral coherence are essential factors in a proper hermeneutic. It is only by virtue of a hermeneutic that includes these that we can know the meaning of a text as the author intended.
This hermeneutical issue is what divides the non-Calvinist from the Calvinist. And if one’s interpretation leads to inconsistencies and logical contradictions, that is, they violate the first principles of logic upon which all reasoned thought rests, then such interpretations can be known to be flawed. Even if we do not know what a particular text surely means, if our interpretation violates the canons of reason we therefore know what it cannot mean. One may even come to an accurate understanding of a text “by accident” so to speak. An interpretation may be poorly reasoned yet just happen to be correct, but why it is correct would be unbeknownst to us. But even when an interpretation is coincidentally correct, because it is correct such an interpretation would ultimately show itself to be coherent with other biblical data and doctrines and on those grounds be more plausible than interpretations that demonstrate incoherence. Coherence is not a sufficient ground for declaring an interpretation to be what the author intended, but it is a necessary evidence for claims to have accurately interpreted the text. Accurate understandings of a text must evidence concurrence with the principles of reason. If an interpretation is incorrect, the application of a hermeneutic of coherence would ultimately expose it as incorrect. An interpretation, no matter what exegesis is brought forth to support it, if it is found to generate incoherence, inconsistency, or contradiction shows itself to be an incorrect understanding of the text. Such interpretations are ultimately indefensible. One must resort to ad hoc or question begging explanations to maintain such interpretations and beliefs.
So, can we discern a contradiction when we see one? Does it matter if we do? Are we bound by the first principles of logic to take logic’s dictates as reliable for discerning the validity of a biblical interpretation? These are questions that must be faced for this controversy to advance towards the truth.
C. A. Campbell and the Role of Reason in Religion and Faith
C. A. Campbell was professor of Logic and Rhetoric in the University of Glasgow when he gave his Gifford Lectures at the University of St. Andrews from 1953 to 1955. These lectures were subsequently collected in a work entitled On Selfhood and Godhood. I concur with Campbell’s assessment of the role of reason presented in these lectures when he defended reason as the philosopher’s “instrument” for discerning truth even in matters of religion and faith. With qualifications made against rationalism, which I discussed earlier and a distinction Campbell will also make, we would be correct to maintain that it is also the theologians “instrument” for discerning truth even in matters of religion and faith.
Campbell observed that religious critics of philosophy claim that the philosopher’s use of reason is offensive to religious faith. This claim is also found in this controversy between Calvinists and non-Calvinists. Calvinists object that sinful human reason cannot possibly fully comprehend the depths of God’s will and ways, and therefore use this limitation of reason to justify the problematic Reformed Calvinist interpretive and doctrinal conclusions. These interpretations and doctrines create logical and moral incoherencies, inconsistencies and contradiction that Calvinists claim are only “apparent” contradictions. Therefore, according to Calvinists, due to certain presuppositions about the nature and role of reason, the Calvinist interpretations only “appear” to be contradictory and should therefore be accepted as mysteries of the faith because the Bible clearly sets them out as interpreted and understood in Reformed theology.
But is this really the case with reason and revelation? Whether the Calvinist interpretations are actually real contradictions and not “apparent contradictions” is the question before us. What is an “apparent contradiction?” Can we know a real contradiction when we see one? Does an “apparent contradiction” presuppose that we must know a real contradiction when we see one?
Calvinists acknowledge logical difficulties and contradictions in their theology but then claim they are only “apparent” or a “high mystery” because implicitly they know that one’s interpretations of the divinely inspired text cannot and therefore should not contain real contradictions or incoherencies. But are these assertions about “apparent contradiction” and “high mystery” biblically and intellectually plausible, or can it be discerned whether the Calvinist interpretations are real contradictions and incoherencies?
Calvinists and non-Calvinists agree that God needs to reveal himself to us in order for us to have a true understanding of who he is and what he is like. It is not within the ability of human reason to discover and know what only God can reveal. But once he does reveal himself, especially as recorded in written form, how are we to come to a true understanding of this written revelation? What role does reason play in the interpretation of written texts?
Due to the applicability of Campbell’s insights to our concerns here, I quote him at length. Note that we can rightly substitute “theology” for “philosophy” and “thinking person” or “theologian” for the word “philosopher” in Campbell’s discussion. He states,
“I think there is great need, therefore, that the claim for reason inherent in philosophy itself be set out with care. When that is done, objection will, without doubt, still be taken to the claim in some religious quarters. But it will no longer seem plausible, I think, to dismiss the claim as preposterous.
We need not linger over a definition of reason sufficient for the purpose in hand. Within the framework of the dispute about the competence of reason in religion, reason can, I think, be taken with fair safety as denoting for all parties the kind of thinking which is directed to the attainment of truth under the sole guidance and control of thought’s own internal standards. That is ‘reason’ in the sense in which reason is the characteristic instrument in philosophy. And obviously the philosopher qua philosopher must make some claim for the competence of his instrument. Our immediate question is, just how much must the philosopher claim for it, if he is not to stultify his very choice of it as his instrument?”
It seems to me that this same question is at the heart of the differences between the Calvinist and non-Calvinist handling of the biblical text and the acceptance or rejection of the respective theological conclusions. The examples given above introduced us to the role of reason in interpretation. Given rationally perplexing theological conclusions, can we simply defy reason’s presence and role by labeling interpretive conclusions as only “apparent” or “high mystery?”, or, ought rational coherence be an essential element in our interpretive methodology and a check upon our theological conclusions when they prove contradictory or incoherent? What is reason’s proper role, potential and limitations in producing and determining valid interpretations? Campbell continues,
“Now it is clear at once that the competence claimed for it is not omni-competence; that is to say, it is certainly not the ability of reason to develop from its own internal resources the whole system of truths about the universe…Now I have little doubt that a good deal of the animus towards philosophy which one remarks in so many religious circles today rests on the erroneous assumption that the philosopher does, qua philosopher, conceive of his instrument reason as an organ competent to apprehend God, if any God there be: and I should agree that against such a claim for reason it is possible to bring very formidable arguments indeed. On the other hand, it is certain that some of the religious critics of philosophy…know perfectly well that this is not a claim intrinsic to philosophy, and that there are many philosophers who would not make it. Presumably, therefore, these critics must have in mind some other claim for reason which, rightly or wrongly, they ascribe to the philosopher, and which they feel to be offensive to religious faith. What is this claim?
I think it is as follows. And I think the critics are right in believing that it belongs to philosophy as such, but wrong in believing that it is an invalid claim, and wrong also in believing it to be somehow derogatory to religion.
The philosopher must claim, I think, that wherever the question of objective truth arises, whether it be the truth of religion or of anything else, it is for reason, and for reason alone, to carry out the assessment of the evidence, and to make the final adjudication upon it. The evidence may come from many quarters, including, unquestionably, what is called ‘religious experience’. But how far, e.g. (if at all) a putative instance of religious experience can be regarded as an authentic instance of religious experience, involving the actual revelation of Deity that it is taken by the experiencing subject to involve; and how far, accordingly, (if at all) weight is to be attached to it in the construction of a theory about the ultimate nature of things – these are surely not matters that settle themselves. They are matters to be reflectively determined in the light of a variety of relevant considerations. And what is there save reason, the philosopher asks, to perform this office?
Is this then the claim for reason inherent in philosophy which induces so many religious thinkers to repudiate and disparage philosophy? I believe that it is. To exalt philosophy, or its organ reason, to the status of supreme judge in matters even of religious truth seems to them shocking; an irreligious assault upon the supremacy of faith. ‘If philosophy must make this claim or perish’, they would say, ‘then so much the worse for philosophy.’
Nevertheless, it does seem to me that the validity of this ‘philosophic’ claim for reason is, in the end, inescapable. And I think we can best see that it is so by directing our attention to a simple, but surely very significant, fact. No one, so far as I am aware, is prepared to admit that his own religious beliefs are unreasonable. If that were imputed against him, on the ground, perhaps, that he is putting his trust in some non-rational mode of apprehension, he is ready to argue in defence of his so doing. He will say, perhaps, that ‘mere reason’ is out of its depth in the realm of religion, and that a God who is truly God can be apprehended only through His own Self-revelation, not by any processes initiated and controlled by the human reason. But then, notice well, he is arguing. He is contending that it is reasonable, in view of certain relevant considerations, to put one’s trust in a non-rational (or supra-rational) mode of apprehension. And what can this appeal to reason mean save the acceptance of reason as the ultimate court of appeal, even in matters of religion, which is just what the philosopher claims it to be?”
We should note here that even though we gladly acknowledge that God takes the initiative to reveal himself to us, a revelation he has preserved for us in the Scriptures and without which we would know less than we need to about him and ourselves, we also must acknowledge that we must process this revelatory evidence in a certain manner. Campbell’s point is that even those who claim “faith” over understanding do so by employing sound reason to argue and defend their position. Likewise, the interpretive process should be in accord with sound reasoning. This of course does not exclude the possibility of true mysteries and miracles, for both of these are coherent given a supernatural being of the type presented in Scripture. Yet reason will inform us of these possibilities too. We are not embracing rationalism. But neither should we excuse interpretive incoherence, inconsistency or contradiction as mystery or miracle. Rather, we are defending the use of reason for discerning validity in interpretation.
Campbell also states,
“Whatever more specific criteria the intellect may from time to time accept in its endeavors to know the real, there is one general and over-riding criterion from which its allegiance can at no point be withheld, viz. ‘non-contradiction’. An ‘object’ that is self-contradictory, in the sense that the characters we ascribe to it in our conception of it contradict one another, cannot as so conceived be accepted by thought as the reality it is seeking to know…I shall try to persuade you that when the nature of the contradictory is correctly elucidated, certain conclusions of the utmost importance follow about the nature of a reality which, whatever else it may be, must be assumed to be at least such that it does not contradict itself. ”
Most Calvinists will agree with this in theory. Yet I submit that they are inconsistent, for they do not feel non-contradiction is a principle binding upon them for determining the validity of their interpretations and doctrines. Many Calvinists will dismiss the contradictions and incoherencies in their theology by claiming that they are engaged in ‘faith seeking understanding.’ But how does ‘faith’ seek anything, let alone ‘understanding,’ except through reason? And once we acknowledge the proper role of reason how can we ignore contradiction and incoherence in our interpretive conclusions? Can the content of ‘faith’ violate the law of non-contradiction? In this sense even ‘faith’ is “thought through” – resting upon something more fundamental than itself. ‘Faith’ cannot exist in an intellectual vacuum. “Faith or reason” is not a biblical viewpoint. Yet, might not the tenant, “faith seeking understanding,” be an excuse for maintaining a position regardless of its rational incoherence? May “faith” be an excuse for maintaining a theological tradition that refuses to admit its incoherence and therefore the possibility of an erroneous apprehension of Scripture? In these cases perhaps “faith” does not want to seek any further “understanding,” indeed, “faith” wants no part of “understanding” when that “understanding” challenges that “faith.”
Campbell adds the following insights which clarify the confusion many Calvinists express when they seek to justify the contradiction generated by their view of sovereignty and human freedom by labeling it “apparent” or “high mystery.” They assert that the human mind is inadequate to fully comprehend the will, plans and ways of God. As true as this certainly is, the real issue pertains to the human mind’s adequacy to arbitrate what is being asserted about the will, plans and ways of God. Calvinists either fail to recognize this distinction or simply “rationalize” or “spiritualize” it away to justify maintaining their theology despite its contradictions and incoherencies.
“Incidentally, it should be observed that the believer’s argument is not self-contradictory in thus tacitly appealing to reason to show that it is not by reason that we can apprehend God. For his appeal is to reason as ultimate arbiter, not to show that reason is not the ultimate arbiter, but to show that reason is not an appropriate organ for the apprehension of God.
On the other hand, it is self-contradictory to appeal to reason as ultimate arbiter to show that reason is not the ultimate arbiter. And that I am suggesting, is precisely what the religious critic of philosophy’s claim for reason is committed to doing, if he is going to try to justify his attitude at all. He may, of course, simply assert that not reason but Authority, or Inner Light, or what you will, is the ultimate arbiter: but as soon as he commits himself to defending the proposition, to arguing in its support, he presupposes the truth of the very proposition he is aiming to disprove. ‘Argument’ has no meaning if it does not invite decision in accordance with the evidence as it approves itself to reason. I cannot persuade myself, therefore, that there is any real alternative to acknowledging reason as the ultimate arbiter in the field of truth – religious truth or any other sort of truth – except silence, a dogged refusal even to begin to argue in defence of one’s beliefs.”
Note first that if the Calvinist wishes to claim that reason is not the ultimate arbiter regarding their interpretations of the text, which is different than the claim that the human mind is capable of fully comprehending God apart from his revelation of himself to us, then Calvinism is surely presenting itself as genuinely irrational with respect to its hermeneutic. It is not unreasonable to believe God must reveal himself to us for us to apprehend him to the degree he desires that we do so, but it is unreasonable to maintain that our statements about that revelation need not be consistent, coherent and non-contradictory. Besides opting for simple assertion or silence – which according to my own experience most Calvinists in the end resort to – we cannot escape this basic law of rational communication. Indeed, Campbell states that to try and escape rational coherence must lead to silence or mere assertion. Remember, we are grappling with what resources we have in the matter of discerning the validity of an interpretation of the written text. Therefore, exegesis is insufficient in itself if it does not properly consider the role of reason as the ultimate arbiter in matters of conflicting interpretations. Without this consideration we have too narrow and technical a definition of exegesis to do us much good in resolving these important differences. Exegetes can even manipulate their exegesis to their own advantage as we saw the Calvinist doing in the above section, David Allen, Leighton Flowers, Exegesis and Contradiction: 1 Timothy 2:1-6. Something more needs to be included in the interpretive process. That something is a determination as to the rational and moral coherence of the proposed interpretations and the theological constructs built upon them. Neglect of rational and moral coherence as an indispensable hermeneutical principle is what the non-Calvinist objects to in Calvinist interpretation. The Calvinist / non-Calvinist divide is a hermeneutical divide.
Observe therefore that if the Calvinist is not willing to have the discussion at this level, then there is really nothing to discuss that will be of any theological benefit. To what end would theological discourse lead when there is no agreement as to the rational ground rules of interpretation? It is this phenomenon that allows the interaction between Calvinists and non-Calvinists to continue perpetually without progressing towards uncovering the truth in these matters. Hence, many Calvinists reach the point of silence and exhibit what Campbell describes as a “dogged refusal even to begin to argue in defence of one’s beliefs.” Indeed, silence or mere assertion become the only options where rational coherence has been dismissed. The law of non-contradiction is the prerequisite for all rational discourse. The basis of any meaningful discussion requires that it be rationally coherent. If rational coherence is summarily dismissed, then there is nothing to ground our interpretive claims as true and accurate. There is nothing by which we can establish their validity. Being inherently incoherent they would be rationally indefensible. Hence, we have the Calvinist’s flight to “mystery.” The two parties speak from different contexts as to what constitutes a sound hermeneutic with respect to logical and moral reasoning and therefore they cannot agree. But why shouldn’t we be able to discern the true meaning of a revelatory text if we can agree that authorial intent is a sound hermeneutical principle? Can’t we agree that authors intend to think and write with coherence, consistency and non-contradiction? If the Calvinist does not agree with this, what then is their explanation and justification for the incoherence, inconsistency and contradiction that mark their interpretations? Are they arguing that interpretive relativism is an option? And if they present an argument for their position, are they not affirming, as Campbell pointed out, that coherence, consistency and non-contradiction are essential for proper interpretation, let alone rational thought and discourse?
Note that silence on the part of the Calvinist is an effective “response” to avoid a rational critique that might expose the irrationality of one’s position. It is also an expected response from one that believes that people hold the positions that they do because God predetermined and causes them to do so. Who is the Calvinist to argue with God as to what he has ordained each of us to think and believe! If the non-Calvinist has been ordained by God to be a non-Calvinist, what else is there to say? Since there is no such thing as meaningful persuasion with the Calvinist’s theistic determinism, the Calvinist would not feel obliged to engage in persuasive dialogue that presupposes libertarian freedom. Moreover, there is nothing to say because there is nothing further to think upon in a meaningful way in that the Calvinist does not include coherence, consistency and non-contradiction in their hermeneutic. We cannot dismiss the necessity for rational coherence and hope to come to a resolution. How can two sides in a controversy reach a resolution when one party operates on the basis of interpretative coherence (i.e., the non-Calvinist) and the other allows for interpretive incoherence (i.e., the Calvinist). It simply cannot be done because allowing for interpretive incoherence cuts the rational and moral ground out from under us by which we discern what is true and false.
It therefore appears to me that what non-Calvinist textual interpretations have in their favor is a higher degree of rational coherence and intellectual honesty across the whole scope of Scripture. The non-Calvinist theology and soteriology can be coherently incorporated into the full biblical witness to the contingency of reality and the God/man relationship and maintains honesty and integrity in the spoken word. There is a truth correspondence between thought, word and reality in non-Calvinist theology that we are hard pressed to find in Calvinism. The culprit of the acute problems within Calvinism is its theistic determinism. This is a substantial matter which goes a long way to convince many of us that the non-Calvinist theology and soteriology is closer to the biblical truth. With ‘common sense’ on the side of the non-Calvinist the burden of proof therefore lies with the Calvinist. They have a doubly hard task. They not only need to exegete the text and propose an interpretation, but then, if it be determined that their interpretations are logically incoherent with other texts and biblical doctrines (as Calvinists themselves admit), and they refuse to allow this to challenge and correct their interpretations and theology, they need to either attempt to convince us and themselves that such interpretations are not rationally incoherent, or, convince us why we should believe their interpretations are true despite their rational incoherence. Regarding the later, the Calvinist would be admitting to the irrationality of their theology. And as Campbell observed, “No one, so far as I am aware, is prepared to admit that his own religious beliefs are unreasonable.” With regard to the Calvinist convincing people that their interpretations are not rationally incoherent, Calvinists have not fared well. Many Calvinists attempt to provide rational coherence for their theology, but these attempts, having been fully vetted and countered by non-Calvinists, have not contained any advance in the coherence that is needed to convince those who are neutral or even their honest, truth seeking opponents that Calvinism is credible. Calvinism, due to its determinism, remains incoherent or contradictory. I submit that incoherence and contradiction are inherent within the Calvinist system. But again, it is worth reiterating that Calvinists themselves admit as much either explicitly or implicitly in their asserting “apparent contradiction” or their “flight to mystery.” They therefore are in the awkward spot of attempting to convince non-Calvinists why we should believe their interpretations are true regardless of their rational incoherence. These attempts seem to me to boil down to giving reasons for why we shouldn’t attend to our reason in these matters. As I will demonstrate, the suppression of reason is integral to propagating and sustaining Calvinism. (See Chapter 10 – The Calvinist Suppression of Logical Reasoning, Moral Intuition and Common Sense)
Clark Pinnock makes the following observations,
“There is a theological theory widely maintained in evangelical circles that Scripture teaches on the one hand that God has divinely decreed all that comes to pass, and on the other that man is a responsible moral agent. Although these two concepts sound like a contradiction, we are told not to object because the Bible teaches them both, and we have no right to protest. The word “antinomy” is used in this connection to describe what appears to be a logical contradiction…It seems so neat to be able to say that a given act is both the product of the divine first cause, and also be the product of the human second cause. Could not second causes be completely subordinate to God as first cause, but nevertheless remain genuine and actual causes? After all, what proof is there, Gerstner asks, that if God predestinates something to happen that he has to force someone to do it? Surely it is possible for God to predestinate an act to come to pass by means of the deliberate choices of individuals.
We do not need to pause over the philosophical merits of this theory as a general cosmological rule (who is to say where God’s possibilities end?), because it breaks down so badly on the theological and moral front. Is sin also wholly a product of the divine first cause as well as the human second cause? Surely not! It is simply blasphemous to maintain, as this theory does, that man’s rebellion against God is in any sense the product of God’s sovereign will or primary causation.”
For Pinnock, these Calvinist rationalizations of “predestinating by personal means” and attempting to distinguish between comprehensive primary causality and secondary “causes” along with maintaining divine causality while avoiding divine “force” or coercion are hardly convincing. For Pinnock they fail theologically and morally. For even if God doesn’t “force” any one to do anything, when Pinnock compares the Calvinist claim “that God has divinely decreed all that comes to pass” with what he knows is an accepted biblical/theological truth – that God cannot be the source and cause of sin and evil – he deems the claim rationally and morally incoherent and therefore false. Because the Calvinist states that the Bible teaches God causes whatsoever comes to pass, and therefore God causes evil, yet the Bible also teaches that God is holy, just, good and cannot do evil, Pinnock need go no further theologically or morally to determine that the Calvinists beliefs are biblically false. Pinnock must rationally and morally conclude that the doctrine that God decreed whatsoever comes to pass, because it makes God the author of sin and evil, is “simply blasphemous.”
The point to observe is that if Gerstner agrees that God cannot be the source and cause of sin, yet he maintains that God ordained “whatever comes to pass,” then we can conclude that Gerstner is unconcerned about the rational, moral and theological coherence of his position and doctrinal statements. In contrast, Pinnock is very concerned about the rational, moral and theological coherence of his position and doctrinal statements. Pinnock seeks to define sovereignty, explain sin, and understand the nature and character of God, etc. as a coherent whole based in Scripture. Coherence is essential to his hermeneutic and theological constructs while maintaining Scriptural authority. In contrast, for Gerstner it is not essential to define sovereignty, explain sin, and understand the nature and character of God, etc. as a coherent whole based in Scripture. The two have completely different hermeneutics when it comes to the matter of coherence in interpretation.
C. A. Campbell comments upon the role of reason in understanding revelation. He speaks of logic as one of the criteria by which to determine the truth of revelational claims. The focus here is upon the consistency of the doctrines or revelational propositions.
“By the ‘logical’ criteria I understand criteria relating directly to the content of the ostensible revelation; to the actual doctrines it incorporates or implies concerning God’s nature and His relation to the world and to the human soul. Reason requires that the propositions affirmed explicitly or implicitly in the ‘revelation’ be propositions which reason can accept as true. This does not mean, be it noted, that they must be propositions which reason can see to be logically self-evident, or to be necessary implications of propositions that are logically self-evident. To require that would be to insist that reason is, after all, not merely the arbiter but also the organ of religious truth. What it does mean is that the propositions in question must, at the very least, not violate the principle of self-consistency. So understood, the logical criterion takes two forms. We require that the propositions inherent in the revelation be consistent with one another. And we require also – although this is a condition which must be elaborated and in some degree qualified – that they be consistent with well-accredited propositions about reality got through other channels.”
I contend that Campbell’s interpretive criteria are sound and essential, but I also maintain that they are not a part of a Calvinist hermeneutic. Hence, it is with the Calvinist’s hermeneutic the problem lies.
C. A. Campbell: Defining a Contradiction and J. I. Packer’s Bad Advice
We now have to turn to a critical question in this debate that the Calvinist attempts to avoid and the non-Calvinist claims is the Achilles heel of Calvinism. That is, the issue of contradiction. The Calvinist recognizes that there is a logical problem among their several doctrinal beliefs or claims about what Scripture teaches. For instance, the contradiction between their definition of divine sovereignty as a theistic determinism in relation with their claims about contingency, human freedom and responsibility. This plays itself out with respect to our salvation and eternal destinies, in the Calvinist doctrine of unconditional election. This doctrine maintains that God alone has unconditionally chosen before he created the world who will be saved and who will be condemned to eternal punishment in hell (“the reprobate”). Yet Calvinists also maintain that God holds the non-elect or reprobate responsible for their rejection of God’s offer of salvation in Christ. God will judge them for their rejection of salvation.
Now Calvinists attempt to relieve such contradictions by labeling them only “apparent.” They call these “apparent contradictions.” But this raises questions like, what is a contradiction and can we know one when we see it? Philosopher C. A. Campbell provides fundamental insight into the logical problem of contradiction that plagues the Calvinist reasoning and theological position.
“Now in actual practice (whatever a man may be driven to say in defending a theory) everyone agrees in rejecting as false a proposition which he believes to involve self-contradiction. The ‘Law’ of contradiction is one whose authority is accepted in all thinking, and in that sense is an ultimate for human thought.”
Campbell goes on to argue that the Law of contradiction is indeed a ‘Law’ and that,
“…a man cannot not accept the principle of contradiction if he is to think at all. But where we have a principle which we have literally no choice but to accept, to talk of that principle as a ‘convention’ is nonsense. Acceptance of it is a matter of necessity, not convention. As Aristotle pointed out a long time ago, ‘a principle which everyone must have who understands anything that is, is not a hypothesis’.”
From this point of view, Calvinists need to come to grips with whether or not in labeling their logical difficulty an “apparent contradiction” they are treating the Law of Contradiction more as a ‘convention’ that can be employed or discarded as one finds it more or less theologically convenient.
Campbell also argues that it is not only a law of thought but also a “law of things, holding good of ‘reality.’” As such, this runs contrary to the Calvinist justifications that dismiss contradiction and rational incoherence on the basis that God is incomprehensible to our fallen, sinful human minds. The Calvinist position seems to require that we not think in accord with the reality of the matter. God may be incomprehensible to our fallen, sinful human minds, but whatever that means it does not entail either our ignorance or freedom to violate the law of contradiction. It does not entail logical inconsistencies and contradictions. This is especially true if logic is grounded in the very nature of God himself as a rational being who is also immutable and does not establish or alter reality by merely an act of his will – suspending or violating the law of non-contradiction for instance. Such acts of his will could only be understood as arbitrary and claims of “apparent contradiction” vacuous being divorced from considerations of what is and is not possible for God to be and do given his divine nature.
We therefore must acknowledge that although our understanding of God is limited, it is not self-contradictory. We should not talk about the incomprehensibility of God or things being ‘spiritual’ in ways that require us to dismiss the canons of reason or laws of logic, especially the law of non-contradiction. It is a principle that cannot be reversed lest we make any true and sure knowledge of God’s nature, as well as what we can know of what is true from what is false, null and void.
Few Calvinists would disagree with this in theory. One cannot reasonably argue against the use of the Law of Contradiction. For any argument as such presupposes the Law’s status and necessity as a Law of reasoning. Try arguing anything with a blatant disregard for whether or not your argument is coherent and non-contradictory. One might as well argue that 2 plus 2 equals 4 and 2 plus 2 does not equal 4 in the same manner and at the same time and hold that the contradiction is only apparent. Calvinist J. I. Packer advises we do just that concerning his definition of the sovereignty of God and the biblical witness to human freedom and responsibility. He says we ought to,
“…put down the semblance of contradiction to the deficiency of your own understanding; think of the two principles as, not rival alternatives, but in some way that at present you do not grasp, complimentary to each other…teach yourself to think of reality in a way that provides for their peaceful coexistence, remembering that reality itself has proved actually to contain them both.”
The implications of such advice in mathematics would be disastrous. And in the same way that we know this reasoning is faulty for mathematics we know that it is faulty for interpretation and theology, for the canons of reason are the ground of all reasoning as such. As Campbell observed, “The proof of the principle of non-contradiction is that it is a principle which we cannot help accepting if we are to think at all.” What Packer is doing is attempting to rationalize this problem in his theology so as to keep his theology credible. What he ends up doing is giving the Calvinist permission to go about speaking nonsense. We should not and cannot take J. I. Packer’s “advice” if the laws of logic are indispensable to rational thinking and discussion. Hence, Packer imposes upon us a suppression of reason while reorienting how we ought to think about what we initially find troubling about Calvinism.
Now, the Calvinist has claimed that the basic contradiction we find in Calvinism (theistic determinism vs. human freedom and responsibility) that troubles most of us is not a contradiction at all. It is only an “apparent contradiction.” But for many of us this is a bald assertion because we trust our reason to identify a contradiction when we see one. Therefore, the Calvinist’s assertion raises the question as to whether or not Calvinism contains a real contradiction, and as was established above in this chapter and in previous chapters. If so, then Calvinism is in error with regard to one or many of its interpretations and doctrinal beliefs. Recall Campbell’s words,
“…everyone agrees in rejecting as false a proposition which he believes to involve self-contradiction. The ‘Law’ of contradiction is one whose authority is accepted in all thinking, and in that sense is an ultimate for human thought.”
“…a man cannot not accept the principle of contradiction if he is to think at all. But where we have a principle which we have literally no choice but to accept, to talk of that principle as a ‘convention’ is nonsense. Acceptance of it is a matter of necessity, not convention.”
Therefore, if Calvinism presents to us a real contradiction, then it is must be false with relation to the causes, that is, the interpretations or doctrines, of that contradiction. The contradiction would be a decisive factor as to Calvinism’s biblical invalidity. For if it is true that the Law of Contradiction is an inviolable Law of all legitimate thought and reality, and Calvinism is found to be marked by true or real contradiction, then that would be the death knell for Calvinism regarding the doctrines that cause that contradiction. Yet Campbell recognizes,
“It is one thing, however, to see that the Law of Contradiction is a genuine ‘law’, is an ultimate law, and is a law both of thought and things. It is quite another thing to see what precisely it is that constitutes contradiction…”
So, what precisely constitutes a contradiction? Is there a real contradiction within Calvinist thought and doctrine or is this problem something other than a contradiction that only “appears” to be one?(Although Calvinists seem to recognize it as a contradiction because they describe it as an “apparent contradiction.”)
Campbell references a work by F. H. Bradley, Appearance and Reality, to explain the definition of contradiction.
“Beyond a doubt,…thought requires the uniting of differences for its very life. But it does not follow that thought is prepared to accept a union of differents irrespective of the manner of their union. ‘Thought demands’ Bradley reminds us, ‘to go proprio motu, or, what is the same thing, with ground or reason.’ A merely external union of differences…is not in the end acceptable to thought. It is of the very essence of thought to seek some ground for their union; and so long as no adequate ground is discoverable, intellectual dissatisfaction persists. A bare conjunction of differents, unmediated by any ground, thought rejects as alien to its nature, as ‘irrational.’…Here…we find our answer to the question of what constitutes contradiction. Contradiction consists in uniting differences simply, in and as a bare conjunction. What the concrete nature of the differences happens to be is not of the essence of the matter. The crucial point is that thought cannot, qua thought, accept their union unless it conceives some actual or possible ground for their union.”
Here Campbell tries to get at the essential definition of a contradiction. Applied to our topic we may ask, “What is the ground or reason for the union of the differents of divine sovereignty as theistic determinism and human responsibility and freedom as expressed by Reformed theology? Is it a “bare conjunction of differents, unmediated by any ground?” I believe so. This, as I see it, is precisely what the Calvinist doctrines produce. We are required to accept the “bare conjunction of differents” upon which there is no adequate ground for thought to rest. This is precisely the way Packer exhorts us to think, or more appropriately, not to think. Indeed, Packer states, “…teach yourself to think of reality in a way that provides for their peaceful coexistence.” This is nothing short of the suppression and reorientation of one’s thinking. Packer is telling us to teach ourselves to ignore what our reason and common sense tell us so as to blindly accept his contradiction. Packer never seriously investigates the nature of the contradiction that his doctrine of deterministic sovereignty generates with human responsibility. He offers no grounds for explaining what certainly presents itself to our thinking as a contradiction other than simply to assert that it is not real but only “apparent.” He does not justify his assertion except to say “reality itself has proved actually to contain them both.” But has it? How so? How does reality prove to us that universal divine causal determinism is true? I would think that reality and practical experience tell us it is not true. He presumes that we all “see that each must be true on its own” without questioning whether the incoherencies, inconsistencies and contradictions his doctrine of sovereignty as theistic determinism generates are sure indicators that is is a misinterpretation of Scripture. The human freedom and responsibility that is mutually exclusive of theistic determinism certainly seems to have the force of practical reality behind it. Packer merely presupposes the truth of his interpretations and doctrine. But how can we tell whether Packer’s interpretation is correct if we jettison the law of contradiction? How do we know Packer’s theology contains a real contradiction? We know this because intellectual dissatisfaction continues to exist given his propositions. That is why this controversy continues ad infinitum. Packer is “uniting differences simply, in and as bare conjunction.” Packer puts determinism alongside freedom and responsibility without the ability for us to conceive how they can be unified upon “some actual or possible ground.” So this is precisely what constitutes contradiction. There is a lack of “some actual or possible ground for conceiving their union.” We know we are dealing with a contradiction when given certain propositions our mind can find no rational grounds for their union; no resting place because of the minds ability to conceive the logical compatibility of those propositions.
Therefore, it certainly seems to me that Packer declares his doctrinal difficulties only “apparent” because he is confronted by what can only be understood as a real contradiction. By declaring the contradiction only “apparent,” Packer is claiming that his interpretations of deterministic sovereignty and human freedom and responsibility are both true. But note the problem here with respect to the nature of a contradiction as “uniting differences simply, in and as a bare conjunction.” Campbell has pointed out that, “It is of the very essence of thought to seek some ground for their union; and so long as no adequate ground is discoverable, intellectual dissatisfaction persists.” This lack of grounding and the resultant “intellectual dissatisfaction” is precisely the nature and definition of a contradiction and it is precisely what we have here for the following reasons.
First, Packer cannot provide us adequate ground for the union of his interpretive propositions. To simply assert that what certainly presents itself to us as a contradiction is to be considered merely “apparent” fails to ground the differences and still leaves us in intellectual dissatisfaction. Packer cannot ground or justify that which for all practical purposes and our reasoning faculties tell us is a real contradiction.
Secondly, Packer knows that the nature of the difficulty with his interpretations and theological assertions amounts to real contradiction. If he didn’t know this it would not require that he identify it as such when he instruct us to “put down the semblance of contradiction to the deficiency of your own understanding.” If it were not a real contradiction it would not even present itself to him as a contradiction. The contradiction is front and center. It shows itself as real. Implicitly acknowledging the truth of the law of non-contradiction and the irrationality of violating it, Packer must attempt to avoid it as the reality about his interpretations and doctrinal conclusions.
Thirdly, it is a real contradiction, otherwise it would never have presented itself so tenaciously to his thought process as such. This problem stubbornly persists in Calvinism and this debate which is evidence that we cannot conceive of “some actual or possible ground for their union.” The two propositions float about as the Calvinist attempts a “merely external union of differents…which is not in the end acceptable to thought.” Campbell states that, “A bare conjunction of differents, unmediated by any ground, thought rejects as alien to its nature, as ‘irrational.’”
Fourthly, it is a real contradiction because if Packer’s Calvinist interpretations were biblically accurate we would have been left with some other linguistic dilemma or puzzle of reasoning that could eventually be grounded and provide intellectual satisfaction – perhaps an actual paradox or genuine antinomy. When Calvinists do claim these are the nature of their doctrinal difficulties, they should then be able to show us the resolution of the paradox or antinomy because these can be resolved so as to reach intellectual satisfaction. But this the Calvinist has not done, which confirms that the problem is one of real contradiction. And if the Calvinist cannot resolve their problem as a paradox or antinomy, then they have a real contradiction on their hands. Paradox and antinomy can, sooner or later, be intellectually grounded and find resolution, but a contradiction cannot. As discussed above, that is the nature and definition of a contradiction. If Packer’s Calvinist interpretations were biblically accurate, he would be able to demonstrate how they are what he claims them to be – an antinomy – and therefore not a contradiction.
Fifthly, given the law of non-contradiction, a real contradiction must be written off as real nonsense. That is what we have here – a real contradiction. In other words, we do not see, upon further reflection, how to make sense out of the Calvinist’s deterministic definition of God’s sovereignty and human freedom. The Calvinist himself does not claim to be able to do so. We are left with “a bare conjunction of differents.” As Campbell stated, “A merely external union of differences…is not in the end acceptable to thought. It is of the very essence of thought to seek some ground for their union; and so long as no adequate ground is discoverable, intellectual dissatisfaction persists. A bare conjunction of differents, unmediated by any ground, thought rejects as alien to its nature, as ‘irrational.’”
Packer cannot provide any substantial evidence that his doctrines aren’t a real contradiction. His course of action was not convincing or helpful. He is not interested in determining whether or not this is a real contradiction. He is more interested in declaring it not to be so. He therefore must ignore what he also knows is true, that is, that both his own logical reasoning and the tenacity with which this debate persists suggest that there is a real contradiction here. To simply declare the contradiction “apparent” or describing it as a “semblance” does not make it less of a contradiction. We must therefore conclude that the Calvinist doctrines Packer suggests we define and understand as an “antinomy” or as a “semblance of contradiction” or an “apparent contradiction” remain really self-contradictory and therefore real nonsense. As such, they are misinterpretations of Scripture. Therefore the Calvinist approach to this matter violates a fundamental law of rational thought – the law of non-contradiction. When in play, as it is here, that law determines valid from invalid interpretations. Therefore Calvinism, in this respect, does not provide the rational grounds needed to support belief in the Calvinist interpretations of Scripture. We lack intellectual warrant to think the Calvinist’s interpretations on God’s sovereignty in conjunction with human freedom and responsibility are correct. Hence, Calvinism does not warrant our believing it to be true.
I conclude from Packer’s approach that his traditional theological paradigm is non-negotiable and will not even be subject to the law of contradiction let alone open to review from the Scriptures in light of the arguments from opposing interpretations of the pertinent texts that avoid contradictions and produce textual and theological coherence and harmony throughout the whole scope of biblical teaching.
This, therefore, is the source of the perplexity and frustration many people experience when attempting to discern exactly what it is that is so disturbing yet elusive about Calvinism. It lies in the fact that we know a contradiction when we see one, yet the Calvinist requires that we suppress and ignore what we know to be contradictory. Those who question the logical and moral coherence of these doctrines must be diverted from pursuing this line of reasoning to its final conclusion. If one does pursue this line of reasoning, Calvinism comes up short as incoherent, inconsistent and contradictory and therefore it cannot be the teaching of Scripture.
J. I. Packer: Paradox, Antinomy and Real Contradiction
Packer defends his doctrines from the charge that they are in real contradiction by arguing that they constitute an “antinomy” which is very different that a “paradox.” But in making the point that antinomy is not the same as paradox, Packer affirms that his antinomy is really self-contradictory and therefore really meaningless. Packer states that in a paradox,
“…what creates the appearance of contradiction is not the facts, but the words. The contradiction is verbal, but not real, and a little thought shows how it can be eliminated and the same idea expressed in non-paradoxical form.”
Note that the paradox is linguistic or verbal puzzle, and “a little thought shows how it can be eliminated.” It is not “the facts” that “creates the appearance of contradiction,” implying that if it were the facts then there would be a real contradiction, for Packer goes on to say that,
“…it should be noted that a paradox is always comprehensible…the person at the receiving end must be able, on reflection, to see how to unravel the paradox, otherwise it will seem to him to be really self-contradictory, and therefore really meaningless.”
Note first that Packer accepts the “fact” that real self-contradiction is real meaninglessness. But also note that Packer has just given us the ‘definition’ of real contradiction and that definition coincides with his notion of ‘antinomy.’ Packer’s own assessment of a paradox accords with the very essence of how to detect real contradiction and this applies to the theological proposition that create Packer’s “antinomy.” Just as in a biblical paradox, “the person at the receiving end must be able, on reflection, to see how to unravel the paradox, otherwise it will seem to him to be really self-contradictory, and therefore really meaningless,” so it is with theological propositions. Those of us reading Scripture, that is, we who are on “the receiving end,” must be able, upon reflection, to see how to make sense of the words of the texts, their proposed interpretation and doctrinal conclusions, otherwise they will seem to us to be “really self-contradictory, and therefore really meaningless.” If we do not “see how to unravel” the Calvinists doctrines of determinism and human freedom. Therefore the Calvinist’s interpretation here is “really self-contradictory, and therefore really meaningless.”
Whereas “an incomprehensible paradox could not be distinguished from a mere contradiction in terms,” and a “sheer paradox would have to be written off as sheer nonsense,” he states,
“…an antinomy is neither dispensable nor comprehensible…it is insoluble…we cannot explain it. Nor is there any way to get rid of it, save by falsifying the very facts that led us to it.” (Italics mine)
Note first that Packer is admitting that his ‘antinomy’ has the characteristic of the “incomprehensible.” This is a characteristic of a “mere contradiction in terms” or a “sheer paradox which would have to be written off as sheer nonsense.” Not only that, but Packer’s “antinomy” is incomprehensible, insoluble, and inexplicable. Yet regarding a paradox he states, “…the person at the receiving end must be able, on reflection, to see how to unravel the paradox, otherwise it will seem to him to be really self-contradictory, and therefore really meaningless.” So words that we are not able on reflection to see how to unravel, are to us “really self-contradictory, and therefore really meaningless.” And yet, there is this same inability, on reflection, to see how to unravel Packer’s Calvinist doctrinal propositions. Hence, they certainly seem to us to be “really self-contradictory, and therefore really meaningless.” Packer’s “antinomy” is incomprehensible, insoluble, and inexplicable. So what’s the difference between this “antinomy” and a real contradiction besides Packer’s question begging pronouncement that his doctrine of universal divine causal determinism is a “fact” of Scripture that cannot be gotten rid of and that in order to avoid the conclusion of contradiction we ought to place it into this creatively altered and tailor-made category of “antinomy.” As C. A. Campbell has pointed out in the previous section, what Packer is describing here is just the case with a real contradiction.
Secondly, if Packer is going to introduce incomprehensibility, insolubility and inexplicability as characteristics of the nature of his interpretations and the theology built upon them, then the logical and rational criteria we need to discern whether or not his interpretations are valid have been put out of court. Upon what grounds should we accept the presumption that “the very facts” of his interpretation of Scripture are correct? Suppose Packer’s interpretations are incorrect and therefore the source of a real contradiction? Even if they are of the nature of an “antinomy” as Packer redefines it, if we change “the fact” of universal divine causal determinism, wouldn’t the “antinomy” disappear? Upon what grounds does Packer demonstrate that his “antinomy” is not a “mere contradiction in terms” and a “sheer paradox” that is to be written off as “nonsense?” In presupposing the truth of his theistic determinism which is the cause of Packer’s difficulties here, he can provide no grounds for convincing us that his position is not nonsense. As such, he is creating his own definition of “antinomy” to justify his doctrine of universal divine casual determinism which he considers as true a priori, while also begging the question.
“…the law of noncontradiction is a tool that must be used to identify Biblical truth in the first place.”David Basinger
Thirdly, Packer presumes that his interpretations that create the antinomy are correct, making the antinomy “neither dispensable nor comprehensible.” But again, this is to beg the question as to whether or not his interpretations are correct. Are “the very facts” that led us to the antinomy really valid biblical interpretations? Are the “very facts” that we would have to falsify, falsifiable on any other grounds than a logical assessment of the propositions in question? What “facts” would we have to falsify to get rid of the contradiction? If we get rid of “the fact” of a deterministic sovereignty the “antinomy” goes away. Non-Calvinists have presented sound exegesis and interpretations of the disputed texts that do falsify “the very facts,” that is the Calvinist interpretations that have forced Packer to create his version of an “antinomy.” Packer is simply presupposing the validity of his biblical interpretations on this matter and explaining away the contradiction they generate as an “antinomy.” But the “antimony” has the same characteristics of a real contradiction. The presumption of the validity of his interpretations and their indispensability that requires Packer to create this category of “antinomy” which enables him to avoid what is otherwise a real contradiction.
Packer claims that “the Bible teaches both” God’s deterministic sovereignty and human freedom and responsibility. But in presupposing the truth of his interpretations he is therefore begging the question. And Packer’s move here, a move which all Calvinists make as the full and final answer to their incoherencies, inconsistencies and contradictions, is to quarantine within an “antinomy” the logical and moral reasoning necessary to decide the validity of those interpretations. They assert that the problems their interpretations create are incomprehensible, insoluble and inexplicable, and by calling this an “antinomy” avoid acknowledging that this is precisely the nature of a contradiction. But this logical and moral reasoning, along with the assessments and conclusions it may offer, are placed aside. By employing “antinomy,” Packer dismisses the capacity and function of logical reasoning for discerning the validity of interpretive claims. “Antimony” sequesters the law of non-contradiction from participating in the deliberations on the validity of the Calvinist’s interpretations on divine sovereignty defined deterministically and human responsibility. Packer’s “antinomy” is a convenient device for putting out of commission the intellectual tools we need to comprehend, explain and determine the truth or falsity of Packer’s interpretations. The problem is not as Packer presents it. It is not incomprehensible, inexplicable and insoluble. Rather, we can comprehend the Calvinist’s problem here all too well, and that is what Packer is refusing to acknowledge. The problem is comprehensible, explicable and soluble. The problem resides in Calvinism’s definition of God’s sovereignty as a universal divine causal determinism. We can identify the source of the problems plaguing Calvinism. The source lies in its theistic determinism. We can explain, both intellectually and interpretively, the types of problems entailed by theistic determinism. We can see how it is antithetical to the biblical worldview, and we can solve these problems by the application of logical and moral reasoning (i.e., clear thinking) to the interpretation of the text, that is, by adopting a hermeneutic of coherence.
Applying this discussion to the Calvinist’s theology of deterministic sovereignty and human freedom and responsibility, Campbell observed that, “The crucial point is that thought cannot, qua thought, accept their union unless it conceives some actual or possible ground for their union.” Packer’s “antinomy” diverts our thinking from reflecting on and facing the fact that we cannot conceive of “some actual or possible ground for their union.” Thus, lacking such grounds, we cannot accept the Calvinist doctrine of God’s deterministic sovereignty, not because the non-Calvinist is seeking human autonomy from God, but simply because it places Scripture in contradiction with itself. And that’s just an indication of bad interpretation. This is not a matter of mystery but misinterpretation. Thus theistic determinism cannot be a viable interpretation of Scripture because it is antithetical to the overwhelming testimony to genuine contingency that is integral to the biblical worldview. Incoherent, inconsistent and contradictory interpretations of Scripture cannot be accurate reflections of what the disputed texts mean to convey given their immediate contexts and when interpreted within the broader canonical context.
Because the Calvinist’s theistic determinism creates the logical and moral incoherence in their theology, Calvinists will always reject the incoherence as interpretively insignificant. They must always ultimately dismiss the use of human reason and logic from their hermeneutic. Packer makes this clear. Listing the reasons fellow Christians reject his deterministic definition of God’s sovereignty he states,
“The root cause is the same as in most cases of error in the Church – the intruding of rationalistic speculations, the passion for systematic consistency, a reluctance to recognize the existence of mystery and to let God be wiser than men, and a consequent subjecting of Scripture to the supposed demands of human logic.”
Packer would have our hermeneutic untethered from reason and logic so he can declare his incoherent, inconsistent and contradictory doctrines an “antinomy” and a “mystery.” This amounts to the suppression of reason in exegesis and interpretation. More on this in another chapter. Suffice it to say here that we cannot accept Packer’s suppression of reason if we are to discern whether there is a real contradiction here. He is requiring us to put aside our critical thinking to accept his theological propositions that as “brute facts” and “bare conjunctions of differents” find no intellectual resting place. They cannot be accepted as true and remain a contradiction because they cannot be adequately grounded or unified. Campbell explains,
“…critical thinking often finds itself obliged to reject what uncritical thinking accepts ‘without a qualm’…thought’s intrinsic demand for a ground is surely plain enough in those activities of thought, such as science and philosophy, in which the theoretic interest dominates; in which truth, not practical convenience, is our goal, and in which, therefore, if anywhere, we might expect to discover the authentic nature of the intellect’s demands. In science and philosophy ‘brute facts’, ‘bare conjunctions of differents’, are not just ‘accepted’. On the contrary, intellectual unrest persists so long as we see no way to deliver them from so ‘irrational’ a status. ‘Brute facts’ are for science and philosophy problems: problems not solved to our satisfaction until we have mediated the ‘bare conjunction’ through what appears to us an adequate ‘ground.’ Just as ‘Nature abhors a vacuum’, so ‘the intellect abhors a bare conjunction’”.
In addition, Isaac Watts has said,
“It was a saying of the ancients, that ‘truth lies in a well’; and to carry on the metaphor, we may justly say, that logic supplies us with steps whereby we may go down to reach the water.”
We must reject Packer’s advice and keep our minds in gear. We must keep our intellectual wits about us. If we do so I submit that it becomes evident that there is a real contradiction in the Calvinist’s theology. Packer states that there is no way to get rid of an antimony “save by falsifying the very facts that led us to it.” Well, non-Calvinists have compellingly falsified “the very facts” of Calvinist theology by their alternative coherent exegeses of the relevant texts in both their immediate and broader contexts. But it is equally important to see that we can “get rid of” this “antinomy” by showing it up for what it is, a camouflaged contradiction. If it can be shown that the Calvinist doctrines that are hidden by an “antinomy” are truly contradictory, then both the “antinomy” and the doctrines fail.
Theistic determinism and unconditional election can never be unified intellectually, or in any other way, with contingency, free will and human responsibility. These conflicting doctrines fit Campbell’s description of a contradiction as a bare conjunction of differents, unmediated by any ground. Thought rejects this as alien to its nature. It deems such as ‘irrational.’ In other words, these Calvinist doctrinal propositions just don’t fit together in our thoughts, according to the nature and laws of thought itself. As the Calvinist’s propose them, these doctrines remain restlessly swirling back and forth, to and fro in our minds and in our discussions and debates without ground or union in logic or reason. That’s what contradictions do. That’s the way they behave. That’s how we know a real contradiction when we “see” one with our God-given eyes of reason. And there is a real one here in the Calvinist’s theology.
Concluding Thoughts on J. I. Packer’s “Antinomy” and Suppression of Reason
One can hardly find a more astonishing exhortation about how to “think” about one’s theological propositions by not thinking about them at all! Packer does his best to shut down inquiry by baselessly declaring that anything we might perceive as a real contradiction here is only “apparent.” This seems to serve as a diversion from seriously considering the overwhelming amount of troubling evidence that strongly suggests that the contradictions and inconsistencies of Calvinism are actually real. If they are real, and we cannot simply ignore what makes for rational coherence, then it is very possible that they betray a flawed exegesis and erroneous doctrinal conclusions. Looking afresh at the Scripture upon the basis of the laws of human logic that obviously cannot be cavalierly dismissed as Packer is wont to do, his theology of sovereignty and salvation would have to be revised. But this the Calvinist will not do. The Calvinist believes that anything other than a deterministic definition of sovereignty would strip God of his position as God. For the Calvinist, the fact that God has predetermined “whatsoever comes to pass” is the very essence of what it means for God to be God. This position is held regardless of any other contradictions, inconsistencies or incoherence it creates. Packer has demonstrated this. The presence of incoherence and contradiction is simply to be dismissed under the rubric of “antinomy” or “mystery” and does not play a significant role in his hermeneutic. For Packer, the criteria of coherence, comprehensiveness and consistency are not indicators that serve to verify and validate his exegesis or move him to reassess his interpretive conclusions, and if necessary, revise his theology in accord with more coherent interpretations of Scripture.
I submit that Packer’s approach and advice compels us to seriously question and re-evaluate the biblical validity of the Reformed doctrines. These doctrines are not to be embraced blindly on the grounds that we cannot subject God and the Bible to the flawed scrutiny of the sinful human mind. Such a position is overly simplistic. I would suggest that before we take Packer’s advice and “put down the semblance of contradiction to the deficiency of your own understanding,” perhaps we ought to test his claim that the contradictions are only “apparent.” I have done this in the above sections. Perhaps we should ask ourselves why it is that what we perceive as a contradiction is actually only a “semblance” and not “actual.” The burden of proof is on Packer here. Perhaps this “deficiency of your own understanding” has had its effect, not so much in detecting real contradiction or incoherence when we see it, but in the Calvinist’s interpretations of the text. Perhaps Packer has misinterpreted the more difficult relevant texts and upon that basis constructed a theology that continually runs headlong against logical reflection, moral intuitions, the meanings of clearer more self-evident texts and sound interpretive principles that include coherence, consistency and non-contradiction. If this is the case then Calvinism shows itself to be fundamentally flawed. The Calvinist also has a hermeneutical burden of proof. That is, the Calvinist needs to explain why it is that the acceptance of incoherence, inconsistency and contradiction is a sound interpretive approach. Therefore, Packer would ever admit that these logical and moral difficulties indicate that he has misinterpreted the text. He would never entertain that coherence, consistency and non-contradiction are necessary, reliable indications of valid interpretations and essential to a sound hermeneutic. In contrast, these are dismissed by Packer as interpretively insignificant. Thus the hermeneutical divide.
We have seen that the Reformed Calvinist mode of interpretive thought can be perplexing. It is characterized by the acceptance of incoherence, inconsistency and contradiction. In a word it is incoherent. Calvinists ultimately disregard philosophical and moral critiques of their interpretations and theology. Coherence, consistency and contradiction are not hermeneutically significant for determining the validity of one’s interpretations. Within Calvinism, the text means what the theological tradition has come to declare it means regardless of the evidence of incoherence, inconsistency or contradiction among their interpretations and within their theological system that is constructed from those interpretations.
As far as I can tell, the fundamental spiritual mindset here is genuine and well-meaning. Calvinists seek to exalt God’s rule over all things and give him all the glory due his name. But Calvinists also seem to have taken it upon themselves to construct a hedge around God’s sovereignty and glory to the degree that they have exceeded the Scriptural testimony regarding these divine characteristics. They perceive themselves to be the guardians of God’s sovereignty and glory, and that has taken them into extrapolations of Scripture that go beyond what the Scripture is meaning to tell us about divine sovereignty and glory. That is, to preserve these divine spaces from human intrusion, the Calvinist has extrapolated divine sovereignty and glory to their highest degree – to theistic determinism. Theistic determinism guarantees that God will not be influenced, threatened nor compromised by anything or anyone. Hence, for the Calvinist, this is what it means for God to be God. He is viewed first and foremost, and when all is said and done, exclusively in terms of his absolute power interpreted as his predetermination as to what is to occur down to the minutest details, with the logical entailment that God also causes everything that occurs in the world – both good and evil. Nothing less than a universal divine causal determinism could guarantee the preservation of God’s sovereignty and glory from mankind’s grasp. This is, of course, a ludicrous, biblically unfounded fear, for man could never present a threat either to God’s sovereignty or his glory. That is, not the kind of “threat” that would cause God one iota of anxiety. The creature does not have that kind of power over the Creator. But what man seems able to do (implying that he does have free will) does worry the Calvinist, and this worry causes the Calvinist to exceed the bounds of the biblical witness to God’s sovereignty and glory. The Calvinist secures God’s place as God and man’s place as man via theistic determinism. But this is not what the Bible teaches with respect to the God / man relationship or the nature of reality. In short, the biblical witness speaks of God’s sovereignty as his capability to successfully rule and reign over all his creation, including his human creations endowed with freedom of the will and moral responsibility by virtue of who God is with respect to all his divine attributes. God does what he pleases, but what he pleases is an expression of the panoply of all his attributes. For God to be sovereign means the unfailing accomplishment of all that he has planned and purposed. That does not entail universal divine causal determinism. So that Calvinist feels the need to be “protective” of God which ironically reveals that the Calvinist has too high of man in his freedom and too low a view of God in both his freedom and his sovereignty. The Calvinist feels the need to come to God’s rescue by protecting God’s sovereignty against human persons with a concern even more than God has of sovereign rule. Reminiscent of the Jewish leadership of Jesus day, the Calvinist goes above and beyond the real nature of the situation to keep the “spiritual high ground” and secure God’s sovereignty and glory from being ceased by sinners for themselves. But in doing so they impose thinking and construct theologies that God himself has not ordained. God, in has sovereignty has given freedom to man. And if that is the way God wanted it to be, what is fine with him should be fine with us. In short, he can handle it.
The problem with this well-meaning religious sentiment on the part of Calvinists is that it has blinded them to the negative and unbiblical logical and moral entailments of their determinism. Divine sovereignty cannot be equated to divine determinism. We know this because we see that determinism wreaks logical and moral havoc with other clear biblical teachings, and as good exegetes and interpreters this cannot be allowed and need not be the case. Rather than take these logical and moral problem as indications of misinterpretation, the Calvinist has rather incorporated a rejection of logical and moral coherence, consistency and non-contradiction into their hermeneutic. They have adopted a hermeneutic of incoherence in contrast to a hermeneutic of coherence which maintains that claims about what the Bible teaches necessarily involve a logically and morally reasoned assessment of the interpreter’s conclusions.
I too believe God is sovereign, but I have also demonstrated why we cannot believe sovereignty is to be defined as a universal divine causal determinism. I too believe in the doctrine of election while also believing that it is not to be understood in terms of the Calvinist’s unconditional election. Given the Calvinist’s deterministic theology and soteriology the character of God and the gospel as “good news” are at stake. An absolutely holy God cannot made to be the determiner and cause of evil, evil thoughts, and evil actions. God has demonstrated his love for every person through Christ’s death on the cross (Rom. 5:8). Human persons are substantially free beings and it is they themselves that either accept or reject the salvation offered in Christ. People are responsible, free agents. They are culpable for what they do or fail to do. This is the biblical witness to the nature of faith. Of his own will and decision it is the sinner himself who either believes to eternal life or remains in unbelief to eternal condemnation (Jn. 3:16-18). I too believe the Bible is our absolute authority. But on hermeneutical grounds I cannot hold to a definition of sovereignty and election that is logically and morally inconsistent or contradictory with what that same Scripture clearly reveals and teaches as to the contingent nature of reality, human freedom and moral responsibility. If we believe that the divinely inspired Scripture cannot be inconsistent, nor can it contradict itself, that is, we believe that the authors intended to write cogently so as to be understood, and it can be demonstrated that incoherence and real contradiction mark the Calvinist’s interpretations and theological paradigm, then intellectual integrity requires that we reject Calvinism at its points of incoherence and contradiction and seek to progress towards the coherent and consistent truth of the text. This may require an adjustment of one’s theology. Through challenging dialogue, new spiritual, intellectual, literary or historical insights, and continually engaging the whole biblical canon in a constant process of refining our interpretations of individual texts, we should seek to know what the authors intended to say in the controverted passages. But we seek to do so with coherence, consistency and non-contradiction. But have demonstrated that this is not the hermeneutical approach of Calvinism. Rather, Calvinists have dogmatically solidified their interpretations, doctrines and hermeneutic apart from concerns about rational and moral coherence, consistency and non-contradiction. Hence their own interpretations and doctrinal conclusions can be incoherent, inconsistent and contradictory while also maintaining such to be the truth of Scripture.
Therefore, my point is that a sound, biblical exegesis must operate on a hermeneutic that rejects incoherence as indicative of misinterpretation. How we know which interpretive conclusions and biblical and systematic theologies are closer to the biblical truth requires a hermeneutic of coherence. The hermeneutical question is this. Can isolated biblical texts be exegeted in such a way that even though those interpretations generate incoherence, inconsistency, and even real contradiction within their own contexts and with the extended context of the canon of Scripture, we are nevertheless compelled to conclude that the Bible teaches them as such and we are to believe them as such on the basis of that exegesis alone apart from the philosophical and moral reasoning that exposes their incoherence, inconsistency or contradiction? The Reformed Calvinist would answer “Yes.” The non-Calvinist would answer “No.” But I submit that the Reformed Calvinist’s response has the practical effect of denying that Scripture interprets Scripture as well as violating the principle of context.
Certainly if an interpretation were rationally or morally coherent, disagreement could occur on other grounds and a proposed interpretation may still be a misinterpretation. But it seems to me that we must agree that interpretations that can be deemed valid should necessarily also adhere to the fundamental laws of reasoning. If the problem of rational incoherence indicts Calvinist theology in misinterpretation, then this aspect of the problem must be addressed by the Calvinist. It seems to me that the Calvinist would have to explain on what other basis exegesis could proceed and the truth or falsity of a proposed meaning be determined apart from the use and deliverances of the laws of logic and our moral intuitions. If these are forfeited, then we have gone beyond logical and moral reasoning with nothing left to aid us in gaining the true meaning of a text as well as the veracity of a proposed theological system. The point is that it must be agreed upon by all evangelical scholars, pastors, teachers and laypersons that adhering to the fundamental laws of logic and moral intuition must be included in the exegetical process and that these are necessary for determining the validity of interpretive conclusions, otherwise one could never determine or know a valid conclusion from an invalid one.
In his essay, De Futilitate, C. S. Lewis stated the following about the essential role of logical thought and valid inference in coming to know what is real and true. The point raised here by Lewis about the relevance or irrelevance of logical thought has direct application not only to verifying the Calvinist’s interpretations of Scripture but also to the Calvinist’s claim that “total inability” has also so affected our thinking such that we cannot comprehend how the Calvinist doctrines cohere. Lewis writes,
“I asked whether in general human thought could be set aside as irrelevant to the real universe and merely subjective. I now claim to have found the answer to this larger question. The answer is that at least one kind of thought—logical thought—cannot be subjective and irrelevant to the real universe: for unless thought is valid we have no reason to believe in the real universe. We reach our knowledge of the universe only by inference. The very object to which our thought is supposed to be irrelevant depends on the relevance of our thought. A universe whose only claim to be believed in rests on the validity of inference must not start telling us that inference is invalid. That would really be a bit too nonsensical. I conclude then that logic is a real insight into the way in which real things have to exist. In other words, the laws of thought are also the laws of things: of things in the remotest space and the remotest time.
This admission seems to me completely unavoidable and it has very momentous consequences.” /
The Calvinist seems to be telling us that human thought can be set aside, indeed must be set aside, to grasp the Calvinist doctrines. That is the Calvinist claims that our thought is irrelevant to understanding God and Scripture as they interpret Scripture and understand God to be. And yet acceptance of this claim depends upon the relevance of our thought processes. The Calvinist, after all, will argue for the legitimacy of his interpretations and theological conclusions. The Calvinist seems to want us to ignore the idea that “the very object to which our thought is supposed to be irrelevant depends on the relevance of our thought.” Logical thought cannot be irrelevant to finding the intended or real meaning of a text. We reach knowledge of the meaning of a text only by making inference to the best explanation, and therefore, unless thought is valid we have no reason to believe in one’s interpretative conclusions. And because thought is valid, we have no reason to believe that interpretations that violate reason are correct. The very object to which our thought is supposed to be irrelevant – an interpretation of the text – depends on the relevance of our thought. It is therefore necessary that we come to grips with the indispensable and essential role logical reasoning and moral intuition play in biblical interpretation and theological constructions. Those interpretations and constructions that summarily dismiss the relevance of logical thought and moral intuition to discerning the truth of those interpretations and constructions do not warrant our belief.
In the following four chapters I will provide specific examples of poor Calvinist reasoning, not only in their attempts to justify their determinism, but also in their handling of the biblical text and theological matters. I will highlight their incoherencies, inconsistencies and contradictions, not only to show the implausibility of Calvinism, but also to point out that the matter of rational and moral coherence in interpretation is what divides the non-Calvinist from the Calvinist.
Let’s begin with the various problems that determinism creates for the Calvinist and go on to examine the “explanations” they offer to relieve these problems.
 Milton S. Terry, Biblical Hermeneutics: A Treatise on the Interpretation of the Old and New Testaments (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Academie Books, 1883), 153-154.
 Robert Audi, The Architecture of Reason: The Structure and Substance of Rationality, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), 9.
 The Architecture of Reason, 20.
 J. P. Moreland and William Lane Craig, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 18.
 Ibid. 18.
 J. P. Moreland, Love Your God With All Your Mind: The Role of Reason in the Life of the Soul, (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 1997), 99.
 The meaning of logos in John 1:1 is wider than reason alone; it also indicates verbal communication. See Murray J. Harris, Jesus as God: The New Testament Use of Theos in Reference to Jesus (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1992), pp. 54-55. The apostle John uses logos in a manner that goes far beyond its use in Greek philosophy, since the logos is personal, moral and transcendent. For a thorough development of these themes, see Carl F. H. Henry, God, Revelation, and Authority (Waco, Tex.: Word, 1976-1983), 3:164-247.
 Douglas Groothuis, Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith, (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2011), 177.
 Norman L. Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1999.), 427-428.
 James White, “God Made Man and Woman. PERIOD. Then Back to William Lane Craig and Presuppositionalism.” July 27, 2017 Podcast. https://www.aomin.org/aoblog/2017/07/27/god-made-man-woman-period-back-william-lane-craig-presuppositionalism/ (45:40) Last accessed 3/31/2023.
 Ibid. time 45:40.
 Ibid. time 50:40
 William J. Kilgore, An Introductory Logic, 2d ed. (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1979), 7.
 D. A. Carson, Exegetical Fallacies, (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1984), 92-94.
 See Chapter 8 “Calvinist Attempts to Justify Sovereignty as Theistic Determinism”
 Dr. Erwin W. Lutzer, “Praying for the Glory of God,” Sermon 5 in the series “Prayer That Makes a Difference.” Oct. 7, 1990. https://www.moodymedia.org/sermons/prayer-makes-difference/praying-glory-god/ (13:00 – 13:02) Last accessed 6/24/2019. Note that the transcript incorrectly reads, “Nobody can believe the contradiction.”
 Rudolph Bultmann, “Is Exegesis Without Presuppositions Possible?” in Existence and Faith (1960), pp. 291-292. From A. Berkeley Mickelsen, Interpreting the Bible (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1963), 7.
 Ibid. 428-429.
 Sir William Hamilton (1788-1856), Scottish Metaphysician.
 Gregory Koukl, Tactics: A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009), 31-33. Interestingly enough Greg Koukl is of the Calvinist persuasion and I do wonder what his response would be to this extended critique of his Reformed soteriology. From the podcasts I have heard it appears to me that his defense of his Calvinist soteriology is typical of that I describe here. Rather than question the accuracy of his interpretive conclusions when they lead to the Calvinist doctrine of unconditional election and its related logical and moral incoherencies, he takes the position that reason simply doesn’t apply to these conclusions. This begs the question by assuming those conclusions to be correct. Whether they are and how we would know is the question before us. Koukl tells us above but doesn’t seem to apply what he says to his own Calvinist exegetical conclusions. But once rational and moral coherence are put out of court nothing is left whereby to answer these questions. Thus Calvinism is propagated at the expense of reason not in light of it. This is the hermeneutical divide, and it is why no biblical consensus can be reached on the controversial interpretative issues between Calvinists and non-Calvinists.
 Ibid. 429.
 Interestingly, Geisler listed predestination as one of the “mysteries of faith.” Why? I submit that Geisler himself is a “moderate Calvinist.” In his book, Chosen But Free, he attempts to demonstrate that his Calvinist deterministic definition of God’s sovereignty and the reality of human free will don’t “go against reason.” I will explain the flaws in Geisler’s argument in a separate post, but for now, one wonders why Geisler is unable to apply his own insights about logic to his definitions of sovereignty and election which place him squarely in the camp of what he calls the “strong Calvinist” position, although he attempts to avoid this designation. Geisler’s Calvinist convictions on sovereignty and election certainly “contradict other revealed truth.” Furthermore they “go against reason.”
Geisler unsuccessfully attempts to relieve his position of logical contradiction through God’s foreknowledge and a doctrine of divine simplicity. Indeed, once Geisler sets out his position on God’s sovereignty in chapter one of his book, we are forced to conclude that he is a “strong Calvinist” with respect to defining God’s sovereignty. Therefore, his own “reasoned” critique of Calvinism applies to his own inevitably deterministic position. See Norman L. Geisler, Chosen But Free (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 1999), chapters 1-3. See also my post for my critique of Chosen But Free.
 C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain, (Macmillan: New York, 1962), 28. In this book Lewis deals with the topics of divine omnipotence and divine goodness as they relate to the pain and wickedness we observe and experience in the world. “If God were good, he would wish to make His creatures perfectly happy, and if God were almighty, He would be able to do what He wished. But the creatures are not happy. Therefore God lacks either goodness, or power, or both. This is the problem of pain, in its simplest form.” Lewis goes on to examine under what conditions God made the world which entailed the consequent possibility of pain and wickedness. Divine omnipotence and divine goodness are further defined; exhibited in a world of fixed laws, divine self-limitation, and the free will of creatures. This book has bearing upon the issues of sovereignty and human freedom and is must reading.
 Linda Trinkaus Zabzebski, The Dilemma of Freedom and Foreknowledge, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991), 180.
 Jerry L Walls and Joseph R. Dongell, Why I Am Not A Calvinist, (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 185.
 David Baggett and Jerry L. Walls, Good God: The Theistic Foundations of Morality (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 80.
 John R. W. Stott, Your Mind Matters, (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1972), 18.
 I Corinthians 1:21
 John R. W. Stott, Your Mind Matters, (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1972), 21-22.
 Isaiah 1:18
 Matthew 16:1-4; Luke 12:54-57.
 John R. W. Stott, Your Mind Matters, (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1972), 16-17.
 C. A. Campbell, On Selfhood and Godhood, (New York: Macmillan Co., 1957), 17.
 David Baggett and Jerry L. Walls, Good God: The Theistic Foundations of Morality (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 68.
 J. P. Moreland, Love Your God With All Your Mind: The Role of Reason in the Life of the Soul, (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 1997), 97.
 John R. W. Stott, Your Mind Matters, (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1972), 9.
 Ibid. 9.
 Ibid. 25-26.
 Gordon R. Lewis, “God, Attributes of” Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 2nd ed., Walter Elwell, ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001), 494-495.
 David K. Clark, “Truth”, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 2nd ed., Walter Elwell, ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001), 1220.
 William Lane Craig, Defenders 3 Podcast, The Doctrine of Christ, part 47. https://www.reasonablefaith.org/podcasts/defenders-podcast-series-3/s3-doctrine-of-christ/doctrine-of-christ-part-47/ Last accessed 3/31/2023.
 David Baggett and Jerry L. Walls, Good God: The Theistic Foundations of Morality (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 67-68.
 Ibid. 68.
 Ibid. 80.
 C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain, (New York: Macmillan, 1962), 37-38.
 J. P. Moreland and William Lane Craig, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 33.
 Ibid. 23.
 Ibid. 17.
 J. P. Moreland and William Lane Craig, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 23.
 Ibid. 25.
 Ibid. 26.
 Robert Audi, The Architecture of Reason: The Structure and Substance of Rationality, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), 19.
 Ibid. 24.
 Ibid. 28.
 Ibid. 47.
 Ibid. 51.
 Ibid. 43.
 Ibid. 174.
 Ibid. 187.
 Ibid. 196.
 Ibid. 45.
 Ibid. 52.
 Jerry L. Walls and Joseph R. Dongell, Why I Am Not A Calvinist, (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 156.
 Robert Audi, “Religious Disagreement Structure, Content and Prospects for Resolution,” Philosophia Christi 20, No. 1, (2018): 277.
 Ibid. 279.
 Ibid. 279-280.
 Ibid. 280.
 Robert Audi, The Architecture of Reason: The Structure and Substance of Rationality, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), 52.
 Ibid. 52.
 Audi adds: “I have clarified and defended the notion of natural reason in The Architecture of Reason (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001) and many later works.”
 Robert Audi, “Religious Disagreement Structure, Content and Prospects for Resolution,” Philosophia Christi 20, No. 1, (2018): 281-283.
 Ibid. 283.
 Ibid. 284.
 Edwin Palmer, The Five Points of Calvinism (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1972), 106.
 Glen Shellrude, “Calvinism and Problematic Readings of New Testament Texts Or, Why I am Not a Calvinist” in Grace for All: The Arminian Dynamics of Salvation, eds. Clark H. Pinnock and John D. Wagner, (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2015), 46-47.
 Mark R. Talbot, All the Good That Is Ours in Christ: Seeing God’s Gracious Hand in the Hurts Others Do to Us, John Piper and Justin Taylor (eds.), Suffering and the Sovereignty of God (Wheaton: Crossway, 2006), 31-77. As found in Leighton Flowers, The Potter’s Promise: A Biblical Defense of Traditional Soteriology (Trinity Academic Press, 2017), 77.
 Ibid. 288.
 Ravi Zacharias, “Critical Thinking: A Christian Essential, Part 1”, https://faithplay.com/episode/critical-thinking-a-christian-essential-part-1-5aa382f7b95f469417fa453c / Last accessed 3/31/2023.
 Ravi Zacharias, “Jesus Above All, Part 1”, Last accessed March, 26, 2018. You may try the RZIM site. As of 3/31/2023 the page or a successful link cannot be found.
 Ravi Zacharias, “The Basis for Truth, Part 2”, Sept. 22, 2018. https://rzim.org/let-my-people-think-broadcasts/the-basis-for-truth-part-2/ (6:39 – 7:53). Last accessed Sept. 27, 2018. You may try the RZIM site. As of 3/31/2023 the page or a successful link cannot be found.
 Ravi Zacharias, “One God Among Many, Part 1”, Nov. 10, 2018 Podcast. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NH4fk4HOwN4 (2:40 – 4:22) Last accessed 3/31/2023.
 C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain, (Macmillan: New York, 1962), 28. In this book Lewis deals with the topics of divine omnipotence and divine goodness as they relate to the pain and wickedness we observe and experience in the world. “If God were good, he would wish to make His creatures perfectly happy, and if God were almighty, He would be able to do what He wished. But the creatures are not happy. Therefore God lacks either goodness, or power, or both. This is the problem of pain, in its simplest form.” Lewis goes on to examine under what conditions God made the world which entailed the consequent possibility of pain and wickedness. Divine omnipotence and divine goodness are further defined; exhibited in a world of fixed laws, divine self-limitation, and the free will of creatures. This book has bearing upon the issues of sovereignty and human freedom and is must reading.
 Linda Trinkaus Zabzebski, The Dilemma of Freedom and Foreknowledge, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991), 180.
 1 Tim 2:1-6: “First of all, then, I urge that petitions, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, 2 for kings and all those who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. 3 This is good, and it pleases God our Savior, 4 who wants everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 5 For there is one God and one mediator between God and humanity, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave himself as a ransom for all, a testimony at the proper time.” (CSB)
 Leighton Flowers, Soteriology 101 podcast, “Atonement for All, 1 Timothy 2:1-6 with David Allen.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P9diyt5UVLU&t=13s / Last accessed /31/2023.
See also the first half of this podcast on 1 John 2:1-2. It is titled “Unlimited Atonement: 1 John 2:1-2 with Dr. David Allen. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dGGl9NWBbOQ&t=145s / Last accessed 3/31/2023.
 David L. Allen with Leighton Flowers, “Atonement for All: 1 Tim. 2:1-6 with David Allen.” (2:50 – 6:35). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P9diyt5UVLU&t=13s / Last accessed 3/31/2023.
 See Chapter 9 – “Reason as Problematic for Reformed Interpretation”
 Atonement for All, 7:15.
 See David L. Allen, The Extent of the Atonement: A Historical and Critical Review (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2016), 707-709.
 Atonement for All, 6:35 – 12:36.
 Dr. Allen states that hyper-Calvinists deny one or more of 5 things. The first is “duty faith,” that is, it’s the evangelical duty of all people to believe the gospel. The second is common grace. Thirdly, God’s universal love, that is, that God loves all people. Fourth, the well-meant gospel offer, that is, that it’s not God’s intention to offer his salvation or the gospel to all people. On this point Dr. Allen states, “Hyper-Calvinists teach that the gospel should be preached to everybody, but it should be offered to no one. That’s what makes a person a hyper-Calvinist…” The fifth is that they deny God’s universal saving will, that is, that he has a single will on the matter of salvation and that he wills that all people be saved.
 D. A. Carson, The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2000).
 David L. Allen with Leighton Flowers, “Atonement for All: 1 Tim. 2:1-6 With David Allen” https://www.iheart.com/podcast/263-soteriology-101-for-28782664/ (28:50 – 31:31). Last accessed 1/22/2020.
 Ibid. 31:31 – 31:34
 Ibid. 31:35 – 31:56.
 Vincent Cheung, “Election and Reprobation.” http://www.vincentcheung.com/2008/12/18/election-and-reprobation/ Last accessed on June 14, 2018.
 Vincent Cheung, “Election and Reprobation.” http://www.vincentcheung.com/2008/12/18/election-and-reprobation/ Last accessed on June 14, 2018.
 Is Cheung’s use of the word “to” here just a sloppy usage of the preposition or is it intentional? Is Cheung slipping in a concept here with the word “to” that he does not go on to clearly explain? Why wouldn’t he say “…for a person to be responsible means that he will be held accountable for his actions?” This makes the actions more personal and less deterministic. When one is held accountable “for his actions” it connotes that it is the person themselves as a distinct individual moral agent who has done the act. The phrase “held accountable to his actions” is strange and ambiguous, and perhaps better serves Cheung “static” point about people being “rewarded or punished according to a certain standard of right and wrong” and moral responsibility having to do with “whether God has decreed a final judgment, and whether he has the power to enforce this decree.” How this is a sufficient definition of moral responsibility is not at all clear.
 Atonement for All, 34:20 – 35:23.
 C. A. Campbell, On Selfhood and Godhood, (New York: Macmillan Co., 1957).
 This situation mirrors the approach of many Christians to the nature and role of reason in understanding God, the Bible and their faith. Anti-intellectualism is the default Christian mindset and a negative view of reason is epidemic in evangelical churches today. This anti-intellectual, anti-objective and anti-content mindset has sacrificed the life of the mind on the altar of the subjective, inner feelings of the believer. The absence of doctrine, theology and hymns of content in the church are symptomatic of this abandonment of the life of the mind. The inability of local churches to discuss and debate substantive issues like the Calvinist / Arminian divide is a mark of the lack of concern for biblical and theological truth and attaining truth through sustained philosophical, hermeneutical, apologetic and theological reflection. Sadly, most evangelical churches are not places that welcome and cherish substantive questions and in-depth thinking on important theological topics and their practical applications. For a fine explanation as to why our minds matter and the role of reason in the Christian life and church see J. P. Moreland, Love Your God With All Your Mind: The Role of Reason in the Life of the Soul, (Colorado Springs: NavPress), 1997.
 C. A. Campbell, On Selfhood and Godhood, (New York: Macmillan Co., 1957), 12.
 Ibid. 15.
 Ibid. 383, 384.
 Ibid. 16.
 Evangelicals speak of proper interpretation as both a “science” and an “art.” Perhaps a sensitivity to the obvious meaning of the text, which requires a high degree of theological objectivity, and a proper concern for the immediate and broader coherence of one’s interpretation is the “art” element that is being neglected. Be that as it may, coherence cannot be ignored without profoundly negative implications.
 It has often been my experience that many Calvinists simply become silent, that is, ignore further questions or discussion at the point when one’s critique touches upon the logical and moral incoherence of their theology. They choose the second alternative Campbell pointed out above because they cannot respond to an honest inquiry that requires rational explanation of propositions that have gone beyond rationality. It simply cannot be done. The only alternatives are silence or further rationalizations that as far as I can tell only compound the Calvinist’s difficulties.
 C. A. Campbell, On Selfhood and Godhood, (New York: Macmillan Co., 1957), 15.
 See for instance, Thomas R. Schreiner and Bruce A. Ware, eds., Still Sovereign: Contemporary Perspectives on Election, Foreknowledge, and Grace, (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2000). Norman L. Geisler, Chosen But Free, (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 1999). Millard J. Erickson, chapter 16, “God Plan” in Christian Theology, (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1985), 345 – 363. Robert A. Peterson and Michael D. Williams, Why I Am Not An Arminian, (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004). Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Remythologizing Theology, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010).
 Clark H. Pinnock, “Responsible Freedom and the Flow of Biblical History” in Grace Unlimited, ed. Clark H. Pinnock (Minneapolis: Bethany Fellowship, 1975), 101-102.
 See Kevin Vanhoozer’s Remythologizing Theology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010) for a recent, thorough treatment of this perspective in which he employs speech-act and literary theory to argue a compatibilism between theistic determinism and human freedom. I critique his attempt to hold to what amounts to Reformed Calvinist theology while arguing for human freedom in my papers Preliminary Essays of Kevin Vanhoozer’s First Theology and Remythologizing Theology; The Problematic Doctrine of an Effectual Call: A Examination of the Theology of Kevin Vanhoozer; Towards a More Biblical View of Human Freedom: A Critique of Compatibilism in the Theology of Kevin Vanhoozer and Kevin Vanhoozer’s Compatibilism: The Struggle to Maintain Reformed Deterministic Sovereignty.
 C. A. Campbell, On Selfhood and Godhood, (New York: Macmillan Co., 1957), 24.
 Ibid. 384.
 Ibid. 386.
 Ibid. 386-387.
 J. I. Packer, Evangelism & The Sovereignty of God, (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1961), 21.
 Ibid. 387-389.
 J. I. Packer, Evangelism & The Sovereignty of God, (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1961), 19-20.
 Ibid. 20.
 Ibid. 21.
 This is the phrase William Lane Craig uses to describe Calvinism. See William Lane Craig, Defenders 2 Class, Doctrine of Creation: Part 10. Oct. 21, 2012. https://www.reasonablefaith.org/podcasts/defenders-podcast-series-2/s2-doctrine-of-creation/doctrine-of-creation-part-10/ You can read the transcript or listen to the lecture at this link. Last accessed October 8, 2019.
 J. I. Packer, Evangelism & The Sovereignty of God, (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1961), 16.
 C. A. Campbell, On Selfhood and Godhood, (New York: Macmillan Co., 1957), 391-392.
 Isaac Watts (1674-1748), English divine and hymn writer.
 C. A. Campbell, On Selfhood and Godhood, (New York: Macmillan Co., 1957), 389.
 I maintain this to be the case, Reformed compatibilism notwithstanding. My critique of Reformed compatibilism can be found in my paper, “Kevin Vanhoozer’s Compatibilism: The Struggle to Maintain Reformed Deterministic Sovereignty” which is an evaluation of it as expressed in the theology of Kevin Vanhoozer.
 C. S. Lewis, “De Futilitate” in Christian Reflections, ed., Walter Hooper (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1967), 63.
 Lewis’s best and fullest treatment on the validity of human reasoning appears in the first six chapters of his book Miracles: A Preliminary Study (Bles, 1947), especially Chapter III, ‘The Self—Contradiction of the Naturalist’. He later felt that he had in chapter III confused two senses of irrational; this chapter was rewritten and appears in its corrected form in the paper-backed edition of Miracles (Fontana Books, 1960).