22 September 2012

Philosophical Wanderings 5a

These posts have generated some offsite discussion. I've been posting some of these exchanges. This is a continuation of the discussion from the previous post.
Most readers will probably agree with my friend who I will here call Bosporus. Again what's at stake is the nature of theology. What does it mean to claim to follow the Bible alone? If I'm claiming to be a Biblicist or Scripturalist, how do I do that? Why do so many come up with different theological systems? Isn't the Bible clear? 
These questions deal with how we read the Bible. What lenses do we look through as we read? Most people never really think about these questions. I'm not knocking or attacking those people. Even with 'lenses' the Gospel message still gets through. Praise be to God that the power of the Word overcomes our weaknesses and sinful thinking.
But, I would argue if we come with a specific type of epistemological lens, a certain way of thinking about knowledge and how we process it then we will miss and/or undercut much of what the Bible actually says. It has also led to many unnecessary divisions within the Church.
These are the questions that have spawned this discussion. I have come to the conclusion that part of our problem in reading the Bible is that we are post-Enlightenment Westerners and without realizing we impose criteria on the text of Scripture that we shouldn't, and it is a criteria that hinders us from in some cases properly understanding and reverencing the text.
Hence this continued discussion on the nature of logic and its role in the realm of theology.
My responses are in bold italic

Bosporus said...

No, logic is not empirical; in fact, it is the very definition of rational.

I don't think this says anything. We're simply back to...how do we determine what is logical or rational? What is the means for this?


Sometimes, when you critique logic, it seems like you’re actually talking about language.  Humans have a finite logical capacity, limited even further by the symbols (letters, words, etc.) which make up the various linguistic systems developed throughout human history.  Even there, some languages are more powerfully expressive than others.  Languages, I admit, are more empirical, but I would say the logic expressed by language is rational in nature.

Logic itself is closely tied to language. If we want to split logic and rationality and  say rationality is something essential to creation or whatever...then logic (tied to language) is the means of expressing this. It has to be tied to language. It's tied to communication and our ability to frame things in our minds.

It's one thing to do this with the tangible natural world but to 'probe' into the spiritual realm seems a bit presumptuous, especially when the Revelation we're so dependent upon seems at every turn to throw out concepts and categories for which we have no natural frame of reference.

All I'm suggesting is that we are absolutely and completely dependent upon the Revelation given to us. We all would agree on that but is it a starting point for logical development or something we need to accept, submit to and stick very close to.

It's definitely a nuance. And also, you could then get into the whole issue of Revelation....because of course Nature is a form of this as well. It's testimony is sufficient to attest Theism, assign guilt,  but it is inconclusive when it comes to formulating specifics.

While I think the Holy Spirit can certainly use logically argued 'evidences' to convince someone of Theism and point them toward the Gospel....logic alone will not 'prove' nor is it able to expand on the Gospel.

Granted, Greek is certainly more capable of nuanced and subtle expression than English or even many other languages.


You say logic is “our way” of explaining the laws of nature.  I would rather say rational and empirical capabilities were built into created humanity so that we can acquire and retain real knowledge of real things.  Your seem to suggest that our logic is just a human construct.  You say you're a realist, but when it comes to human logic, you sound like an arch-nominalist. :)

Your correct in that I would say logic will lead everyone to being an arch-nominalist. That's why Redemptive Revelation is a necessity and yet if it is put under the logic-microscope, if it is put to the test....in some cases it may 'seem' to elucidate, but ultimately it plants the seed for deconstruction. Instead of taking it as Oracular, it treats Scripture as material to parse out, tinker with, develop etc.... Some are far more guilty of this than others. But ultimately it subjugates Scripture.

You might respond that has nothing to do with Logic or Rationality in themselves but simply with method. And to a point that's true as well.

Logic still habits a critical place....again back to communication and language...logic has to be in play for these things to function, for language to have any meaning at all.

I'm specifically addressing the systemic impulse found in logic....the tendency toward development and speculation....the hallmark of Western Theology. I would say in order to be Scripturalists we need to arrest this tendency and temptation.

In order to be a Realist I have to abandon my dependency on Logic. Even Plato in order to make the Realist leap had to depend on innate sense of the Forms. Incredibly he used this (what seems arbitrary and subjective notion) as his a priori starting point. From that point he employed Reason to develop his ideas. Totally wrong....but if we can swap innate sense for Revelation....then were on the right track.

But at that point I don't think we then take up 'logic' to work out the implications of Revelation. We must to a point...again back to communication and word-function....but are we to 'take off' and develop systems and cross-checks, verifications?....highly problematic to me.

I think this is in part the reason for our refusal to embrace Confessionalism which rests on a system or body of doctrine. We all admit it there's a danger, a tendency to supplant Scripture. There's no mere tendency...that's what it does. It overthrows and replaces the Canon....period. And as we well know this is also true when it comes to tertiary standards...liturgical and political forms and documents.

I'm referring to Confessionalism not to the existence of a Confession per se.

I always...always cringe when listening to Reformed teachers quote the Confession in argument. That's anti-Scripturalism. You and I have NEVER appealed to Confessions in our arguments. We always are solely interested in textual issues and arguments.

I don't care in the least what this or that Confession says about Baptism or whatever the issue is. We always go back to the text and if the text contradicts the system....toss the system....maybe even toss the method?

You say....rational and empirical capabilities were built into created humanity.....

So are you admitting logic is empirical? So is correcting the Fall about returning to logic so that we figure it all out? I don't think that's what you're saying. That would be a Gordon Clark way of looking at things.

I haven't fully developed this in my mind but I would say the laws of logic point to teleology but that in itself is not God....simply evidence (you could say) of a God. The teleology necessitates a God but because of sin fallen man (though guilty) cannot make the metaphysical leap across the chasm. I don't think logic helps him to do this and again while it must be employed for communication to take place, it does not mean that once the chasm is bridged that man can now employ the 'same' tools that before were insufficient.

Even the argument from teleology can be attacked and as you know certainly has. But to get to God from that point it seems you would need to leap from the teleological argument which is inconclusive to the causation based reasoning found in the cosmological argument. But again....inconclusive. It's enough for guilt but little else.


Our logic is not the same, identifiable with divine logic, but they are ontologically analogous.  Our logic is real, and reflects (albeit in a finite manner) the logic of God -- its image and likeness, if you will.  John, for example, describes the Word/Logos as the Light which lights every man who comes into the world.

I'm not sure about the ontological part. Via the Spirit we're being granted to a meta-realm. I don't think the same 'rules' apply....I don't think the categories are even the same. Again I think logic is bound to quantitative reasoning. Spatial limitations which govern logic....even theoretical categories must take this account.....would not apply in the meta-realm.

It's not that the meta-realm is full of contradictions....it's that the law of non-contradiction is not even applicable. Those quantitative categories don't apply. Even qualitative concepts....how do we define qualities apart from quantification and systemizing?
Do we have a leg to stand on in the meta-realm? I don't think so. We must wholly depend on Revelation. It's like we're a kid in a swimming pool. We can get in the water but we don't dare let go of the side. Most Western theology says....no we're okay, we can learn to swim and move around.... but like the kid who let's go.....they may splash around a bit, 'kind of' swim...but they drown because they're in over their head. (no pun intended)

The lisping part comes where God enables us to understand 'something' of the realm beyond. We will understand more post-Eschaton...but I don't think that's about logic per se....as much as more intangible categories like perception etc...

I don't mean to sound charismatic and I'm not moving in that way at all. I consider that thinking to be explicitly extra-Biblical. But....we've made so much of the Christian life an intellectual exercise. When I read or listen to so many guys it's almost like.... if you just take a logic course then you can become a master theologian. I don't think so. In fact I don't find Paul ever arguing that way. I realize that's not for a moment what you're saying...

Rather than 'master' theology...to understand the Bible and a Christian System, I think we need to submit to what the Bible itself says even when it defies our understanding. Our task is not to try and explain it so that we master a system or as is often the case make 'contradictions' seem more palatable.


I don’t mind saying God communicates propositionally, though I would not say his message is bound to human linguistic forms.  I talk one way to you, another to my students, yet another to a toddler: God lisps to us, as Calvin says, but it’s only by way of condescension (accommodation).  He is still able to communicate clearly to us, though the whole truth is much greater than the content he actually communicates.  Finite minds cannot comprehend infinite truth, nor can human language fully express it.  Human reason can never, by any amount of logical deduction/induction, exhaustively apprehend truth as God knows it -- not here on earth, nor later in heaven when freed from the debilitating factor of sin.

Apprehend I agree with....comprehend implies systemic thought. I think most logic-oriented theology seeks to comprehend truth. Maybe that's making too much of the two words but there's a difference in posture.

Of course Ephesians 3 uses 'comprehend' though the meaning of the word in the text does not exactly parallel the way I'm using the terms here.

Listening to (as I have recently) to many Reformed men talk about the Covenants or even worse the Trinity....I literally find myself recoiling...being offended...finding the talk to be sacrilegious. I realize they would not 'claim' to fully comprehend what they're talking about but could I say....the method that seeks to comprehend rather than apprehend is problematic? Again maybe that's laying too much on the word definitions, but that's kind of what I'm getting at.

When they start talking about this or that doctrine taking logical priority, or that this or that doctrine should be placed at the center of a certain category (Justification in Soteriology etc...) I start to resist.

The only Centraldogma, the only System is rooted in Christ's person which itself defies logical categorization or dissection. The Incarnation defies all logical categories. When placed under the microscope of Aristotelian term logic...the Incarnation is a contradiction.

Again, not a contradiction....wrong tools and categories. It's not illogical but it's entirely meta-logical.

What's a little mind-blowing (in terms of this discussion) is the fact that apprehension is also Empirical. However the difference is....its total dependency. And of course there is an empirical nature to faith...a sensation of hope generated by the work of the Spirit.

Speculative theology rooted in logical constructions...seeking comprehension....seeks to be objective and thus built on solid ground. My argument would be that it's not, and that it goes beyond what we can or are called to do.

Van Til would say there's no objectivity, everything is governed by presupposition. While I'm uncomfortable where his followers take that, I am also uncomfortable with the confidence his followers gain by saying....okay, we 'now' have the 'right' presupposition....Christ the Axiom...let's get busy and build.


Divine mysteries are not contradictory, neither on the human level, nor on the divine.  They may be beyond our ability to grasp, but that does not make them contradictory.  I might not be able to explain them, or how they relate one to another, but if they’re divinely revealed I still believe them.  God may illumine our minds in part regarding these mysteries, but that partial understanding is really logical.  Then too, there are some mysteries which are entirely beyond finite capacity to grasp, known only to God for all eternity.

The Trinity, the Incarnation and many other categories are indeed contradictions....according to classic or term logic.

We believe them not because they're logical but because they're revealed. That said, some of the formulations and what went into them probably demand a bit of re-assessment.

Saying they're really logical....I think is to impose categories that don't belong and are frankly incapable of grasping the spiritual realities of the meta-realm.

To question whether or not revelation is contradictory....is to subjugate it. Logic demands the question. The law of non-contradiction is basic to the understanding and function of logic. I think it's an invalid criterion to impose on the text of revelation.

Ultimately if you hold to 'mysteries which are entirely beyond finite capacity to grasp' then we're practically saying the same thing....which I'm pretty confident based on our years of discussion that we are pretty much in agreement.

But is this acknowledgement of inability to grasp determined only 'after' a long exhaustive attempt at systematization? Only then do we throw up our hands? I don't think so. I think we need to operate under different theological imperatives.

So while Sproul would call me a blasphemer for my embrace of contradiction and ambiguity....I would say his categories are leading him to ask the wrong questions and thus not only are his conclusions often wrong....his whole posturing is in error.

As a side note....it's amazing thinking back to 1995 and 1996 when we really appreciated him....to 2012....I can't stand him. I listen to him but disagree with him on a constant basis. Even some of his books I once admired, now I find to be offensive and full of erroneous thinking. His writings and so-called ministry still have 'some' value in reaching out to people coming from other quarters, but.... I wouldn't actually recommend him to anyone.

He's also a crook and exploiter of God's people...but that's unrelated to this discussion.


You seem to be saying that the divine Mind is beyond logic -- not illogical, but (from a human perspective) extra- or non-logical by nature.

Absolutely. The Incarnation, Soteriology (in terms of temporality and eschatology) and so many other concepts are meta-logical. Not illogical per se....wrong questions, wrong framing.


Sproul and so many others seem to suggest that if we just had the logical tools....we could indeed comprehend. And if we can't quite get there, we sure can get close.

I would say....not in a million years. You're using a sledgehammer to sculpt water. Doesn't work on several levels.


I liked this: “[I]t's ironic that Thomas unwittingly planted the seeds for the destruction of the Medieval World which he sought to justify. It's breathtaking and astonishing to consider how these forces work.”  Amen.

I would also say that Beza, Turretin and others also planted the seeds that made New England what it is today.
I would also say Kuyper helped bring about the modern Netherlands and to no small degree Kuyper and the Dominionism of the Dutch Reformed tradition also birthed apartheid South Africa.
But all of it can to some extent be traced back to Aquinas and the Scholastics. They really did make the modern world.

Here's a great little paragraph-clip from a Wiki article....emphasis mine:
 Vladimir Lossky, a noted modern Eastern Orthodox theologian, argues the difference in East and West is due to the Roman Catholic Church's use of pagan metaphysical philosophy (and its outgrowth, scholasticism) rather than the mystical, actual experience of God called theoria, to validate the theological dogmas of Roman Catholic Christianity. For this reason, Lossky argues that the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholics have become "different men". Other Eastern Orthodox theologians such as John Romanides and Metropolitan Hierotheos say the same. Vladimir Lossky expressed this as "Revelation sets an abyss between the truth which it declares and the truths which can be discovered by philosophical speculation.

'Different Men'
The last sentence is also interesting is it not? In many ways that expresses the heart of what I'm trying to say. Pity the Orthodox don't follow it either. And don't worry I'm not advocating theoria.


Cal said...

The thing I find most interesting is that creation itself is breaking Aristotle's microscope.

Light is a particle and a wave? There is no traceable pattern to movements of the parts of electrons? And then time, that's just something else.

The whole thing turns Aristotle on his head. Maybe good too for the arrogance of 19th century science. I'm not saying one needs a new logic (I'm with you on the supra-logic of the Christ), but it sure gives one pause.

Jim C. said...

Hey John,

I've read this post about seven or eight times and I think I understand what you're getting at.

The purview of this discussion, of course, is the relationship between systematic theology and Revelation and to what extent the former is useful in understanding the latter. Within this context what you've said makes sense. If logic is tied to language which is itself a human construct we use to comprehend the natural order - with the natural order functioning as a frame of reference - then logic is also a part of the created order - logic that is based on Aristotelian categories. It is not simply a "reflection" of the "mind of God" nor is thinking rationally "thinking God's thoughts after Him". After all, there are many unbelievers with the capacity for rational thought. Are they all of a sudden privy to the mysteries of God simply because they can form syllogisms?

In other words, God is not so immanent that we can mathematically decipher and parse everything that he says. However, he is not so transcendent that we can't say anything meaningful about Him. After all, God communicates to us through His Word, which contains language. If we couldn't say anything meaningful about Him then it would make no difference whether He existed or not.

I guess where you need to be more clear is where exactly you think we need to draw the line and maybe provide some examples.

Also - and I realize that this is beyond the purview of this discussion - based on what you've said here, how would you address competing religious truth claims that base their veracity on revelation such as Islam?

Jim C.

Protoprotestant said...

Sorry, lots going on...on several fronts.

God willing I'll get to these soon.

Protoprotestant said...

Your 2nd and 3rd paragraphs are well put. And your comment regarding where to draw the line is quite valid. And to be honest that's something I'm still working out. I 'know' what I'm trying to say and I could just simply say 'stick to the text'...but it's not that simple is it?
I cannot but theologize and develop thoughts. We cannot avoid tying ideas together. Otherwise it all becomes too disjointed and the overall picture, the grand perspective is lost.
There has to be limits to our development and speculation. Just recently as I tangled with the PCA guy the 'good and necessary consequence' clause kept getting thrown at me. That's their whole argument when it comes to polity.
Of course none of them ever stop and ask is it really and truly necessary? And for that matter is it good? Instead it's used as an umbrella, a cover to legitimize whatever they come up. And this goes far beyond polity, this is a keystone to their whole theological method.
And while I'm being very critical of it I cannot 'entirely' deny that it has 'some' validity.
It's very tough. Again, I have ideas about where to draw lines but to formulate them into some kind of theorem.... I don't know if I'm quite there. It's one of those things I have to really give myself to....time without distractions, a lot of meditation etc... I often think with a notepad and pen in hand and jot stuff down and try and work things out. But this gets so complicated it's hard....maybe even beyond my ability. I don't know.

Protoprotestant said...

One thing I will say is that if theology is viewed more in Redemptive-Historical terms v. Grammatico-Historical (which in itself is fine but subject to abuse by those with a Systematic emphasis and bias) it leads to a different set of questions and categories. Our conclusions will often be the same or similar but the way (the method) is different and in certain areas there will be a key difference, a different result and in general a different flavour to theology.
As far as Islam....interesting question. In terms of apologetics I'm not necessarily opposed to Classical Arguments (Ontology, Teleology and Cosmology) but I don't think in terms of actual logical 'proofs' they actually come through. However, they certainly 'can' if aided by the Spirit. The Fideistic type argumentation of Presuppositionalism can also work.
In terms of evaluating the claims of Islam the issue with them is essentially the same as what we deal with when the Mormons show up at the door. As embracers of the New Covenant we of course are not opposed to the concept of Supersessionism. However, we 'must' argue the New Covenant is the Final manifestation because it's centered on Christ who fulfills all obligations and aspects of Redemption. Islam's claim that Mohammed was the Paraclete or that Joseph Smith (via Macaroni or whatever the "angel's" name was) was a 'latter-day' prophet have to be evaluated not so much in terms of systemic consistency and/or coherence but in terms of the historical claims made within the New Testament regarding Christ and the finality and perfection/completeness of His work.
At that point Mormonism is reduced to the 'burning in the bosom' as a test for veracity and Islam must attack Paul of Tarsus as the corrupter and inventor of Christianity....and many Mainline Christians would agree.

Protoprotestant said...

But again, the argument is historical. Christ himself promised the Spirit-guided Apostolic witness. If they wish to suggest the Gospel are untrustworthy (which they do) then there's no basis to claim Christ was even a Prophet at all which is problematic for the Koran. But at that point we 'could' although I would not necessarily say we 'should' turn to the Old Testament and see if Mohammed meets the requirements of the Messiah from Genesis 3.15, to Isaiah 53 etc.... which of course he doesn't.
There is of course a 'logic' to the argument. I'm not (though some may think it) anti-logic. It's a quite useful but limited tool. In no way would I suggest jettisoning it, but I also don't want to fully embrace it and employ it in evaluating textual Revelation.
But here' where it gets real confusing...Revelation is tied to and interacts with history....viz., events in space and time...events very much subject to the laws of logical evaluation.
Except when we're talking about miracles....which are not.
But of course what is Providence? As one put it... it is a miracle in slow motion. While that's a great definition...normative Providence 'seems' to adhere to the established laws of creation.
In the end I fall on my knees and declare...I am but dust. In Him we live and move and have our being. Who am I to comprehend these things? In the end what can I do but believe and cry out for mercy?