Monday, May 17, 2010

Do You Believe In Logic?, Part I: The Dilemma Of An Inconsistent Theology

Just yesterday, I had a conversation at the local coffee shop with a good acquaintance of mine, someone I hadn’t spent time with in a while. The last time he and I were in church together was about two weeks ago, and much of life had happened since we were due for another get-together. God decided that it was time to meet again yesterday, so we did (although it was unexpected to us).

We talked about a number of things, like his calling to go overseas. I remember when he first talked to me about his calling. He went overseas for about two or three months (taught school there), then came back to Wake Forest. He told me that overseas life wasn’t for him...and then, yesterday, he told me that the Lord knows how to pull us out of our comfort zones. We had something to laugh about there: God always knows how to do that. If you find yourself too comfortable in life, look out! Something will happen to uproot that. It’s just the way our God works...

Somehow, I found the conversation turning towards theology. And then came the most blaring statement I think I’ve ever heard: he talked about how he held to a theology that incorporated what seemed to be contradictory concepts, but he held to them because he believed that is what the Bible teaches. He said to me, “I’ve met people that have said, ‘You can’t hold to an inconsistent theology,’ but who are they to decide what’s right or not? How do we know that the Bible really holds to one specific system?”

Usually in conversations surrounding theology, I get very quiet. What I like to do in such times is listen more than I talk. That’s not to say that I don’t have a view on things, or that I don’t know the subject matter---it’s just that I hold off so I can better understand the person that’s talking to me. I did the same in this situation, and let him say what his theological convictions were. And I’m glad I did; not only did it help me create another post (voila, here it is!), but it also helped me to understand more of the “average churchperson’s” belief regarding theological study.

What is so shocking about this acquaintance’s statement is not so much that he said it as the fact that such train of thought did not originate with him. There have even been theologians who held to this same thought. One such theologian was the French theologian Moise Amyraut:

“If Adam’s sin happened through the providence of God, God was therefore its author; if it is said that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, then he punishes sins and vices he himself created; if God wanted to reprobate the greater part of mankind, he therefore does not want to save all; if he declares to us he wants to save all, there is therefore no absolute, precise election and predestination of a certain small number only; if Jesus Christ died for all, therefore the gospel must be preached equally clearly through the whole earth; if the gospel is not preached equally clearly, however, God does not lead the rest of mankind to repentance...when GOD’S WORD TEACHES ON THE ONE HAND THAT SOME ARE REPROBATED...and when on the other side THE SAME WORD TEACHES ME GOD WANTS ALL TO BE SAVED...EVEN THOUGH MY REASON SHOULD FIND THERE THINGS WHICH SEEM TO CLASH...I will not stop holding the doctrines as true” (G. Michael Thomas, “The Extent of the Atonement: A Dilemma for Reformed Theology from Calvin to the Consensus.” United Kingdom: Paternoster, 1997, page 217).

Amyraut states here that “even though my reason should find these things which seem to clash,” he would still hold to these teachings. What this amounts to is, “Even though two doctrines are contradictory, I will still claim them both as true.” This sends a strong message that no matter how big the contradiction, God somehow operates “apart from logic,” as if logic isn’t one of the major indicators of truth.

“What’s all this stress on logic about?” you might ask. I am emphasizing the importance of logic because the Scriptures do as well. Read these words from the classical apologist (and Calvinist) Robert Charles Sproul:

“The Bible makes certain presuppositions or prior assumptions in communicating its truth to those who would listen. GIVEN THAT THE BIBLE IS GOD’S WORD, THE PRESUPPOSITIONS FOUND THEREIN ARE FOUND IN GOD HIMSELF, AND ARE THEREFORE ENDOWED TO HIS CREATURES, SINCE GOD HAS MADE US REASONABLE, SENSING, AND WITH THE ABILITY TO COMMUNICATE. That, of course, is simply another way of saying that God has made us in his image...we do see, for example, that the Scriptures TACITLY ASSUME THE VALIDITY OF THE LAW OF NONCONTRADICTION, which can be summed up in the following proposition: ‘A cannot be A and non-A at the same time and in the same sense or relationship’” (R.C. Sproul, “Defending Your Faith: An Introduction to Apologetics.” Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2009, page 31).

Sproul then provides us with an example:

“The Scriptures assume that there is a discernable difference between truth and lie, between righteousness and unrighteousness, between obedience and disobedience. We are therefore held accountable by our Maker. If God commands us to do A, then we can know that to do non-A would be in direct violation of his command. INDEED, IN ORDER TO BE OBEDIENT TO GOD’S WORD ONE MUST ASSUME THE LAW OF NONCONTRADICTION; THE ALTERNATIVE WOULD LEAD TO CHAOS, AS NOT EVEN ONE SENTENCE IN SCRIPTURE COULD BE INTELLIGIBLE WITHOUT THIS LAW” (“Defending Your Faith,” page 31).

Jesus Himself used such logic. One such passage is that of John 7:

“Did not Moses give you the law, YET NONE OF YOU KEEPS THE LAW? Why do you seek to kill Me?” (John 7:19, NKJV)

Jesus states that, since (according to the Jews) transgression of the law resulted in death, then why did they desire to kill Him (but yet, did not seek their own deaths)? If He was to die for supposedly breaking the law, then so were they. It would be problematic to execute Him for breaking the law when they had done the same. This would be an example of a contradiction: “It’s okay to break the law and not break the law” all at the same time.

Another example of the Law of Non-Contradiction comes from Luke:

“For a good tree does not bear bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. For every tree is known by its own fruit. For men do not gather figs from thorns, nor do they gather grapes from a bramble bush. A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil. For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks” (Luke 6:43-45, NKJV).

We see that good trees bring forth good fruit, and bad trees bring forth bad fruit. Those who are noble in heart do good things, while those who are wicked do bad things. A wicked person will not consistently do good, nor will a good person consistently do bad. A person’s constant character will shine, whether good or evil.

Another instance of the Law of Non-Contradiction is Jesus’ statement regarding two masters:

“No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon” (Luke 16:13, NKJV).

Here Jesus tells us that God and “mammon” (or wealth) are opposed to each other, which confirms what we read later in John’s epistles:

“Do not love the world or the things in the world. IF ANYONE LOVES THE WORLD, THE LOVE OF THE FATHER IS NOT IN HIM” (1 John 2:15).

In other words, a person cannot love both God and the world, since they are enemies of each other. To love one (whether God or the world) is to hate the other (whether God or the world). Here, “God” and “world” stand for two polar opposites, to opposing sides (A and not-A). One cannot serve both “A” (God) and “not-A” (world) at the same time with the same loyalty towards both. I will cover the ultimate passage promoting the Law of Non-Contradiction in my next post.

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