Friday, April 1, 2011

When Philosophy Drives Theology: Todd Mangum and the Inclusivist Possibility

“Inclusivist arguments commonly go too far, in my judgment, in their sentimental appeals on behalf of depraved human beings. We know that the God of the Bible is capable of raining down His wrath on whole segments of depraved humanity...that having been said, I do believe that there is a Reformed way of raising the question with which inclusivists have been so concerned. Instead of asking, ‘Would it be truly fair of God to damn human beings for rejecting a gospel they never heard?’...we might ask the question this way: ‘If God has his elect in remote portions of the world, could he use general revelation to reach them?’ Put this way, it seems to me that a Reformed thinker’s answer would have to be more ambivalent [Todd Mangum, “Is There a Reformed Way To Get The Benefits of The Atonement To ‘Those Who Have Never Heard?’” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 47, no. 1 (March 2004): 127].
Here at the Center for Theological Studies, I have always made it known that theology and philosophy should work together. I believe in having a philosophical theology where philosophy supports theology, not drives it. Philosophy from the very beginning was made to be “the handmaiden of theology,” and I am committed to theological research that places philosophy back where it belongs (“on the passenger’s side”)...and out of the driver’s seat.
Today’s quote comes from Todd Mangum, one who clearly has no problems boldly announcing his Calvinist presuppositions:
“Let me go on record as affirming a classically Reformed soteriology, including a particular (rather than universal) design of the should come as no surprise that I remain unfazed by any number of stock inclusivist-Arminian arguments” (Todd Mangum, “Is There a Reformed Way...?”, page 123).
Mangum is a five-point Calvinist and argues for all five points, including “particular” (limited) atonement. No Arminian argument can or will win him over because his starting presuppositions are very different from those of the Arminian.
Having said this, Mangum clearly allows his Calvinist philosophy to drive his thoughts on theology, particularly when it comes to the issue of inclusivism and the unevangelized from the starting quote above. Here, once more, is Mangum’s question:
“If God has his elect in remote portions of the world, could he use general revelation to reach them?’”
I would never in any way desire to limit the sovereignty of God. God is sovereign and in control, and “He does whatever He pleases.” In that respect, I agree with Mangum and Calvinists everywhere. God does not “have” to do anything; He is not bound or obligated to do things the way I want Him to. Because He is God, it is His prerogative to call the shots. I am the creature, not the Creator, and I humbly acknowledge that I am the lesser and that God is the greater. problem with Mangum’s quote is not that there’s something wrong with the quote (at least on the surface, anyway). I mean, is it possible that God could save via general revelation? Yes! There are a lot of things that God could do that He chooses not to do. But this does not mean that because God “can” do it (it is possible), that He actually WILL do it! “Can” suggests possibility, while “will” suggests probability. Possibility does not necessarily entail probability. For instance, it may be “possible” for me to get the job promotion, but the mere possibility of it does not make it so. In the same way, Mangum’s presupposition that God’s sovereignty means He “can” do something does not necessitate that God actually will do something. “Can” and “will” are two different suggestions altogether.
Secondly, let me also add that Mangum’s Calvinist philosophy drives him away from reading Scripture. We clearly see this when he discusses the use of Psalm 19 in Romans 10:
“Paul’s quotation of Psalm 19 in the closing portion of his argument in Romans 10 has intriguing implications. Reformed interpreters have too often closed their consideration of the argument of Romans 10 at verses 13-15. Granted, the rhetorical nature of these questions seems, at first, to close off consideration of God’s reaching his elect through any means other than a human agent-borne presentation of the gospel message. But it is Paul himself who reopens the question in verse 18, when he says, ‘But have they never heard?’---deliberately undermining, in part, his earlier rhetorical question, ‘How shall they hear without a preacher?’ they may hear, apparently (and extraordinarily), through the constant testimony of general revelation (v.18) (129).
When writing on verses 13-15, Mangum says (paraphrase), “It seems as if Paul’s special revelation...but then, he turns around and confirms general revelation in the very next verses.” But is this actually what Paul does? To find out, we’ll have to examine Romans 10 ourselves.
In verses 13-15, Paul has argued that salvation comes for “whoever calls on the name of the Lord” (Rom. 10:13, NKJV). One must confess the Lord’s name to be saved. In verse 14, Paul uses a series of questions to make the case that one cannot confess the Lord’s name if he or she has not believed; and they cannot believe in something they have never heard; and they cannot hear it without a preacher coming to them who is sent on his evangelistic mission by God Himself (vv. 14-15). In verse 16, Paul says “but they have not all obeyed the gospel,” quoting from Isaiah 53:1 as proof. All of the material used in these few verses is to make his case: “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” In other words, the only way one can believe on the name of the Lord is to hear the word preached. The gospel (the subject of verse 16) must be preached in order for belief and confession to take place.
In verse 18, Paul asks, “have they not heard?” Now, at this point, what is it that the Jews (the subject of Romans chapters 9-11) are supposed to have heard? If the context of Romans 10 can be trusted, it’s the gospel that the Jews are supposed to have heard (Rom. 10:16). And this is where Mangum’s exegesis falters. The reference from Psalm 19 does refer (within the Psalm itself) to general revelation (“the heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament shows His handiwork,” etc.); however, one cannot take Paul seriously if he or she does not read Paul’s context of Romans 10 and interpret Psalm 19 in light of that. In Psalm 19, the words used in Rom. 10 refer to general revelation (although special revelation is mentioned there, too); however, in Romans 10, the subject is the gospel, not general revelation.
In Rom. 10:3-4, Paul says that the righteousness of God is found in Christ: “for Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” The reason why the Jews have not yet come to faith (Paul says) is because they have not believed the gospel, they have not professed faith in Christ. In verses 5-6, Paul contrasts the “righteousness of the law” (Mosaic) with “the righteousness of faith.” Notice that in verse 8, the message which Paul and others preach is called “the word of faith.” In verses 9 and 10, salvation is said to come through confession by mouth and belief of the heart in two things: first, that Jesus is Lord; and secondly, that God raised Jesus from the dead. In other words, to be saved, one must confess that Jesus is Lord and that he or she believes Christ died for their sins and rose for their justification (see Romans 5). In verse 11, Paul provides biblical support for the word of faith he preaches, stating that the plan of salvation he advocates is actually contained within the Old Testament (specifically, Isaiah 28:16). If one goes back to Romans 10:17, the subject is “the word of God” or “the word of Christ,” which is the “word of faith” of Romans 10:8).
The context of Romans 10 makes it obvious that it is the gospel that Paul states the Jews have received. If the Jews were responsible for general revelation, that would be a retreat from their position as God’s people, not a progression: after all, did God not provide special revelation for them in the Mosaic Law (was the Law not written on tablets by God Himself? See Exodus 20)? If the Mosaic Law is inadequate for salvation, how then, could general revelation be more adequate (since special revelation is greater than general revelation)? Even in Psalm 19, David distinguishes between general and special revelation. While the “words” of general revelation have gone to the ends of the earth (Ps. 19:4), it is only “the law of the Lord” that “converts the soul” (v.7), “enlightens the eyes” (v.8), and brings great reward (v.11). General revelation itself only “reveals knowledge” (v.2)...and this knowledge, as Paul writes in Romans 1:18, is “suppressed in unrighteousness” and makes mankind “without excuse.”
Stay tuned...more on Todd Mangum to come.

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