Friday, June 17, 2011

Discerning A Logical Contradiction: The Philosophical Consistency of An Eternal Decree of Conditional Election

“There is certainly no problem with the election occurring before birth. I think it does. Individual conditional election by God in eternity past does not involve a logical contradiction” (F. Leroy Forlines, Classical Arminianism: A Theology of Salvation. Nashville: Randall House, 2011, page 121).

The name of the blog is “The Center for Theological Studies.” Here at the site, I daily devote my time to issues of theological importance; however, if you ever look at the blogging sections to the right on the main page, you will find that I also have sections on philosophical issues that are connected to theology, such as “hermeneutics,” “Philosophy: Theology’s Handmaiden,” “Doctrine of Election,” etc. The reason for philosophical studies and discussions here at CTS is to show my readers that I value philosophical theology. Being a theologian, in my opinion, involves more than just having the right theology and making sure one has a Bible verse for everything; rather, hermeneutics (philosophy) is a tool God has provided the church. If all one needs is theology, what does one do when battling Open Theists, who believe that God only has partial foreknowledge of all future events? Open Theists show Christians everyday that it takes more than theology to do battle in theology. Open Theists often engage non-openness theologians and believers alike in philosophical debates over the nature of God (divine foreknowledge) as well as the philosophy of language (what does the text mean when God says He didn’t know something, or He didn’t think something would be done by the Jews, etc.). One must think on their feet when engaging opposing views in theology and philosophy.

With that being said, I believe in the importance of training believers to not just be good theologians and know their Bible only...but to also train believers to be good philosophers, know how to do hermeneutics, and know how to philosophically defend the nature of God amidst various perceptions of the divine that exist in the contemporary world. The early church fathers certainly believed that “philosophy is the handmaiden of theology”; and since I can do no better than they, I must admit that I too, need philosophy to make me a good theologian. For those who disagree with me on this one, I pray that in time, you too, would come to agree with me.

F. Leroy Forlines’ quote above involves nothing but pure, unadulterated philosophical argument. The subject up for debate in this post is whether or not a conditional election decided in eternity is a logical contradiction.

It would help to think of eternity (before time) and time as being points on a line, like the following:


In the above diagram, “EP” stands for “eternity past,” while “T” stands for “time” and “EF” stands for “eternity future” (which is the world to come). Now that this line is laid, let’s think about the eternal decrees.

According to Scripture, God foreknows His work from eternity (Acts 15:18), meaning prior to time. Before He even created time, He foreknew His own plans and His decrees. In the “EP” above, eternity past, God set up the decrees regarding things He would do in time. One of the decrees in eternity past that God made was the decree to send Jesus. In “EP” God decreed to send Jesus, but Jesus did not come until “T” (what Galatians calls “the fullness of time”; see Galatians 4:4). Calvinist theologian John Piper would not disagree with the decree to send Jesus being made in eternity and carried out in time. Why? Because the decree to send Jesus was unconditional (the Father sent Jesus because of His own love for the world and His personal decision). The problem for Piper comes in when one claims that election is conditional, and that this decree was made in eternity.

Why is the eternal conditional decree a logical contradiction to Piper? It’s similar to what many say when they provide a critique against Molinism called “the grounding objection.” Ken Keathley, author of “Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach, writes as a footnote:

Some ask how it is that God innately knows what free creatures will do. That is, they want to know the grounds or basis for this knowledge (which is why this objection is commonly called the ‘grounding objection’). However, as Craig points out, the burden of proof is on the objector. ‘But why should I know how God has such foreknowledge? Who are human beings that they should know how God foreknows the future?” (William Lane Craig, quoted by Kenneth Keathley, Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach. Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 2010, page 40).

Piper and many Calvinists often ask Molinists (and Arminians), “If God foreknows human choices, how does He foreknow them? In eternity, humans have not been created yet. If God foreknows choices in eternity created by people that He will create in time (but has not created when He decided to actualize a world), how then, can God foreknow those free human choices?” To many, it seems that, if God is the only existing being in eternity, He can only foreknow choices because He will foreordain them. Many Calvinists believe that it doesn’t make sense to posit that God foreknows choices created by people who don’t exist. To many, that is the same thing as a movie producer (such as “Christoff”) who foreknows that the character Truman Burbank (from “The Truman Show”) will get married. Why does Christoff foreknow Truman will get married? He foreknows because he foreordained Truman to get married in the script he wrote. He wrote the script and decided beforehand that Truman would get married. Truman did not have a say in the matter (although it seems he did).

The Calvinist philosophical reasoning, though rather astute in its presentation, falters when it comes to the Divine. First and foremost, God’s decision in eternity means that there was never a time when God “decided” to create the world. Although I use the phrase “God decided to create the world” above, in reality, God “always” decided to create the world, God always foreknew He would create the world (and thus, always foreknew the people He would create, that the Fall of man would occur, and that He would send Jesus to atone for man’s sin). There was never a time in eternity past when God had to say, “Shall I or shall I not create a world?” God never had to deliberate over the matter, since He is not like us. This is why Molinists refer to the “logical” moments of God’s foreknowledge, not actual moments (as though God’s foreknowledge occurred in process):

“It is important to keep in mind that these three moments are a logical sequence, not a chronological sequence. Since God is omniscient, He innately knows all things---this means He does not go through the mental processes that finite beings do of ‘figuring things out.’ God never ‘learns’ or has things ‘occur’ to Him. He already knows all truths. The fact that God is omniscient does not merely mean that God is infinitely more knowledgeable than us, but that His knowledge is of a different type and quality. So the three moments of God’s knowledge proposed by Molinism refer to logical order, not a sequence in time” (Kenneth Keathley, Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach, page 16).

Dr. Keathley’s argument about God’s knowledge is impeccable. God is “omniscient,” we are limited in our knowledge. God’s foreknowledge, by virtue of His divine nature, is different in “type” and greater in “quality.” When it comes to the human, the earthly, man can comprehend many things; but when it comes to the Divine, who can comprehend fully all God foreknows? To be able to understand exactly how God foreknows all human choices would require us to possess omniscience, an impossibility for mortal man. Therefore, while we cannot say how God foreknows what humans will freely choose, we can say that the Bible declares God foreknows all human choices. Those who deny that God can establish an election based on a certain condition in eternity are those who are merely grappling with a philosophical question that only God can accurately provide an answer to. But the fact that Calvinists do not understand the “how” of it does not make the idea itself a logical contradiction. After all, a logical contradiction can only be claimed if someone has something earthly to compare the thing in question to; and, since nothing on earth can be compared to God’s nature and personality, there are no examples to compare to God’s foreknowledge...thus eliminating the possibility of logical contradiction.

This post was a philosophical post in its content. The goal was to demonstrate that the decree of conditional election in eternity is not a logical contradiction, since divine foreknowledge is not of the same type and quality as human foreknowledge. For humans, events and ideas at a later time can change an impression we had at an earlier time; this is not the case with God. God’s mind does not change; He does not need to go back and rethink His ideas. God does not have to go back and correct His thinking, or struggle to recall an event that happened years ago. He foreknows all things perfectly, simultaneously, eternally.

Rather, something that happens in time was always foreknown by God in eternity. And why is this the case? Because, if God foreknew all His actions from eternity (Acts 15:18), foreknew His decision to create the world, place Adam and Eve and subsequent people in it, foreknew His decision to send Jesus to atone for sin, then surely, He foreknew Adam and Eve would sin, foreknew that the Fall of Genesis 3 would happen, foreknew that Satan and 1/3 of the angels in heaven would fall, foreknew that some would accept His atonement while others would not. If the very hairs of man’s head are numbered (Matt. 10:30), and the Lord knows man’s thoughts afar off (Psalm 139:2), then He foreknows all human choices. Nothing escapes the mind of our God!

1 comment:

Deidre Richardson, B.A., M.Div. said...

For those who read this post, I know that my "plot line" looks as if eternity is "broken in half" or divided, but this is not the case. Rather, the plot line exists to show that eternity has always existed before time. Rather, to adequately demonstrate eternity, there should have been a line for eternity (by itself) and then a line under the eternity line for time, as below:

Eternity: <------------------>

Time: __________T_______T (final)

As can be seen, eternity is always extending (it has always existed). Time, however, comes into being at some logical point "T" and eventually ends (which is what the "T (final)" designation is for. All this to show that "time" exists for only a fraction of the duration of eternity.

I hope this may clear up some confusion (if there is any).