Archive | Theology RSS for this section

A Complementarian Defense of 5 for Yell

The student body elections campaign season has started up again here in Aggieland. Look anywhere and you’ll see screaming sophomores holding bedsheet-PVC pipe contraptions sporting forced puns for their candidate. Naturally, this time of year sparks a heated controversy over Yell Leader – the entrusted guardians of the Aggie Spirit. Every cycle, it seems the debate flares up over the nearly invincible death grip that 5 for Yell has on the position. Many say that 5 for Yell undercuts the democracy of Texas A&M, crowds out the other voices, and prevents the Yell Leaders from ever representing anything more than the Corps of Cadets. I’d like to step in and offer some spiritual guidance.

Two fundamental assumptions of the anti-5fY crowd are that (1) non-Corps members ought to be represented by the Yell Leaders and (2) that not being represented somehow undercuts the intrinsic value of the non-reg community. I think that both are false. First, consider something non-controversial. Nobody contends that a non-reg fresh off the street should be Reveille’s handler – that is clearly something only members of the Corps should do. On the opposite end of the spectrum, nobody objects to non-regs and Corps equally filling and contending for many of the other offices on campus, including Student Body President, chief student officers, and group project leaders that make sure everything gets submitted to eCampus on time. This is because we recognize what’s called complementarianism. That is, every Aggie, Corps and non-regs, are equal in their essential dignity and human personhood, but different and complementary in function with Corps headship in the dorm and in Kyle Field. In other words, there is neither male nor female, reg or non-reg, redass nor 2%-er for all are one in the 12th Man. So, everyone implicitly understands this concept. However, what about the specific role of the Yell Leader? Is this a position that is open to everyone or one that has be sacredly reserved to be fulfilled by the Corps? To answer this question, rather than making up answers as we go, we must go to the Sacred Tradition as encapsulated by the teachings of our past Presidents. The explicit teaching of St. Rudder on the requirements of Yell Leader can be found in his correspondence with Corps Commander Matthew R. Carroll in 1969.

“…likewise also that non-regs should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and Comfort Colors, not with orange attire, but with what is proper for non-regs who profess the Aggie Spirit—with good bull.  Let a non-reg learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a non-reg to teach Tradition to or exercise Yelling over a cadet; rather, they are to remain quiet until instructed to hump it. For the cadets were at TAMC first, then the non-regs; and the Corps did not kill Ol’ Army, but the non-regs did and became transgressors. Yet they will be saved through humping it—if they continue in excellence and integrity and loyalty, with selfless service. Let Yell Leaders each be the zip or sergebutt of one division, managing their pissheads and their own outfits well. For those who serve well as Yell Leaders gain a good standing for themselves and also great confidence in the Spirit that is in Aggieland.” (1 Matthew 2:12-17)

As we can see, Rudder is straightforward – the non-regs, while a valued and legitimate part of the Aggie Community are not open to being Yell Leaders. While I will be the first to admit that 5 for Yell isn’t perfect, they nevertheless are the most faithful embodiment of the Aggie apostolic teachings. This election cycle, I ask that you consider these words and ask yourself if you want to subvert the clear teachings found in this Rudderian epistle.

Disclaimer: This is not serious.

Christmas Book Review: The Logic of God Incarnate

The Logic of God Incarnate is my favorite Christmas book. Is HM Relton right that “The person of Christ is the bankruptcy of human logic”? Tom Morris argues that contemporary philosophical objections to the Incarnation fail.

This is a fantastic, thought provoking book that I will definitely read again. As promised in the synopsis, Morris does a great job parsing out the key metaphysical distinctions for retaining the coherency of the orthodox claim that God the Son is identical to Jesus of Nazareth. The key takeaways: (i) common properties are not necessarily essential properties and (ii) merely human and fully human are not the same thing. Overall, I rate this book a 4.6/5

For much of the book, I was skeptical of his proposed “two-minds” model. The terminology is terrible because it sounds exactly like he is promoting Nestorianism. Well, he isn’t and while I’m a little hesitant to fully endorse it, it does seem like a coherent and plausible model. I was especially persuaded by his argument concerning the possibility of multiple incarnations.

It was difficult for me to get my head around some of the concepts because of my layman knowledge of metaphysics. Nevertheless, the salient points are well communicated and I definitely recommend this book if you are interested in sophisticated defenses of Chalcedonian Christology.

In ch. 1, Morris lays out the incoherence charge, surveys a few defensive maneuvers but dismisses them as ad hoc manipulation of the principle of indiscernible identical. In Ch. 2, Morris addresses two alternatives to orthodoxy: the one-nature view as espoused by Ronald Leigh and the reduplactive properties view espoused by RT Herbert. The first fails on the grounds that it assumes objects cannot have kind-natures essentially. The second fails as it only works for representational properties. Morris’s central argument centers on the fact that a common feature of all members of a kind-nature is not an essential property. For example, all humans have been born on planet earth; however, not-being-born-on-earth is not a property that would disqualify a being from being human.

Morris addresses the temptation & impeccability experienced by Christ. The chief argument is epistemic, not alethic, possibility of sin is sufficient for temptation. Paralleling Frankfurt cases, Morris argues that the human range of consciousness held a belief set which entailed the possibility of sin, yet, this was never genuinely open. I’m not sure about Morris’s two-mind model that undergirds his analysis, though.

The last chapter, “The Cosmic Christ”, deals with the objection that Christianity is too small, or, “Did Jesus die for Klingons?” Morris argues that (i) most of these arguments ultimately boil down to “muh unevangelized” and (ii) his “two-mind” view accounts for multi-planetary incarnations. I found the thought experiment helpful. Morris’s answer keeps the Son as the only redeemer.


One of the most interesting sections was Morris’s argument for the essential goodness of God which I have adapted as follows:

On the Anselmian view, God is, among other things, essentially omnipotent and omniscient. Can we derive essential goodness from these two properties? Consider the following reductio.

Assume in some world W God commits an evil act at time t and thus ceases to be good. Consider the moment right before at time t – 1. There are two options:

(a) God does *not* intend to do the evil act
(b) God does intend to do the evil act

If (a) is true and God commits the evil act at t, then He could not be considered omnipotent for He would be coerced into doing something.

If (b) is true, then God actually ceases to be good at t – 1 for sin is a condition of the heart. Thus, by intending to do evil, God has ceased to be good. This creates a bigger issue because if God is omniscient, then He knew what His intentions were from the beginning of creation. Indeed, it was at the beginning of creation that He decreed all of His future acts, including, in this thought experiment, the evil act at time t. However, if He intended to do evil at the beginning of creation, then at no time has God been good.

The reductio is complete: if God does evil at time t, it was either in accord with His intentions or against His intentions. If it was always His intention to do evil, He has never been good. If was was never His intention, He is not omnipotent.

This gives us

(G) If God is (i) essentially omnipotent and (ii) essentially omniscient and (iii) good at time t, then, God is good for all t.

Unfortunately, the modal scope of this argument is limited. We can conclude that God is contingently (although eternally) good, but, it does not show God is good in every possible world.

Book Review: The Heresy of Orthodoxy


“Early Christianity was a mess with scores of contradicting gospels and different beliefs about who Jesus was. It wasn’t until hundreds of years later that the orthodox squashed out opposing views and rewrote the NT manuscripts”. Such is the charge that Köstenberger and Kruger tackle in this short work. They argue (I) early Christianity was remarkably United around the core identity and actions of Jesus, (II) the disagreement on the NT canon was localized to peripheral books and the 4 Gospels enjoyed widespread privileged status as early as the beginning of the 2nd century and (III) the textual reliability of the NT collection far and away outsrips any contemporary work.It’s important to go into this book with the right expectation. Essentially, this is a condensed summary of the authors’ work in three controversial areas of Christian origins: plurality of beliefs in the early church, origin of the NT canon, and textual criticism. I did not know this and having already read Kruger’s work on the canon and Daniel Wallace’s work on textual criticism, the arguments came off as surface level. DO NOT GET ME WRONG, it’s a great overview book, but if you are already familiar with Kruger or Köstenberger’s work in these areas, I would not recommend it. If you are looking for a starting place in these controversies, I would absolutely recommend it and further, follow the rigorous footnotes for detailed discussion on every point made.
With the caveat that this is not an extremely detailed work, I found many of the arguments to be a little rushed. To their credit, the authors would often cite a more detailed discussion in the footnotes. The form of some of the arguments were not overly persuasive to me even though I agree with the conclusions; however, as mentioned in my previous review on “Is There A Synoptic Problem?”, I think that if you are going to make a probability claim, it needs to include a properly justified p-value. 
Overall 3.8/5

Want to know I am reading? Follow me on goodreads.com/zacharytlawson

luismolinaRomans9

Who Overheard Jesus and Pilate?

(Alternate Title: The Problem of Private Parlance Pericopes)

There is an interesting objection to the reliability of the Gospels centered on the problem of private conversations. There are several interactions, the objection goes, wherein the details of the events are privy only to the participants of those events. The writers of the Gospels neither participated themselves in these events nor plausibly had access to witnesses of these event. Consider for example the conversation between Jesus and Pilate described in John 18.

Pilate entered again into the Praetorium, and summoned Jesus and said to Him, “Are You the King of the Jews?”

Jesus answered, “Are you saying this on your own initiative, or did others tell you about Me?”

Pilate answered, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests delivered You to me; what have You done?”

Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm.”

Therefore Pilate said to Him, “So You are a king?”

Jesus answered, “You say correctly that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.”

Pilate said to Him, “What is truth?”

  • John 18:33-38 (NASB)

This is a pretty detailed account for a guy who was not there to hear the conversation. Could it be the case that the author of John wove this vignette from whole cloth? Before we jump to that conclusion, let’s survey the potential candidates for John’s information.

The Witnesses

First, Pilate would have the information regarding this information. Is it likely, however, that he would willingly participate in an interview with the early Christians? Admittedly, I am not an expert in this area, but it does seem highly improbable that a man of Pilate’s stature and background would take time out of his day to tell some fisherman what he discussed with their murdered Messiah. I think we can safely assume Pilate was not John’s source.

Second, there may have been bystanders. The text is unclear as to how private this conversation actually was. The term Praetorium is sometimes translated as “palace” or “headquarters” indicating that this was a large building presumably occupied with many of Pilate’s servants as well as military personnel. It does seem slightly unlikely that Pilate would take a criminal into a completely private room without any security. Thus, it is throughly plausible that a member of Pilate’s court overheard the entirety of the conversation, later converted, and shared their story with the believing community. Over time, this permeated into the oral tradition and eventually became encapsulated in John’s Gospel. While this is less of a stretch than John interviewing Pilate, it does seem slightly ad hoc.

Lastly, we have Jesus. Jesus would certainly have the relevant information about the conversation seeing as he was a participant. Moreover, Jesus certainly would not have a problem talking to John or any of the other disciples about what happened. In other words, Jesus was not a hostile witness. He seems to be the perfect candidate. Why would he not be considered a legitimate option? Here, we reach the crux of the problem.

Analysis

The problem that a sceptic is going to have with Jesus being the witness is that Jesus was killed after this conversation, before he could tell anybody else. But, notice how this is circular! The only reason that Jesus could be invalidated from being a witness would be if he did not rise from the dead. But, if he did not rise of the dead, then the Gospels are not telling a true story in the first place. In other words, to raise this objection to the veracity of the Gospels requires assuming the Gospels are not veracious in the first place.

But isn’t the Christian reasoning in a circle, too? Isn’t she assuming the Gospels are true to defend the Gospels are true? Here, we need to clarify that the objection is an internal critique.

You Christians have an inconsistency in your source documents. You claim they are eyewitness testimonies, but even on your own view, there isn’t an eyewitness to this conversation!

On this count, the Christian can retort that she has the explanatory resources to remain internally consistent. Since the Gospels were written after the resurrection of Christ and the 40 days of teaching described in Luke 24, Jesus is a legitimate source to fill in some of the gaps, particularly during the Passion Week events. Note that the scope of this response is limited to internal consistency.

What’s the point? It means that the “covert conversation challenge” is not an independent objection  to the veracity of the Gospels; rather, it is dependent on an objection to the resurrection of Christ: whether that is a general philosophical argument against miracles or specific historical case.

Reflection and Clarity on the Molinism Debate

Wednesday, I participated in a debate on Molinism v Calvinism. I tag teamed with Richard Bushey against TurretinFan and Josh Sommer. It seems inappropriate for me to evaluate if our side “won” or not – that should be left to the audience. Nevertheless, there are a few issues I think deserve comment. In general, most of the debate hinged on definitional issues rather than true disagreements. There seemed to be a significant amount of talking past each other. In addition, I did not make my points with the greatest clarity. I would like to elucidate more clearly so future discussions can be more profitable.

Read More…

Some Concerns on Infant Salvation

Whether infants who die are redeemed or condemned is certainly a knotty problem and one that deserves to be treated soberly. Here, I will not attempt to tease out the various issues and reach a conclusion. Rather, I am going to examine a particular objection to a particular view and try to draw out some of the lurking presuppositions. In full disclosure, I do not have a position on this topic and I am weighing the various options carefully given the gravity of the implications.

The position in view is the “all babies are saved” perspective (I will refer to this as “infant universalism”). As with the other views, it has its strengths and weaknesses; however, there is a common objection to this view that I do not think makes much sense. This objection goes “if this view is true, then, abortion is the greatest Heaven filling practice of all time”. There are at least two problems that I see with this objection.

First, this seems to be an argument from consequence: an argument that derives the falsity of a premise from the consequences of that premise. This is a fallacious form of argumentation because the palatability of the conclusion does not impact the truth of the conclusion. If infant universalism is true, then, it does seem that abortion is a Heaven filling practice. This certainly seems to be uncomfortable but that does not make infant universalism false. There is a similar objection that legalists like to raise against the sufficiency of grace: if you do not have to do anything to be saved, then people will do whatever they want since they can just ask for forgiveness later. To be sure, this is not a perfect parallel; nevertheless, the fact that people abuse grace (an unfortunate consequence) does not impact the truth of the doctrine. I think the same can be said here of infant universalism.

Second, there seem to be some questionable presuppositions behind this objection. What is it that makes abortion an ethically unacceptable action? I do not think that eternal destination is the primary criterion or any meaningful criterion at all. Objections to abortion are usually in terms that that practice involves the unjustified killing of another human, not because these humans will be deprived of a chance to respond to the gospel message. If this is the case, then the practice of abortion is ethically unacceptable even if infant universalism is true. But if eternal destination bears no weight on the ethically acceptability of abortion, then aside from emotional effects, the “Heaven-filler” objection is rather moot. Moreover, it seems rather unobjectionable that adult Christians enter the glorified state after their Earthly death. If it were the case that eternal destination did bear weight in the ethical acceptability of actions, one could equally say that large-scale executions of Christian adults are Heaven-filling devices.

I can see how infant universalism makes abortion into a Heaven-filler; however, I don’t see how this makes infant universalism false nor whole sale legitimizes abortion.

Cain’s Wife & Why the Pure Genetics Defense Fails

The Problem Stated

The question of where Cain got his wife is an age old question. On the one hand, one could posit that Cain married one of his sisters [1]; however, invoking incest to solve this problem is an uncomfortable option for many people, especially given the prohibition on incest in the Book of Leviticus. On the other hand, one could posit that Cain married a woman outside of his family; however, this entails that Adam and Eve are not the sole biological progenitors of the entire human race. In a cursory investigation, it appears that the majority of Christians think the biological primacy of Adam and Eve is too high a price to pay to resolve this issue and accept the first option: that Cain married his sister. In response, there have been efforts to resolve the tension generated by the incest problem. One popular solution is what I will call the “pure genetics defense”. This solution posits that incest was originally acceptable because Adam and Eve had pure genes and no substantial mutations occurred as a result of incest. As time went on, the mutations accumulated, so, God put a restriction on incest in Leviticus as a result. As an example, check out this explanation by Ken Ham. I think that this argument fails on two counts.

Feasibility Objection

This objection applies primarily to old earth creationists who hold that a sole-biological-progenitor lived about 150,000 – 200,000 years ago. It seems that if God imposed the incest restriction to curb genetic mutations, He would’ve done it much earlier on this view. In other words, it seems rather unlikely that these mutations only became a problem in the last 3500 years and not the preceding 146,000. I suppose one could posit that God providentially preserved genetic integrity for the first 98% of human history and then let decay take over; it just seems rather ad hoc. This defense simply does not seem to be simultaneously available if the OEC and YEC are defending mutation rates that vary by several orders of magnitude. Thus, the plausibility of the pure genetics defense appears to be inversely proportional to how old one thinks humanity is.

Theological Objection

Read More…

Saving Christmas from the Grounding Objection

Background
Molinism is a view of divine providence that harmonizes complete divine sovereignty with genuine human freedom. The primary concept is God’s middle knowledge. God’s omniscience is conceptually divided into three logical moments. First is His natural knowledge which consists of all logical possibilities (i.e. everything that could happen). Last is His free knowledge which consists of a comprehensive knowledge of the actual world (i.e. everything that did happen, everything that is happening, and everything that will happen in the future). The content of this category of knowledge comes from God’s creative decree; God created freely, hence the name free knowledge. In between His natural and free knowledge (and prior to the creative decree) is a category called middle knowledge. The content of middle knowledge consists of what are called counterfactuals of creaturely freedom (CCFs for short). These are statements about what a free creature would do if she were in a certain set of circumstances. The upshot is that with knowledge of these CCFs, God can meticulously and sovereignly order a world according to His pleasure without obliterating human freedom nor sacrificing His foreknowledge.

With such an attractive position, it may be difficult to believe that some people reject the idea of middle knowledge. It’s posited that these CCFs don’t actually have any semantic content; the only truths are what could be the case or what will be the case; there simply isn’t anything that would be the case. This is a version of what’s called the “grounding objection“.
Read More…

Monothelitism in Proper Context

Monothelitism is a Christological “heresy” which states that Christ has two natures (divine and human) and one will; this is in opposition to dyotheletism which states that Christ has two natures (divine and human) and two wills (divine and human). Why the scare quotes around heresy? First, monothelitism was indeed condemned in 681 at the Third Council of Constantinople making it a formal heresy. However, from a Protestant position, these Councils, while helpful, are not authoritative. This means there is the distinct possibility for the council-members to make an error and unintentionally condemn something that’s not actually contrary to Scripture (alternatively, they could affirm something that is contrary to Scripture).

Is monothelitism an actual heresy running contrary to the fundamental teaching of Scripture? I think that it depends on the relation between will and nature. The motivation for the Third Council of Constantinople was to combat monophysitism: the teaching that Christ has one nature. This certainly is an actual heresy, running contrary to the Scriptural teaching of the hypostatic union. The truths that need to be held in balance are that (1) Christ is one person and (2) he has two natures. This is where presuppositions come into play.

There are two broad camps when it comes to the topic of will: combatibilists and libertarians. Compatibilists generally describe the will as a property of one’s nature. An individual wills to do something out of what her nature is. On the other hand, libertarians generally describe the will as a property of the person. An individual wills to do something out of who she is and not out of what she is [1]. Libertarians would say where there is a will, there is a person (inb4 “where there’s a will there’s a way”).

Now, suppose that you’re a compatibilist and you hear that Christ has two natures; it follows naturally that Christ has two wills. If He only has one will, that would mean He only has one nature which is heretical. Suppose instead you’re a libertarian and you hear that Christ is one person; it follows quite naturally that Christ has one will. If He has two wills, that would make Him two persons which is super heretical.

In other words, monothelitism is a heresy within the compatabilist framework and dyotheletism is a heresy in the libertarian framework. It seems to me that in order to maintain monothelitism as a true heresy, one would have to demonstrate that libertarianism is incoherent in its rendering of wills as properties of persons instead of natures.

[1] This is not to say that libertarians deny one’s nature playing into one’s decisions. Soft libertarians posit that one’s nature provides the range or spectrum of choices available to an individual in certain circumstances but does not ultimately arbitrate which decision is made. This is in contradistinction to compatibilism which typically posits that the range of decisions consists of one member. This entire paragraph is a broad generalization and I recognize the shortcomings of its brevity.