Friday, November 28, 2008

Reply to Perry Robinson

After having a debate in August, on whether or not Protestantism is heretical, Perry Robinson’s put some comments on his blog about it. His comments, which are actually a rebuttal to my answers to questions he posed in his formal evaluation of the debate, as well as a rebuttal of my response to his evaluation of the debate as well as a reply to one of the other contributors to the debate, raise a number of good points which need to be dealt with.

I begin with answering the new questions that Perry has posed.

Of the bodies you denoted as the visible church, which of them and during what periods did they teach the gospel as you understand it via sola fide?”

You would have to first define what criteria counts as a body “teaching” sola fide. For example, would such “teaching” need to be limited to creedal affirmations or could it include specific individuals and movements within a body?

“If the church as a whole could not fall away, then wouldn’t in those circumstances when it spoke qua church be infallible, since the contrary would be impossible?”

No because there is a difference between the church not falling away and the church not being infallible. There is no inconsistency in affirming both that the church as a whole cannot to fall away and that the church, as a whole, is fallible, just as there is no inconsistency in affirming that an individual Christian can error (fallibility) without falling away (apostasy).

“Where does 2 Tim 3 teach that any Christians is to act as a judge in such a way that their judgment is equal to that of the body? Or where does it teach that each individual judges for himself what he is obligated to believe? There is a difference between judging in terms of knowing that something is the case and judging so as to bind the conscience. It is not clear to me which judgment you think 2 Tim 3 has in mind.”

I do not think that 2 Tim 3 teaches that any Christian can judge in such a way that his judgment is equal to that of the body. When I spoke of judgment I meant judging in terms of knowing that something is the case. Because this is what I meant, I can answer your second question (where does it teach that each individual judges for himself what he is obligated to believe?) in the negative without inconsistency.

“On what basis do you conclude that the phrase “man of God” refers to any and all believers? Why is it only used of those ordained to minister in the OT and NT then?”

I would need to see your evidence that the phrase is only used for those ordained to minister in the OT and NT before I would be comfortable commenting on this. However, in general my understanding is that the criteria for elders in the NT is not a different sort of criteria than that required of lay people; rather, ministers and elders are those who reflect the characteristics that all of us should exemplify.

“The standard evidential arguments move from the reliability of the NT to the Resurrection and then back to the inspiration of Scriptures, with the Resurrection functioning as confirmation of the Scriptures. So the Resurrection is true because the Scriptures are reliable and the Scriptures are reliable because of the Resurrection. Is that circular or no?”

It is circular and that is why I would never use that argument in my apologetic endeavors.

"Further, even if our position were circular, not all forms of circularity are problematic as Van Til points out. It may be a sign of internal consistency."

Sure. I agree with that. Any epistemological system has to be self-referring in the end if it is to avoid inconsistency. All beliefs eventually form webs of multiple reciprocities.

“It may be a principle of reason that our thoughts are caused, but what is reasonable doesn’t necessarily map reality. Euclidian Geometry is rational, but it does not map real space since in the former, space cannot be curved, but in reality it can be so. Further, one can think that our thoughts are caused and it not be axiomatic and it also not be the case that they are not caused by anything else but ourselves.”

I think you need to distinguish between rational suppositions of potential reality and rational suppositions of actual reality. Your statement that “what is reasonable doesn’t necessarily map reality” can apply to numerous rational constructs which might be true (potential) but do not map reality (actuality). For example, I can say that the moon is made out of blue cheese and I can form syllogisms based on that. In a strict logical sense, it is possible, because there is no contradiction inherent in the supposition that the moon is made out of blue cheese (as there would be if I said that the moon was made out of blue cheese and not made out of blue cheese at the same time). In that sense it is rational. However, it is irrational to believe that the moon is made out of blue cheese in the sense of actuality, seeing that evidence supports the view that the moon is not made out of blue cheese. When I spoke about it being a principle of rationality that our thoughts are caused, I was referring to rationality in the latter sense: exercising our minds rationally in how we deal with the data of actuality. The data of actuality does support the view that an uncaused event can never occur.

“The fact that I can use the same skeptical argument against the variety of deterministic views shows not that the skeptical argument is flawed, but rather than those deterministic models suffer from the same problem. But since you only hold to one of them, it doesn’t follow that it is not effective against the one position you do hold, since it equally affects all of them. So again, how is it that predestinarianism doesn’t undermine assurance, since God can determine you to be reprobate and think that you are elect?”

I dispute that my earlier statement that thoughts are caused is a species of deterministic views. Does the belief that my dinner is caused by my wife make me a determinist? If not, then why would my belief that thoughts are caused make me a determinist?

With regard to assurance, your question is a red herring since there is no clinical, detached, rationalistic formula for assurance anyway.

Finally, while it is true that God could cause me to think I was elect when I was reprobate, I don’t see how this helps your argument since it is equally true that He could cause you to think that you are a living being when you are really a pixel on the computer of a giant who lives in the middle of the moon. I don't see how these hypothetical scenarios get us anywhere.

“Part of your counter argument was concerning private judgment, namely that it is inescapable. That is what I was attempting to address. While it is true that I would need to meet the conditions on knowledge to know about normative and binding judgments, but that is just to note that it is a knowledge claim. As to normative and binding judgments, I was thinking of just the kind that Protestants think that the church can’t make, namely with respect to the canon, doctrinal or moral formulations, excommunication, etc.”

Okay that helps. We were talking at cross purposes. I meant the first kind of judgment. With regard to the second, I do believe that which you say Protestants do not believe. How can I believe that the church can make binding judgments and not be infallible? The same way we all believe that the federal government can make binding judgments and not be infallible. Given this clarification, I think some of your statements which follow from the above are now mute, so I will not bother to deal with them.

“To be fair, Barnes did attempt to sketch or at least gesture at internal tests for councils, so it is not clear to me that his comments amount to a failure to address the point in question. To be speculative for a moment here, what would be a sufficient test at the time of its convening of say the council in Acts 15 on your view of things? It can’t be Scripture since the NT wasn’t anywhere near to completion. How would you test it?”

Testing the Acts 15 council at the time would be no problem for me because I have always acknowledged that the apostles and church leaders had genuine God-given authority. I simply dispute that the church is infallible.

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