For those interested in apophatic theology and anthropology, here’s a great little gem for free:
So far, it seems that, as repeated in other posts, the least important thing about a coherent concept of freedom is volition, or whether or not we can choose from among available options. I made the argument that in order to have any kind of coherent account of freedom, one must have a teleological element as well. What I’m interested in is an account of freedom that isn’t teleological, if there is one. Is there one?
At this point it seems to be the case that unless you have some kind of anthropological teleology, you can’t get free will or freedom of any kind. Without the teleological, all you get is volition – and as I argued in another post, if you think it through, all volition does is imprison you, which is the opposite of free will. This to me is why so much of the free will debate is muddled – it ends up being about the surface issues, like, ‘can I choose X over Y freely?’, when it needs to be about the underlying metaphysics of freedom or nonfreedom. Whether or not one can freely choose one option from among others in any given scenario is irrelevant to whether or not one is truly free, and that’s the real question.
If, however, you don’t admit any kind of teleology, then your basically banned from the start from having any kind of coherent theory of freedom, and you’ll be forced to argue about volition, which gets you nowhere. My main point here is that if any progress is too be made about any issue, we have to look past the surface problems and go deeper into the issue at hand.
Predestination is a fairly big topic with Christianity. Part of what makes it so interesting, I think, is that so many other things come into play – anthropology, sotieriology, christology, metaphysics, philosophy, etc – predestination really is one of the broadest things to talk about in Christianity. There’s a lot of differing views about this issue but generally it can be boiled down to a manageable number. But before you talk about predestination as such, I think there’s a pretty important contextual issue lurking in the background: is predestination bottom-up or top down?
To break that down a bit: how does predestination work? What are the mechanics of it? Does God select people who will be saved from all eternity (this would be the bottom up approach)? Most in the Reformed tradition would agree with this. The rest are either positively damned by God (this is not as common a position within the Reformed tradition) or passed over by God (this is a bit more common). In a nutshell, God chooses whom He will save.
The other approach is the top-down approach, and it’s a position most commonly associated with Karl Barth, though this idea can be found in somewhat different forms (but the overall spirit is the same) in some of the Fathers – Athanasius comes to mind. Basically on this approach, Jesus is the elect (and the reprobate, but that’s something I’m not quite familiar enough to explain that well) humanity. In Jesus, humanity has been elected. On this view, all humanity is elected in God’s election of Christ. This is a very, very, very rough breakdown – Barth really developed the snot out of this idea and it takes up about a billion pages in the Church Dogmatics.
The bottom up approach is, like I said, often associated with Reformed theology and specifically Calvinism – though I would argue that Calvin did not embrace such a version of predestination – I’d argue that Calvin held to a universal atonement, though not necessarily of the kind Barth held to. The classical Reformed position of limited atonement developed later than Calvin and is not the way he would have gone with the doctrine (all of this is in my humble opinion, of course). There’s some metaphysics behind limited atonement that I don’t think jive with Christianity – but that’s a discussion for another time.
The point of this is that I hold to the top-down approach – that in Christ God has elected humanity to be joined to Himself. All humanity has been elected in Christ by virtue of Christs election by God.
If you head over to the Gospel Coalition, you’ll find a couple recent blog posts on inerrancy and Scripture written by Kevin deYoung:
Being the kind-of-Barthian that I am, I found plenty to complain about in the above exposition of inerrancy, and I am intending to complain quite a bit. First off, the idea of inerrancy as a whole.
Here’s my idea: inerrancy is a reaction to a skepticism about the Bible that pretty much started in the Enlightenment and has continued to today. I’m no expert, but if you take a gander through church history, you don’t really find the modern day understanding of inerrancy emerging until the 19th century, or thereabouts. Once the Enlightenment kicked off, the bible was seen as an old book and pretty much not a whole lot else. Christians felt a need to reply to skepticism about the bible, Christianity, etc, and from that the modern understanding of inerrancy was born.
I see its development as particularly unhealthy, and here’s why. Inerrancy becomes something that *has* to be true, or else (insert consequences here). It *has* to be true. It’s a theology of defense-or-else. If it’s not true, then how can you trust any part of the bible? Why believe verse X is true but not verse Y? Where do you draw the line? Why believe anything in the bible if you can be mathematically certain that the entire thing is inerrant as understood by most modern evangelicals?
I found this neat little quote by Torrance to be thought-provoking:
[T]he extraordinary fact about the Bible is that in the hands of God it is the instrument he uses to convey to us his revelation and reconciliation and yet it belongs to the very sphere where redemption is necessary. The Bible stands above us speaking to us the Word of God and yet the Bible belongs to history which comes under the judgment of God and requires the cleansing and atoning activity of the Cross. When we hear the Word of God in the Bible, therefore, we hear it in such a way that the human word of Holy Scripture bows under the divine judgment, for that is part of its function in the communication of divine revelation and reconciliation. Considered merely it in itself it is imperfect and inadequate and its text may be faulty and errant, but it is precisely in its imperfection and inadequacy and faultiness and errancy that God’s inerrant Holy Word has laid hold of it that it may serve his reconciling revelation and the inerrant communication of his Truth. Therefore the Bible has to be heard as Word of God within the ambiguity of its poverty and riches, its weakness and power, and heard in such a way that we acknowledge that in itself in its human expression, the Bible comprises the word of man with all the limitations and imperfection of human flesh, in order to allow the human expression to fulfill its divinely appointed and holy function for us, in pointing beyond itself, to what it is not in itself, but to what God has marvellously made it to be in the adoption of his Grace. The Bible itself will pass away with this world, but the Word of God which it has been inspired to convey to us does not pass away but endures for ever. [Thomas F. Torrance, Divine Meaning: Studies in Patristic Hermeneutics, 9-10] (stolen from http://growrag.wordpress.com/)
Hopefully this will generate some good discussion. Like I said, I’m a Barthian, more or less, when it comes to Scripture, so I don’t really have to deal with this problem too much since this view pretty much sidesteps most of the things that cause this issue to come up. I welcome criticisms and challenges though.