Monday, October 28, 2013

If You Don't Like What Scripture Says, Cry, "Paradox."

"This author seems to swell in the conceit of his rational performances, as if never any fly sitting upon a cart wheel on a summer's day had made such a dust as he had made. And fashioning to himself a victorious conquest, as if all his adversaries were but Pygmies to this Anakim, glad to run into corners or into acorn-cups to hide themselves there. For his reasons like some hobgoblins do so fright them more than all the spirits that stand by the naked man in the book of moons: and therefore all the help they have, if we believe this Pyrgopolynices * is to charm them by saying that 'many things delivered in Scripture, which are above the reach of human capacity, among which this is one, etc…'" – William Twisse, The Riches of God's Love unto the Vessels of Mercy...

The book which I am citing is a refutation by William Twisse of the work a Mr. Hord, an Arminian who, true to form, took issue with the Reformed doctrine of Reprobation. At the heart of the doctrine of Predestination (in its two branches, Election and Reprobation), is the question of Divine Sovereignty and human responsibility. 

Beyond the ornate 17th century rhetoric, Twisse is making an incredible point. Notice what the defense of the Arminians of Twisse’s day was: “Paradox!” When they didn’t want to accept the plain words of Scripture, the appeal was made to mystery as a way to kill the discussion. “How can God be sovereign if men have autonomous free-will?” Instead of accepting the plain teaching of Scripture that God is sovereign and men do not have autonomous free-will, because their wills are enslaved by sin, they cry up mystery in order to shut down the conversation. “How can God be love if He has not willed the salvation of everyone?” – Don’t worry; you don't have to face a hard question and actually use your brain to exegete Scripture properly. No, you can just yell, “Paradox,” and all the bad Reformers will go away. No one is allowed to appeal to Scripture once the “paradox card” has been played. 

Notice also that Twisse is not impressed by this paltry argument. He flouts the argument as if its adherents were some silly Don Quixote attacking a windmill, - trying to get God off a hook He does not want off of.


More often than not, the "paradox card" gets played today under the guise of "paradox." There I no doubt that the Bible contains rhetorical paradoxes, that is, statements in which another idea is challenged in a way which startles the reader. But we must deny that Scripture contains logical paradoxes. It has been in vogue to affirm that Scripture contains logical paradoxes since Barth and the heyday of neo-orthodoxy. We ask, “Does God speak to us in logical contradictions?” Does God say one thing which contradicts, or at least appears to contradict something else He has said? No, says the apostle Paul, “God is not the author of confusion” (1 Corinthians 14:33).

So back to the question of Divine Sovereignty and human responsibility. Is this really a paradox which cannot ever be understood? John Gerstner didn’t think so. He wrote, “We do not see why it is impossible for God to predestinate an act to come to pass by means of the deliberate choice of specific individuals” (A Predestination Primer, 26).

The Westminster Confesstion of Faith didn't take it to be a paradox either. It is important to say this because William Twisse was the Prolocutor (Moderator) as that Assembly. The Confession states, “God from all eternity did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass: yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures, nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established” (WCF, III, 1). In III.8 the Confession calls this doctrine a “high mystery,” which means that it is difficult to grasp, but it does not call it “paradox,” meaning impossible to reconcile. The Confession goes on to say that the doctrine should be “handled with special prudence and care.” 

This love affair with paradox goes back to Karl Barth and his “Theology of Paradox,” as Kantzer called it. Therefore this assertion of logical paradoxes in Scripture has its roots in neo-orthodoxy. You will remember that in neo-orthodoxy, Scripture is NOT the word of God, but rather contains it. Hence, Barth can claim that the Bible is nothing more that the vulnerable words of men, who were fallible and erring in their writings (C.D. 1:2:507ff). In Barth's view, it is beneath God's dignity to reveal Himself in lowly propsitional statements. Therefore we are bound to encounter paradox and contradiction when we read Scripture. For him, of course, that is OK because he thinks that God's “truth” can be conveyed even in error. The logical paradoxes so fondly adhered to by modern opponents of a solid “Westminster” theology are the result of faulty exegesis. They are not the fault of the Bible. 

Twisse wrote this complaint in the 1600s. I dare say things haven't changed.


* Pyrgopolynices is a swaggering, braggart soldier in Miles Gloriosus, a comedic play written by Titus Maccius Plautus (c. 254–184 B.C.)

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