Analytic Theology, et cetera.

Richard Muller’s Divine Will and Human Choice: First Impressions

Divine Will and Human Choice: Freedom, Contingency, and Necessity in Early Modern Reformed Thought (Baker: 2017), is Richard Muller’s latest, and most comprehensive, addition to the literature on Reformed thought on freedom. Dr. Muller (Calvin Seminary) is a highly regarded historical theologian, and his influence is strong, especially among younger Reformed academics. Muller is a prolific author and there is no doubt that he has provided the Church in general, and the Reformed church in particular, a great service with his detailed historical work on early Reformed thought on all dogmatic loci. Despite this, his involvement in the debate on early Modern Reformed thought on freedom has always perplexed me. In this area, at least, and in my estimation, his work suffers from several defects, many of which I have discussed on this blog (use the search feature). Unfortunately, his latest book appears to be more of the same. This post will catalog some of my first impressions. These are gleaned from his introductory chapter, and so these criticisms must not be taken to necessarily reflect the overall quality of Divine Will and Human Choice.
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McCall on Theological Determinism & Compatibilism part 2b

(This is part 2b in a series on Tom McCall’s arguments against determinism and compatibilism in his recent book, An Invitation to Christian Analytic Theology (IVP 2015). Part one is here and part 2a is here.)

Last time, I looked at McCall’s objections to classical compatibilism. In this post I am going to interact with McCall’s criticisms of Frankfurt-style compatibilism. I was going to look at his evaluation of semi-compatibilism in this post, but this one became too long. In the previous posts I have described the nature and goal of McCall’s project in his book, readers may consult those posts for the relevant background. I also presented McCall’s two arguments for incompatibilism—what I called “the standard arguments”—in the previous post (2a), and I won’t repeat it again in this post, though readers are encouraged to go back and reread it.

Compatibilisms and the Standard Arguments: Frankfurt-Style Compatibilism

We saw last time that classical compatibilists tend to respond to the standard arguments by rejecting premises which state that if determinism is true, agents cannot do otherwise. Other compatibilists, notes McCall, object to other premises. McCall notes that these other compatibilists typically reject premises (1) and (5) of the standard arguments. I restate them now: (more…)

McCall on Theological Determinism & Compatibilism part 2a

(This is part two of a series that began here. In this series I am interacting with Tom McCall’s section on theological determinism and compatibilism in his book, An Introduction to Analytic Christian Theology (IVP 2015).)

Key: I will let FW&MR stand for Free Will and Moral Responsibility. I will let TD stand for the Theological Determinism, where God is said to, in some sense, determine all human actions.

In my last post, I made the point that the standard approach to dealing with the claim that FW&MR is compatible with TD is to cite some standard arguments against compatibilism. As I understood it, the standard arguments refer to those arguments that employ the standard definition of determinism as a premise. As I understood it, and as I demonstrated from the definitions McCall enlisted, the standard definition of determinism includes, as an essential component, among other things, the claim that the determining conditions lie in the “remote past.” Call this determinism, D+P. I then argued that many theological determinists—Calvinists, say—would not count as determinists at all on this understanding, since God’s determinative decree is timeless. However, once we allow this feature of classical TD to enter into the picture, the standard arguments are otiose for the purpose of showing that FW&MR is incompatible with TD. One upshot here is that those who argue against Calvinists (of the sort envisioned above) need to restate their argument for it to be relevant.

In the light of this, one might get the impression that I think the standard arguments for the incompatibility of FW&MR with D+P are good (sound and persuasive), while allowing TD to escape out the back door. However, this is false. Even here, I don’t think incompatibilists have made their case. So in this post and the next, I would like to comment on some of the arguments that McCall employed for the incompatibility of FW&MR with D+P. (more…)

McCall on Theological Determinism & Compatibilism part 1

(This is the first entry in a series of posts on Tom McCall’s discussion of theological determinism and compatibilism in his book, An Invitation to Analytic Christian Theology. I am not sure how many parts it will be, but I assume less than five.)

I had the pleasure of picking up Tom McCall’s recent book, An Invitation to Analytic Christian Theology (IVP 2015). It appears to be a fine work, and it seems to accomplish its goal of being an introduction to analytic theology for nonspecialists. Though what follows in this post is largely critical of one small section of McCall’s book, I hope that it won’t detract readers from its overall quality. I encourage you to get a copy, if you haven’t already. We need more (lay) analytic theologians (read the book to find out the content of that term!). (more…)

Why I’m not a Baptist

Recent events turned my attention again to the issue of paedobaptism, a subject I have not really thought about since 2008, when I debated credobaptist Gene Cook on the subject. However, a friend, Bnonn Tennant, recently posted a simple argument which he takes to conclusively prove credobaptism. Steve Hays then gave a good reply. This lead me to collate some old files – notes, really – that I had written in 2008 as I prepared for my debate with Gene Cook. I’m posting it here in PDF format for those interested. However, caveat lector: I wrote these, as I said, circa 2008. The writing is very rough (most of it was written for notes, stream-of-consciousness style!), and though I think my writing has improved over the years, I did not want to take the time to do what would amount to an entire rewrite of 40 some odd pages! I’d also like to think that I agree with most of what I wrote, though by now I may reject some of the arguments I made back then. I did not want to spend the time going through the arguments with a fine-toothed comb. However, despite the poor(er) writing and clearness of arguments, I think there are several unique arguments here, arguments I have not seen made elsewhere by paedobaptists. Finally, a note on structure. The file consists of three parts. The first is basically my opening argument for my debate with Cook. The second part is a unique argument I developed, using the arguments of Brian Rosner on Paul’s teaching on excommunication in 1 Cor. 5. This argument is very rough and far from finished, but the nuts-n-bolts are there. The final section is a dozen (or so) very detailed responses to several (a dozen or so!) popular arguments credobaptists have either used to argue for credobaptism or against paedobaptism.

PDF link below


On Baptism and its Proper Subjects

Mere Evangelical Conditionalism – 1

(Note: This is part two of a series on evangelical conditionalism/annihilationism. Part one is located here.)

In the last post I introduced the terms “traditionalism” and “conditional immortality.” I raised some worries that showed some ways that the terms can give rise to conceptual confusions. I engaged in a bit of clarification and settled on a refined description for each term: (1) Mere Evangelical Traditionalism, and (2) Evangelical Conditional Immortality (which I shortened to Evangelical Conditionalism). I then let “MET” = (1), and “EC” = (2).

One of my main goals for the series is to develop a MET model that is superior to EC, or at least equal in terms of explaining the relevant texts. That model will be presented a few posts down the road. My immediate goal is to lay out what I take to be the EC core. By “the EC core” I mean the main biblical tenets that conditionalists think traditionalism is simply unable to account for, and it is in virtue of this inability to account for these tenets that conditionalism is said to be superior. It’s precisely this core that my MET model aims to meet.

In spelling out this core I will try to follow some of the things conditionalists have told me about their view. The first thing is that conditionalism is consistent with both dualism and physicalism. Thus, a doctrine of anthropology will not feature on the list of core tenets. Second, conditionalists have told me that their view is consistent with a wide variety of views on the intermediate state, namely it is consistent with (i) claiming that the person ceases to exist after bodily death, (ii) the person exists but is in some sense unconscious( a view often called “soul sleep”), and (iii) the person persists consciously through the intermediate state. Thus, a doctrine of the intermediate state shall not appear on the list of core doctrines. Third, these entail that conditionalism is not committed to the view that death just is the cessation of the person’s existence (however, MEC does want to say that the second death (Rev 2:11; Rev 20:6, 14; Rev. 21:8.) marks the end of the person’s existence; a discussion of ‘death’ will be discussed in a future post). A person may therefore exist after death, or not, and we are told that conditionalism is consistent with both of these options. Thus, assuming that death just is the cessation of existence will not feature on the list of core tenets.

In light of this, I propose one more amendment to a term introduced in the last post. Since I am trying to respect the conditionalist’s claims of neutrality between the above views—offering something like “big tent” conditionalism—I will call the view presented below, Mere Evangelical Conditionalism (hereafter “MEC”). This gets at the “big tent” theme, and also is fits nicely with the opposing view, MET.

I shall present the main tenets of MEC over the next three posts (including the present post). In this post I shall discuss what is perhaps the key tenet of MEC: God alone is immortal. By calling this a “key tenet” of conditionalism, I am not thereby implying that other views on personal eschatology deny this doctrine. Nonetheless, to the conditionalist, this tenet can rightly be called “foundational.” I turn to it now. (more…)

Conditional Immortality: What’s in a name?

(This is my first post in a series of posts on the propriety of the term ‘Conditional Immortality’ to uniquely pick out the set of doctrines more popularly known as ‘Annihilationism’.)

1. Introduction

Traditionally, systematic theology has divided the various views about the final fate of all humans into three views: (1) Annihilationism, (2) Traditionalism, and (3) Universalism. It is my view that there are evangelical versions of each of these views. I think there are well-intentioned, biblically literate, regenerate Christians who hold to each of these views; and furthermore, I believe that there are many who do so because they are convinced that the Bible teaches said view. That is to say, it is not the case, in some instances, that those who hold one of the above views do so primarily for emotional or philosophical reasons.

This is not to say that I don’t think one or more of these views are false. To lay my cards on the table, I hold to (2). To disclose further: I feel fairly comfortable with my understand of the best arguments for (3); however, I previously had not given much attention to (1). There’s various reasons for this, but the past is in the past and I’d like to start turning my attention to (1). At this stage in my understanding of (1) I want to raise conceptual and philosophical difficulties and perplexities for (1). As I dig through the literature (e.g., E. Fudge The Fire that Consumes, C. Date et al. (eds) Rethinking Hell: Readings in Evangelical Conditionalism, etc.), I will slowly offer some (broadly) theological criticisms of (1) (that’s the plan, anyway!). Now, if you read the previous sentence (especially the parenthetical), you’ll note that one of the books mentions the word, ‘Conditionalism.’ What does that mean? It refers to “Conditional Immortality.” Many contemporary defenders of (1) wish that “Conditional Immortality” could be substituted for (1). I don’t think that name is very helpful. In fact, I don’t think “traditionalism” is either. In this post I want to offer some of my reasons for why I think what I do. In the course of doing so, I hope to raise some interesting questions and concerns.  (more…)