Tag Archives: providence

ETS/EPS 2017

I’m heading to Providence, Rhode Island for my first ETS/EPS Annual Meeting.

providence-rhode-island

I will be presenting a paper titled: “Peter Martyr Vermigli’s Account of Petitionary Prayer: A Reformation Alternative to Contemporary Two-Way Contingency Accounts.” Basically I present a view of petitionary prayer which bucks contemporary trends and is faithful to classical theism and Reformed theology. You can see me present it on Thursday, 11am at the Omni as a part of the Evangelical Philosophical Society.

On another note here are a few sessions I’m looking forward to:

  1. Jonathan Rutledge -Wesleyan Sanctification and Purgatory: Solutions from the Philosophy of Time
  2. Joshua Farris – This is My Beloved Son Whom I Hate, A Critique of Penal Substitution
  3. William Lane Craig – Eleonore Stump’s of Reformation Penal Substitution Atonement Theories
  4. C. Stephen Evans – Why Reformation Christians Should Be catholic Christians
  5. Trinitarian Theology Panel – Sanders, McCall, Stamps,
  6. Engaging Diverse Views of the Church’s Mission – Sexton, Leithart, Leeman, Wright, Frank
  7. Analytic Theology: Prayer – Wessling, McCall, McMartin, Inman

If you are there and want to connect at some point, contact me through Twitter: @CWoznicki

 

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Peter Geach on Hell

We cannot be Christians, followers of Christ, we cannot even know what it is to be a Christian unless the gospels give at least an approximately correct account of Christ’s teachings. And if the Gospel account is even approximately correct, then it is perfectly clear that according to that teaching many men are irretrievably lost… It is less clear, I admit, that the fate of the lost according to that teaching is to be endless misery rather than ultimate destruction. But universalism is not a live option for Christians. – Peter Geach (Providence and Evil)

The Uncontrolling Love of God – Lecture Notes

On 3/8/16 Thomas Jay Oord came to Fuller to give a presentation based on his new book: The Uncontrolling Love of God. The presentation was followed up with a very interesting dicussion in which participants who sympathized with Oord’s position and those who did not were both able to ask questions and press him on some issues with his proposal.

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Thomas Jay Oord is a theologian, philosopher, and scholar of multidisciplinary studies who teaches at Northwest Nazarene University in Nampa, Idaho.

Below you can see my notes from his presentation:

The Uncontrolling Love of God:

  • Most Christians want to believe God is lovingly providential, but evil and chance make this difficult…
  • Problem of evil – asks why a powerful and loving God doesn’t prevent genuine evil
    • GE – event that makes the world worse than it might have been if some other event would have occurred instead
  • The problem of chance and randomness – asks how God can be providential if genuine chance and randomness occur
  • Christians typically address chance, evil, and other matters in the doctrine of providence: 7 models represent ways Christians think about God’s activity
    • God is omincause
    • God empowers and overpowers
    • God is voluntarily self-limited
    • God is essentially kenotic
    • God sustains as a steady state force
    • God is initial creator and current observer
    • God’s ways are not our ways
  • Is God culpable for failing to prevent evil?
    • Under Essentially Kenotic view – no, he is not because God’s loving nature is incapable of intervening
  • There is something about the servanthood of Jesus that gives us some revelation about God’s nature.
    • God expresses self-giving, other-empowering love. Most theologians say God is voluntarily kenotic.
    • Oord – God necessarily expresses self-giving, other-empowering love. This love is logically primary in God’s nature and God “cannot deny himself.”
    • Love comes logically prior to election, sovereignty, power, etc.
  • Essential Kenosis says
    • God necessarily gives freedom to all creatures complex enough to express it. Consequently God cannot withdraw, override, or fail to provide freedom to a free perpetrator of evil.
    • God necessarily gives agency and/or self-organization to simpler creatures and entities. Consequently God cannot withdraw, override, or fail to provide agency to these creatures either.
    • God’s love generates both regularities and random events in nature. God cannot interrupt law-like regularities.
    • Although creatures sometimes can use their bodies to prevent evil, God can’t b/c he is Spirit.
    • Example: mermaids cannot run marathons because leglessness is an aspect of mermaid nature. Similarly an essentially Kenotic God cannot control others, b/c uncontrolling love is an aspect of God’s nature.
  • God won’t or God can’t?
    • Wont
      • God could prevent evil, but God voluntarily wont do so.
    • Can’t
      • There is some sort of external force constraining God, so God can’t prevent evil.
    • Can’t
      • God’s love necessarily gives freedom – so God can’t prevent evil
    • Biblical Witness
      • The God of essential kenosis is not weak. God is creator, provider, even source of miracles. This God is almighty
        • Mightier than all others
        • God is the one who exerts might upon all existence
        • God is the ultimate source of might for all others
      • Miracles
        • As unusual and good events that involve God’s special action in relation to creation.
        • This special action does not require God to control others
        • Miracles do not require interrupting law-like regularities of existence
          • There is always some contribution on the part of the agent in the miracle
          • See Phil 2:13
        • Summary
          • Essential Kenosis affirms that God’s self-giving, others empowering love is logically first in God’s nature
          • Because this love comes first in God, God necessarily gives freedom, agency, and self-organization to creatures and creation
          • God’s controlling love consistency gives existence to all, making possible both chance events and evil
          • God is not culpable for failing to prevent genuine evil or evil producing randomness

 

 

The Uncontrolling Love of God

The Tsarnaev brothers set off a bomb at the end of the Boston Marathon, dozens of innocent bystanders were either hurt or killed. Eliana Tova, an infant, is born with an extremely rare medical condition. Zamuda Sikujuwa was brutally raped during a village raid in Africa. Elie Wiesel was forced to watch a young boy hanged in a Nazi concentration camp. The world is full of evil. Sure there is much good and beauty in it, but at times it feels like the evil outweighs the goodness. So it makes sense when people wonder, Where is God in all of this?

If God is perfectly good, God will want to prevent genuine evils right? If God can control creatures or circumstances totally, God would be able to prevent genuine evils. Right? Yet evil, and what philosophers call, gratuitous evil, still exists. How can we reconcile this with our understanding of God’s power and God’s goodness? Thomas Jay Oord offers a solution in his new book, The Uncontrolling Love of God.

Various philosophers and theologians provide different models for thining about divine providence. One one end of the spectrum there is theological determinism and on the other end there is a form of Deism.  Somewhere along the middle is the view that God is voluntarily self-limited. This is the sort of model that those like Clark Pinnock, William Hasker, and John Sanders advocate for. According to Oord what makes this view distinctive is that it places God’s power and authority as logically prior to his love. i.e. He could control, but his love compels him not to. The problem with this is that it fails to answer the crucial question – why doesn’t a powerful and loving God prevent evil. Oord provides what he takes to be a more compelling view:

God’s loving nature requires God to create a world with creatures God cannot control.

Much like mermaids cannot run marathons because a mermaid’s nature includes leglessness (Oord’s example not mine), God cannot create controllable creatures because nature is uncontrolling love.

One of the strengths of this book is that it certainly attempts to keep Scripture central. Oord provides scriptural arguments for his argument and potentially shows that it is at least not incompatible with certain parts of scripture. However there are certainly some shortcomings in this book. First, is that his “uncontrolling love” thesis isn’t compatible with classical theism. Those who want to hold to classical theism, with good reasons, will not be satisfied with this solution. Secondly, it seems to me that Oord gives too much weight to our intuitions about how love ought to function. It seems suspect to me to base our doctrine of God on something like “this is how we feel that love works.”

Despite these objections The Uncontrolling Love of God is a worthwhile read. It helps bring even more clarity to open-relational theologies. And in my opinion does a good job (though unintentionally) of showing that the open theologies of Sanders and the like don’t actually address the problem of evil. However, the solution that Oord provides to those problems aren’t entirely satisfying.

Middle Knowledge & Geerhardus Vos

If Al Gore had become President of the United States, America would not have gone to war in Iraq. If the Broncos beat the Seahawks in the Super Bowl, the world would be a better place. If Johnny had asked Susie out on a date, she would say yes.

All these statements are examples of statements called counterfactuals. We use counterfactuals in every day conversation. For example we might say that “If I would have left home 5 minutes earlier, I would have missed traffic.” We say stuff like that all the time. But does God have this sort of knowledge too?

Most theologians agree that God has knowledge of all necessary truths. That is indisputable. Most also agree that God has knowledge of things that “will” be. However a disputed question is whether God has knowledge of things that “would” be. And if God does have this sort of knowledge, when does he have it? Does God have it before or after his divine decree to create?

Luis Molina (a Jesuit), from whose name Molinists derive their own name, believed that God’s hypothetical knowledge of creatures free decisions comes logically prior to his decree to create. The Dominicans, following Thomas Aquinas disagreed. Supposedly this makes room for human freedom, after all truths about human decisions come prior to God’s decree. According to Molinists, God knows what hypothetically humans would do prior to his divine decrees thus this allows room for human freedom but allows God to bring about his ultimate purposes through free creaturely decisions since God decides which world he will create.

According to William Lane Craig, this knowledge, lies between his knowledge of necessary truths and his knowledge of what “will” be, thus Molinists call this God’s middle knowledge.

But we need to ask ourselves a few questions:

Is middle knowledge a coherent concept?

Is middle knowledge a biblical concept?

Now before we answer some of these questions let’s define middle knowledge.

Here are a couple of definitions:

God knows, for any creature he might create, how that creature will behave in whatever circumstances he might be placed. God is able to know this, moreover, even though the creatures in question will, if created, enjoy libertarian freedom. This kind of knowledge…[is] called middle knowledge. –Hugh McCann

What is middle knowledge? This is the doctrine that between God’s natural knowledge, his knowledge of all necessities and possibilities, and his free knowledge, what he has freely planned to bring to pass, there is a middle knowledge, his knowledge of what his free creatures would do in a vast variety of different circumstances. – Paul Helm

So what should we think about Middle Knowledge? Geerhardus Vos helps us to think through some of these things in his Reformed Dogmatics…

First Vos says that – Knowledge is only “knowledge” if it refers to something that is certain. “Only what is certain and sure can be known.” This makes sense, knowledge only consists of what exists. Counterfactuals don’t have real existence – hence it is impossible to know them in the full sense of the word. So the concept is incoherent. (This is basically the grounding objection.)

Second, Vos says that what is free and uncertain in itself cannot be the object of knowledge. This is the same type of objection that Open theists make… Gregory Boyd helpfully points out: “it is hard to understand how agents can be said to possess libertarian freedom when the facts about every choice they will ever make eternally precede their making it.” So for freedom to be truly libertarian, an agent’s actions must be unknown. This is precisely what Middle Knoweldge tries to avoid. Again it seems like Middle Knowledge is an incoherent concept. Either God does not know libertarian actions or they are not truly libertarian – there doesn’t seem to be a way between these two options

Finally, is it biblical? Vos seems says that 1 Samuel 23 and Matthew 11, verses used to support middle knowledge are not in fact biblical. I don’t think the answer is as clear as Vos wants it to be.

But there are a host of issues, not touched upon by Vos, that make the concept of middle knowledge incoherent, or at least muddy. For instance, What is the Ontological status of molinist counterfactuals? These counterfactuals are logically prior to God’s decree to create, so how are they related to the Creator? How is it possible for the truth of these “facts” to exist apart from God’s creative will?

So what is the status of middle knowledge? I don’t know – all I know is that there are some pretty weighty objections against its existence. In my opinion, this last objection regarding the ontological status of these counterfactuals is the trickiest. From where do they derive their existence if they somehow “are” prior to God’s decree to create? Tricky Stuff…

It’s not a coincidence! Yes it is….

When somebody starts of a sentence by saying, “this might be just be a coincidence, but…” I immediately get skeptical.

When somebody starts off a comment in class by saying “this might be a coincidence, but…” I immediately roll my eyes.

Its my experience that most of the time when people say “this might just be a coincidence,” it turns out that it really is just a coincidence. However they believe that they have stumbled upon some mystery that has been hidden from human knowledge for ages. Point in case, my Eastern Religions Class…..

As you know, I am going to Moorpark Junior College for the sake of reaching college students with the gospel and equipping other students to do the same. So I enrolled in one class, Philosophy M12 – Eastern Religions. I figured that this would be a great class for outreach, after all its not a required class so whoever is in it will likely genuinely be interested in religious things. I am bound to find some seekers. Good strategy. (At least I think it is).

Any way there is this one guy who is kind of annoying. He goes of on all sorts of tangents. Day one we are talking about Vedic culture, somehow this guy gets on a tangent on Nazi’s, Tibetan Artifacts, Thomas Jefferson, and 6’2’’ Blonde Chinese mummies. He is the guy who believes he is Nicholas Cage and his life is National Treasure. Right off the bat I knew that this guy would be hard to handle.

Well day two rolls along, and we are talking about the Brahmin in Hindu Religion. I’m sitting there absorbing the professor’s knowledge, and then I see this guy’s hand go up. Now I know that he is “that guy.” You know, “that guy.” Nick Cage (that’s what I’m going to call him from now on) starts of a his comment by saying, “This might just be a coincidence, but…” and I think to myself, “But what? But what? What revelation from the gods do you have for our class today?” 

So he begins to say:

“You know Brahmin and Abraham sound a lot alike, and they have the same letters, is it possible, it might just be a coincidence, but”

My mind says, “Yea buddy…. It is just a coincidence now put your hand down

“Could it be possible that Abraham was a derivation from Brahmin, and that Abraham was actually a Brahmin?”

“No buddy… its not possible. That’s dumb. Now put your hand down.”

“Because originally his name wasn’t Abraham it was Abram.”

“Nice observation bro! I’m glad you can spell!”

As you can probably tell… I have a hard time with this guy. The professor was really nice to him though and gently told him it wasn’t likely. Then the guy proceeded to argue for his side, and just I couldn’t resist any longer, I had to say something! So I made an appeal to linguistics, talked about the differences between Semitic languages (of which Hebrew is one) and Indo-European languages. The Professor responded by saying, “that is right, I guess that settles it…”

I guess it wasn’t very fair what I did to the guy, since I have studied this stuff way more than he has, but it just had to be done.

The moral of the story is that the next time you say “this might just be a coincidence, but…” please stop yourself because almost every time it is “just a coincidence.”

But wait! I’m not going to end this post by being a jerk! There is redemptive value to this story. I think I found my person of peace for the mission to Moorpark! Neil Cole has said quite a bit about identifying persons of peace. He says that person’s of peace must have influence in a community, they must be well known. Why they are well known really doesn’t matter. They can be famous or notorious. They can be known for how great they are or how big of a jerk they are. Case in point: Matthew the Tax Collector and the Samaritan Woman at the Well. Both of these people were well known for all the wrong reasons. After I got all bothered by this guy, It struck me that everybody knows this guy for being that guy. This means that he might make the perfect person of peace.

Creation and Providence (Pt. 3)

The relationship between creation and providence is not one that is often considered. Usually when we talk about creation we think about the “7 day” or the creation/evolution debate. When we talk about providence we usually speak of God’s providence in “helping me get that job” or “keeping me from getting in that car accident.” In this blog we will be talking about creation and providence in ways that we don’t usually think about.

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Compatibilism

Compatibilism is the view that an action is free when an action a person performs is the action that that person wanted to perform, not when a person has alternate possibilities. In other words to say that an agents’ action is free is to say that the action is spontaneous, it flows from who or what that agent is. As an example of a compatibilist free action consider two drug addicts. Drug addict 1 loves and enjoys the fact that he does drugs, drug addict 2 hates drugs and wants to stop. Both drug addicts will end up doing drugs because they are addicted; they have no alternate possibilities. It seems right to say that drug addict 1 was free because she did what she desired, while drug addict two was not free because her action was not in line with her will. Both were determined to act in a particular way but drug addict one was free even though she did not have alternate possibilities.

The advantage of the compatibilist view is that it is compatible with a view of God’s providence that says that God determines the actions of his creation, and thus does not take risks. So if one is a compatibilist one can say that humans and God achieve their ends freely.

However there is a problem with compatibilism, namely that it seems as though for agents to be morally responsible, the agent must have alternatives to their actions. This notion has been called the principle of alternative possibilities. According to Harry Frankfurt this principle states that a person is morally responsible for what she has done only if she could have done otherwise.  In other words a person is morally responsible only in situations where this person has alternatives as to what she can do. So if we keep the notion that God determines agents’ actions, it seems as though we lose the grounding for moral responsibility.

So in order for compatibilism to be a viable option, we must somehow maintain the notion of moral responsibility while affirming that God does not take risks and that humans are free agents. Is this possible? I believe that it is. Harry Frankfurt’s article “Alternate Possibilities and Moral Responsibility”[1] shows us how. In it he comes up with the following thought experiment: Suppose a man named Black wants a man named Jones to kill the mayor.  Also suppose that Jones wants to kill the mayor for reasons independent of Black’s reasons.  Black is willing to do anything so that Jones will kill the mayor, but Black prefers that Jones does not come to know this so Black makes it the case that Jones does not even know he exists. When an opportunity arises for the assassination to occur Black waits until Jones makes up his mind as to whether or not he will follow through with it.  However if Black suspects that Jones will not kill the mayor Black takes steps to ensure that Jones kills the mayor.  Jones would do this by expelling some chemical into the air that will make Jones kill the mayor.  So it is the case that regardless of what Jones had decided to do before the assassination Black will have his way. In other words, there are no alternate possibilities, Jones will kill the mayor. Since Jones kills the mayor it seems as though Jones did not have alternate possibilities but Jones was still morally responsible for the assassination. Thus Frankfurt shows that the principle of alternate possibilities is false, and moral responsibility is compatible with determinism. Because he shows this, a major objection to compatibilism is deflected. Having defeated a major objection to compatibilism, we can go on to affirm that God does not take risks when it comes to his providential purposes and that humans are free agents.


[1] Harry Frankfurt, “Alternate Possibilities and Moral Responsibility,” The Journal of Philosophy 66, no. 23 (December 1969): 829-839.