21 December, 2019

Alleged “Paradoxes” and “Antinomies” in Scripture

In defense of the contradictions implied by the theory of common grace and of the well-meant offer (or “free offer”), contemporary theologians appeal to what they call “paradoxes” found elsewhere in Scriptures. Some of them are discussed and responded to below. Their argument is that if we accept these other paradoxes (as they call them), why can’t we just call the contradictions of common grace “paradoxes” also, and simply (in humility) just accept them.

(A) God’s Sovereignty and Human Responsibility

Herman Hoeksema (1886-1965):

The question is whether there is a real or apparent contradiction involved in the truth of God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility.

Let us put both truths in propositional form:

(1) God is absolutely sovereign even so that he determines the moral acts of man, both good and evil.
(2) Man is responsible before God for all his moral acts.

Now, the question is not whether there is a problem here. It may well be that we cannot answer the question how God is able to determine man’s deeds without destroying man’s responsibility. That he is able to do so is asserted plainly by the two propositions stated above. But whether or not we can understand this operation of the sovereign God upon man is not the question. The sole question is whether the two propositions concerning God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility are contradictory. This we deny. In fact, they cannot possibly be, for the simple reason that they assert something about two wholly different subjects.

They would be contradictory if the first proposition denied what is affirmed in the second. But this is not true. The first proposition asserts something about God: He is absolutely sovereign and determines the acts of man. The second proposition predicates something about man: He is responsible for his moral acts. Does the first proposition deny that man is responsible? If it does you have here a contradiction. But it does not. Those who like to discover a contradiction here, usually the enemies of the truth of God’s sovereignty, simply take for granted that to assert that God is sovereign even over man’s acts is to say the same as that man is not responsible. It must be pointed out, however, that this is neither expressed nor implied in the first proposition. In the two propositions responsibility is not both affirmed and denied at the same time to man.

The two propositions would, of course, also be contradictory if the second proposition denied what is affirmed in the first. In that case, sovereignty even over the acts of man would be both affirmed and denied to God. But also this is neither expressed nor implied in the two propositions, unless it can first be shown conclusively that to say that man is responsible is the same as declaring that God is not sovereign over his moral acts. And this has never been demonstrated, nor is it self-evident.

If they were really contradictory they could not both be the object of the Christian’s faith. We could only conclude that either the one or the other were not true.

Now, however, since they involve no contradictions, and since both are clearly revealed in Scripture, we accept both, whether or not we can combine them into one concept.

And the attempt to do so, to solve the problem, must be considered laudable.

What pastor has not confronted the necessity, in his catechism classes, to answer a question concerning this problem when he was instructing his pupils in the truth of God’s immutable decrees? And what instructor was satisfied to reply to his earnest inquiring pupil that here we face a contradiction?

To me it would seem that the solution of the problem, as far as Reformed theology is concerned, must be sought in the direction of properly defining man’s responsibility. If the question is asked how a divinely determined creature can be responsible for his acts, it stands to reason that his freedom and responsibility must be defined as falling within the compass of God’s decrees and sovereignty. Man’s freedom is a creaturely, and, therefore a dependent freedom. And so is his responsibility.

(Source: The Clark-Van Til Controversy [The Trinity Foundation, 2005], pp. 38-39)

(B) The Trinity

David J. Engelsma:

The familiar appeal … to the oneness and threeness of God’s being [in support of the inconsistencies implied by common grace and the well-meant offer], as though the oneness and threeness of the being of God are also contradiction is a complete failure.  For God is not one and three in the same respect. He is one in being, and three in persons. The Trinity of God is not a glaring contradiction. The doctrine of the Trinity reveals God as incomprehensible. It does not reveal Him as nonsense.

(Source: PRTJ, vol. 53, no. 1 [Nov. 2019], p. 102)

It is part of our defence of the denial of the offer that we take the offensive against the offer. We charge that the offer involves a Calvinist in sheer contradiction. That God is gracious only to some in predestination, but gracious to all in the gospel, and that God wills only some to be saved in predestination but wills all to be saved by the gospel, is flat, irreconcilable contradiction. It is not paradox, but contradiction. I speak reverently: God Himself cannot reconcile these teachings. Nor is there any similarity between this contradiction and the truth of the Trinity that surpasses our understanding. The truth of the Trinity is not contradictory, for it holds that God is one in being and three in persons, not, therefore, one and three in the very same respects.

(Source: Pamphlet: Is Denial of the “Well-Meant Offer” Hyper-Calvinism?)

Robert L. Reymond (1932-2013):

But does not the classical doctrine of the Trinity present, if not a real contradiction, at least an apparent one? The widely acclaimed “paradox” of the Trinity—namely, that three equals one and one equals three—is in fact not one at all. If the numerical adjectives “one” and “three” are intended to describe in both cases the same noun so that the theologian intends to say that one God equals three Gods and three Gods equal one God in the same way that one might say that one apple numerically equals three apples and three apples numerically equal one apple, this is not an apparent contradiction or paradox. This is a real contradiction which not even God can resolve! Nor would he even try to do so! But this is not what the church teaches by its doctrine of the Trinity, although this representation is advanced all too often not only by lay people but also by good theologians. For example, rejecting the traditional distinction that God is one in one sense (essence) and three in another sense (persons), Van Til writes:

God is a one-conscious being, and yet he is a three-conscious being … the work ascribed to any of the persons is the work of one absolute person … It is sometimes asserted that we can prove to men that we are not asserting anything that they ought to consider irrational, inasmuch as we say that God is one in essence and three in person. We therefore claim that we have not asserted unity and trinity of exactly the same thing.

Yet this is not the whole truth of the matter. We do assert that God, that is, the whole Godhead, is one person … within the ontological Trinity we must maintain that God is numerically one. He is one person … Yet, within the being of the one person we are permitted and compelled by Scripture to make the distinction between a specific or generic type of being, and three personal subsistences.32

But no orthodox creed has ever so represented the doctrine. In fact, it is apparent that all of the historic creeds of the church have been exceedingly jealous to avoid the very appearance of contradiction here by employing one noun—“God” or “Godhead”—with the numerical “one” and another noun—“persons”—with the numeral “three.” The church has never taught that three Gods are one God or that one person is three persons but rather that “in the unity of the Godhead there are three persons” (Westminster Confession of Faith, II/iii), the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and that while each is wholly and essentially divine, no one person totally comprehends all that the Godhead is hypostatically. Certainly some of the divine attributes which insure the unity of the Godhead may be unknown to us. But when the Bible refers to the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, it intends that we think of three persons, that is, three hypostatically distinct centers of self-consciousness within the Godhead, whereas when it employs the imprecise and flexible title “God,” it refers either to the Godhead construed in their unitary wholeness (for example, Gen. 1:26) or to one of the persons of the Godhead, specifically which one to be determined by the context (for example, “God” in Rom. 8:28 refers to the Father while “God” in Rom. 9:5 refers to the Son). Thus construed, the doctrine of the Trinity does not confront us with even an apparent contradiction, much less a real one. The Triune God is a complex Being but not a contradiction!

(Source: A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith, [1998] pp. 108-109)

(C) The Hypostatic Union of the Divine and Human Natures in the Person of Christ

Robert L. Reymond (1932-2013):

[The] Christian church has never creedally declared that Christ is one person and also two persons or one nature and also two natures. Rather, the church has declared that the Lord Jesus Christ, “being the eternal Son of God, became man, and so was and continues to be God and man, in two distinct natures and one person forever” (Westminster Shorter Catechism, Question 21). Note again: Christ is one person possessing the full complex of divine attributes and the full complex of human attributes. Christ is complex, surely, but he is not a contradiction!

(Source: A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith [1998], p. 109)

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