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Contemplating Classical Compatabilism and Where Desires Come From

I found it ironic that the week I sign up to post my blog is the week that we deal with anthropology, a topic that means we must engage with the timeless dilemma of human free will. As far as I know I am one of the few ThM students who, with unashamed humility, will admit to being a Calvinist (although I’m sure that Brian LePort is a closet Calvinist and Andreas Lunden is one who simply refuses to admit it).  Alas, God’s sovereignty would have it no other way than for me to post during this week, although it may be to highlight continued areas of my theology that need some fine tuning, something this ThM program has a PhD in.  That being said, let me start by saying that I in no way intend to come across as the “arrogant Calvinist” I hear so many speak fondly of.  I am fully aware that engaging this particular topic is like pulling the pin on a theological grenade, rolling it into a room, and closing the door (as seen in the recent resurgence of activity on Marc’s question about “Why Non-Calvinists Hate Calvinism So Much,” a post that simply will not die.  Arminians seem to keep coming up with more reasons.)

At this point the only article I have had much time to engage with is Marc Cortez’s article on free will.  I think he does an excellent job accurately engaging with both sides of the dilemma and pointing to strengths and weaknesses (I’m not just saying that because he’s my boss either).  However, I initially disagreed with his statement that “classic compatibilism is viewed by most as inadequate because of its failure to provide an adequate explanation of where desires and beliefs come from…”  One possible explanation that is gaining more support from guys such as Bruce Ware and Alvin Plantigna, is with the concept of middle-knowledge.  This is the idea that God not only knows what could be and what will be, but that he also knows what would be if certain circumstances were put in place.

The critique of many classical compatibilist towards middle-knowledge in libertarian free will is that it is incoherent because choices are made arbitrarily.  If all things are equal, and choice A is just a likely as choice B, then God could still not be sure that any set of circumstances would bring about the desired result.  There is no necessary connection between choices and circumstances so God could not know an individuals choice by simply knowing the circumstances.  Thus, God’s foreknowledge is compromised.  However, inside of classical compatibilism middle-knowledge is a viable option.   The classical compatibilist holds that choices are not made arbitrarily, but that men always choose what they desire most.  Therefore, using middle-knowledge God would know accurately what set of circumstances would produce what result.  There is a connection between choices and circumstances.  If this is indeed accurate, then classical compatibilism has an adequate explanation of where desires and beliefs come from.   It would appear that desires and beliefs stem in some way by antecedent factors that God himself orchestrates.

However, upon further inspection, it seems that Marc foils this stance with his “Consequence Argument.”  This argument states that if men are not in control of the particular circumstances that stimulate the strongest desire, then men cannot be held responsible for the choice that is made when a certain set of circumstances is presented.  At this point, it seems that I am left to fall on the defense that this removal of other possible choices due to specific antecedent conditions does not deny moral responsibility to the agent, because the agent still acts freely based upon their greatest desire.  This seems to be the case with Joseph and his brothers in Genesis, and the King of Assyria in Isaiah 10.  Circumstances are orchestrated so that Joseph’s brothers and the Assyrian King carry out their greatest desires, which also happen to be the plan of God, yet God holds them culpable for the sin.  They exercise their freedom of inclination, and God exercises his sovereignty.  I’m not sure if this is just one of those hard truths we must accept, while scratching our heads, or if more light will be shed on this in the future.  According to the Consequence Argument I still have yet to solve the problem.  Maybe I should take Marc’s stance as a true Barthian theologian and give way to a true dialectical theological method: simply shrug my shoulders and say, ‘I don’t know”………yet.

Overcoming Onto-Theology

[Post by Andreas Lunden.  This is a continuation of the Western THM class on Philosophy and Theology.]

In his article “Overcoming Onto-Theology,” Merold Westfal develops a paradigm for understanding theology in relation to philosophy, or shall we say how faith relates to knowledge. The author makes use of Heidegger in pointing out the ways in which theology in Christian circles all too often turns into onto-theology. This is, according to Westfal (and Heidegger) a “sketchy” move in that we “can neither pray or sacrifice to this god of philosophy.”

The point his article, simply put, seems to be to point out the danger of the not fully entering into the story of God, but instead trying to fit God’s story into our own. The Christian faith, (Church life, biblical interpretation, etc.) in this sense, becomes a commodity, an object, “to be mastered by the (distant) interpreter for the advantage of the interpreter, a source of theoretical treasure to be accumulated and owned.”

Heidegger, influenced by both Luther and Kirkegaard (the amazing Scandinavian theologian who might as well be called Swedish since Sweden once owned Denmark), in response to such “high horse” attitudes, saw the importance of safeguarding faith as the starting point in life, without for that matter disqualifying the role of knowledge or theology. Theology, instead of being something to be mastered, functions exclusively to aid us in our faith journey. Or as Westfal puts it, “theology’s task is to serve this life of faith.” Such Christianity leads the people of God into a story, told by a personal God, and consequently a life long response characterized by awe and praise.

Westfal ends his article by retelling Wagner’s story Lohengin. Here, Elsa is faced with the dilemma that she cannot know the name, and thus the identity, of her lover, Lehengin, who conveniently arrives in a boat pulled by a swan. She is essentially forced to relate to him is through trust. She fails to do so and the relationship tragically slips out of her hands. The moral of the story being, relationship requires loving faith.

The article and the story demand the question, how can we as believers in community be “better” Elsas?

Hegel’s Logic as Metaphysics

[This is a post by Keith Mitchell.  It is part of the continuing series on Philosophy and Theology that current ThM students are entrenched in.  Enjoy!]

There are three common areas in philosophy that we have already discussed. Metaphysics asks, “what is?” Epistemology, “how do you know about what is?” and Ethics, “what should we be doing about it?” For Hegel the Metaphysical question of “what is?” can ultimately be understood as The Absolute Geist (aka Spirit or Mind). The essential stuff of what exists—the Geist—is non-material. The Geist got separated from itself and is now working back toward itself through history (this view of history retains a familiar Judeo-Christian progressive linearism).  What is more tangible than all imminent idea moving history forward?

The process the Absolute Geist takes through history is dialectic; working in the same manner as a rational and productive conversation (Hegel is all about synthesis whereas Kant was fine with the dualism). The interaction (between the thesis and antithesis) makes for clarification on a deeper level (synthesis), verses impasses and compromise. The result is a resolution to a higher place, not just another place.

But what gives the dialectic momentum and energy for movement? Because for something to be ultimate reality (the Absolute Geist), it must be self-sufficient, we cannot be responsible for dragging it along. This is where Hegel’s logic comes in. By logic I do not mean syllogistics, but the reason for a thing; in this case the reason for the dialectical movement of what ultimately is.

For Hegel there is no logical concept of ‘being,’ without ‘not being.’ Thus, A cannot be ~A (the little symbol just means “not”). But, and this is key, A can become ~A. For Hegel then, becoming is a more fundamental reality than being. Thus any given idea needs its opposite in order to first exist, and then to evolve. Each idea is not complete; having within it the potential for inherent contradictions.  All incomplete ideas give rise to an antithesis, which resolve into a synthesis. These contradictions are self-perpetuating. Thus, becoming is a dynamic process that works of its own accord and moves toward becoming more universal and concrete.

The final stage of the dialectic for the Geist is self-awareness. At this stage the Absolute will have no more antitheses inherent in it. All that exists will be harmoniously at one with itself. Individuals will finally experience true freedom since there will no longer be any areas of conflict. With it, there will be an end to the pattern of change. Hegel’s view is called “Absolute Idealism;” “Absolute” because it is encompassing everything, and “Idealism,” because the essential stuff of what exists (Geist) is non-material.  For Hegel, reality is rational and this is its logic.

If You Read the Bible in English You Should Thank This Guy.

English reformer William Tyndale was born around 1494 and died this day in 1536.  He was the key figure in translating the Bible into the English language so that lay people could read the text on their own.  He was influenced by Erasmus who had made the Greek New Testament available in England.  Although some partial English translations were around at the time, Tyndale was the first to use the original Greek and Hebrew, and was also the first to take it to print.  He was labeled a heretic by both the Catholic Church and the Church of England, who at the time thought the “uneducated” populous could not be trusted to interpret Scripture correctly, and saw an English translation of the Bible that lay people could read as a threat to their authority.  For his heroic translating of Scripture into the language of the people, Tyndale was arrested by church authorities and jailed in the castle of Vilvoorde outside Brussels for over a year in 1535.  He was subsequently tried for heresy, strangled, and burnt at the stake on October 6, 1536.  A good thing for us to remember as we read the Bible in English today.  We benefit to this day from the sacrifice of great saints who have run the race prior to us.

Birth of a Legend!

If you’re a Jonathan Edwards fan, then you may want to mark your calendar.  On October 5, 1703 Edwards was born in East Windsor, Connecticut.  The Stanford Encyclopedia claims that Edwards was the most important and original philosophical theologian that America has ever produced.  George Marsden, who wrote what many consider to be the foremost biography on Edwards, echoes that sentiment by saying that Edwards was one of America’s greatest intellectuals.  During his lifetime he served as a pastor, was extremely influential in the First Great Awakening, championed Reformed theology, and was the President of the College in New Jersey (now Princeton University).  His legacy includes “scores of clergymen, thirteen presidents of higher learning, sixty-five professors, and many other persons of notable achievements.” He was an influential man during his life on earth, and three hundred years later he is still influencing theologians.  Desiring God has provided a list of the best Edwards-related resources by Pastor John Piper found on their site.

So Whadda Ya Know….

By Brian Johnson

[This post is part of a series that the Th.M. students at Western Seminary are doing this semester on understanding the relationship between philosophy and theology.

It’s difficult to “know” how much blood has been spilt on the epistemological battlefield – the age-old attempt to “know” how we “know” – if you “know” what I mean.

This posting is my meager attempt to address the issues at hand from an evangelical point of view, and is in part in a reflection upon Vincent Cooke’s article “The New Calvinist Epistemology.”

Epistemology is defined as “the study of knowledge and justified belief” ( Two elements of this (brief) definition stand out in my mind: What is real knowledge? and What is justified belief?

In most of our epistemological discussions, knowledge is treated as propositional statements. Things like: Tom is 6’4” tall. It could be argued that this is but one kind of knowing. Alongside propositional knowledge, we could add experiential knowledge (playing basketball with Tom), and transformational knowledge (where knowledge of my wife has changed me – I’m a better man now that I’m married).

Additionally, it’s important to distinguish knowledge from reality. While I may know that “Tom is tall”, that knowledge is neither “Tom” nor is it “tallness”. It is just information – a mere subset, and in fact, just one small feature of the reality of Tom.

Thus, I believe we error by making knowledge a kind of shorthand for comprehensive, exhaustive knowledge. Often we find imperfect knowledge sufficient for the task at hand. (Perhaps it’s a matter of precision…)

With regard to justified belief, Cooke brings out an excellent point (via Plantinga): that beliefs can be rational without the support of philosophical justification. That is, there are beliefs that we accept (dare I say must accept) that do not lend themselves to ‘justification’ in the technical philosophical sense.

He goes on to argue that classical foundationalism (the demand that all beliefs be accepted only if they are self-evident, un-doubtable, or evident to the senses) does not meet it’s own demands for justification – i.e. that it itself is not self-evident, nor un-doubtable, nor evident to the senses.

Classical foundationalism has put a wedge between theology and philosophy by demanding ‘justification’ for theological propositions – a kind of ‘justification’ that foundationalism fails to provide for itself. Post-foundational epistemology allows theological propositions (like ‘God exists”) to be accepted as we accept other ideas, which are difficult to justify. (Cooke cites Plantinga’s example of this kind of proposition: “that other minds exist.” This test concept cannot be supported via rigorous justification, but is practically accepted as a ‘basic’ belief.) This opens the door for renewed interaction and dialogue between theology and philosophy – allowing us evaluate theological ideas that previous philosophers simply dismissed.

Personally I’m encouraged by the school of criteriologists (those who believe that in certain circumstances we are justified in accepting beliefs without formal ‘justification’) that Cooke describes, and envision fruitful developments between theology and philosophy in the years to come.

What do you think? Am I justified in seeing the crumbling of classical foundationalism as a positive step for the integration of theology and philosophy?

An Age of Arrogant Gullibility

Ten years ago the warning trumpet for Post-Modernist thinking was being sounded almost daily for me.  Today, it is more like the annoying car alarm in Fred Meyer.  I hear it but don’t really pay much attention anymore.  This article was a slap back to reality for me.  Michael Novak is an American Catholic philosopher and writer.  Most of his life’s work has dealt with the philosophical and religious aspects of freedom.  In 1994 he was awarded the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion at Wesminster Abbey.   The following article is an adaptation of the address and is well worth the read.  In it, he speaks of four truths that man has learned from the twentieth century, which was the bloodiest in all of human history.

1. Truth Matters

2. Democracy is better than Dictatorship

3. Capitalism is better than Socialism

4. Vulgar Relativism Undermines All of These and Hastens the Collapse of Society

Although some may wish to quibble about the validity of his comments concerning Democracy and Capitalism (please read his article first) I thought his arguments for truth and vulgar relativism were very accurate.

One principle that today’s intellectuals most passionately disseminate is vulgar relativism, “nihilism with a happy face.” For them, it is certain that there is no truth, only opinion: my opinion, your opinion. They abandon the defense of intellect…Those who surrender the domain of intellect make straight the road of fascism. Totalitarianism… is the will-to-power, unchecked by any regard for truth. To surrender the claims of truth upon humans is to surrender Earth to thugs. It is to make a mockery of those who endured agonies for truth at the hands of torturers.  Vulgar relativism is an invisible gas, odorless, deadly, that is now polluting every free society on earth. It is a gas that attacks the central nervous system of moral striving. The most perilous threat to the free society today is, therefore, neither political nor economic. It is the poisonous, corrupting culture of relativism.

During the past hundred years, the question for those who loved liberty was whether, relying on the virtues of our peoples, we could survive powerful assaults from without (as, in the Battle of Britain, this city nobly did). During the next hundred years, the question for those who love liberty is whether we can survive the most insidious and duplicitous attacks from within, from those who undermine the virtues of our people, doing in advance the work of the Father of Lies. “There is no such thing as truth,” they teach even the little ones. “Truth is bondage. Believe what seems right to you. There are as many truths as there are individuals. Follow your feelings. Do as you please. Get in touch with yourself. Do what feels comfortable.” Those who speak in this way prepare the jails of the twenty-first century. They do the work of tyrants.

This warning to the church is a sobering reminder to guard itself from the kind of “vulgar relativism” that would seek to diminish its influence in the world.

Swagger Wagon

This song proves that you can wear glasses, have a wife, children, and the minivan while still keeping your “cool” status.   I couldn’t help but think of our esteemed ThM supervisor as I watched it.

Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason

Guest Post by Danielle Kahut (Western Seminary Student)

A critical dimension in the theological discussion, whether emphasis shall be placed on the objective study of Scripture or the subjective experience of the individual, has its roots in Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason. Diogenes Allen and Eric O. Springsted only loosely allude to this philosophy-to-theology link in their later chapters. It is of such importance that it needs to be emphasized.

Allen and Springsted do highlight the clear connection between Hume’s philosophy and Kant’s categories. Hume had used the fact that there is no observable link between ‘causes’ and ‘effects’ to say that the entire empiricist enterprise (the philosophical endeavor to ground knowledge on the foundation of experience) was fruitless and would therefore never produce any ‘true knowledge.’ This view, referred to as Humean skepticism, Kant felt a burden to answer.

Unlike the philosophers who had come immediately before him, Kant did not believe that experience was the source of knowledge; however, he did believe that knowledge begins there. The external sensations (touch, taste, smell, etc.) are significant because they arouse our thinking; Kant calls this first stage on the way to knowledge experience. Our reason, Kant said, cannot go beyond these experiences and arrive at true knowledge on its own; instead, our reason categorizes and makes sense of our experiences. Kant posits twelve categories that shape and filter man’s understanding of his experiences (for a good chart on these categories visit the following link: This second stage, in which our categories process and interpret our experiences, Kant calls conception. The third state, knowledge, comes as a result of the forming of the raw data of experience via our categories.

This discussion of the twelve categories, and how they interact with our sense-experiences, is significant because it shifts the center of knowledge from the external world to the mind. Thus knowledge is no longer ‘objective’ in that it is independent of man, but ‘subjective’ in that it is wholly dependent on man and his processing of his experiences. This aspect of Kant’s philosophy soon had a major impact on theology. Friedrich Schleiermacher was primarily responsible for shifting the source of dogmatics from the objective study of Scripture to the subjective study of Christian religious feeling. He perceived the traditional subjects of dogmatics—God, Creation, Preservation, Salvation, Regeneration—through the subjective lens. Although the return to objective theology began on the continent over 100 years ago (cf. Hermann Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics) the shift has yet to take hold in the United States. To understand theology, especially to understand the cultural constructs which shape the current theological climate, we must understand that this turn to the subject (individuals feelings being a source of knowledge) began back in Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason.

Should I burn my mother-in-law?

In April I flew to Iowa to meet my family and bury my great Aunt.  She was an amazing woman who grew up on a farm during the depression, won a state basketball championship in high school, and was one of the most honest, spirited persons I have ever known.  She loved the Lord, served her church faithfully, and upon her death was cremated.  Since then several people in my family have talked of being cremated when they die.  This includes my mother-in-law who asked me about this very subject last night.  I have given it some thought but wanted to see where others stood on the issue.  John Piper gives several reasons why he does not counsel people to be cremated:

1. Burning people was associated with pagan religions in Scripture.  “The biblical pattern is that burning your children is pagan and burying your loved ones is a sign that you believe in the resurrection.”

2.  Scripture speaks of believers who die as though they are asleep.  This is most symbolically represented by the placing of a body in a casket and then burial in the ground.  You want to symbolically put it to rest, not destroy it.

3.  The bible has such a high view of the body.  It is God’s creation.  God will redeem it upon his return.  It is the temple of God while the believer lives on earth.  All of these truths should lead every believer to treat the body with respect, and Piper does not feel that cremation necessarily does this.

4.  Although the financial cost may be cheaper, the emotional cost on family members who don’t want to see this happen to a loved one may outweigh the material cost.

He makes good points here, but there are arguments on the others side as well.

1. The Bible never explicitly states that cremation of a deceased loved one is a sin.  When Piper says that “burning your children is pagan,” he is referring to child sacrifice in the OT which was murder and an abomination.  Those who speak of cremation are dealing with a person who is already gone, although a funeral is a religious ceremony as well.

2.If our desire was really to follow biblical patterns for burial, we should be placing bodies in catacombs wrapped in linen and spices.

3. In a hundred years it will be as though the body had been cremated when it returns to the dust of the ground.  Furthermore, many people have died in various ways that have affected the body and this will not hinder God in creating a new-redeemed body for the believer.

So my question is whether or not this issue is more a matter of preference, or if there is clear biblical teaching and principles that should be followed?