Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

Reformation Day celebrates the supremacy of Scripture and reason in theology

The Ligonier Ministries web site has a summary of the event that kicked off the Reformation.

Excerpt:

On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther tacked up 95 theses on the church door at Wittenberg. With this act, he hoped to provoke a discussion among the scholars about the abuses of the indulgences by the Roman Catholic Church. He was not trying to create a public furor by any means, but within a fortnight, these theses had spread through the country like wildfire. The last thing Luther had in mind was to start some kind of major controversy, but nevertheless major controversy did begin.

From the discussions at Wittenberg, the disputations began to accelerate and escalate. Copies of the theses reached Rome and critical meetings were scheduled with the young monk. In these debates, Luther was maneuvered into proclaiming publicly that he had questions about the infallibility of church councils and also that he thought that it was possible that the pope could err. In 1520 a papal encyclical was issued which condemned Martin Luther as a heretic. Luther burned the document in a public bonfire and his defiance before the church was now a matter of record.

In response, Martin Luther picked up his pen to challenge the entire penitential system of the Roman Catholic Church, which undermined in principle the free remission of sins that is ours in the gospel. By doing so, he was unswervingly advocating his commitment to sola fide, the doctrine of justification by faith alone.

In 1521, Luther was summoned to the Imperial Diet, an authoritative meeting that involved the princes of the church, called by the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire to be held in the city of Worms in Germany. Luther was an outlaw. For him to appear at the Diet was to risk his very life; therefore, he was given safe conduct by the Emperor to attend. With a few friends, Luther traveled from Wittenberg to Worms. The eyewitnesses of that episode tell us that when Luther’s little covered wagon appeared around the corner of the bend, there were lookouts posted in the church tower at Worms. All the people were agog waiting for the arrival of this notorious person. When Luther’s caravan was sighted, people were throwing their hats in the air, blowing trumpets, and creating all the fanfare of the arrival of the hero. It was the 16th century answer to a ticker-tape parade.

Things, however, became very solemn in a hurry because the next day he appeared before the Diet. His books were stacked on a table in the room, and he was asked and ordered to recant of his writings. This surprised Luther because he thought he was going to have an opportunity to defend his writings; but the only question really of any importance that was asked of him was this: “Are these your writings?” And when he said yes, they said, “Are you ready to recant of them?”

Hollywood has their version of Luther standing there boldly with his fist in the air saying, “Here I stand!” and so on. But instead he dropped his chin on his chest and muttered something that nobody could understand, so they asked him to speak up. “What did you say?” He said, “May I have 24 hours to think about it.” And so Luther was granted a reprieve of 24 hours to return to his room to contemplate the seriousness of this occasion.

The prayer that Luther wrote in that ensuing 24-hour period was one of the most moving prayers I have ever read in my life. In that prayer, Luther cried out for God in his sense of total loneliness fearing that God had abandoned him, and proclaimed, “O Lord, I am Thine, and the cause is Thine, give me the courage to stand.”

And on the morrow, Luther was called once again back to the court and was told to reply to the question. He said to the Diet, “Unless I am convinced by sacred Scripture or by evident reason, I cannot recant, for my conscience is held captive by the Word of God, and to act against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me.” And with that there was an instant uproar.

The Protestant Reformation emphasizes the responsibility of each person to become familiar with what the Bible teaches for themselves and to make sense of it using the laws of logic for themselves. There is an enormous focus on the individual and individual’s responsibility to puzzle theology out for himself, using the tools available to him: reason, science, Scripture, history.  The Reformation put forward the famous five Solas: “Sola Scriptura” (Scripture Alone); “Sola Gratia” (Grace Alone); “Sola Fide” (Faith Alone); “Solus Christus” (Christ Alone); and “Soli Deo Gloria” (To God Alone Be Glory).

My friend J.W. Wartick has a post about the effects of the Reformation on society as a whole.

Here’s one of the effects: (links removed)

Capitalism had already begun before the European Reformations, having its renewal start in Italian city states in the 12th Century (for a detailed and extremely interesting discussion of this, see Rodney Stark, The Victory of Reason, 71ff). The Reformation, however, provided a place for capitalism to flourish. John Calvin’s thought touched upon nearly every contemporary problem, and one of these was usury (money lending at interest). Focusing upon the cultural context of the prohibition of usury in the Hebrew Scriptures, Calvin argued that his contemporary cultural context provided a way for usury to work without being necessarily wrong. Lending money in such a fashion was essential for the later development of capitalism (Alister McGrath, Reformation Thought: An Introduction, 259-260).

The Reformation also paved the way for a “Protestant Work Ethic.” Martin Luther’s notion of the “priesthood of all believers” demolished the hard distinction between the “temporal” and “spiritual” realm which dominated the thought of the church at the time. By breaking down this barrier, hard labor was elevated. It was no longer seen as an inferior life to that of monastic withdrawal; rather, any type of work could be pleasing to God (McGrath, 256-258). In contemporary churches, one can often hear about how the engineer, the retail worker, the auto worker, and the like should all utilize their skills to the glory of God. Such thinking came directly from the Reformation.

The Reformation also kick-started science, because nature held secrets about God’s existence and character.

Excerpt:

Without the Reformation, modern science would probably have developed in any event because of the ethos of rationality and the doctrine of creation conducive to it. The Reformation, however, hastened the development by criticizing scholasticism and by putting emphasis on the direct observation of nature. Luther has been called the Copernicus of theology while, on the other hand, Copernicus has been called the Luther of astronomy. Indeed, Thomas Sprat, an Anglican clergyman and an early member of the Royal Society, emphasized that there was a reformation, some would say revolution, in both philosophy and theology [3]. In natural philosophy or science, questions about nature were no longer answered primarily by quoting Aristotle and the Scholastics, but by turning to observation of and experimentation on nature itself. Similarly, after the Reformation, Protestants no longer answered questions in theology primarily by quoting scholastic philosophers and theologians, but by turning directly to the Bible. Luther interpreted Scripture by asking: what is the clear and straightforward meaning of the text? Scientists interpret nature in the simplest way using the minimum number of hypotheses.

Luther believed that the world was beginning a new age, which would bring not only a reform of religion but a new appreciation of nature. In his informal “Table Talk” he said,

We are at the dawn of a new era, for we are beginning to recover the knowledge of the external world that was lost through the fall of Adam. We now observe creatures properly …. But by the grace of God we already recognize in the most delicate flower the wonders of divine goodness and omnipotence [4].

In the last part of this statement, Luther paraphrased the words of the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Romans (Rom. 1:20).

Luther was open to the authentic scientific advances of his age [5]. He appreciated the mechanical inventions of his day.

He accepted the use of medicine in treating disease and is quoted as having said [6],

It’s our Lord God who created all things and they are good. Wherefore it’s permissible to use medicine, for it is a creature of God.

To someone who said that it is not permissible for a Christian to use medicine, Luther replied rhetorically, “Do you eat when you are hungry?” According to Andrew White [7], this attitude of Luther made the Protestant cities of Germany more ready than others to admit anatomical investigation and dissection.

Luther accepted astronomy as a science, but rejected astrology as a superstition because it cannot be confirmed by demonstration. Astrology, according to Luther, is idolatry and violates the first commandment. He was both amused and distressed by Melanchthon’s interest in astrology, a belief system that was widely accepted at the time [8].

The Reformation means good economics and good science, as well as good theology.

But theology still had some growing to do.

The challenges of the Reformers led to the development of the doctrine of middle knowledge, which reconciles divine sovereignty with human freedom and responsibility, solving a major problem with Reformed theology.

A very good book on middle knowledge is “Salvation and Sovereignty” by Kenneth Heathley. Highly recommended by Paul Gould.

Filed under: Commentary, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Reformation Day celebrates the supremacy of Scripture and reason in theology

The Ligonier Ministries web site has a summary of the event that kicked off the Reformation.

Excerpt:

On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther tacked up 95 theses on the church door at Wittenberg. With this act, he hoped to provoke a discussion among the scholars about the abuses of the indulgences by the Roman Catholic Church. He was not trying to create a public furor by any means, but within a fortnight, these theses had spread through the country like wildfire. The last thing Luther had in mind was to start some kind of major controversy, but nevertheless major controversy did begin.

From the discussions at Wittenberg, the disputations began to accelerate and escalate. Copies of the theses reached Rome and critical meetings were scheduled with the young monk. In these debates, Luther was maneuvered into proclaiming publicly that he had questions about the infallibility of church councils and also that he thought that it was possible that the pope could err. In 1520 a papal encyclical was issued which condemned Martin Luther as a heretic. Luther burned the document in a public bonfire and his defiance before the church was now a matter of record.

In response, Martin Luther picked up his pen to challenge the entire penitential system of the Roman Catholic Church, which undermined in principle the free remission of sins that is ours in the gospel. By doing so, he was unswervingly advocating his commitment to sola fide, the doctrine of justification by faith alone.

In 1521, Luther was summoned to the Imperial Diet, an authoritative meeting that involved the princes of the church, called by the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire to be held in the city of Worms in Germany. Luther was an outlaw. For him to appear at the Diet was to risk his very life; therefore, he was given safe conduct by the Emperor to attend. With a few friends, Luther traveled from Wittenberg to Worms. The eyewitnesses of that episode tell us that when Luther’s little covered wagon appeared around the corner of the bend, there were lookouts posted in the church tower at Worms. All the people were agog waiting for the arrival of this notorious person. When Luther’s caravan was sighted, people were throwing their hats in the air, blowing trumpets, and creating all the fanfare of the arrival of the hero. It was the 16th century answer to a ticker-tape parade.

Things, however, became very solemn in a hurry because the next day he appeared before the Diet. His books were stacked on a table in the room, and he was asked and ordered to recant of his writings. This surprised Luther because he thought he was going to have an opportunity to defend his writings; but the only question really of any importance that was asked of him was this: “Are these your writings?” And when he said yes, they said, “Are you ready to recant of them?”

Hollywood has their version of Luther standing there boldly with his fist in the air saying, “Here I stand!” and so on. But instead he dropped his chin on his chest and muttered something that nobody could understand, so they asked him to speak up. “What did you say?” He said, “May I have 24 hours to think about it.” And so Luther was granted a reprieve of 24 hours to return to his room to contemplate the seriousness of this occasion.

The prayer that Luther wrote in that ensuing 24-hour period was one of the most moving prayers I have ever read in my life. In that prayer, Luther cried out for God in his sense of total loneliness fearing that God had abandoned him, and proclaimed, “O Lord, I am Thine, and the cause is Thine, give me the courage to stand.”

And on the morrow, Luther was called once again back to the court and was told to reply to the question. He said to the Diet, “Unless I am convinced by sacred Scripture or by evident reason, I cannot recant, for my conscience is held captive by the Word of God, and to act against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me.” And with that there was an instant uproar.

The Protestant Reformation emphasizes the responsibility of each person to become familiar with what the Bible teaches for themselves and to make sense of it using the laws of logic for themselves. There is an enormous focus on the individual and individual’s responsibility to puzzle theology out for himself, using the tools available to him: reason, science, Scripture, history.  The Reformation put forward the famous five Solas: “Sola Scriptura” (Scripture Alone); “Sola Gratia” (Grace Alone); “Sola Fide” (Faith Alone); “Solus Christus” (Christ Alone); and “Soli Deo Gloria” (To God Alone Be Glory).

My friend J.W. Wartick has a post about the effects of the Reformation on society as a whole.

Here’s one of the effects: (links removed)

Capitalism had already begun before the European Reformations, having its renewal start in Italian city states in the 12th Century (for a detailed and extremely interesting discussion of this, see Rodney Stark, The Victory of Reason, 71ff). The Reformation, however, provided a place for capitalism to flourish. John Calvin’s thought touched upon nearly every contemporary problem, and one of these was usury (money lending at interest). Focusing upon the cultural context of the prohibition of usury in the Hebrew Scriptures, Calvin argued that his contemporary cultural context provided a way for usury to work without being necessarily wrong. Lending money in such a fashion was essential for the later development of capitalism (Alister McGrath, Reformation Thought: An Introduction, 259-260).

The Reformation also paved the way for a “Protestant Work Ethic.” Martin Luther’s notion of the “priesthood of all believers” demolished the hard distinction between the “temporal” and “spiritual” realm which dominated the thought of the church at the time. By breaking down this barrier, hard labor was elevated. It was no longer seen as an inferior life to that of monastic withdrawal; rather, any type of work could be pleasing to God (McGrath, 256-258). In contemporary churches, one can often hear about how the engineer, the retail worker, the auto worker, and the like should all utilize their skills to the glory of God. Such thinking came directly from the Reformation.

The Reformation also kick-started science, because nature held secrets about God’s existence and character.

Excerpt:

Without the Reformation, modern science would probably have developed in any event because of the ethos of rationality and the doctrine of creation conducive to it. The Reformation, however, hastened the development by criticizing scholasticism and by putting emphasis on the direct observation of nature. Luther has been called the Copernicus of theology while, on the other hand, Copernicus has been called the Luther of astronomy. Indeed, Thomas Sprat, an Anglican clergyman and an early member of the Royal Society, emphasized that there was a reformation, some would say revolution, in both philosophy and theology [3]. In natural philosophy or science, questions about nature were no longer answered primarily by quoting Aristotle and the Scholastics, but by turning to observation of and experimentation on nature itself. Similarly, after the Reformation, Protestants no longer answered questions in theology primarily by quoting scholastic philosophers and theologians, but by turning directly to the Bible. Luther interpreted Scripture by asking: what is the clear and straightforward meaning of the text? Scientists interpret nature in the simplest way using the minimum number of hypotheses.

Luther believed that the world was beginning a new age, which would bring not only a reform of religion but a new appreciation of nature. In his informal “Table Talk” he said,

We are at the dawn of a new era, for we are beginning to recover the knowledge of the external world that was lost through the fall of Adam. We now observe creatures properly …. But by the grace of God we already recognize in the most delicate flower the wonders of divine goodness and omnipotence [4].

In the last part of this statement, Luther paraphrased the words of the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Romans (Rom. 1:20).

Luther was open to the authentic scientific advances of his age [5]. He appreciated the mechanical inventions of his day.

He accepted the use of medicine in treating disease and is quoted as having said [6],

It’s our Lord God who created all things and they are good. Wherefore it’s permissible to use medicine, for it is a creature of God.

To someone who said that it is not permissible for a Christian to use medicine, Luther replied rhetorically, “Do you eat when you are hungry?” According to Andrew White [7], this attitude of Luther made the Protestant cities of Germany more ready than others to admit anatomical investigation and dissection.

Luther accepted astronomy as a science, but rejected astrology as a superstition because it cannot be confirmed by demonstration. Astrology, according to Luther, is idolatry and violates the first commandment. He was both amused and distressed by Melanchthon’s interest in astrology, a belief system that was widely accepted at the time [8].

The Reformation means good economics and good science, as well as good theology.

But theology still had some growing to do.

The challenges of the Reformers led to the development of the doctrine of middle knowledge, which reconciles divine sovereignty with human freedom and responsibility, solving a major problem with Reformed theology.

A very good book on middle knowledge is “Salvation and Sovereignty” by Kenneth Heathley. Highly recommended by Paul Gould.

Filed under: Commentary, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Jeffrey Simon on Calvinism, free will and moral responsibility

I spent some time last night chatting with some of my readers on Facebook, and Jeffrey Simon was one. He wrote this essay on Calvinism versus Molinism which I thought was good enough to post. I am in agreement with Jeffrey on this issue, BUT I did include some debates featuring Calvinist James White at the bottom of the post. I just wanted to present an excerpt from his essay that makes a point that I thought would get lots of responses from Calvinists. Jeffrey is quite aggressive.

The essay is here, but you have to be his friend in order to see it.

Excerpt:

When harmonizing man’s perspective and God’s perspective, the Calvinist embraces what is known as theological fatalism.  They redefine free will and embrace compatibilism.  Essentially compatibilism says that determinism and free will are compatible, hence the name compatibilism.  In the same way that the wind blowing causes the trees to move, our desires and environment produce an effect which would be our action.  When we make a decision, we could not have chosen otherwise.  The Calvinist likes to say that we choose according to our greatest desire.  This would explain how God is in control of everything and more specifically our salvation.  How does God ensure the salvation of certain individuals? He changes their desires so they will freely choose Him.  This brings up an objection though.  If God desires that all are saved (1 Tim 2.4) and does not take pleasure in the death of the wicked (Eze. 33.11) and God “can save all whom He chooses to save”, then why are not all saved?  The Calvinist responds by making a distinction in God’s will.  While it is God’s revealed will and desire [thelo] that all men are saved, it is not His decreed will [boulomai] that all will be saved.  Essentially, God desires that all are saved and has a general love for the reprobate, but He has predestined them to Hell because His will [boulomai] trumps His desires [thelo].  Within Calvinism, there is a smaller section that claims regeneration logically precedes faith.  Because we are “dead” in our sin, we must be made alive or regenerated before believing.  How can a dead man believe and make himself alive?  In the same way that Lazarus was commanded to be raised from physical death, we are commanded to be made alive (through regeneration) from our spiritual death.

In my estimation, the main problem with Calvinism is that it embraces a causally deterministic system.  How can we freely make decisions yet God determined them for us?  It is not a mystery, but rather a contradiction.  In fact, at this point Calvinists are in agreement with naturalists because nearly all naturalists embrace compatibilism or determinism due to the fact that naturalism implies physicalism or materialism.  Now, imagine reading through the Bible with the idea that free will does not exist.  It is rather dizzying to imagine such a thing!  Dr.  William Lane Craig sums it up nicely when he says,

”Universal, divine, causal determinism cannot offer a coherent interpretation of Scripture. The classical Reformed divines recognized this. They acknowledge that the reconciliation of Scriptural texts affirming human freedom and contingency with Scriptural texts affirming divine sovereignty is inscrutable. D. A. Carson identifies nine streams of texts affirming human freedom: (1) People face a multitude of divine exhortations and commands, (2) people are said to obey, believe, and choose God, (3) people sin and rebel against God, (4) people’s sins are judged by God, (5) people are tested by God, (6) people receive divine rewards, (7) the elect are responsible to respond to God’s initiative, (8) prayers are not mere showpieces scripted by God, and (9) God literally pleads with sinners to repent and be saved (Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility: Biblical Perspectives in Tension, pp. 18-22). These passages rule out a deterministic understanding of divine providence, which would preclude human freedom” (The Only Wise God).

If God has determined our every thought and action, yet those nine things hold true, then it turns the Bible into a charade.  How can anything be expected of us if we can’t make decisions?  In response to this, the Calvinist may say “so what”.  It may violate our fallen sense of justice, but God can do as “He pleases and no one can hold back His hand or say to Him: ‘What have You done?’” (Dan 4.35).  God can determine us to do immoral things and hold us responsible because He is God.  In fact, in the Book of Acts when Peter and John are talking about Christ’s crucifixion, they say that God “anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever His hand and His purpose predestined to occur.” Even though God predestined them to crucify Christ, they were held responsible.  While this is possible it surely does not seem plausible.  Turning to the book of Judges, for example, we would find ourselves asking why God determined Israel’s rebellion so many times.  One only has to retort, so God is the author of evil, then?  If I were to pick up a stick and use it to move a rock, what moved the rock? Technically the stick moved the rock; however, no one would say that.  I moved the rock by picking up the stick and using it.  It is no different with God.  Surely those men crucified Christ, but it was really God behind the scenes.  This intrudes upon the holiness of God because He cannot stand sin (Psalm 5.4) and cannot even tempt man (Jas 1.13) yet alone causally determine evil.  Continuing, let’s take this causally deterministic system and God’s will as described by Calvinists to its logical conclusion.  First of all, as I just mentioned, the biggest problem is that God becomes the author of evil.  Second of all, there can be no “well-meant offer” of the Gospel to all persons if God has determined their destruction in hell.  In regards to God’s will, a better way, I think, to understand it would be that while God desires all men to be saved, His will is to save those who believe.  This does well with texts that say that God desires that all men are saved (1 Timothy 2:4) and does not take pleasure in the death of the wicked (Ezekiel 33:11) (and it also does not make God look hypocritical).  There are numerous texts where God exhorts people to believe, yet they reject Him.  For example, in Isaiah 5 God is disappointed with Israel because of their continuous sin and He asks what more could He have done for them.  God had provided all the means for godly living, yet Israel rejected Him.  Why would God waste His time with people whom He predestined to Hell and had no chance of salvation?  Also, if it’s God’s “secret” will to save some and damn some, then how can anyone know about it?

Is there anyone on the Calvinist side reading this who can explain how people can be responsible for sinning if they have no way to avoid it? I am not sure if a person can be responsible in that case because the only way that they can not sin is if God does something, and he chooses not to do it. It’s like giving a person a final exam but locking them out of the classroom all semester long.

Actually, I can see how that might actually be offensive to atheists, as in this debate between William Lane Craig and Edwin Curley of U of Michigan Ann Arbor.

Probably the best way to settle this is with debates. But I think that the only Calvinist who has debated on this issue is James White. So I put his debates below. I don’t think that famous Calvinists like Mark Dricoll and even Wayne Grudem defend Calvinism in formal public debates. Can anyone point out any debates that I may have missed? I want formal debates with good scholars on either side so I can make sure that my mind was made up based on evidence.

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Is God the cause of human evil in Calvinism?

Wes over at Reason to Stand thinks so.

The problem:

A Calvinist friend of mine recently asked me the difference between “unwilling” and “unable” and why I consider the two to be mutually exclusive when talking about mankind’s ability to sin or not.

And here is his reply to his friend:

If I am unable I cannot be unwilling because my inability precludes my willingness either way.

[...]If I am unable then I am no better off than a robot preprogrammed to run a certain course and as such I cannot rightly be held accountable for that which I have no control over.

On the other hand, if I am unwilling then I logically have the ability to act in a manner other than that which I choose.

If I am unable to not sin then I cannot logically be held accountable or responsible for choices that are, by definition, beyond my control.

If I am unwilling to not sin then I am not only responsible for my choice but, in light of the holy standard of God, I am unable to bridge the gap I freely created.

[...]The bottom line is that we are either free and responsible or else we are not free and therefore not responsible.

And William Lane Craig and Alvin Plantinga also like middle knowledge. Hmmmn. Wes and Bill Craig and Alvin Plantinga are pretty smart guys.

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Phil Fernandes explains his view of free will and divine sovereignty

It also happens to be MY view, pretty much.

This is SPOOKY! I could have said 99% of this myself!

The only thing we differ on is that I think you can lose your salvation, but only by committing “the unforgiveable sin”, which is rejecting God’s grace intentionally. You can’t lose your salvation by sinning, because you are forgiven. But every sin will cause damage in your life.

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Response from a Calvinist

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