This is yet another new feature of the blog: the weekly mailbag! In it, I will answer 1-3 questions on topics such as apologetics, philosophy, theology, and occasionally other topics. If you have something you’d like answered, you may e-mail it to me @ randyeverist dot com. You can also submit it via the Possible Worlds Blog facebook page.
Robby writes: “I had a decent conversation with a Calvinist yesterday! He was a more modest Calvinist though in my opinion. That is, he didn't believe I was going to Hell just because I wasn't also a Calvinist. He agreed that those types of topics are of secondary to the question of one's salvation. The primary questions of course being one's relationship with God, the Trinity, etc... Well it just so happens (God does this all the time of course) that I had been listening to Dr. Craig's Defenders Podcasts about Calvinism vs. Molinism! I mentioned that it seems very difficult to maintain any type of libertarian freewill on Calvinism. And if you don't have freewill than you don't have moral responsibility. But if you don't have moral responsibility than how can God judge those who are lost? It would seem immoral of Him to punish someone who was forced to do what they did! His response was, in essence, to deny logic. Saying something to the effect of, "Logic really isn't all that important. Sometimes we need to follow Christ even if it flies in the face of logic." This reminded me of a book I'm currently reading for one of my Bible Studies called, Conformed to His Image. On page 33 the author says, "Radical Obedience sometimes flies in the face of human logic." But I don't really see these types of things as illogical. Rather, the evidence that we have in our experience of God, or in a conviction for example, is greater than the act of not doing something. And so it may SEEM illogical to the onlooker, it really isn't for the Christian. What would you say to someone who is willing to throw logic out the window so easily? What if, as a Christian, we found a logical contradiction in the Bible? Should we throw out logic and believe anyway, or should we keep logic and throw out the passage?”
Randy responds: Hi Robby. I think you’ll find that most Calvinists do not believe their non-Reformed brethren are unsaved or are going to Hell. That’s a good thing! ;) I think it’s too bad that the person you mention wants to throw out logic, for at least two reasons. First, it shows that he is unfamiliar with Calvinist philosophical responses to your challenge (though I think these responses are inadequate, they do attempt to deal with the problem on a logical and philosophical level). Second, it shows a deficiency in his understanding of God. Since God is the grounding and foundation of all reality, it follows that God is the truth as well. If that is the case, then logic just is an expression of who God is! What I would say to persons like these is at least the latter statement. However, I would also add that saying God works “above” or “without” logic implies that God is literally nonsensical, and I don’t think such a move brings glory to God as much as it does dishonor to him. Finally, I think we could charitably interpret his comments to mean what you indicated: that when we see something we think is illogical, it only seems to be so, but in reality is not, and we must have faith that it is not. This segues into your other question about what we should do with respect to finding a logical contradiction within a passage of Scripture.
Granted, if it only appears to be a contradiction, on the surface level, then there’s certainly no need to jettison the Bible. With respect to the Calvinist here, usually he will appeal to mystery. It is my judgment that, in many cases, appeal to mystery is code for “This is ‘a and not-a’ at the same time and in the same sense, but somehow, it’s not contradictory.” Such a move is not legitimate. If we encounter Scripture that appears to be contradictory, step back and ask yourself a few questions: 1. Am I interpreting these passages in light of their immediate context? 2. Am I interpreting these passages according to the intent of the author(s)? 3. Am I interpreting these passages with the mindset of the original audience(s)? 4. Am I interpreting these passages in light of biblical theology (that is, what the Bible has to say about these verses’ content)? 5. Am I interpreting these passages in light of basic theology? 6. How sure am I these are actually contradictory (that is, after all this, and reading around for plausible answers, do I still think it’s contradictory)? If, after these six questions, you still believe the most plausible explanation of the passages is that they are contradictory, you still have other considerations before you can pass any judgments. For example, is it a copyist’s error? This becomes probable in cases where the word that it should have probably been closely resembles the word that was actually written down by a scribe.
You should not throw out logic, but neither would it follow that you should throw out Scripture. In the case where you’ve gone through everything, and can say with a reasonable amount of confidence that you still think the passages are contradictory and you cannot find any sign of a copyist error or any other plausible explanation, only then could you conclude that it is contradictory. This is a highly unlikely situation. Then, what follows? Well, it would only follow that there is an error in the Bible. A high price, to be sure, but not the end of Christianity. Of course, I myself think that no supposed error meets the very high standard here—a standard set, in part, because of other good evidence we have to think Christianity is true! You will find that most supposed contradictions result from a very uncharitable, 21st-century mindset laid upon the reading of the text. In short, we do not need to be afraid of logic, but instead confident, that even if we have no answer to a biblical problem, it does not necessarily follow that it is contradictory, and even if it does, Christianity still holds true.