RE: Scripture and Divine Sovereignty (was Brainlessness...)

From: Shuan Rose (
Date: Fri May 31 2002 - 11:30:40 EDT

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    Hello Terry,

    On the free will issue, my personal opinion is that this is an insoluble
    mystery, and I take the pragmatic approach of William James on this issue.
    For several years, he went back and forth on the issue of whether he truly
    had free will or whether his every action was determined as if he was a
    puppet. He resolved the issue in his mind by simply acting as if he did
    truly have free will. " My first act of free will shall be to believe that I
    have free will". This is not very Biblical or even rigorously
    philosophical. Many have deplored this free wheeling approach. But as
    William James might have said, "It works for me".
    The question of the inspiration and authority of the Bible is crucial for
    Christians, and I will respond more fully in a later post. A brief summary
    of my position is that the Bible is the human Word of the Almighty God-human
    insofar as it is speech and words on paper coming from people of a
    particular time and place, but also fully "of God". This means that we
    should be realistic about its limitations as well as be submissive to its
    authority. As has been stated in this listserv, the author of Genesis 1 did
    not transcend the pre-scientific views of his time concerning cosmology.
    However, he did speak of a transcendent God who created everything, and THAT
    revelation is valid for all time.
    More on the Bible later. I will let you have the last word on the free will

    -----Original Message-----
    From: []On
    Behalf Of Terry M. Gray
    Sent: Friday, May 31, 2002 2:23 AM
    Subject: Scripture and Divine Sovereignty (was Brainlessness...)

    At 2:04 PM -0700 5/30/02, Dr. Blake Nelson wrote:
    >Jim, you cannot be serious (nor could any conservative
    >theologian) in writing that "God wrote the Bible" as
    >if He physically put pen to paper. That is really a
    >huge definitional leap from the Bible consists of
    >God-inspired writings, written by human beings.
    >More fundamentally, where does the "Bible" say that
    >all the books of the Bible are written by God? Most
    >citations regarding the trustworthiness of scripture
    >are absolutely inapposite to the New Testament since
    >the books of the New Testament were not canonical
    >(indeed nothing was canonical before the church
    >councils) until well after the last document that is
    >contained in the New Testament was written.

    Blake (and Burgy and Shuan),

    Here's where the doctrine of inspiration and God's sovereignty come
    together. Conservative Calvinistic theologians would argue that even
    though the human authors of scripture fully expressed their humanness
    (their personalities, their personal histories, their unique
    perspectives and purposes, etc.) in writing the Biblical documents
    that God who is in full Providential control of all of their affairs
    and histories, etc. sees to it that they write exactly what he wants.
    This is why we would argue for plenary, verbal, divine inspiration of
    Scripture. What Scripture says, God says! This is no dictation theory
    because the authors of scripture were acting according to their own
    wills, intellects, and purposes (full human). But the outcome is no
    different than if "physically put pen to paper." Seriously!

    The question of God limiting his omnipotence in order to provide for
    free will has been asserted several times on this list. I don't see
    why this is anything than a so-called "philosophical necessity"
    rather than a Biblical argument. The Bible doesn't seem to suggest
    this. The Bible puts God so fully in control so that whatever comes
    to pass is an expression of his will (secret, decretive will to be
    contrasted with his revealed moral will). The Bible also makes man
    fully responsible for his actions and credits him with free will. Is
    it not conceivable that God's control is such (in ways that perhaps
    we can't even understand) that I do exactly what I always freely
    choose to do and at the same time do what God from all eternity
    purposed me to do? This is exactly what the "venerable" Westminster
    Confession of Faith says is the teaching of scripture. I cite the
    Confession here not on the weight of its own authority, but as my
    tradition's systematic summary of the teachings of scripture. Fuller
    expositions of the Westminister Confession can provide the
    "proof-texts" and the Biblical argument. We can pursue that if you
    want. This argument is the heart of Warfield and Hodge's defense of
    inspiration and infallibility from the late 19th century.

    [Quotes from the Westminster Confession of Faith]

    III. I. God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel
    of his own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to
    pass: yet so as thereby neither is God the author of sin; nor is
    violence offered to the will of the creature; nor is the liberty or
    contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.

    V. I. God the great Creator of all things doth uphold, direct,
    dispose, and govern all creatures, actions, and things, from the
    greatest even to the least, by his most wise and holy, providence,
    according to his infallible foreknowledge, and the free and immutable
    counsel of his own will, the praise of the glory of his wisdom,
    power, justice, goodness, and mercy.

    V. II. Although, in relation to the foreknowledge and decree of God,
    the first Cause, all things come to pass immutably, and infallibly;
    yet, by the same providence, he ordereth them to fall out, according
    to the nature of second causes, either necessarily, freely, or

    V. IV. The almighty power, unsearchable wisdom, and infinite goodness
    of God so far manifest themselves in his providence, that it
    extendeth itself even to the first fall, and all other sins of angels
    and men; and that not by a bare permission, but such as hath joined
    with it a most wise and powerful bounding, and other ordering, and
    governing of them, in a manifold dispensation, to his own holy ends;
    yet so, as the sinfulness thereof proceedeth only from the creature;
    and not from God, who, being most holy and righteous, neither is nor
    can be the author or approver of sin.

    IX. I. God hath endued the will of man with that natural liberty,
    that it is neither forced, nor by any absolute necessity of nature,
    determined to good, or evil.

    IX. III. Man, by his fall into a state of sin, hath wholly lost all
    ability of will to any spiritual good accompanying salvation: so as,
    a natural man, being altogether averse from that good, and dead in
    sin, is not able, by his own strength, to convert himself, or to
    prepare himself thereunto.

    [End of Westminster Confession quotes.]

    To summarize: God ordained and providentially executes whatever
    happens (even the bad stuff). Those events occur necessarily (via
    "laws of nature"), contingently ("by chance"), or freely (via the
    activity of agents who have free wills). The Confession sees no
    contradiction between a certain God-determined outcome and free
    agents exercising their free will (no violence is offered to the will
    of the creature (no coercion here!)).

    One of the reasons that I think that Walter's programmer's image
    fails, in the end, is because the programmer does not and cannot
    control the totality of reality for the computer and the AI. Perhaps
    this is close to what Blake? was saying about immanence. There is no
    sense of the AI "living, moving, and having its being" in the
    programmer, the way we "live, move, and have our being" in God.

    Clark Pinnock (one of the architects of Open Theism) rejects the
    doctrine of inerrancy and plenary, verbal inspiration precisely
    because he rejects this Calvinistic understanding of the sovereignty
    of God (see his argument in the book *The Scripture Principle*). In
    Pinnock's view God doesn't have the kind of control over the lives,
    circumstances, and thoughts of men that my view describes. (Open
    Theism is simply a fuller expression of this limitation of God.)
    Consequently, scripture cannot be the words of God in the sense that
    I am describing.

    I simply don't have the time to fully answer Blake's second
    paragraph. Volumes have been written by "conservatives" discussing
    this. Here's the very short answer:

    The OT books are determined inspired and authoritative by virtue of
    the authoritative teachings of Jesus and the apostles. e.g. 2 Timothy
    The NT books are determined inspired and authoritative by virtue of
    their authenticity and apostolicity. For an early internal
    recognition of apostolic writings as scripture along side the OT see
    2 Peter 3:16 (and yes, I believe that 2 Peter was written by the
    apostle Peter and to be date prior to his death in the 60's).
    Canonicity is not determined by church council but by scripture's own
    self-attesting claims. (Westminster Confession of Faith, I. IV. The
    authority of the Holy Scripture...dependeth not upon the testimony of
    any man, or church; but wholly upon God (who is truth itself) the
    author thereof...) The NT documents were recognized as scripture and
    used as such long before church councils that made lists of canonical
    writings. They may not have been collected together in their present
    form early, but that's not to say they were recognized or used as
    scriptural before then.

    Sounding very conservative here (not much difference between me and
    "the fundamentalists" on this stuff),


    Terry M. Gray, Ph.D., Computer Support Scientist
    Chemistry Department, Colorado State University
    Fort Collins, Colorado  80523
    phone: 970-491-7003 fax: 970-491-1801

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