Re: the tradition that Abraham engaged in astronomical studies

From: George Murphy (
Date: Fri Jun 27 2003 - 09:23:33 EDT

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    Josh Bembenek wrote:
    > George: "Certainly what Abraham is pictured as being engaged in is natural
    > theology. I agree with your analysis of the origin of such legends, but
    > this isn't simply a matter of building of Abraham. By doing that the
    > capability of human beings in general to discover something of the truth
    > about God on their own is built up. If we take this legend seriously we're
    > flattering not just Abraham but ourselves."
    > I agree that the presentation of Abraham discovering God is giving credit
    > where credit is not due. However, it seems that your description of our
    > coming to faith is solely placed in God's hands (as much scripture
    > supports.) It comes across almost like a natural law: God chooses and we
    > believe, much like magnets are drawn to one another naturally. I would love
    > to hear how you see free will participating in this process, and how we are
    > given enough freedom to remain responsible for our actions and commitment or
    > lack thereof to Christ, yet it is God who predestines and calls… (a magnet
    > has no choice to pull toward another magnet, according to natural law and
    > -besides it not being a moral agent- would not be held accountable for
    > acting according to magnetic forces.) I had a conversation about this with
    > some friends recently and would love to get some feedback, perhaps some
    > citations. Not to elevate the credit humans have, but to develop an
    > accurate and complete picture...

    Josh -
            Dave has pointed out some of the thorny philosophical problems involved with
    determinism & free will. Theologically the issue is not so much determinism, in a sense
    like that of Newtonian mechanics, as it is of damage to the will due to sin. The
    fundamental problem which sin poses isn't that we want to trust God but for some reason
    aren't able to. It's that we don't want to. It's precisely the will that's messed up.

            The question of whether or not our wills play a positive role in conversion is
    different from the question of whether or not you have freedom to choose what to have
    for breakfast. The latter question is something that scientists and philosophers debate
    - though of course it also has theological implications. In any case, the Augsburg
    Confession (to operate within my tradition now) has no problem in saying (Article 18)
    that we are free to choose "whether or not to eat or drink or visit a friend" &c. But
    as far as our relationship with God is concerned a person is (prior to the work of the
    Spirit) "not capable of making himself acceptable to God, of fearing and believing in
    God with his whole heart, or of expelling inborn lusts from his heart." Ephesians 2:1
    describes people prior to conversion not as being simply "bound" or "wounded" but

            That being the case, conversion must be the work God - something done _in_ us
    (we're the ones who believe) but _by_ God. "No one can say "Jesus is Lord" except by
    the Holy Spirit" (I Cor.12:3).

            That of course raises the question of why God doesn't simply convert all people.
    Why aren't all saved? The standard answers are:
            a) Some people don't contribute the activity of their "free will" to believe -
    problematic in view of what was said above.
            b) God has not only predestined some to be saved but has predestined others to
    be condemned - which is hard to square with I Tim.2:4.

            Both answers are logical, though both have to finesse parts of the NT. The
    classic Lutheran answer (Formula of Concord, Article 11) seems logically unsatisfactory
    but is more sound theologically: Those who are saved are saved because God has chosen
    them and converted them, and those who are condemned - well, it's their fault.

            That's, as I said, the classic response. I think that Karl Barth's
    understanding of election (that it's first of all _Christ_ who is elected - both for
    blessedness and for condemnation) puts the whole issue in a different light, & also
    raises some new questions (like universalism). But I've gone on long enough.

    George L. Murphy

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