Re: Coercion

From: Terry M. Gray <>
Date: Mon Apr 19 2004 - 13:08:28 EDT

Howard (and others participating in this thread),

I appreciate your most recent posts of earlier this morning. I will
continue to suggest that the notion of concursus (Hodge's critique
notwithstanding) does much of what you wish. Coercion/non-coercion
are NOT categories that come to mind when I think of God's governance
of the universe. The rub seems to come when I suggest that God's
persuasion is always efficacious. You seem to believe that if that is
the case then it is coercion--I reject that--efficacious persuasion
is still persuasion. (By the way, I will still reserve the
possibility of coercion, for lack of a better term, for some acts of
God in the world--acts that we might designate as miraculous,
although I will certainly allow for many so-called miracles to be the
result of persuasion.) Then theodicy is brought out to trump
efficacious persuasion. I am fully aware of the problem of evil in my
theological system--I chose not to allow my lack of comprehension of
its solution to be decisive (more on this below).

Now I am sympathetic with Hodge's critique that perhaps we are
getting into territory that we just can't know about and that to try
to formulate a perspective creates more problems than it solves.
Nonetheless, it is useful to think through these issue and perhaps
generate a list of principles. For example, one of the principles
that Hodge, Howard, and I seem to agree on is that created things
operate according to their created properties--ordinarily God doesn't
make (coerce) them to do things that they wouldn't ordinarily do. A
principle that Hodge and I agree on, that Howard seems to disagree
with, is that God's purpose (what theogians have sometimes called his
secret or decreed will) is always accomplished. Another principle
that we probably agree on is that God is not the author of sin. These
sorts of principles are what you find in Turretin's and Hodge's
discussion. They are even willing to point out the excesses of other
Reformed theologians who take God's sovereignty too far.

Here are a couple of comments on a post from Howard of last week that
help, perhaps, explain where I am coming from here:

>IF, that is, God's actual character/nature is as you posit. Statements of
>this sort are not self-evidently true; they are theological propositions
>that you hold to be true. As such, they stand alongside of differing
>theological portraits of God posited by other persons.


>Agreed. This is why I find it impossible to make any sense out of Terry's
>both/and hypothesis -- God controls all, AND creatures act freely. In his
>words, "God always gets His way, i.e. He is fully in control, but
>creaturely-actions are authentic, according to their created

As Peter pointed out in a subsequent post, we are doing theology
subject to the teaching of scripture. In our view (and in the view of
the ASA, for that matter), all "theological portraits of God" are not
created equal. I say what I say about God based on what scripture
says--as I read it scripture suggests that God is totally sovereign,
whatever comes to pass is an expression of his purpose in the world,
we accept the good from God and we accept adversity from God (Job
2:10). Even something as wicked as the crucifixion of God's Son is
said to planned from before the foundation of the world. The list of
"proof-texts" could go on and on. I suggest that the problem of evil
is our own problem--i.e. we can't understand how God can be good and
have evil be part of his plan, so we say that God isn't in control
the way scripture suggests that He is. Similarly we can't see how God
can be in control and how we can be responsible or free to act
according to our own wills. Well, again, scripture says that we are
responsible and free to act according to our own will (although in
our unredeemed state those wills are bound to wickedness). We can't
see how it can both ways so we either conclude that God is in total
control and that we are puppets OR that God is not in total control
and that we are autonomous agents.

[I had the occasion to re-read Job this week as part of an Adult
Education class at our church--lots of stuff in there relevant to our
discussion here, but chapters 38-42 are always a good read when we
begin to question God and his purposes. It has always struck me that
even though God restores Job, he never explains to him "the rest of
the story" that we see in Chapter 1. Perhaps there is more than meets
the eye to our own and our own world's suffering. To engage in my own
brand of speculation, perhaps evil was part of God's plan so that a
fuller measure of His love and grace could be revealed in Christ. I
don't know if George would approve of this as an example of
Christ/cross-centered theologizing, but it doesn't seem that
unreasonable to me in light of the totality of scripture and God's
saving work in Christ.]

But as I read scripture, both truths are taught and I'm obligated to
hold them side by side as uncomfortable as that makes my "logic
sensor". It doesn't seem to me to be any different that to say that
Jesus is fully God and fully man. That's what the Bible seems to say.
The church creeds have never been able to positively articulate the
how of that. They merely set limits. I see the relationship between
creaturely action and divine sovereignty to be the same (and I think
many professional theologians as well, especially in the historic
Reformed branch of Christianity, have argued similarly.)

The bottom line here is that I believe that I'm tied to Biblical
revelation. David Ray Griffin, from what I can tell in reading his
material, doesn't believe in Biblical revelation. His theology is
fully speculative with respect to scripture. I will readily admit
that there is wide diversity of theological opinion even among those
who submit themselves to scripture. But I suspect that Howard's
reference to a different "theological portraits of God" want to draw
in theological reflections/speculations not so much rooted in the
text of scripture but in experience and logic.

If this is the case then we will likely have to part company here.
Scripture always trumps experience and speculation AND logic in my
system. (Although it is nice when they all fit together.) This is in
part why I mention the ASA faith statement. There are some agreed
upon propositions. While it is possible to engage people apart from
those agreements, the nature of the exchange differs significantly,
and in fact, probably should turn to meta-questions--i.e. how do we
know what we know, what are authoritative sources of knowledge, etc.
I cannot conduct a theological discussion with David Ray Griffin (nor
he with me) if my appeals to the Bible are viewed by him as
irrelevant or if his regard of the Bible as a respected ancient text
recording others' reflection on the divine are viewed by me as

Well, let's see where these comments take us.


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
Received on Mon Apr 19 13:08:32 2004

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