Re: Coercion

From: Howard J. Van Till <>
Date: Tue Apr 20 2004 - 09:20:24 EDT

On 4/19/04 1:08 PM, "Terry M. Gray" <> wrote:

> ........... 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.

But if efficacious persuasion assures a particular outcome, then the problem
of theodicy is back in full force. If some divine action on a creature
assures a particular outcome, then whether that action is called
"efficacious persuasion" or "coercion," the question remains, Why did God
act to assure outcome X or choose not to assure outcome Y?

> (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.)

Once again, if coercive action is a possibility, then God becomes
accountable for choosing not to employ it to avoid some of the horrendous
events of pain and suffering that mark the human experience.

> Then theodicy is brought out to trump
> efficacious persuasion.

Yes, as noted above.

> 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).

But why not at least look for a solution rather than simply resign yourself
to defending a set of theological propositions that give the occasion for
the problem? Why choose to defend inherited theological propositions that
create such dilemmas? I forget who said it first, but ³My heart cannot
affirm as true what my mind tells me is false.²

> 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.

OK. I think we're on the same page here.

> A principle that Hodge and I agree on, that Howard seems to disagree
> with, is that God's purpose (what theologians have sometimes called his
> secret or decreed will) is always accomplished.

Right, we're on very different pages on this one.

...skip a bit...

> 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.
> and
>> 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
>> natures/properties."
> As Peter pointed out in a subsequent post, we are doing theology
> subject to the teaching of scripture.

Yes, you are free to make that choice. I find it an unnecessary restriction
-- something like constructing scientific theories on the basis of a small
subset of available data characterized by significantly large uncertainty
(sometimes called ³error bars²).

> In our view (and in the view of
> the ASA, for that matter), all "theological portraits of God" are not
> created equal.

I agree. Some are based on only a subset of available data. ;)

> 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,

Sovereignty DOES NOT entail control. I do not believe for a moment that
³whatever comes to pass is an expression of his purpose in the world.²

> 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.

What the biblical text gives us is a sampling of how the ancient Hebrew and
early Christian communities responded to their authentic experience of the
Sacred. I feel no responsibility to ³say what they said² (repeat their words
of response, translated into our language and our time), Instead, I feel
called to ³do what they did² (experience Godıs sacred presence and respond
in my language and my time).

> 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.

.....skip a bit.....

> 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".

Once again, I must confess that ³My heart cannot affirm as true what my
mind tells me is false.²

> 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.)

Once again, I must confess that ³My heart cannot affirm as true what my
mind tells me is false.²
> 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.

Correct, as noted above.
> 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.

Yes, you have made that clear and you have spoken consistently with that

>This is in part why I mention the ASA faith statement.

And thatıs why I have chosen to be a Friend of ASA instead of a Member.

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


Received on Tue Apr 20 09:20:40 2004

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