Friday, January 30, 2009

A Philosophical Argument for the Filioque Clause

In Western Christianity we believe in the Trinitarian doctrine of the filioque. Eastern Christianity rejects this notion. They believe that the procession of the Holy Spirit only occurs from the Father. The agreement over the East and the West is that the Father begets the Son and that the Spirit proceeds from the Father. The thesis of this post is to demonstrate that under Western philosophical presuppositions the procession of the Spirit from the Father and the Son is more reasonable than not.

The Western view is more reasonable because it has a lot more theological and philosophical explanatory power, whereas the Eastern view lacks this explanatory power. Since the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son is begotten by the Father how do we distinguish them? One might say that they have different contingent relational properties such as the Spirit is the one who sanctifies the church or that the Son is the one who purchases our redemption, etc. The problem is that these relational properties are contingent and as a result they just happen to be the case but they don’t have to be the case. They do not tell us anything essential about the Son or the Spirit, they are only accidental relation properties. So for example, in a possible world W* where there is no creation what do we really know about the differentiation between the persons of the Trinity, specifically the Son and the Spirit? Nothing! And that seems like a very strange and odd thing to say about the persons of the Trinity in whom we are supposed to know and love. The East recognizes that there is a difference between "procession" and "being begotten", but how can they explain this? They would say that at least they are both coming from the Father in the sense that their personhood is being sustained from all eternity past. But the question that has to be asked is: Where is the difference between these persons? They could say that it is just mysterious and the causation must be different but we just don’t know how to reasonably distinguish them. This view seems completely ineffable.

The West, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to be in hot water on this score. For we can say that the difference between "being begotten" and "proceeding from" is that being begotten is from one necessary causal relation whereas proceeding is two necessary causal relations (since of course the Spirit presumably comes from the Father and the Son).

P1: All Three members of the trinity are necessarily and essentially (N+E) distinguishable in every possible world.

P2: There is a possible world W* were God did not create.

P3: In W* the persons of the trinity can be distinguished by having different necessary and essential casual relations between each other.

P4: The traditional Trinitarian causal relations plus the insertion of the Filioque explains the N+E distinctions between the members in a possible world W*

C: Hence, the Flilique is more reasonable than not.

Thus if one wants to have more explanatory power in their Trinitarian theology and philosophy, they ought to adopt the western view of the Trinity (namely, the filioque).

Thursday, January 29, 2009

A Reformed Response to Mark Krause on the Person/Nature Distinction

The following is my response to an argument made against my recent post, Problems with the Eastern Orthodox Distinction of Person/Nature?, on the Eastern Orthodox blog "The Well Of Questions" by Mark Krause. Mark's full response can be found here.

First of all, I don’t quite know what to make of his definition of nominalism. Here’s a better one: Nominalism is the thesis that there are no universals. Given this definition, it is very difficult to see how Orthodoxy is nominalist. We surely think that universals exist, we just do not think that hypostasis is a universal.

Response: My definition was perfectly clear. I think you are redefining terms at this juncture because you want to avoid the obvious charge that you are a nominalist only with regards to persons. I am a nominalist only with regards to justification, thus I am not a nominalist either way given your definiton. But I am a nomialist and so are you with regards to one thing, I just happen to be clear about it. I do not reject universals as a whole and neither do you, but that was not the claim of my post at all. Also, just to be clear to our readers, the word "hypostasis" means "person."

Instead, hypostasis is what gives reality to universals. Hypostasis is the entity that instantiates a nature and thereby gives it a concrete existence, but obviously, an hypostasis is not merely the instantiation of a nature. Hypostasis is not the kind of entity that could be a universal because it is inherently what gives a concrete PARTICULAR existence to a nature. This particularity is key. What is natural is what is held in common between the members of a natural class, but what is hypostatic is what is particular to the individual members of the natural class. It is a category confusion to seek the universal hypostasis that every individual hypostasis instantiates. The whole point of the category is to have a place for particularity. If one denies this categorical distinction between hypostasis and nature then how does one establish the particularity of the members of a natural class? More to the point, how does one establish the particularity of the members of the Trinity?

Response: I do not really see how, if a person instantiates a nature and gives it particular existence, that therefore we are warranted in allowing nominal predication to that one entity. You are saying that persons give particularity to everything and because of that it does not need to instantiate a universal. I do not see how giving the persons of the trinity this unique role that therefore we are able to be nominalists with regards to persons. Another problem remains: mere human beings also have persons but they do not give concrete existence to everything, yet your view of personhood would still require you to have fictional predications of human persons. This seems inconsistent because you are saying the persons of the trinity cannot be instantiated because they give things particular existence, but mere human persons do not do that so there is no reason to have merely names or fictional predicates for them. Why couldn’t the nature of God establish particularity after he has chosen freely to create? Why could not a person be an instantiation of a universal and also give particularity to everything else? You don't argue for the negation of the alternative possibilities. In addition, why could not the members of the trinity be distinct and yet at the same self-instantiate personhood in all three instances of the divine persons? These all seem like plausible ways out and your questions that do not bring to the table any sort of metaphysical dilemma.

Justification for the categorical distinction between hypostasis and nature aside, even if everything Nate says is correct and compelling about the “nominalism of Orthodoxy” regarding hypostasis, this still provides no reason why the Orthodox cannot condemn the Reformed for having a nominalist view of justice. We don’t have a nominalist view of justice because we the think that Scripture teaches to the contrary. Does Scripture also teach that hypostasis is a universal? I don’t think so.

Response: Well I obviously I think that scripture does teach an extrinsic, nominalistic view of justification, but I do not see any reason for thinking that Reformed folks have to hold that there is no universal for justice whatsoever. I simply hold to nominalism with regards to justification and not for justice. In this case the imputation is still just because Jesus Christ made a covenant and earned righteousness that he did not need so that he can give it to us legally. The act is allowed under the exception of an agreement between it’s just members (the trinity). It seems to me that since the Father and Son made such an agreement that this exception makes a lot more sense than saying a person gives particularity and this somehow excludes it from real predication.

Thus, Nate’s argument doesn’t succeed. The point is Scripture teaches that justice is real and a universal, but the Reformed do not. Scripture does not teach that there is a universal for hypostasis. One reason for this, is surely that such a teaching would be committing a grave category mistake. I mean, seriously, does Nate think that all realists must believe in a Universal called “particularity” that all particulars must participate in? Such a notion would be silly because of the obvious category confustion between universals and particulars.

Response: I actually think there is a universal for particulars, I agree with Scotus on this point. I see no reason for doubting this. I think that justice is a universal but with regards to covenants and believers' justification one can predicate nominalistically about a believers' status in some sense, but the righteousness is a real righteousness (namely it is Christ’s righteousness that is merited for us). I will make a future post arguing for this view from scripture alone.

I conclude that your argument about persons allowing for particularity does not entail that you have to predicate them nominalistically, and that I can make theological exceptions for nominalistic predication (at least partially) about believers in a covenantal relation made by God.

Problems with the Eastern Orthodox Distinction of Person/Nature?

In Eastern Orthodox theology there is a distinction between a person and a nature. A nature in this view would be a thing that has instantiated properties. A person is not a nature nor is it an instantiation of a nature. The reason this is so is to avoid Christological heresies such as Nestorianism. For if a person is an instantiation of a nature or is a nature itself then you have two persons in the incarnation which would be Nestorianism. I do not think one has to buy this distinction to avoid Christological Heresies, but nonetheless their motivation is a good one. The problem with this position is that it leads to pure nominalism:

P1: Nominalism is the view that general predications of individual things are merely names and not instances of universals.

P2: The Person is not a instantiation of a universal

C: All predications of a person are nominalistic

If a person does not instantiate any universals then what is predicated of the person is merely a fictional title or a title based on names alone. This is significant because the Eastern Orthodox often accuse Protestants of being nominalists because of their view of legal justification by faith alone (as if nominalism in all respects were irrational or theoretically deficient). But here it seems that the Eastern Orthodox reasoning on this point is inconsistent and arbitrary since with regards to persons they have no problem with being nominalistic. Thus, this shows two things 1) the eastern view of person is nominalistic, 2) Eastern Orthodox no longer has a philosophical critique about the Protestant view of Justification on the basis that it is nominalistic.

***Note: This is inconsistent with my last post on Divine Simplicity but I was merely giving that post for those who thought perhaps the person/nature distinction is reasonable.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Using Eastern Orthodoxy to Defend Divine Simplicity

In Eastern Orthodox Christianity the doctrine of Divine simplicity is largely rejected. However, the east does provide western theologians with some helpful distinctions that may help defend the doctrine of divine simplicity with a few areas of alleged incoherence. In this blog we will use the essence/energies distinction and the person/nature distinction to defend the doctrine of divine simplicity.

*Person/Nature and Divine Simplicity*

These propositions are found incoherent by a number of objectors to the doctrine of divine simplicity:

P1: In God’s essence there are no distinctions (Divine Simplicity)

P2: In God’s essence there are three distinct persons (Trinity)

C: The conjunction of P1 & P2 is necessarily false

In eastern christian thought (Eastern Orthodoxy) the persons are distinct from the nature; this is called the person nature distinction. The person is not an instantiation of a nature nor is it a nature. On the other hand, a nature has properties such that each property is an instantiation of a universal. Now that we have this distinction in mind let us apply it to the doctrine of divine simplicity. If we say that the persons are distinct but not separate from the essence/nature of God then it seems like the contradiction goes away. This is because the doctrine of divine simplicity is *only* about the essence of God ad intra and not about things distinct from it (like persons and actions).

In addition, this is also helpful to defend other objections against divine simplicity like this: “if one says that there is no distinction in God then God’s libertarian free will (being able to create or not create) is the same as his justice, mercy, and reason. If this is then true then perhaps God could voluntaristically will to be just or unjust. And this is clearly absurd.” (Michael Garten from Well of Questions gave me a response like this once). However, if one holds to this person/nature distinction as I have suggested then one could say that the wills are located in the persons. In which case you could say that God does not have the option to libertarianly will to be immoral or something that is logically contradictory since this will is not in his essence but in the persons.

*Essence/Energies and Divine Simplicity*

These propositions are found incoherent by a number of objectors to the doctrine of a contingent creation and divine simplicity:

S1: In God’s essence there is no distinction (Divine Simplicity)

S2: God creates from his essence by which there is no distinction

S3: God’s essence is necessary

S4: If S1, S2, and S3 are true then Creation is necessary

S5: It is false that creation is necessary

C: Divine Simplicity is false (S1)

The essence/energies distinction teaches that there is a distinction between God’s essence ad intra and his actions (the actions are called energies). Therefore, with this distinction in hand one can easily reject S2 and still hold that God’s essence ad intra is fundamentally simple or without any sort of distinction. This is even more helpful when one thinks that the will is located in the persons then one might argue that the person is the one that makes the decision to create or not create rather than putting this sort of deliberation in the essence that might lead to some sort of emanationism.

Concluding Remarks:

We have seen from this post that if one puts certain Eastern Orthodox distinctions at work in the doctrine of divine simplicity then one might be able to defend it with a lot more ease and confidence.

***Side Note****

If one wants to find information on the Eastern Orthodox teaching of person/nature and the essence/energies distinction then consult either Well of Questions Or Energetic Processions (Both links to these blogs are found on our " blog list" to the right).

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

How Then Should We Do Apologetics?

(1) You can believe in God without any evidence. (2) Without God, you can’t know anything at all. These are perhaps the most controversial Christian claims of the 20th century. Both were made by Christian apologists. The first is the claim of Reformed Epistemology and its most prominent advocate, Alvin Plantinga of Notre Dame. The second is the claim of Presuppositionalism, pioneered by Cornelius Van Til of Westminster Theological Seminary. These two approaches to apologetics have many similarities, both in theory and practice. In this paper, my aim is three-fold. First, I will compare and contrast these two apologetic schools and offer suggestions as to how they might work together to strengthen one another. Second, I will offer a critique of Presuppositionalism from the perspective of Reformed Epistemology, which I have playfully dubbed the “Transcendental Argument against Presuppositionalism.” The final section of the paper will be devoted to a brief interaction between a synthesized Presuppositional-Reformed Epistemology method and the remaining heavy hitters in the Apologetic world; Classical Apologetics and Evidentialism. My hope is to show that there is actually a great deal of consensus between the modern representatives of these other two schools and my proposed “middle way”, and that once the epistemological insights of both Presuppositionalism and Reformed Epistemology are used as our apologetic grounding, we will find ourselves free to adapt our apologetic method to particular situations. We move, then, to the first task of compare and contrast.

Presuppostional Apologetics
First, I should make clear an assumption of this paper. For the primary exposition of what the Presuppositional method is, I will be relying almost exclusively on one of Van Til’s most prominent disciples, Dr. Greg L. Bahnsen. My un-argued-for assumption will be that Bahnsen represents the best and most persuasive version of Presuppositionalism that remains the most true to Van Til. So then, what is Presuppositionalism?

The two pillars of Presuppostional thought are “the myth of neutrality” and the necessity of presupposing God as the precondition for intelligibility. Says Bahnsen:

The unbeliever will challenge you to build your case for God on neutral ground,
without building on your foundation in God. Be warned! If you don’t
start with God as your basic assumption, you can’t prove anything. The
assumption of God’s existence is essential to all reasoning.1
Everyone has presuppositions, and everyone reasons from them to conclusions. So there can really be no such thing as a neutral, unbiased perspective, the “view from nowhere.” Bahnsen’s warning is meant to show that when an unbeliever says that we all ought to be “neutral” and without any presuppositions in our reasoning, what he is actually doing is being biased towards his own hidden presuppositions and against the presuppositions of the believer, namely, the existence of God. In other words, one way of understanding the Presuppostional method is that it starts by asking the preliminary question, “Why should we favor the presupposition that there is no God over the presupposition that there is?” Of course, that’s only the beginning. Presuppositionalism makes the much stronger claim that, in fact, no other presupposition but the Christian one allows for the possibility of reason, period. But before we get ahead of ourselves, we had better ask the question, “What is a presupposition?”

Bahnsen, interpreting Van Til on this very question, says:

A Presupposition is, therefore, an “elementary” (i.e., basic, foundational,
starting point) assumption about reality as a whole. An elementary
presupposition serves as an essential condition necessary to one’s outlook on
the world and life. It is a necessary precondition for human thought and
experience, without which logical reasoning would be impossible and human
experience unintelligible.2

Presuppositions are not just implicit beliefs that you hold. They actually govern the way you think, “all the way down to how you select and employ specific facts from the countless number of facts ceaselessly flowing through your senses and into your mind each and every moment of the day.”3 You cannot even think about the most basic facts of your daily life without presuppositions, let alone argue about concepts such as the existence of God or universal moral laws. But this is only the first part of understanding presuppositions. Presuppositions do not operate in isolation from one another, but rather work together within a worldview. Bahnsen defines a worldview as follows:

A worldview is a network of presuppositions (which are not verified by the
procedures of natural science) regarding reality (metaphysics), knowing
(epistemology), and conduct (ethics) in terms of which every element of human
experience is related and interpreted.4
Everyone must have a framework by
which they understand the world and their own relation to it. Without such
a framework there could be no coherence to our thought life. Thus, it
makes no sense to speak of neutral epistemic ground, if by that we mean a ground
without any presuppositions. The presuppositions are the ground!5

What is the practical significance of all this for the Presuppositional apologetic method? First, you cannot be neutral. You cannot assume the unbeliever’s worldview (which purports to be neutral) when attempting to prove it false, for despite the claim to neutrality, we have seen that no worldview can function without presuppositions. And the unbeliever’s presuppositions are antithetical to those of the Christian (which is seen most clearly in the unbeliever’s presupposition that there is no God). To accept the unbeliever’s worldview, then, would be to accept those presuppositions, which the Christian necessarily cannot do. Bahnsen goes one step further by claiming that it is not merely unreasonable to attempt neutrality, but sinful. When Christians attempt to reason in an “unbiased” way in the hope of establishing neutral ground, “they are not only contradicting reality (since no one can be neutral), but are denying the creator of all reality (by not bowing before His absolute Lordship). Such an attempt is both vain and immoral, both illogical and unfaithful.”6

The second practical application to apologetics comes from the much stronger Presuppositional claim that God is the necessary precondition for the intelligibility of reality. Put simply, unless a person S presupposes the existence of the Christian God, S has no rational justification for any of his beliefs. This is because all of S’s beliefs are either reasonable or unreasonable. If they are unreasonable, then obviously they are not justified. But if they are reasonable, it must be because they meet all the necessary criteria that make something reasonable. All of this seems perfectly mundane and obvious. But, says the Presuppositionalist, one of those criteria must be that reason itself is intelligible. And this requires presupposing the Christian God. Bahnsen elaborates:

…the non-Christian must establish his theory of knowledge on the same foundation
upon which he established reality: nebulous, chaotic, irrational chance.
If followed out consistently the non-Christian theory of knowledge would utterly
destroy the very possibility of knowledge, causing it to drown in the turbulent
ocean of irrationalism. There is no way to account for reason in the
non-Christian system.7

The point of emphasizing “consistently” in the above quotation is to highlight the fact that non-Christians do in fact use reason and do have true beliefs. This is possible because they do in fact presuppose God, which is inconsistent with their professed worldview. This also involves the touchy matter of self-deception, which we will address later.

The Presuppositional method, then, has several distinct features from traditional or evidential methods. Christianity is not presented as the best possible worldview, but as the only rational worldview to hold. Presuppositionalism attempts to prove this by showing “the impossibility of the contrary.” This is a very important phrase that makes up the core of the Presuppositional method. The unbeliever is required to consider which worldview, as a whole, makes all of human experience intelligible. As such, “It is not a direct argument dealing with individual facts, but an indirect one dealing with the nature of facts.”8 Presuppositionalism seeks to establish the truth of Christianity by demonstrating that no other worldview can make intelligible any aspect of human experience, and are therefore ultimately self-contradictory and impossible. To quote Van Til’s most famous (or perhaps infamous) line in describing this method of doing apologetics: “The only ‘proof’ of the Christian position is that unless its truth is presupposed there is no possibility of ‘proving’ anything at all.”9

The corollary of the impossibility of the contrary is that of total epistemic certainty. In this regard Presuppositionalism stands alone. Both Classical and Evidential apologetics deal with probability. Based on the available evidence and the use of best reason, we can come to the conclusion that Christianity is the most plausible worldview, but we must always admit that there is some finite chance that we are wrong. Our certainty may reach 99.9 percent, but it can never reach 100. Presuppositionalism, on the other hand, claims to give us absolute certainty in the truth of Christianity, because all contrary options are impossible.
Reformed Epistemology

Put simply, Reformed Epistemology tells us that it is possible to believe in the existence of God without any evidence. This is because belief in God can be classified within that group of beliefs known as properly basic. A basic belief would include things like sensory beliefs (beliefs about the external world) and memory beliefs. Examples of these might be:

I see a tree,
I had breakfast this morning.

There is no evidence for these beliefs other than the fact of the sensory or memory experience itself, and yet we would normally want to say that such beliefs are perfectly rational. And yet it would also be wrong to say that such beliefs are groundless. In these cases, though the beliefs are not based upon other beliefs, they are indeed grounded.

Upon having an experience of a certain sort, I believe that I am perceiving a tree. In the typical case I do not hold this belief on the basis of other beliefs; it is nonetheless not groundless. My having that characteristic sort of experience—to use Professor’s Chisholm’s language, my being appeared treely to—plays a crucial role in the formation and justification of that belief. We might say this experience, together, perhaps, with other circumstances, is what justifies me in holding it; this is the ground of my justification, and, by extension, the ground of the belief itself.11
Belief in God can be like this. Plantinga cites John Calvin’s concept of the Sensus Divinitatus. This “sense of the divine” was given to us by God in order to predispose us to forming beliefs such as:

God is speaking to me,
God has created [the world],
God disapproves of what I have done,
God forgives me,
God is to be thanked and praised.12

Beliefs such as (1), (3), and (4) might arise when one reads the Bible, spontaneously and in the same way that a belief such as “I see a tree” arises when one has the experience of seeing a tree. Beliefs (2) and (5) might arise when someone observes the beauty and order of the natural world, or when life is “sweet and satisfying.” At this point, Plantinga notes that none of these beliefs is the belief “God exists.” But each of the beliefs above self-evidently entails the existence of such a person as God. So, strictly speaking, belief in God qua belief in God is not properly basic, but rather beliefs such as (1) – (5), beliefs about his attributes and activities, are properly basic.

Another important feature of Reformed Epistemology is the concept of warrant. Warrant, according to Plantinga, is that feature that tips the scales and turns a true belief into knowledge. It would be impossible to treat this concept adequately in a paper of this size. For our purposes we need only give the briefest sketch. A belief has warrant if (1) it is produced by properly functioning cognitive faculties, (2) in an appropriate epistemic environment, (3) according to a design plan aimed at truth. Plantinga argues at length in his book Warranted Christian Belief that belief in God without evidence does indeed meet these criteria.

The apologetic application of Reformed Epistemology is two-fold. First, it provides justification (or warrant) for belief in God, even in the face of objections. Without attempting to defend him here, Plantinga argues that a strongly held basic belief can be an intrinsic defeater-defeater, meaning that it may possess a certain inherent ability to defeat objections (defeaters) raised against belief in God, such as the problem of evil. Reformed Epistemology maintains that it is not irrational to continue believing in God even if a Christian has no other response to an objection (like the Problem of evil) than the basic belief itself. Second, the concept of proper function and all that it entails allows for several versions of a transcendental argument for theism. These transcendental arguments are similar to the transcendental arguments of Presuppositionalism, only far more limited in their scope (they do not purport to show that all other worldviews are false or irrational, only naturalism. And they do not argue in favor of Christianity specifically, only theism in general).

Combining Strengths
At first it may be difficult to see where these two schools meet and where they diverge. This is in part because Reformed Epistemology (hereafter, RE) is hard to nail down. On the one hand it fits very nicely into the Classical/Evidential schools, providing justification for belief in God without considering presuppositions. And yet the primary fruit of Plantinga’s labors has been a transcendental argument which, like Presuppositionalism, aims to show that the naturalistic worldview does not meet the preconditions for the intelligibility of human experience. For now I will restrict my comments to one area where I believe these two schools can greatly benefit one another: The problem of the self-deceiving unbeliever.

One objection raised against Presuppositionalism has been that it is forced to the absurd conclusion that unbelievers can’t know anything. Some have taken this conclusion to follow naturally from the fact that Presuppositionalists require belief in God to justify any belief. If the unbeliever does not believe in God, it would seem to follow that he has no justification for any of his beliefs, and therefore has no knowledge. But isn’t it absurd to say that an unbeliever doesn’t really know that 2 + 2 = 4 because he doesn’t believe in God? Bahnsen has a response to this objection, taking his cue from Romans 1:18 – 21. There, Paul says:
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and
unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For
what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.
For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have
been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that
have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did
not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their
thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.

According to Paul, all men do know God. Not just any vague sense of a deity, but God; His attributes, power, and even His very nature. But according to Paul the unbeliever suppresses this truth “by their unrighteousness.” This is obviously a form of self-deception, but how exactly does it work? If we call belief in God “G”, are we forced to conclude that the unbeliever believes G and not G at the same time? Bahnsen’s solution is simple, yet brilliant. Let “S” stand for any non-Christian person:

S believes G
S believes the proposition “S does not believe G”

Here S’s false belief is not about G itself, but about S. The non-Christian has a false belief about himself, about his believing in God, rather than a false belief about God. The non-Christian, then, is no longer forced into believing a blatant contradiction, and can use (2) to suppress (1).

It seems to me that both sides can benefit from each other at this point. By making use of RE’s arguments for belief in God being properly basic, Presuppositionalism gets a neat epistemological system to fit its claims that all men know God.13 It even fits perfectly into Paul’s argument in Romans 1. Those things which are “clearly perceived” are God’s “attributes” and this is prompted by nature. This fits with the argument that beliefs such as “God created me”, “God is worthy of thanks and praise”, “God is good”, etc, are properly basic, and that from these basic beliefs we know necessarily that God exists.

The benefit to RE is, I think, even greater. One objection to the Sensus Divinitatus model is that not everyone believes in God, basically or in any other way. Plantinga’s response has been that due to the noetic effects of sin, not everyone forms the basic belief in God. But this seems inadequate, for two reasons. First, it fails to give full weight to Paul’s teaching in Romans 1. All men do know God, and there seems to be no good reason not to understand Paul as saying something like what RE is saying, namely that all men have basic beliefs about the attributes, creative power, and nature of God. Second, Plantinga wants us to conceive of the Sensus Divinitatus as being like any other cognitive faculty we possess. But if sin does not prevent us from forming properly basic beliefs with our other cognitive faculties, why should it do so with respect to the Sensus Divinitatus? Adopting Bahnsen’s model of self-deception seems a much wiser course. This would strengthen RE’s case for a Sensus Divinitatus by showing how it could be the case that everyone does in fact believe in God in the basic way. So much for mutual strengthening. Now we move to the second section, the critique of Presuppositionalism.
The Transcendental Argument against Presuppositionalism

Central to Presuppositionalism is the claim that belief in God is required to justify any otherwise rational belief, and even to justify rationality itself. No worldview can even get off the ground unless it presupposes the existence of God. This claim is literally what makes Presuppositionalism what it is. I believe it is false.

Now for the qualifications! William Lane Craig makes a very helpful distinction between God being the ontological grounding for all of reality, and being the epistemic grounding for all of reality.14 For a Christian, God obviously must be the former, and if the former then the latter as well. But for the unbeliever, God need not be the latter (the epistemic grounding) for his beliefs to be rational (at least, not that the unbeliever needs to be aware of). Hopefully this point will become clearer after I have presented my argument, so I will turn to that now.

In Presuppositionalism we are required to presuppose the existence of God. But if we presuppose God, specifically the Christian God, then it would seem to follow that He has created human beings with properly functioning, truth-producing cognitive faculties (as RE suggests). But if this is indeed the case, then any beliefs which are produced by said properly functioning, truth-producing faculties will necessarily be justified, and therefore rational. But if that is the case, then it follows that a person need not believe in God as the direct epistemic justification for the beliefs produced by his properly functioning, truth-producing faculties. They are justified on the basis of the faculties themselves, without reference to the designer of those faculties. Therefore, on Presuppositionalism’s most basic presupposition, it is shown to be self-contradicting.15

One possible response to this argument could be to deny that God has created human beings with reliable, truth-producing faculties, but this seems like an unlikely response for a Christian. A second objection could be to say, along with Plantinga, that the noetic effects of sin are of such a quality and severity that our faculties are neither reliable nor truth-producing after the Fall. But this also seems inadequate, for several reasons. First, this would make the Presuppositionalist claim out to be that only fallen man needs to presuppose God in order to make human experience intelligible, but this not, I don’t believe, the claim that Presuppositionalists are making. Second, Presuppositionalism is committed to the claim that fallen man knows God, which would seem to indicate that man’s cognitive faculties are functioning properly. It is only after this that the unbeliever suppresses his belief in God, which is a moral failing and not a cognitive one. In other words, it is not man’s faculties themselves that are corrupted by sin, but how he uses them.

How might this argument play out in example? One prominent example that Bahnsen liked to use against the naturalist was the belief in the uniformity of nature. Given a chance and chaotic universe, how can the naturalist justify his belief that nature is ordered, and that the future will resemble the past? The option seems open to the naturalist to claim that his belief in the uniformity of nature is properly basic (indeed, the Christian can and should say the same). If God has indeed created him, like everyone else, with reliable, truth-producing cognitive faculties that have produced in him, under the proper circumstances, his belief that nature is uniform, then it is justified without direct reference to God, and the naturalist is therefore perfectly rational. But of course, the notion of reliable, truth-producing faculties cannot be accounted for on a naturalistic system (which is what Plantinga’s transcendental argument aims to show). In which case it might be objected that RE merely pushes everything back one step, and in a more indirect way still requires presupposing God, just as Presuppositionalism does. But the whole point is that basic beliefs are justified without reference to any other beliefs. So until the naturalist hears Plantinga’s argument for theism from properly functioning faculties, he is perfectly rational in believing in the uniformity of nature without believing in God.16

A New Method?

It would be too ambitious to claim that I am actually proposing an entirely original way of doing apologetics. What I have done instead is to take the strengths of Presuppositionalism and RE and allowed them to work together, I hope, for the betterment of both. And while I have offered an argument that effectively rejects Presuppositionalism as its own apologetic method, I should note two things here. First, I have not proposed to reject the marvelous insights of Presuppositionalism when it comes to the myth of neutrality. I whole-heartedly agree that there can be no neutral, unbiased, presuppositionless way of reasoning. I also agree that it is impossible to adopt the presuppositions of the unbeliever, since they are contrary to Christianity. But that does not mean that we cannot adopt the unbeliever’s worldview, for the sake of argument, in order to show them that their presuppositions lead to contradiction or absurdity from within.17 Second, it seems that Presuppositionalism is not really an apologetic method of its own, so much as it is a critique of false epistemologies. Craig suggests that, “The central insight of Presuppositionalism is that theological rationalism is a false doctrine. We are not dependent on argument and evidence in order to believe rationally in God, or even to know that he exists.”18 This should sound familiar. Craig’s claim seems to be that the central insight of Presuppositionalism is exactly the central insight of RE. This may not be the whole story, but it is certainly true that they share this feature in common. In addition, the same critique has been lodged at RE, namely that it does not represent a unique method for doing apologetics, but that, like Presuppositionalism, it offers some very good insights regarding epistemology and justification, which ought to inform our apologetics.

I am inclined to agree, and with that we arrive at the final section of the paper where I will offer some very brief comments about the relationship our two schools have to the “old schools.” Both Presuppositionalism and RE make room for (and even encourage) the use of evidences. Both schools would allow for historical arguments, such as the arguments for the resurrection of Jesus, as well as the so-called theistic proofs of Classical Apologetics. In that sense there is significant agreement. Where Presuppositionalism parts ways with the others is in its claim that such arguments cannot be made in their traditional forms, but must be subsumed under the transcendental argument showing the impossibility of the contrary. Here I would disagree again with Presuppositionalism, especially when it comes to the resurrection arguments.19 First, the assumption seems to be that such traditional arguments require one to adopt a “neutral” perspective. But as we have seen, this is not the case. Even Bahnsen admits that we have “common ground” with the unbeliever in that we all see the same facts of reality, and this is all the traditional arguments require.20 Second, Presuppositionalism rejects these traditional arguments because they only give us probability, not certainty. Two points need to be made here. One, Presuppositionalism can’t really give us 100 percent certainty either, because it cannot in the final analysis make good on its claim to prove the impossibility of the contrary. There is always the chance that finite (and fallen) human beings can make errors in our reasoning, and even the transcendental argument is not immune from this. Two, even if we cannot have complete epistemic certainty, we can have perfect existential certainty, which is granted to us by the Holy Spirit (it might be better to drop the language of “certainty” altogether and simply talk of the assurance of faith). Finally, Bahnsen claims that such traditional arguments cannot ultimately be effective because the unbelieving naturalist can simply say, “Ok, Jesus rose from the dead, but all that proves is that weird things can happen.” But the unbelieving naturalist could say essentially the same thing in response to Bahnsen’s transcendental argument from the uniformity of nature. “Ok,” he says, “there is no good naturalistic explanation for the uniformity of nature yet, but there could be one that is currently outside of our present understanding, and regardless, that doesn’t mean I have to accept the Christian explanation.” Now Bahnsen would simply dismiss this as “wishful thinking.” But then why can we not dismiss the naturalist who says “weird things happen” in the same way? Bahnsen is, I think, inconsistent on this point.

On the other side, neither Classical nor Evidential apologists (at any rate, not their modern representatives) would disagree with Bahnsen that presuppositions are a necessary part of our reasoning about the world, nor would they disagree that unbiased neutrality is a myth.21

In the end, then, I believe these distinctive schools are not really all that far apart. And thus I would advocate what might be called “Practical Apologetics”, “Common Sense Apologetics”, or even (if I may be so bold) simply “Christian Apologetics.” The labels may have become unnecessary at this point. This should be especially true for those of the Reformed persuasion. If we really believe that it is the Holy Spirit who changes peoples’ hearts and minds, according to God’s sovereign plan, and that we are not actually responsible for anyone’s conversion to Christianity, then we should be free to use any apologetic strategy or argument, depending on the circumstances.

In summary, I believe that our apologetics must be informed by the epistemological insights of Presuppositionalism, recognizing that no one can be neutral or reason without guiding presuppositions, and of Reformed Epistemology, understanding the nature of basic beliefs, warrant and proper function. But with that epistemic grounding established, I believe we are free to adapt our actual apologetic method to particular situations, employing different tactics and arguments based upon the questions, needs and concerns of our audience.


Bahnsen, Greg L. Pushing the Antithesis: The Apologetic Method of Greg L. Bahnsen. Powder Springs: American Vision, 2007.

Plantinga, Alvin. Warranted Christian Belief. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Craig, William Lane, ed. Philosophy of Religion: A Reader and Guide. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2002.

Cowan, Steven B., ed. Five Views On Apologetics. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000.
Anderson, J. “If Knowledge Then God: The Epistemological Theistic Arguments of Alvin Plantinga and Cornelius Van Til.” Calvin Theological Journal. 40 (2005): 49-75.

Bahnsen, Greg L. “The Crucial Concept of Self-Deception in Presuppositional Apologetics.” Westminster Theological Journal. 57 no. 1 (1995):1-31.

Swinburne, Richard. “Plantinga on warrant.” Religious Studies. 37 no. 2 (2001):203-214.

Plantinga, Alvin. “Rationality and public evidence: a reply to Richard Swinburne.” Religious Studies. 37 no. 2 (2001):215-222.

Frame, John M. “Van Til on Antithesis.” Westminster Theological Journal. 57 no. 1 (1995):81-102.

Monday, January 19, 2009

The Future of Israel and Romans 11

The Future Conversion of Ethnic Israel: A look at Romans 11:25-26


The book of Romans causes much debate and controversy over different interpretations of verses and sections in the book. Romans eleven, for example, is a section where there is a variety of controversies over the future of Israel; in particular Romans 11:25-26. As we will see there are three interpretations of what Israel means in Romans 11:26. The three interpretations are the Ethnic Israel view, spiritual Israel view, and the total remnant of saved Israel view. These three views will determine how one understands the conversion of Israel at the end of the age. I will also look at Romans 11:25 so we can have a clearer understanding of what Israel means in verse 26. In order to have a proper understanding of Romans 11:25-26 we will need to look at the background and literary context of this book. The purpose of this paper is to argue that there will be a conversion of ethnic Israel at the end of the age by exegeting Romans 11:25-26 and drawing an application.

Background of Romans

In this section we will briefly survey the issues in Romans surrounding the author, date, recipients, and the general purpose of Romans. This needs to be done so that we can have a better understanding of Romans 11:25-26.


It is virtually undisputed that Paul is the author of Romans, as indicated in Romans 1:1 where it states “Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle .” However, the time in which Paul wrote Romans is not as straight forward.


This requires us to look closer at what we can find from the historical account so that we can see that Paul wrote Romans in the first part of 57 in the city of Corinth. From Acts 18:12-13 we can conclude that Paul’s labors were around the time Gallio arrived into Corinth to serve as a proconsul, this would be presumably the summer of 51 . After this event the apostle spent “some time” (Acts 18:18) in the city and probably in the spring of 52 he traveled to Caesarea and Jerusalem . He then would have stopped at Antioch in the winter of 52 . It is also thought that he returned to Ephesus sometime around spring of 53; this would be the start of a three-year ministry in Ephesus (Acts 20:31) . At the end of 56 he spent three months in Corinth and soon after started his trip to Jerusalem which would have been in the spring of the following year . From this information it seems that Paul wrote his letter to the church of Rome the first part of 57 in the city of Corinth (Rom. 16:1-2, 23; 1 Cor. 1:14) .


The recipients of the letter of Romans are made up of a population of Jew and Gentile. It is thought by Douglas Moo that Paul’s audience was predominantly a Gentile Christian church with a Jewish Christian minority . However, when one reads this epistle it seems apparent that Moo has overstated his case in which there were small populations of Jewish Christians (barely enough to be considered a community in itself). Yet, there are such sections as chapter two where Paul is clearly addressing the Jewish community (especially 2:17). Furthermore, this can also be seen in Romans 7:1 when Paul is addressing the Jewish community specifically by writing “talking to those who know the law.” Furthermore, a dissention took place between two groups in the church which seemed to have been between the Jews and Gentiles (Rom. 14:1-23) . Thus, it appears that there was a community of Gentile believers as well as Jewish believers in Rome.

General Purpose

It is hard to find one specific, unifying purpose throughout Romans, but rather pluralities of purposes seem to be present. As Moo explains “...the various purposes share a common denominator: Paul’s missionary situation. The past battles in Galatia and Corinth; the coming crisis in Jerusalem; the desire to secure a missionary base for his work in Spain – all these forced Paul to write a letter in which he carefully rehearsed his understanding of the gospel especially as it related to the salvation-historical question of Jew and Gentile and the continuity of the plan of salvation .” Finally, it seems that Moo’s point is confirmed when one reads the book of Romans and realizes its vastly diverse themes that are carefully connected together with literary precision and coherence.

Literary Context

Romans 11:25-26 major positioning in the book is at the end of the indicative section of Romans. Chapters one through three condemn both Jews and Gentiles alike. Towards the end of the third chapter there is a proclamation that righteousness can be manifested apart from the law through faith in Jesus Christ. In the following section, chapter four shows us an example of this faith through the patriarch Abraham. Chapter five teaches that Christ is the head representative to the elect as Adam is to the condemned; this chapter serves as a transitional part between chapters one through four and six through eight. Chapter six through eight is about the Christian life and how Christians relate to the Mosaic Law. Chapters nine through eleven discuss Israel’s place in history. Chapter eleven is the last chapter of the indicative section and 12:1-2 acts as a transition into the imperative section which concludes the book. Now that we have analyzed the historical background and literary context of Romans we are prepared to do an informed exegesis of Romans 11:25-26.

The Big Idea of Romans 11:25-26

Do not be proud Gentiles because in the future when all of you who have been appointed are saved all of ethnic Israel will reclaim its special spiritual status designated by God.

Analysis of Romans 11:25-26

Romans 11:25

In this section we will analyze all of the major themes in Romans 11:25 that relate directly and indirectly with the conversion of ethnic Israel. What I mean when I use the term directly is that the topic will discuss the hardening and the conversion of ethnic Israel. What I mean by indirectly is that the topic will not mention ethnic Israel directly, but it will be related by being in the same passage that mentions Israel. I believe it is important to discuss indirect issues because it will help us understand the context. Furthermore, a look at the context will help demonstrate the coherence with the conversion of ethnic Israel thesis. The direct topics in verse 25 are topics 2 (The Meaning of the Mystery), 3 (The Hardening of “Ethnic” Israel), and 4 (The Meaning and Affects of the Hardening on “Ethnic” Israel). The indirect topics are 1 (A Fuller Revelation to Come), 5 (Viewing the Chronology of the Events), 6 (Gentiles coming into Salvation), and 7 (The Meaning of the “fullness of the Gentiles”). Therefore, I will demonstrate that these topics will either directly or indirectly lead someone to the implication that ethnic Israel will be converted.

(1) A Fuller Revelation to Come

In this section I will argue that Paul was preparing his audience for a climatic revelation. Verse 25 is introduced with “Lest you be wise in your own conceits.” This particular phrase is from Proverbs 3:7. This is used as a literary device so that Paul may convey that the revelation they have received in 11:11-24 is not the climactic and full revelation that will be given in verses 25-26 .

(2) The Meaning of the Mystery

The purpose of this paragraph is to clarify the meaning of this “Mystery” and it’s relation to ethnic Israel. This mystery comes from the 25th verse: “I want you to understand this mystery, brothers.” The overall thrust of this phrase from Paul is that he wants his readers to understand the mystery. But the question naturally arises “what does Paul mean by mystery?” The word “mystery” in the Greek “musth,rion” is used frequently in apolocalyptic texts (1 Enoch 41.1; 46.2; 103.2; 2 Enoch 24.3; 4 Ezra 10:38; Bar. 48.3) . This word does not always carry an eschatological flavor; however, it must be conceded that it usually does, since it is used often in the apolocalyptic genre (as the citations above demonstrate) . In addition in Pauline literature this word is usually used to indicate that a revelation is given to Paul that he is compelled to make known (1 Cor. 4:1; Eph 3:1-6, 7-9; 1 Cor. 15:51-52; 1 Thess 4:15) . Although the content of this mystery is a hotly debated issue among scholars, it seems to consist of three main points: (1) a hardening has come upon ethnic Israel, (2) this hardening will continue until the predetermined number of ethnic Gentiles are saved, (3) then most of corporate ethnic Israel will be saved . The reason why these three points are the mystery is because they are mentioned right after Paul tells the church about the mystery. Thus, it seems that all three of these components are part of the eschatological revelation that Paul wanted to give to the Roman church.

(3) The Hardening of “Ethnic” Israel

The use of “Israel” in this phrase in verse 25 is referring to Israel as an ethnic nation and not as a spiritual Israel (this will help us to determine the meaning of Israel in verse 26). This phrase makes up the middle-end of verse 25 reads: “a partial hardening has come upon Israel.” As James Dunn points out, there seems to be a contrast between the ethnic Gentiles and ethnic Jews in verses 25-26 . This would strongly suggest that the topic being discussed in this passage is about ethnic Jews and not spiritual Jews as referred to in Romans 9:6. Furthermore, there are many places where Paul speaks of Gentiles as spiritual Jews (Rom. 2:29; 4:16; Gal. 6:16; Eph 2:11-19; Phil. 3:3). In light of this, the passage would oddly read something like this: “a partial hardening has come upon the spiritual Israel, until the fullness of spiritual Israel comes in.” Clearly, a view such as this renders the verse strange and possibly incoherent. In addition, the preceding context of Romans 11:25 Paul talks about ethnic Gentiles and ethnic Jews being engrafted in and being broken off (Rom. 11:1-24). Thus, we have sufficient reason to assume that ethnic Jews are being discussed in this passage. Since we have established the meaning of “Israel” in this passage we must now look at the theological implications for the “partial hardening” on Israel.

(4) The Meaning and Affects of the Hardening on “Ethnic” Israel

Verse 25 is concerned with the issue of ethnic Israel being hardened, which seems to parallel closely to the hardening Israel received in 11:7-9 . It seems plausible from this observation that we should then anticipate a hardening that is similar to verses 7-9 . Moreover, versus 7-12 seem to closely resemble some of the hardening and conversion themes that are being analyzed in verses 25-26 . Thus, this suggests that the hardening in 7-9 will be similar to the hardening in verse 25.
The fact that Israel was hardened has great theological significance as Kim Riddlebarger explains “God’s purpose for Israel’s barrenness through unbelief was to be the means of blessing for the Gentiles .” Riddlebarger seems to pick up on this insight by the clear parallels in Romans 11:25-26 and 7-12 .
The partial hardening should not be seen as all of Israel being pushed away from the Gospel in a passive and resisting manner; rather this hardening should be seen as an efficacious hardening of a “part” of Israel . In other words, the hardening is not resistibly qualitative on every single Jew, but efficacious quantitatively hardening on a select few . In light of this there is always a remnant of saved Jews within Israel. At this point in the text there is a definite sense that a group of Jews are being blinded from the truth of Christ . Therefore, parts of Israel’s hearts are actively resisting the truth of the gospel.

(5) Viewing the Chronology of the Events

The eschatological events relating to the gentile conversion and Israel’s conversion should be seen as generally chronological. It seems that the “a;cri ou-” suggest a sort of temporal sequencing that might be better stated as “until the time when” . Although this observation is useful, we shouldn’t think that Paul knew the exact hour when each of these sequences occurred . Rather it should be thought that he had a very general understanding of what was going to take place. The reason for thinking this is because the text presents it in very general terms. Therefore, we should understand this eschatological event in very general terms and not precise terms.

(6) Gentiles coming into Salvation

The phrase “coming in” has some controversy because some scholars disagree on what the Gentiles are coming into, but it does seem that the Gentiles are coming into salvation in a very general theological sense. Moo suggests that it is the kingdom of God that the Gentiles are coming into . On the other hand, Dunn brings up another interesting alternative: that the Gentiles are coming into “life” . It seems to us that both these opinions suggest that the Gentiles are receiving salvation. Whether or not this has to do with the newness of life or the kingdom of God seems rather inscrutable given the ambiguity of this subset of the phrase “coming into.” From this general understanding we can now analyze the issues involving the quantity and the types of people who will be entering this salvation.
(7) The Meaning of the “fullness of the Gentiles”
The meaning of the fullness of the Gentiles does not mean that every single Gentile will be saved, but rather the completion of the Gentiles that were predestined to be saved. This part of the phrase is very difficult to place in terms of an eschatological scheme of premillennialism or amillennialism. This is because many proponents of postmillennialism, for example Kenneth Gentry, interpret this part of the phrase to be the majority of the Gentiles in the entire world . He then further applies this type of interpretation to verse 26 in order to justify his idea that most of humanity will be saved before Christ comes back (because of the inclusion of Israel) . However, it does not seem like this part of the phrase necessarily has to be taken in the sense in which postmillennialist’s understand it. As Moo points out about the word “fullness” “the word consistently has a qualitative meaning in the Bible .” Furthermore, Moo gives concrete examples of what a qualitative view of fullness could mean; they include: “fulfillment,” “completion,” “fullness .” It seems that Moo’s understanding of fullness has more support because it seems that Paul was borrowing from apocalyptic Jewish sources like 4 Ezra 4:35-37 . The concept that he is borrowing that corresponds best with our passage is that there are a preset number of people whom God has predestined for salvation . This then suggest that the “fullness” that is mentioned in our passage is referring to completion of the Gentile’s that God foreordained to be saved . Thus, when this full number of people come to faith in Christ Israel’s hardening will be no more .

Romans 11:26

This section I will argue for the conversion of Ethnic Israel. This will be done first by analyzing and connecting this phrase to the previous verse. Secondly, we will demonstrate that the Ethnic Israel (Moo) view is more reasonable than spiritual Israel (Calvin) and the sum total remnant of Israel view (Hendriksen). Then I will argue briefly that this verse is eschatological.

The Precise Meaning of “in this way”

The first phrase “in this way” is translated from the Greek word “ou[twj” which has four possible translations and I will argue for the fourth translation “and in this way”. The first understanding of “ou[twj” is that it has a temporal meaning, which would suggest after the time when all the Gentiles came to faith then (“then” in the temporal sense) Israel will be saved. However, the problem with this translation is that this word never has a temporal meaning . The second option is that “ou[twj” can be a means to a certain end, however, this translation of the Greek word is very rare in Pauline literature and we do not have a sufficient reason to believe that this phrase is being used in this rare sense . The third option is that “ou[twj” is being used in such a way that it is following the classical “just as it is written” scheme . The problem with this view, as with the latter two, is Paul never uses “ou[twj” in such a way as “just as it is written .” The final option for the translation “ou[twj” is the preferred ESV translation which is “and in this way .” As Moo points out about the significance and implications for this translation “while not having a temporal meaning, has a temporal reference .” It seems what Moo is getting at is that this does not need to be an explicitly temporal translation in order for it to manifest in history in the order given in verse 25-26 . For how else are these events going to be brought about? Certainly these events are going to be in time and in the order given in the biblical account.

Calvin’s View “All Spiritual Israel”

There are three primary ways of interpreting the phrase “all Israel will be saved.” The first way originated with John Calvin; this view holds that all Israel is the complete church comprised of both Jew and Gentile . The first problem with this view is that it completely ignores the context, in the immediate preceding verse Israel was used as ethnic Israel. Furthermore, it seems completely arbitrary to switch meanings of words that were clearly defined in previous passages without a sufficient warrant. Moreover, in the preceding context the word Israel and Israelites in the ethnic sense occur no less than eleven times: 9:4; 9:6 (twice); 9:27; 9:31; 10:19; 10:21; 11:1; 11:7 and 11:25 . It seems from this evidence that Calvin’s view fails because there is no reason to believe within Romans 11 that Jew can ever mean Gentile (or spiritual Jew) .

Hendrikson’s view “Total of remnants of Israel”

The second interpretation of Romans 11:26 presented by William Hendrikson, which states that Israel means the sum of all Israel’s remnants, also known as the elect within Israel view . The problem with this view is it makes Paul’s expression into a redundant truism . It would then read something like this if we were to assume Hendrikson’s view “all the elect of Israel will be saved” . Moo does not consider this decisive because the purpose of the text is discussing the manner in which Israel is saved and not the fact that it is saved . However, we disagree with Moo on this point because it still renders the text awkward and redundant. Moreover, the distinctive problem with this view is that it shifts the meaning of national Israel (as a whole) given to us in the immediate preceding context (presumably verse 25) to the meaning of the sum total of the saved remnants in Israel . For if we were to assume that Israel in verse 25 means the sum total of the saved remnants it would seem pretty strange that God is hardening the saved remnant. Furthermore, since verse 25 seems to mean national Israel then it is likely that the use of Israel in verse 26 should be taken in a national sense (to be consistent with the literary context). Thus, this view should probably be rejected on the basis that it is inconsistent within the immediate context and that this view also suggest that the text is conveying a tautology.

Moo’s View “All of Ethnic Israel at the end of the age”

The most likely meaning of this text is that the majority of ethnic Israel will be saved . This view does not state that every single Jew will be saved; rather the majority of Jews will be saved (whatever that might be, it is not clear in the text) . In this case “all” is more of an expression rather than a literal quantifier. In light of this, the expression is probably referring to a certain vague majority. However, there are three basic arguments we would like to deal with from William Hendriksen opposing our position . The first argument is that “all” is a strange word to use for the relatively low population of Jew’s before Christ’s second coming . This argument does not hold because it is putting a concern into the text that Paul never mentions nor suggested to be a concern. The second argument is that the readers are not prepared to hear of Israel’s mass conversion . This argument is misguided; it fails to see the parallels between verses 7-12 and 25-26. Moreover, Hendriksen’s argument hardly seems decisive and convincing. Lastly, he argues that verses 25-26 occurred in the first century and is constantly occurring in stages throughout history because certain verses like 30 and 31 suggest this . The problem with this argument is that nowhere in 25-26 is there any mention of this being a repetitive cycle throughout history. At face value it merely appears to be a one time event. Thus, given the failure of the objections against our view and the evidence (in that it accounts for the context better than all the other views) for our view it seems like there is good reason to accept it.

The Conversion is Eschatological

The last part of this verse demonstrates the eschatological nature of Israel’s conversion. The rest of the verse reads “As it is written, The Deliverer will come from Zion, He will banish ungodliness from Jacob.” This is a quote from Isaiah 59:20-21 follow by a line of Isaiah 27:9 . “The Deliverer” is presumably a reference to Christ who is coming in eschatological vindication . It seems as though Zion is a reference to the heavenly city where Christ comes from . In addition, when Jesus comes to vindicate the righteous He will banish sin . Lastly, this fits in with our previous phrase because it mentions the events that are to come to pass after Israel is saved. All of this evidence would strongly suggest that these events are eschatological.


In conclusion it seems that the interpretation of Romans 11:25-26 is that the majority of ethnic Israel will be converted. This conclusion seems to be likely because it is perfectly coherent within the context. Another reason why this conclusion seems to be most the reasonable is because it does not have any of the major defects seen in other Reformed views. Furthermore, I think a proper interpretation of this verse would lead someone to the view that all of ethnic Israel will be saved. The text also seems to suggest that this saving activity will be near the end of the age. Because of this exegesis we should look forward to the glorious day when all of Israel praises the name of Christ.


There are two points of application that we want to draw from this detailed exegesis; God will keep His promises with His chosen people, and the reason why God can keep these promises is because He is sovereign over history. The God of the Bible is a God of faithfulness and thus we should expect Him to keep His promises; Romans 11 is clearly an example of this. Therefore, when we read a promise in God’s word we should have faith that God will always be true to His word and what He promises in it. The reason we know that God is always able to be faithful is because He is sovereign over all history; He is the Lord of history. Therefore, we know that when His word says that His Son will come back to vindicate the righteous at the end of the age, we should be assured in our hearts that this event will take place because God is sovereign over all history. In conclusion, we should trust God to be faithful to what He has said because He is faithful to keep His promises with Israel and He is able to do this because of His sovereignty.


Bruce, F. F. The Letter of Paul to the Romans: an introduction and commentary. Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press; Grand Rapids, Mich. : Eerdmans, 1985.

Dunn, James. Romans. Nashville: Thomas Nelson 2003.

Gentry, Kenneth L. He shall have dominion : a postmillennial eschatology. Tyler, Tex. : Institute for Christian Economics, 1992.

Harrison Everett F. Gen. Ed. Barker and Kohlenberger. Zondervan NIV Bible commentary. Grand Rapids, Mich. : Zondervan Pub. House, 1994.

Hendriksen, William. Exposition of Paul's Epistle to the Romans. Grand Rapids : Baker Book House, 2002, 1981.

Jewett, Robert. Romans : a commentary. Minneapolis : Fortress Press, 2007.

Moo, Douglas J. Romans. Grand Rapids, Mich. : Zondervan, 2000.

Morris, Leon. The Epistle to the Romans. Leicester, England : APOLLOS ; Grand Rapids, Mich. : W.B. Eerdmans, 1988.

Riddlebarger, Kim. A case for amillennialism : understanding the end times. Grand Rapids, Mich. : Baker Books ; Leicester, England : Inter-Varsity Press, 2003.

Schreiner, Thomas R. Romans. Grand Rapids, Mich. : Baker Books, 1998.

Thielman, Frank. Theology of the New Testament : a canonical and synthetic approach. Grand Rapids, Mich. : Zondervan, 2005.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

A Defense of The Classical Ontological Argument


The ontological argument has confused many people and has intrigued many philosophers. However, most people do not find the argument convincing because of an obvious problem. This problem has come up since Anselm first gave the argument and when Christian philosophers and apologist presented it to unbelievers. The problem for the Classical Ontological argument is called the “Lost Island” Objection. Although there are many objections to the ontological argument this one seems to be the most enduring . In this paper I will offer a solution to the lost Island objection and defend the general reasonableness of the Classical Ontological argument thereby providing a contribution to justified theistic belief. First, we will take a look at the ontological argument followed by a brief explanation and a defense for the argument. After this we will look at the “Lost Island” objection and my solution to it. Finally, I will make some concluding remarks.

The Argument Stated

This is how Plantinga states the argument in a way that is clear and that does justice to the primary text of the Proslogion . I have added some extra premises to make the argument even clearer. The Argument is as follows:

1. God is the being that than which nothing greater can be conceived (def. of God or it can be stated like this: I can conceive of a being that than which nothing greater can be conceived and this is what we call God)
2. God exists in the understanding but not in reality. (Assumption for reductio)
3. Existence in reality is greater than existence in the understanding alone. (Premise)
4. A being having all of God's properties plus existence in reality can be conceived. (Premise)
5. A being having all of God's properties plus existence in reality is greater than God. (From (2) and (3).)
6. A being greater than God can be conceived. (From (4) and (5).)
7. It is false that a being greater than God can be conceived. (From definition of "God".) 8. It is false that God exists in the understanding but not in reality. (From (2), (6), (7).)
9. God exists in the understanding. (Premise that the fool grants for reductio.)
10. Therefore, God exists in reality. (From (8), (9).)

Now that the basic structure of the argument is laid out we can look at explaining the premises and try to defend the ones that seem less plausible.

Explanation and Defense

The purpose of this section is to provide an explanation of each of the premises and to give a brief justification and defense of some of the more contentious premises.
Premise 1

Premise one can be stated in two ways as I have parenthetically noted; this is important because some might think that one way is reasonable and the other is not. For myself it is intuitively reasonable to think that God is a being such that nothing greater can be conceived. However, if one thinks that this definition of God begs the question and is put forth for the sole purpose of being able to just arbitrarily prove God by an inference from a manipulation of words then perhaps this route ought to be avoided. An alternative route that ought to be taken by the defender of the classical ontological argument is to suggest that one should just contemplate a being that than which nothing greater can be thought. If one uses the latter way of stating the premise then this does not commit anybody to any preconceived definition of God that would be considered by some to be controversial. Therefore, either way is sufficient for the rest of argument to follow reasonably.

Premise 2

This premise is assuming that one can have a mental conception of a being that than which nothing greater can be conceived. I would take Anselm’s use of the term “in the mind” or as I put in the premises “in the understanding” as being able to intellectually grasp either an attribute(s) or substance . Anselm believes that we can grasp God in some sense because he believes that God is a substance . Furthermore, one might be able to have such a concept of a being that than which nothing greater can be thought before our minds eye by taking the lesser goods that we see in the created order or before our minds and abstracting from those lesser goods to greater goods all the way to a being that than which nothing greater can be thought . However, it should be stressed that this sort of mental abstraction is not necessary to have a robust concept of a being that than which nothing greater can be thought. For myself I know that I can have such a concept before my minds eye pretty immediately and from that concept I can infer many great making properties. Thus, all one would need to grant in order for this premises to be accepted is that one can have an idea of God in the mind or in understanding. This premise is stated in such a way as to be shown in latter premises to be reduced to absurdity so that from the negation of this absurdity one can infer God’s existence.

Premise 3

The third premise of the classical ontological argument is by far the most controversial part of the entire argument because once someone accepts the third premise and the assumptions imbedded therein then the rest of the argument seems to follow inescapably. Therefore, I will deal with this premise in two parts; the first part I will examine the philosophical assumptions in this premise and the second part I will give a justification of these assumptions.

The two main assumptions that go into this premise is that there are things that are or can be objectively great and that existence is one of these things that is objectively great. What I mean by objective is that something is what it is apart from human wants, desires, and beliefs . In other words, it is not grounded in human opinion or apprehension. The assumption here is that great things exist and that they can be compared to a being that than which nothing greater can be thought. However, it might be charged that if this is true then there are things in creation that we can compare objectively to other things in creation . An example of this would be saying that a deer is objectively better than a bear and so on . Yet this example does not make any sense because it seems that a deer is not necessarily something you can compare to a bear to see which one is objectively better . Anselmian philosophical theologians are not necessarily committed to this claim as Thomas V. Morris puts it “….The characterization of God as the greatest possible being does not require universal value-commensurability. It does require that every object be value commensurable with God, but not that every object be so commensurable with every other object”. Morris is suggesting here that other things need not be comparable to one another, but the only thing that we can compare everything to is the greatest possible being, which is God . Another assumption is that existence is one of these things that are great, that is to say being is better than non-being. In the next paragraph we will give a rational justification of this assumption, namely that existence is better to have rather than not.

The rational warrant or justification for the assumption that existence is objectively great is intuition. Intuition is analogous to perception, but the difference is that it is done with mental conception, that is to say the mind’s eye. Intuition is used to justify moral, mathematical, and analytic truths . We use our mind’s eye to just see that 1+1=2. By the nature of what it is to be one and one we can just see that it has to equal two. We just see with our mental conception that the nature of goodness is as such that it would be incompatible with evilness. People have disagreed in the past over what is intuitive and what is not. This suggests that one can be mistaken about the intuition, but that does not mean that just because we can possibly be mistaken about a proposition that therefore we do not know it or be rationally warranted in believing it. We can be mistaken about things in our perceptual experience, but that does not mean that everything I perceive does not count as knowledge. For example, my best friend could be a Humanoid Robot (like in the Terminator movies) to deceive me, but there is no reason to believe such an outrageous proposition, but yet this is still possibly true. However, we would still say that I know my friend is not a Robot even though I can be possibly mistaken about that. This is a falliblistic account of knowledge as opposed to infallibilistic account of knowledge. With that understanding in hand, it seems intuitive than not to us that it is better to exist in reality rather than in the imagination alone. This is especially intuitive when we are thinking of the way in which a being that than which nothing greater can be thought exists in reality. Finally, this existence gives actuality to the greatest imaginable being so existence in this sense is inescapably better to have rather than not.

Premises 4-10

The most contentious premises have been defended and explained. Thus, I will just briefly discuss the rest of the premises for the sake of clarity. Premise 4 is the first premise which begins to flush out the argument for the assumption of the reductio in premise 2. It is arguing that the fool can conceive of a being just like God but that this being actually exists. But as premise 5 points out if this is true then this being would actually be better than God given the assumption in premises 1 that God is that than which nothing greater can be thought. Then the argument at this juncture is designed to show a contradiction from the obvious tension between premises 6 and 7. From this contradiction between 6 and 7, premise 8 infers the opposite in order to avoid God existing in the mind but not in reality. The opposite would be that it is false that God exists in the mind and not in reality. Thus, premise 9 and 10 do the work of drawing out the opposite conclusion: that God exists in the mind and in reality. This thereby shows that it is reasonable to believe that God exists.

A Popular Objection to the Classical Ontological Argument

One of the most popular and apparently decisive objections to the classical ontological argument was by a monk named Gaunilon. Gaunilon tried to offer a counter example to defeat the intuition that it is better to exist in reality rather than just in the imagination alone. This is called the lost Island argument and it is so apparently devastating that it ought to be quoted:

“…it is said that somewhere in the ocean is an island, which, because of the difficulty or rather the impossibility, of discovering what does not exist, is called the lost Island. And they say that this Island has an inestimable wealth of all manner of riches and delicacies in greater abundance than is told of the Islands of the Blest….Now if some one should tell me that there is such an Island, I should easily understand his words…..suppose that he went on to say, as if by a logical inference: “you can no longer doubt that this island which is more excellent than all lands exists somewhere, since you have no doubt that it is in your understanding. And since it is more excellent not to be in the understanding alone, but to exist both in the understanding and in reality, for this reason it must exist. For if it does not exist, any land which really exists will be more excellent than it; and so the island already understood by you to be more excellent will not be more excellent ”

Gaunilon was trying to reduce Saint Anselm’s intuition that it is better to exist rather than not to absurdity. If Anselm’s formula was correct then we could define anything into existence that is greatest in its class. We could show that an Island that than which no greater Island can be thought does exist and also a unicorn that than which nothing greater can be thought. If a unicorn that than which nothing greater can be thought did not in fact exist then we could think of a greater unicorn, namely, one that exists. This would result in a contradiction or absurdity if these premises are granted and thus the greatest possible unicorn would be inferred to exist from this negation. In fact anything with the formula in front of it that says “that than which nothing greater can be thought” could be proved to exist as such. But since we know more reasonably that this is false than the intuition that it is better to exists rather than not then we have a sufficient defeater or decisive reason to doubt that it is better to exist rather than not. Therefore, Gaunilon and many people who doubt this argument are warranted in their doubt unless the defender of the classical ontological argument provides a defeater-defeater.

A Response to the Popular Objection to the Classical Ontological Argument

The response to this classic objection is going to be answered by Anselmian perfect being theology and philosophy to which I plan to define and illustrate. Then I am going to argue from the concept of a being that than which nothing greater can be thought to the conclusion that only a concept such as this can be the only concept that can be just seen to exist. Then I plan to put forth potential objections to my solution and the response to those objections.
Anselmian Perfect Being Theology and Philosophy

Anselmian perfect being theology and philosophy takes the concept of God as being that than which nothing greater can be thought or God as the greatest conceivable being and from this concept of God one can infer certain great making properties . A great making property is a property that is better to have rather than not . God will have every great making property since this is entailed by the concept or definition of him being that than which nothing greater can be thought. For if God lacked any great making property we could conceive of a greater being with all those great making properties that God has plus that great making property that God would lacked. But then this would be a contradiction since you could think of a being greater than the greatest thinkable being. In addition, these great making properties are also justified by intuition like the justification for existence being a great making property. An example of a great making property would be omniscience. For example, let us suppose we are engaging in the project of perfect being theology we would ask the question: Is it better for God to be omniscient or not? Well it is reasonable to think that all knowledge is intrinsically and objective better than having no knowledge, therefore from Anselmian perfect being theology (which includes Anselm’s concept of God) one would infer that God is omniscient. Other examples of great making properties would be necessity, omnipresence, moral perfection, and omnipotence. Moreover, there are other great making properties that are more controversial among theologians and philosophers like divine simplicity, impassability, and timelessness . Therefore, since some great making properties are uncontroversial and others controversial then we can conclude that there will be some properties that are more reasonable to hold to than others. With this view of Anselmian perfect being theology and philosophy we are now equipped to look at answering Gaunilons objection to the classical ontological argument.

A Solution from Anselmian Perfect being Theology and Philosophy

Gaunilons defeater for the ontological argument is insufficient because one can infer from Anselmian perfect being theology that only God can be intuitively seen to exist by the very concept of God. We can infer from the concept of God being that than which nothing greater can be thought that he is the only being that can be intuitively seen to exist because this itself is a great making property. In other words, a great making property of God is that he is the only being that can be seen to exist by just His concept. If God is the only being that can be seen to exist by thinking of the concept of God then we are philosophically committed to the claim that this is better to have rather than not. More importantly this would mean that only God would share this great making property and that nothing else other than God would have it. Thus, this suggests that the objector to the classical ontological argument is no longer in a position to offer a defeater that would suggest that if the ontological argument is valid and sound that one could look at the concept of the greatest conceivable tree, house, bug, and Island and just infer from their concepts that they exist.

Potential Problems with the Solution

However, it must be admitted that this defeater is successfully defeated if one shows that the concept of God is such that it is the only concept by which we can infer existence is itself a great making property and this may seem questionable to some. Since my idea has not been touched in the primary and secondary literature I have no official academic citations for the possible critiques that I am about to level against my own solution . One possible critique is that this solution is arbitrary and ad hoc. In other words the concern with my solution is that it is baselessly and artificially designed to avoid the force of Gaunilo’s apparently decisive defeater of the classical ontological argument. Another possible critique is that it is unclear whether or not that being the only being that can be seen to exist by an inference from His concept is in fact a great making property. Thus, there needs to be a clear and careful answer to these objections to my solution.

A Response to the Critiques of the Solution

The reason why being the only being that can be seen to exist by its concept is a great making property is because it makes God unique ontologically and epistemologically from all other things that exist. This would be yet another property that would make God entirely distinct from the created order because no other created thing or possibly created thing can be seen to exist by its mere concept. This would make God have a uniqueness of kind rather than a uniqueness of degree . Thus, this would give further support for the creator-creature distinction which is also a great making property. Some might argue that uniqueness is in-itself not necessarily good because we can conceive of things that are unique in a negative or evil sense. However, this overlooks the fact that the concept of God is intrinsically good and any uniqueness of his substance will always be a good thing rather than neutral or evil. Furthermore, this property is great making because it makes the grounds or reasons for belief in God distinct from any other fact in the world. In other words, it gives God his epistemological uniqueness. Furthermore, this would make God’s existence something that we can just see from His concept rather than treating God like he is something of the creation that needs to be checked out and investigated in order to be believed reasonably. Thus, because of these considerations it seems like this property is a great making property rather than an arbitrary and sneaky way out of an ancient objection.

Concluding Remarks

In conclusion, we have seen that the ontological argument is valid and sound and given my brief analysis it seems to support the proposition that God exists. We have looked at the general outline of the argument and the reasonableness of each of the premises. Moreover, this paper has also shown that one of the oldest objections against the classical ontological argument fails to apply the idea of a being that than which nothing greater can be thought consistently and as a result it tries to exploit an absurd inference from soundness and validness of the argument, namely that we could just define anything that is the greatest into existence. This opens up optimism for further philosophical theology and especially philosophical theology in Anselmian tradition. This is not a truth of merger significance and the reason why it is great significance will have to be argued in another paper, but for now I will leave us with an encouraging quote about the prospects of philosophical theology in the Anselmian tradition by Thomas Morris “I believe this is correct, that there exists at least a strong prima facie case for the coherence of the elements of classical theism, and so for the coherence of an a priori conception of deity understood as entailing these elements. If this is right, then there can be a strong prima facie case for the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, if indeed he is God, being the God of Anselm, a maximally perfect being”.


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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Pruss and Suffcient Grace: A Reformed Response

A brilliant Catholic philosopher by the name of Alexander Pruss has given an argument from 1 Corinthians 10:13 against the Reformed doctrine of mongergism in sanctification:

For clarity's sake 1 Corinthians 10:13 reads as follows:

“No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”

Pruss’s Blog post can be read here for more detail.

But Dr. Pruss draws this argument from 1 Corinthians 10:13 against the Reformed view of causal determinism in the process of salvation:

“1) For any temptation, the faithful Christian will receive a grace sufficient to withstand that temptation.

2) Some faithful Christians succumb to temptation.

3) Some faithful Christians fall to a temptation that they have received a grace sufficient to withstand.”

From This Dr. Pruss concludes:

“But the puzzle is greater for Christians of a more Reformed bent, who normally see a grace sufficient for A as in fact a grace that necessitates A. This is, after all, the standard Reformed view of salvific grace: anybody who has received the grace sufficient for salvation is one of the Elect, and because of the receipt of the grace is necessarily going to be saved.
The question now is whether a Reformed Christian can give a different story about sanctifying grace, so that a person can receive a grace sufficient to withstand temptation and yet fall to that temptation. If not, then Reformed Christianity is not tenable in the light of (1) and (2).”

My Critique of Pruss’s argument:

I would reject Premise one (For any temptation, the faithful Christian will receive a grace sufficient to withstand that temptation) on the grounds that I think that Christians do not receive sufficient grace to avoid sin in all cases in their sanctification (if you are catholic then you would confuse justification and sanctification and say "in the process of justification"). Pruss might say “well then how might you deal with 1 Corinthians 10:13?” My answer to this is more exegetical and theological than it is philosophical.

I would take 1 Corinthians 10:13 as referring to falling away from salvation (i.e. becoming apostate) when one is being tempted, either by consciously giving up their faith or by being tempted continually into living in unrepentant sin (which would thereby show that the person was never justified by faith to begin with). My reason for this is found in the preceding verse. Verse 12 is a warning about falling away like those who fell away from the covenant as described in 1 Corinthians 10:1-11. Moreover, someone can fall away from the covenant having never been a true believer, but rather having been either baptized as a confessing believer (where the confession was not genuine) or as an infant. In this life we may have uncertainty given our sinful desires and struggles as a believer as to whether we are truly internally saved in the covenant of grace or whether we are just external members with a man-made profession. Our works give us assurance of salvation because those who have been justified by faith can be assured of it on the evidence of good works. And Paul is teaching in 1 Corinthians 11:13 that God will never allow a believer to be tempted to give up his faith in Christ either by living in sin or by rejecting the gospel. In other words, you will not sin and be tempted so much that you lose your faith as a Christian and fall into the unbelief. Far from being a verse against Calvinism, it seems to me that this verse supports the doctrine of perseverance of the saints (the "P" in TULIP).

To sum up: I am saying that 1 Corinthians 10:13 is referring to temptation to the sin of falling away from faith, or sins (living in sin) that lead to falling away. And Paul teaches us that in fact this cannot happen with believers because God will always give you a way out (which would then lend support to Calvinism).

I also have another reason for believing that 1 Corinthians 10:13 cannot be referring to believers in every instance of temptation having two alternative possibilities (i.e. having libertarian freewill; being able to sin and not sin in any circumstance C with the same casual background F) with regards to sanctification. My reason is more systematic: I believer that Romans 7 is referring to a believer and Paul says of believers (including himself) that they can at times lack the ability to carry out the good.

As Paul teaches us about believers:

Romans 7:18 "For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out."

The reason we know this is a believer is because Paul says that this person gives thanks to Christ and yet still struggles in the same section:

Romans 7:25 "Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin."

Christians, then, do not always have sufficient grace with regards to every act in sanctification, but rather they have sufficient grace in order that they do not lose their salvation, which I have argued is what 1 Corinthians 10:13 refers to. Thus, I conclude that we do not have a good reason to accept Dr. Pruss’s argument.