“No Views Contradict” – A Postmodernist Guide To Keeping God Out of a Box

In my last post, I talked about the clash between doctrinal certainty as held by Calvinists versus the postmodern embrace of ‘mystery’. Groups like the Emerging Church would often rather place matters of controversy beyond human reach, and I fear – treat revealed truth as though it were not revealed. I think another example of this postmodern tendency can be seen in this post by Chris Lyons, who is a vocal critic of Calvinism as well as pretty much any kind of Systematic Theology.

In his post, Chris Lyons gives his take on Arminianism, Open Theism, and Calvinism (though he mistakenly makes comparisons with fatalism).  Afterwards he concludes:

"In all of these views, systems are built upon one key aspect, or set of related aspects: foreknowledge, free will, relationship. I would posit, though, that each is but one view of the whole, which is impossible for us to see in its entirety. I would posit that each view, in and of itself, builds a system based on its own limited eisegesis of scripture. I would posit that the most accurate view possible for us to attain is in accepting that the basis of each of these views [...] are all correct and not in contradiction to one another. I would posit that any apparent contradiction exists because of the previously mentioned shortcoming in our blindness – we try to place God inside of time in order to understand Him, when He clearly exists apart from it." (emphasis mine).

The fact that it has always been understood throughout church history that there are obvious contradictions and incompatibilities between each of these views is something that Chris expects us to overlook.  Supposedly, they are all different angles on the holistic truth which can’t be known; there are no contradictions, and we are asked to simply take his word for it that this is a mystery that we should not try to explain.  On the surface, this thinking (which is common in postmodernism) seems very tolerant, but it’s actually very intolerant towards anyone who dares to declare that any one of these views are the truth while the other views are contradictory and false. That’s the one thing that is unacceptable and presumably can’t be true. Later on the page Chris Lyons explains that to accept any one of these views as being the true teaching that is revealed in the Word of God is equivalent to putting God in a box.

That brings to mind a post I read some time ago on Stand To Reason’s blog, about this overused phrase "Putting God in a Box":

"[The line is] actually kind of rude because it implies that we’re doing something illegitimate with God. But you know what? We all put God in a box – the box being how we best understand God’s revelation of Himself in Scripture. The box is one of God’s own nature we’re all just trying to figure out what the box looks like.

God should be in a box. What’s the alternative? God has no limitations on what He can be like or act like? That is frightening. God Himself is limited by His own nature. He can’t lie. He can’t sin. He can’t go out of existence. God’s box – the definition of what He is like – is what makes Him God and a Person we can love and trust and glorify. If God isn’t in some kind of a box, He would be arbitrary.

God’s box is the biggest and greatest box there is. He’s omniscient – He knows and believes all true things; but He cannot believe false things. He’s omnipotent – God can do whatever power can do. His potentialities are at the greatest limit of the attributes He possesses. But those very attributes define Him, they describe His box. Our goal is to get the best idea of what that box looks like."

While I think the Emerging Church and Postmodernists such as Chris Lyons are too often ready to shroud revealed truth in a cloud of mystery, I also think we must be careful to allow for mystery where it is legitimately encountered.  As John Calvin warns:

"The discussion of Predestination—a subject of itself rather intricate—is made very perplexed, and therefore dangerous, by human curiosity, which no barriers can restrain from wandering into forbidden labyrinths, and from soaring beyond its sphere, as if determined to leave none of the Divine secrets unscrutinized or unexplored . . . First, then, let them remember that when they inquire into Predestination, they penetrate into the inmost recesses of divine wisdom, where the careless and confident intruder will obtain no satisfaction to his curiosity . . . For we know that when we have exceeded the limits of the word, we shall get into a devious and irksome course, in which errors, slips, and falls will be inevitable. Let us then, in the first place bear in mind, that to desire any more knowledge of Predestination than that which is unfolded in the Word of God, indicates as great folly as to wish to walk through impassible roads, or to see in the dark. Nor let us be ashamed to be ignorant of some things relative to a subject in which there is a kind of learned ignorance." –Institutes, Ch. XXI, sect. I, II.

The key is, as Calvin said – to stay inside the limits of word, but at the same time being a Workman (2 Tim 2:15) with that which is revealed in scripture. On all sorts of topics, including election and predestination, we may not always like the conclusions that we come to in taking an honest and realistic approach to scripture. But really, it’s no different than another systematized concept that was once the subject of much debate, and yet is embraced by many postmodernists such as Chris Lyons, and that is the Trinity. There’s mystery in it – to be sure, but we are still able to systematically define it within the bounds of scripture, and we believe it is true – because that’s what the bible teaches about our triune and sovereign God.

Update: 12/6/07: Triablogue weighs-in with a response to Chris Lyons – see their post: Pachyderm Theology
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19 Comments on ““No Views Contradict” – A Postmodernist Guide To Keeping God Out of a Box”

  1. Barry Says:

    Your comments on “God in a Box” and Calvin’s take on “our” search for truth relative to predestination are interesting.

    Perhaps the “box” size for each of us is different.

    In reading Calvin’s blurb on trying to figure out predestination I am reminded of eating “exept from the tree of knowledge”.

    I would venture to say that since I am not infallible and Calvin was not infallible and the person he drew heavily upon, St. Augustine, was not infallible then it may be argued that conjecture, and not truth, comes into play when we try to convince one another of aspects of the universe.


  2. [...] Nathan White of Strange Baptist Fire, a site which seems to be steeped in Calvinist apologetics (though I could be wrong), has taken issue with my article from back in August on the nature of God and the probability that we humans create contradictions where none may exist for God – specifically with systematic theologies and the weighing of free will vs. predestination. In doing so, he’s reminded me of a conversation I had the other day about labels and how they are basically short-hand attempts to either build credit or discredit apart from any actual merit in the discussion. [...]


  3. [...] Nathan White of Strange Baptist Fire, a site which seems to be steeped in Calvinist apologetics (though I could be wrong), has taken issue with my article from back in August on the nature of God and the probability that we humans create contradictions where none may exist for God – specifically with systematic theologies and the weighing of free will vs. predestination. In doing so, he’s reminded me of a conversation I had the other day about labels and how they are basically short-hand attempts to either build credit or discredit apart from any actual merit in the discussion. [...]

  4. Ken Silva Says:

    I would venture to say that since I am not infallible and Calvin was not infallible and the person he drew heavily upon, St. Augustine, was not infallible then it may be argued that conjecture, and not truth, comes into play when we try to convince one another of aspects of the universe.

    Like the conjecture when someone attempts to make the above argument in the first place? To press that forward is to actually confirm a key point in the above piece: “the Emerging Church and Postmodernists such as Chris Lyons are too often ready to shroud revealed truth in a cloud of mystery.”

    And isn’t it odd that when these Christian agnostics are presented with an opposing view, those who “shroud revealed truth in a cloud of mystery,” are also the first ones to then argue that they “know” their position is correct. See Lyons’ “I will be heard for my many words” response at CRaM.

    But this then means that the “truth” these postmoderns have revealed in their own argument, namely that revealed truth is mysterious; ah, is really not so mysterous after all, because by arguing their case – just as other skeptics – they are now saying that their points can actually…well, be known.

  5. Chris L. Says:

    So nice to see that you’ve slithered out from underneath your rock, Ken. Your labels “Christian agnostics” and the like are all unhelpful and completely misplaced.

    Perhaps you could actually respond to the content rather than griping at its length (or possibly your ability to understand it). The truth is not “mysterious” apart from where we can truly not understand the nature of God because He is beyond nature. If you had actually read the response, my position is based on religious truth being solid and the uncertainty of the scientific truth surrounding the nature of time.

    But that would probably be expecting too much from you, Ken.

  6. Ken Silva Says:

    The Lord be with you too Chris. :-)

  7. Chris L. Says:

    And with you, as well.

  8. Pat McGee Says:

    The box is the Bible. God calls us to understand Him through the Bible. We have an obligation to understand the Bible. The postmodern, open theist beliefs seem to be that of a lazy Christian or an unsaved one who is agnostic with a leaning toward Christianity.

  9. Jim Says:

    Poor Nathan White, the guy gets blamed for an article that he didn’t write; it was labeled with my name as the author from the very beginning. Unfortunately, that’s not the extent of Chris Lyons’ mistakes in his response to this page, though if I were Chris – I’d post a public apology (or at least a correction) to Nathan for all of the remarks aimed at him in his multiple responses on his various blogs. Note now however, Chris concludes his responses by saying that at some point in which he feels is appropriate – Calvinism is “another Gospel“.

    I just had a chance to read through some Chris’ responses, and it’s interesting that he denies that the trinity is formulated by Systematic Theology; of course it is. Chris is critical of Spurgeon’s remark that “Calvinism is the Gospel” (which he regularly quotes out of context on various blog posts of his). Yet Chris gets very upset if others don’t understand the remarks of his favorite postmodernists (such as Rob Bell) within context, not pressing-in to find out what guys like Bell “really mean”. Is he doing the same with Spurgeon?

    Lastly, it’s worth noting how Chris diverts into [the opinions of Hebrew scholars] and other early church issues to make his case. Calvinists on the other hand, are generally very content in sticking to scripture to make their case, though men like John Gill in his book THE CAUSE OF GOD AND TRUTH have refuted the notion that the early church fathers did not care about or did not believe in important biblical issues such as Unconditional Election and Predestination. It’s a good read which I would highly recommend to cynics like Chris Lyons.

  10. Chris L. Says:

    Ah – my apologies Jim – I did NOT see your name on it (I only saw Nathan’s byline on another article). My mistake. I will correct it.

    It isn’t surprising that you’re behind this farce, then…

  11. Chris L. Says:

    Just to be clear – when Calvinism (or individual solas) are raised to the same level of truth as scripture – in word or practice – it has become “another gospel”…

  12. Ken Silva Says:

    Just to be clear: “when Calvinism (or individual solas) are raised to the same level of truth as scripture – in word or practice – it has become ‘another gospel’…”

    When anything is raised to the same level of Scripture – in word or practice – it becomes “another gospel.” Who’s arguing this?

  13. Jim Says:

    Chris said to Jim: “It isn’t surprising that you’re behind this farce”

    What’s a “farce” about our discussing your view (which is common with postmodernists) that Arminianism, Calvinism, and Open Theism are somehow not contradictory? That’s really the point we are after here. If you comment here again, please address that point, and also let us know how you can be so certain that one of those three views isn’t the truth while the other two are false. Why should we take your word for it that none of those can be true while the others are false?

    A lot of time is spent on your blogs speaking out against those who say that various other Christians are not true believers. But isn’t that the implication that you are making by bringing up “another gospel“. According to Galatians, that means such a person is eternally cursed. I hope you don’t think that applies to us if we believe John 6:37-65, Romans 8 and 9, Ephesians 1, and many other passages that support what is today nicknamed “Calvinism”. We’ve elevated passages like those to the level of scripture, because THEY ARE scripture. And they do teach us that God elects and predestines.

  14. Chris L Says:

    Jim,

    The “it isn’t surprising” comment was directed to your reputation as defense of Calvinism as if it were contending for the faith.

    First off, I would note that I said that the bases for these different views (particularly free will vs. predestination – which, no matter how you slice it was developed from Greek fatalism – and the logical inconsistencies around prayer and God changing His mind) do not have to be contradictory if you remove 1-dimensional, unidirectional time from the equation.

    I’m not sure why this is “postmodern”, since it predates the rise of PM thought by more than a century, and I can’t claim it as my original work.

    Just to delve briefly into the nature of time and string theory – If God exists beyond time and space – i.e. apart from His creation (and I believe that he does, and that there is scriptural evidence of such) – then time does not work the same for Him (as implied in His very name). As such, when we use words like “predestined” and extrapolate this concept – as we understand it – we are placing God within the sphere of time.

    However, if you can grasp the concept of 3-dimensional time (and not many folks can – it escapes my understanding very quickly, though I know physicists who can grasp the concept better than I can), “predestination” no longer holds the same meaning. If God can move forward and backward at will, along with moving from side to side in time, then there are a myriad of potential pasts and futures. However, we know from scripture that there are certain things (X) that God predestines (like giving Hezekiah 15 more years of life). When He does this in 3D-time-space, it is basically like He is closing off all potential futures in which X doesn’t happen. However, this still leaves room for man’s free will (the limited futures within the bounds of God’s will).

    But wait – does that mean that God does not know what man will do? Not in 3D-time-space, because He knows all of the futures, because He can see all of them. But what happens when the future becomes the past? If God sits beyond time and space, then even the past does not have to be static (to Him), even if we perceive it to be so.

    If you have a basic grasp of quantum physics, then it should be obvious that using words like “predestination” in relation to God and then trying to apply our limited working knowledge of time (one-dimensional, one-way) to that same definition is like trying to explain how to stop a 3-dimensional soccer ball with the goalie bar in Pong.

    Additionally, when you remove our limited box of “time” from God, the manifestation of Jesus – God in human form, limited in dimensions and time – and his relationship to God, including his praying in the garden for God to change His mind, begins to make sense, as well, without having to apply limited logic of free will or predestination to the equation.

    In a nutshell – if you remove the one-dimensionality of time from the equation, then there is not a contradiction of free will and predestination, because they are literally two aspects of the same phenomena.

    How can I have certainty that none of the systematized views of God in relation to time is true to the exclusion of others? There, I would go to the Bible. There are examples of places where God has predestined things (like with Hezekiah), and there are examples of places where God makes it apparent that people must make a free-will choice (like with Esther). There are also places where men choose to go against God’s will, but end up being forced in that direction anyway (like Jonah). When any of these views (all of which are man-made extrapolations as to the nature of God) are taken to the extreme, then they have to come up with contortionist reasoning to explain away contradictory passages in scripture. On the other hand, if you accept that each view contains a part of the truth because of the nature (or super-nature, to be accurate) of God, then you are not stuck trying to make less-than-convincing eisegeses of scripture.

    In practice, though, one should live like you have free will to choose – how would you know the difference? One should act like God knows everything that you do and think – in view and in secret – because He does. One should pray like your petitions matter to God and that, like with Hezekiah and Moses, He might have mercy and change His mind – because we have these examples in the Bible. Trying to separate “true” Christians from “false” ones based on a dominant view of systematic theology is unscriptural and does not edify the body of Christ.

    As to “another gospel”, I thought I specified that it was when – in word or practice – that a man-made system is held higher than scripture that it becomes “another gospel”. Mike Ratliff’s comment that “There are two views concerning the Gospel of Jesus Christ. First, there is what we call Calvinism. Then, there are varying degrees of unbelief” (the entire quote from his blog, BtW) would be an example of such elevation. Additionally, and I have only seen a broader contextual quote of Spurgeon’s comment that “Calvinism is the gospel” once – and multiple Calvinists who have quoted these words – and in both cases, the implication was that the Calvinist “system”, which ties multiple concepts together (some biblical, some extrapolational), was the only acceptable gospel. When this is the case, then it is, indeed, “another gospel”.

    As for the passages you cite, some of them (though not John 6) indicate some level of predestination. When you suggest that they are the ONLY way of examining time in relation to God, you have just built an extrabiblical “system”, which might be helpful in explanation, but which also will have its limitations (like Newtonian Physics has its limitations when you get to micro- and macro-scale).

  15. S.J. Walker Says:

    Chris,

    I would be careful about citing too much Scripture to bolster your arguments. You argue that some texts referring to predestination are more derived from Greek fatalism (indicating the tampering of Holy writ to some popular world-views) and that simply because of God’s infinity, and the truth that He is “outside” of time, negate any mention of order of events–never mind the numerous texts that use verbiage like “before the foundations of the world” and others.

    Leave time out of it if you wish, you are partially correct in that assertion. But that really doesn’t change anything. God created time as He did everything else–under His control, and I think He meant what he said every time He made mention of it and how it relates to man throughout both Testaments. Unless those confounded Greeks got a hold on the prophets too.

  16. S.J. Walker Says:

    Oh, and let Joe and the others know that the reply mentioned on CRN.informercial is forthcoming, but will remain incomplete for a while longer.

    And one last thing. This: “So nice to see that you’ve slithered out from underneath your rock, Ken.” is such a good example of what Christian dialog (the lack of it being lamented so much) should be. Good work.

    May God speak to you, and terrify you, and call to you, and love you Chris
    Sam

  17. Nathan White Says:

    Chris, thank you for the apology. No harm done.

    Jim, I thought the article was very good, and I don’t mind at all being associated with it :)

    Chris L said: just to be clear – when Calvinism (or individual solas) are raised to the same level of truth as scripture – in word or practice – it has become “another gospel”…

    Chris, I’d be interested to know if you believe elevating the Trinity up to the point of scriptural truth makes it ‘another gospel’. Do you hold the same standard with this particular doctrine that you do with the helpful definitions of scriptural truth that we use with the solas? What about the doctrine of God altogether? Have we incorrectly labeled Him as a male given this man-made label you speak of and a distinction that He is essentially not bound to? If He is not bound by time, as you argue, and it would be incorrect to try and build truth around those lines, then is He also outside the male/female realm to where we are incorrect in labeling Him as such? Please explain.

    But to the extent that we are certain that the Trinity rightly captures biblical truth, for example, we (and much of church history) are also as certain about the scriptural truth captured in the solas. You may disagree with them, of course, but calling it another gospel because of the importance in which we give them is a little ridiculous.

    Chris said to Jim: “It isn’t surprising that you’re behind this farce”

    I, for one, thought Jim’s article was very charitable, given the strong disagreement. A quick look at your blog reveals a good bit of ridicule, mocking, and condescending rhetoric being hurled at me (for my worship post last week), so I believe that contrasting your place with this article speaks for itself. I’m certainly sensitive to having a charitable and loving conversation, even in disagreement, but I find nothing inappropriate here, by anyone’s standards. Let’s not get upset over a simple critique; people disagree with you, Chris, as you do with us. Let us be able to write about it and discuss it without taken such an offense.

    Chris said: As such, when we use words like “predestined” and extrapolate this concept – as we understand it – we are placing God within the sphere of time…

    Chris, do you recognize that the term ‘predestine’ is a scriptural term? You entire logic breaks down, IMO, when we consider that the Apostle Paul by the Holy Spirit sought to emphasize predestination and election repeatedly to the church. He repeatedly mentioned it and taught it. So I would argue that we are not placing God within the sphere of time, but that the Apostle by the Holy Spirit is instead the one who is seeking to ‘box in’ this issue, complete with an abuse of ‘time’ according to your logic.

    Chris said: How can I have certainty that none of the systematized views of God in relation to time is true to the exclusion of others?…if you accept that each view contains a part of the truth because of the nature (or super-nature, to be accurate) of God, then you are not stuck trying to make less-than-convincing eisegeses of scripture…When you suggest that they are the ONLY way of examining time in relation to God, you have just built an extrabiblical “system”, which might be helpful in explanation, but which also will have its limitations (like Newtonian Physics has its limitations when you get to micro- and macro-scale).

    So the scripture that speak of God the Father as having an arm, or eyes, for example, should be taken as parallel truths to the scriptures that speak of Him being a Spirit without a body? Is it extra-biblical to refer to God as three in one? Do Newtonian Physics help our understanding of the Trinity?

  18. Jim Says:

    Those are some excellent points that Nathan brings up; I may post again in the weeks ahead and bring some of those to the forefront. Chris Lyons is welcome to comment further with his response to Nathan’s questions. Unfortunately, Chris has been mostly silent on the matter since Triablogue picked up on this and did their own coverage of Chris’ unusual theology. I thought I would post a summary of Chris Lyons links here for reference:

    • Pachyderm Theology – Refuting Chris Lyon’s claims against ‘fatalism’, systematic theology, and predestination vs science, at Triablogue.
    • White Elephant Theology – Steve Hays from Triablogue steps in to make further observations on the response from Chris Lyons’ crew.
    • Half-baked Science Meets Half-Baked Relativism – Triablogue demonstrates how Chris Lyons’ rejection of Systematic Theology has left him with self-refuting relativism and appeals to science.
    • Calvinist Anathema – Old Truth examines Chris Lyons’ claims of ‘another gospel’ for Calvinists, while he simultaneously calls for tolerance from others.
    • Predestinarians Produce Bad Fruit? – Answering Chris Lyons’ claim that ardent belief in Election results in bad fruit / poor evangelism, on OldTruth.com
    • Systematic Theology Leads to Divisive Failure: In Chris Lyons’ own words – why he thinks Systematic Theology is harmful to Christianity.
  19. Darrin Says:

    Jim,
    It took me a while to finally read this post, but I really appreciate your words. Indeed distinguishing mystery from revelation is an important, sometimes arduous task, which the church sadly often fails to be diligent about. The silly, arrogant Emerging Church mentality appears to be established in pockets of our Baptist churches as well. How critical that we thankfully accept all that He has shown us, and not set man’s judgment anywhere near the scriptural revelation of God.


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