“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|