As Jesus stood before Pilate, being examined for the “crimes” he had committed, the Roman procurator asked him who he was. Jesus replied that he had come into the world to testify to the truth, that whoever loved truth would listen to him. Pilate retorted “What is truth?” It is probably the most profound and yet most simple question a man could pose. What is truth? It is only in view of seeking to answer this question that the history of philosophy and theology can be correctly understood. Mankind through the ages has sought to discover a unifying explanation for reality which can be looked upon as the answer to this search, a rational description which will provide meaning to life’s many sided mysteries. In one sense we could say that this question describes man, a being who comes into the world desiring to know, desiring to satisfy the question “Why?” Everyone of us faces this question even if we do not all pursue it in the same way. No one is exempt from that nagging curiosity to perceive whether or not life is meaningful and ultimately significant, and where we fit in the picture. From the person on the street to the student or professor in the university this question is of utmost importance. What is truth?
Essentially this question is the question of epistemology. How do we know and how do we know that we actually do know? In other words, what is the foundation of human knowledge, what are its limits and guidelines? Can we know things for certain or is our knowledge ultimately unreliable? Can we trust our reason and understanding or must we put in question the very things upon which we must rely if we are to come to know anything? These are not trivial questions or questions which only affect the philosophically minded and highly educated. True, these people tend to be those who have really addressed the problems, but every one of us is involved in the question of knowledge and truth. If we are to have answers to the basic questions of our lives, and it appears that we cannot be satisfied without at least trying to discover them, then we must come to understand what constitutes knowledge, what constitutes truth.
No where is this more vitally important than in the field of Christian theology. Theology is an attempt to describe the nature of ultimate reality by reference to the existence of the Absolute-Personal God who has created the universe and also made man in his own image. Theology is an attempt to answer the “whys” by giving a unified explanation for the various puzzles and oddities which make up our personal and corporate worlds. Much of it seems chaotic, yet other aspects seem to suggest that it really does have some underlying explanation or meaning. Does such a view truly exist? This is the question which theology has attempted to answer in the affirmative. But is this attempt a success? Much of this depends on whether or not theology meets the requirements for what is knowledge and truth. One can create a fine explanation to account for just about anything but this does not in any way guarantee that what one has created has any relation to reality or that it is the truth. It may be nothing more than wishful thinking and creative genius. If we are to know that it is the true answer then we must come to understand what truth is and how it can be known.
The Problem Of Antinomies
The purpose of this book is to correct a tendency which has begun to creep into Christian theology in our century. It has been present in past generations but not in any significant way as it has come to be in our generation. I am referring to the tendency to explain theologically difficult concepts by appeal to the fact that they are “antimonies.” Essentially, an antinomy is a doctrine which contains two apparently contradictory concepts which cannot be held side by side to be true when viewed in the light of human reason but which are nonetheless taught in scripture and must be accepted as both being true despite the fact that one cannot perceive a unifying explanation to the truth of each of the concepts. Much of theology is believed to be of this nature and it has become popular to speak of the “twofoldness of divine truth.” An example of this kind of view is found in J.I. Packer’s “Evangelism & The Sovereignty Of God.” In presenting the idea of God’s sovereignty in an individual’s salvation and the responsibility to evangelize, Packer asserts that the issue is an antinomy because God’s sovereignty seems to rule out the necessity of evangelism, yet we are commanded to evangelize anyway. He defines an antinomy as follows:
It is an apparent incompatibility between two apparent truths. An antinomy exists when a pair of principles stand side by side, seemingly irreconcilable, yet both undeniable.
The most striking example of this concept is the book “God, I don’t understand” by Kenneth Boa. This entire book is dedicated to presenting the view that certain teachings of the Bible are irreconcilable to our understanding and require that we accept contradictory ideas. Boa writes:
We need a word which describes the fact that God’s revelation to man sometimes goes beyond the level of human reasoning and comprehension by stating as factual two things which men cannot reconcile. The word antinomy describes these phenomena in God’s Word. Antinomy is defined by Webster as “a contradiction between two equally valid principles or between inferences correctly drawn from such principles.”
This word can be broken down into two parts: anti (against) and namos (law), and it simply means “against the law” of human reasoning. What is quite comprehensible to God may be “anti-nomial” to man. Some things in the Scriptures may be difficult to comprehend, others may be obvious antinomies, and still others may only be possible antinomies.
Boa draws analogies of the difference of comprehension between man and lower forms of life such as his common house pet, the dog. Dogs have a certain common ground with man in that they walk, they eat, they “play.” These are things which we have in common with dogs. Therefore on these levels we can envision a certain understanding on the part of dogs when they see us walk, eat, play. But other activities which we participate in are simply beyond a dog’s comprehension. Reading or writing might be a good example. Dog’s cannot comprehend these ideas at all and no matter what we did to try to communicate these ideas to them, they would remain completely unable to perceive how they could be true. These things are simply beyond the comprehension of dogs. In a similar way Boa suggests that God’s reason is infinitely beyond our reason and consequently things may be perceived to be true for him which would nonetheless be incomprehensible to us. Things which he sees to be the truth might very well appear to be contradictions to us. Such apparent contradictions do not stem from the fact that they truly are contradictions ultimately, but from the fact that we are limited in our outlook when viewing the things of God.
Because of this understanding various theologians urge us to accept the antinomies of scripture without trying to put them together. We are simply to suspend our reason and “believe anyway” when what the Bible says does not make sense to our limited human reason. Who are we to expect things to make sense to us? Again Boa writes:
It would be the height of egotism for a person to say that because an idea in the Bible does not make sense (does not conform to his reasoning), it cannot be true and the Bible must be in error on this point.
Such is the position to which much modern theology has led. It is a very sad place to have come because it really removes all possibility of knowing what the Bible says at all. If we are supposed to accept contradictions then how do we know that what we think the Bible says is really what it says? If it is possible for things which really do not make sense to be true then how do we decide between the different interpretations that are given for various parts of scripture? Should we make it our rule to reject the most sensible explanations because these are immediately suspect of elevating human reason above its proper sphere? But how do we know they make the best sense? Is it not human reason which tells us that they make sense? How do we know we can trust our human reason that they really do make the most sense and therefore should be rejected? Maybe they really do not make the best sense and our limited reason is only making us think they make the most sense. Does this all make sense?
Where Did The Idea Of Antinomies Come From?
I think there is a historical explanation for the fact that we have arrived at such a precarious position in our theology. The church has had a history of division over doctrine. Ever since the first century when the New Testament was originally given, men in the church have been divided over its meaning and import. Early on heresies arose which attempted to deny the deity of Christ. Statements of faith were brought forth to counter these and the doctrine of the trinity and the incarnation were formulated in creedal form. Then it was the salvation question. Does God choose us or do we choose him? For years and years it has been going on and sometimes it is just plain embarrassing to have to say “Yes, that’s all a part of my heritage.” Sometimes they went so far as to put people to death for believing differently than they did. Well after several centuries of this, the church has gotten kind of tired of all the bickering and division over differences. It seems pretty clear that we are never going to all agree about everything. So what is the solution, do we just never talk to each other again? For some that has been the decision but for many others it is felt that this defeats the purpose of Christianity, to make us one in Christ. For others it has resulted in down playing doctrine entirely and just emphasizing the experiential aspects of the faith. Fellowship, fun times, and coffee have replaced the earlier tensions of orthodox adherence. Unfortunately this has its problems too. If it no longer matters what we believe to call ourselves Christians then might we not conclude that everybody is a Christian? It is out of this desire to get along and to let everybody be a part who appears to be genuinely Christian that this new theological approach has arisen. Essentially it is an attempt to take all the things which Christians have disagreed about or have had difficulty deciding on and to integrate them into one system of thought where all these apparently contradictory concepts can be included and recognized as valid. Thus, the antinomy. Now there is no more reason to fight because we are both right and we are both wrong. Well, that is, there are two sides to the truth and we just cannot see how they go together. But that is different from saying I am right and you are wrong or that you are right and I am wrong. We just have both come to appreciate one side or other of the divine truths. But the best position is to accept them both and not to try to put them together. Just accept that God has said it and be happy with that. Sound good? I don’t think so.
What Are We Supposed To Believe?
The reason I am so concerned about this is that it shows a great naivety on our part about knowledge and truth. It shows that we are too eager to dismiss what is very truly a problem by taking an easy way out rather than trying to tackle the problem. The difficulty with this approach is that, as usual, the easy way out creates more problems than it solves. We described a few of these a moment ago. We must have a foundation for knowledge or we cannot know anything, not even what the Bible is saying. The issue is not simply to accept a teaching. The issue is to know what is being taught so that we know what it is we are being asked to accept. To say we can just accept the Bible without being able to understand it is ludicrous. Before we understand, we cannot know what it is we are expected to accept. And there must be a criterion for meaning and truth if we are to be able to believe it. This was so bravely faced by the Logical Positivists earlier in this century. They sought to develop a criterion for truth, a method of determining whether statements had any factual meaning or possible significance and how one could know that they did. I can make the statement “Oh look, there is a drofwhistle” but it really has no meaning unless you know what it would mean for there to be a drofwhistle. In the same way, any statement claiming to be true must be comprehensible if it is to warrant our acceptance or rejection. The Positivists suggested that a statement could only be comprehensible if we could know what circumstances would falsify or verify the statement or would both falsify and verify it. For instance the statement “There is a dog in the other room” can be falsified or verified by going into the other room and looking. In this example the statement can both be falsified and verified. For other statements we can only do one or the other. “All birds fly” cannot be verified because we cannot see all birds. Even if we had not yet found a bird which did not fly this would not mean there could not be a bird we had not yet found. But the statement can be falsified. All we have to do is discover one bird which does not fly and we have done so. Conversely “Unicorns exists” can be verified but we could not falsify it. It is conceivable we could come across such a creature and this would verify the statement but our not having come across one would not guarantee that we might not find one at a later date, therefore it is not falsifiable.
The purpose of proposing a criterion of factual significance . . . is to delimit the type of expression which has possible reference to fact from other types which do not have this kind of significance: the emotive, the logico-mathematical, the purely formal, and – if there should be such – the completely non-significant.
So what does this all have to do with antimonies and theology? What it has to do with is how we know what we mean by our statements and then how we can know whether our statements are true or not. We have to be able to know what it is that we are being asked to believe in scripture if we are to believe it. Therefore there must be a criterion for determining the meaningfulness and truth of a statement. Although it is now generally believed that the Positivists were in error to suggest that a sentence had no meaning at all if what would falsify or verify it could not be described,  the verification principle is still important to the question of meaning of statements and the claim that they are true. Although it is asking too much to say that a statement only has meaning if its verification or falsification can be described, it is still true that we cannot understand the statement except as asserting one thing and denying another. And we can only know it to be true through a method of verification. The only criterion we as human beings have at our disposal is that which the Positivists have pointed out. Unless we can know what it would mean to prove a statement false or true we are not saying anything about the way things really are. But the only thing which would show a statement to be true is if its contradiction was not true, and the only thing which would falsify a statement is if its contradiction was found to be true. The meaning of a statement is determined by the truth claim it makes that one thing is so and that the opposite is not so. This puts antinomies in a pretty precarious position because an antinomy claims that both a statement and its contradiction are true. What then is truth? If opposites are both true then is there anything that is true at all? Is there any meaning to anything we say? We do not just have the cart before the horse here, they are both riding side by side and they are headed full speed ahead down a cliff into a bottomless pit.
Let’s Be Logical
An antinomy is a total violation of the laws of logic. The basic axioms of logic are that existence exists, is what it is, is not its opposite, and is either one thing or another. A is A. A is not non-A. A thing is either A or non-A. These are simple concepts which we are not free to dismiss because they form the foundation of what truth is. Let’s look at these principles using one of the supposed antinomies of scripture, the election of believers for salvation by God. (In our discussion we will consider the phrase “God chose me” to mean that he predestined my salvation without my own choice or say and that I could not refuse this salvation. We will consider the phrase “I chose God” to mean I did have a choice and that God did not irresistibly bring about my salvation.) If I choose God then I choose God. A is A. If I choose God then God did not choose me. A is not non-A. Either I chose God or God chose me. A thing is either A or non-A. This is basic logic. This is not some kind of depraved reasoning, it is the fundamentals which make up any knowledge claim. The Bible speaks of the doctrine of election. What does this doctrine mean? We have stated it in our example. It either means that God chose me or I chose him. If it means the one then it means the one. If it means the one then it does not mean the other. If I claim that it means both I am contradicting myself and am not making sense. What do I mean he chooses me and I choose him? What would falsify the statement that he chooses me and I choose him? What would verify it? If we cannot answer these questions then the statement is not saying anything about reality. It can only be saying something of factual significance if we can envision what it would mean to verify what it is saying or to falsify what it is saying. Perhaps another extension of our example is in order.
If I say “God chooses me” it is simple to envision what it would mean to verify this. It would be to discover that although I thought I was free in my choice, it actually was manipulated by God in such a fashion that I really did not have a choice, I only thought I did. If we were to falsify this statement we would discover that God really left the decision up to me and ultimately it was my choice, God did not force me. The statement therefore is a meaningful sentence which we can know the meaning of. It may or may not be true but we definitely know what it is claiming to be the case. The same is so for its opposite “I choose God.” In either case we have meaningful sentences. But such is not the case with the antinomial statement “God chose me and I chose God.” The statement is internally contradictory. How could it be shown to be true? How could it be shown to be false? The fact is it is two statements. It is the statement of a situation and the statement of its opposite. We cannot accept two opposite statements as true because they cannot be true. A statement is only true if it can be verified. But it can only be verified by demonstrating that its contradiction is false. How can we do this when an antinomy combines a statement and its contradiction? What is truth if antinomies are true? For that matter what is falsehood? Do these not become meaningless terms when dealt with in this fashion?
Is This Just Because We’re Human?
Perhaps a word of clarification is in order here. We said earlier that antinomies are only considered to be contradictions on our level because of our human limitations. We said that the truths of antinomies might be true for God just as many things which men know would be nonsense to a dog. Have we not simply argued what every good advocate of antinomies already knows, that the truths of antinomies do not fit human reason? In one sense this is exactly what we have argued. We have shown that the statements made in antinomies cannot be true from the standpoint of reason. But this is not all we have shown. We have also shown that we cannot even know what the statement asks us to believe. It has no meaning unless we can perceive what its verification or falsification would be. It is not only that we are rejecting that opposites can be true. More fundamentally it is that we cannot even know what the antinomy means which we are being asked to believe. Belief is assent to truth. Truth has content that can be comprehended. Since comprehension of the truth of an antinomy is not possible, we cannot know what it is we are being asked to believe.
At this point the advocate of antinomies might say that we are being asked to believe that opposites can be true and then that the particular opposites dealt with in the antinomy are the particular contradictions which we are to believe both are true. But what are we being asked to do here? We are being asked to believe in the truth of falsity. That is, truth is the fact that opposites are not true. A is A. A is not non-A. We are therefore being asked on the basis of the fact that opposites are not true to conclude that opposites are true. The basic law of logic is that opposites are not true. This is how we know what is true and what is not true, by whether its opposite is shown to be the case or not. What then would it mean that opposites are true? Wouldn’t it mean that we discovered that our idea of truth was mistaken? The only way we could know an antinomy is true is if we discovered that opposites can be true. But the very idea of truth itself excludes this possibility because what an antinomy is claiming is the exact opposite of what truth is. An antinomy cannot be true because it is a complete denial of truth. In other words either antinomies are impossible or there is no such thing as truth because the idea of an antinomy requires the denial of the basic test of truth. How can I hold that the statement “opposites are true” is true because its opposite “opposites are not true” is not true? Am I not assuming what I am trying to deny in my very argument to assert that antinomies are true? Isn’t this pulling ourselves up by the bootstraps or rather cutting our own head off? The basic principles of logic cannot be violated. To violate them is to affirm them. This is so because they really are the only criteria for truth, be it God’s truth or anyone else’s truth. You cannot deny logic and reason. The basic axioms of logic are the only basis upon which any argument can be founded. As Ayn Rand says:
An axiomatic concept is the identification of a primary fact of reality, which cannot be analyzed, i.e., reduced to other facts or broken into component parts. It is implicit in all facts and in all knowledge. It is the fundamentally given and directly perceived or experienced, which requires no proof or explanation, but on which all proofs and explanations rest.
. . . there is a way to ascertain whether a given concept is axiomatic or not: one ascertains it by observing the fact that an axiomatic concept cannot be escaped, that it is implicit in all knowledge, that it has to be accepted and used even in the process of any attempt to deny it (italics mine).
Some things may be hard for us to understand with our limited outlook, just as it is for that little dog to comprehend our actions. But this limitation of outlook does not change the criteria of truth. It merely says that we have not yet comprehended the coherence of the Bible’s statements. This being the case we may not know what the Bible is saying, it may be talking Greek to us. But one thing it is not saying is that opposites are true. If we have a question before our minds where we think it is claiming two opposite things, we are mistaken and should continue to look for the correct viewpoint which shows that this is not the case. It will never do to sacrifice our knowledge to the irrational. God made our minds to work like his. Truth is true because it is what it is and it is not the opposite. This will be the case for eternity. Far from our unwillingness to accept contradictory teachings from the Bible being an act of egotism, it is in fact a recognition that we cannot be understanding the Bible’s statements correctly if we are seeing it to contradict in its statements.
Depraved Reasoning Is Illogical Reasoning
To put this in the terms of our example, if God chose me then I did not choose him. We do not accept both of these statements because there is no way in the existing universe and reality that they ever could both be true. The sooner we recognize this and get back to objective truth and proper epistemology the better. Knowledge claims must adhere to the basic principles of logic or they do not deserve the status of knowledge. It has become customary in Christian circles to distrust human reason on the charge that man’s fall into sin has degraded his ability to reason properly about divine facts. This view is brought out very clearly by Francis Schaeffer in his book Escape From Reason. In discussing the failure of rationalistic philosophy to discover a unified explanation for reality Schaeffer traces this failure to Thomas Aquinas’ attempt to demonstrate the rationality of belief in God by appeal to Natural Theology, and his belief that the fall into sin has not affected man’s ability to reason correctly about these truths.
In Aquinas’ view the will of man was fallen, but the intellect was not. From this incomplete view of the biblical Fall flowed all the subsequent difficulties. Man’s intellect became autonomous. In one realm man was now independent, autonomous.
Thus Schaeffer, along with many Christians, believes that man’s mind is no longer trustworthy to evaluate the truths of God and must simply accept the statements of revelation without requiring that they make sense. Man’s mind is depraved by sin and unable to reason correctly. The difficulty of this view is that it requires a blind acceptance that scripture is revelation since one is said not to be able to reason to the existence of God. If one has no reasonable assurance that God exists then how does one know that one can accept scripture as revelation, since the idea of revelation presupposes someone to do the revealing. If the reply is made that man’s mind is depraved by sin and thus cannot know and must simply accept that this is so, the response in return would be, how do we know man’s mind is depraved? We appear only to know this by revelation, but this is what we are questioning and cannot be used as the basis for asserting man’s depravity. The argument is circular. We only know man’s mind is depraved by revelation, and because of this depravity we cannot know that the Bible is a revelation. Consequently we cannot know that our minds are depraved and that we should therefore accept our inability to demonstrate that the Bible is a revelation from God. Despite Schaeffer’s fear that our insistence on rational evidence for belief is a kind of sinful “autonomy” it is difficult to see how else one can substantiate belief since to simply accept that scripture is revelation without such evidence is a “leap of faith,” which Schaeffer himself condemns in the writings of Kierkegaard. Contrary to Schaeffer, others would argue that the failure of modern philosophy is not because of an inherent defect in man’s reason or in making man’s mind autonomous, but that in fact we have no other starting point than our reason and the failure of philosophy has been because of a breakdown of the reasoning process on the part of philosophers. The appeal to faith as an alternate to reason is built on the assumption that reason is somehow defective but it is difficult to see how this can be shown to be true without assuming that reason is sufficient to demonstrate this, in other words, is not defective. As we said before, we cannot invalidate reason and its principles without affirming what we are trying to invalidate. We are forced to conclude with George H. Smith:
The main source of the conflict between reason and faith lies in the second stage of the faith argument. Before the Christian can bring faith to the rescue, he must convince us that something needs to be rescued; he requires a victim to save. This is why he directs most of his energy to creating the epistemological need for faith through denying the efficacy of reason. . . . We shall argue, in effect, that faith cannot rescue us from the inadequacies of reason simply because reason is not inadequate.
This conclusion seems inevitable. Man’s mind is not so depraved that he cannot think straight any more. Admittedly people can go about deceiving themselves when they do not want to hear what God says but such self deception is not done on the basis of reason but completely in spite of it. The man who denies God’s existence must do so against the evidence of his own consciousness and existence. The man who denies the truth of God’s moral law does so against the testimony of his own conscience. All this is quite possible and demonstrates depraved reasoning but this is so because it contradicts the laws of logic. A person in this position is choosing not to acknowledge what he perceives to be the case. In other words he is claiming that opposites are true, he is trying to claim that what he wants to be so is the case even though he knows it is not. This is the kind of reasoning which the Bible refers to as depraved reasoning. It is reasoning which is guided not by evidence and logic but by personal preference. Romans chapter 1 says that men know God but choose not to acknowledge him as God and thus become vain in their reasoning. The only difference between such reasoning and the reasoning behind antinomian theology is that the latter puts blind faith no matter what the evidence in the place where personal preference sits for the former. Both cases demonstrate a breakdown of the reasoning process because of a complete denial of the laws of logic and reality and a committal to some artificial and unjustifiable position in spite of evidence to the contrary.
We Need A Commitment To Truth
I would be the first to admit that theology is a messy business. It is a complex study which involves great intellectual exertion and labour. If one is going to have a systematic theology which unifies reality and gives a total picture of the universe and of existence then one is going to have to struggle many times with questions well beyond one’s personal capacity to comprehend and tackle. I have experienced many trials and times of great agony as I wrestled with concepts which did not seem to fit together or to have a coherent meaning. But struggle I have and time after time I have seen answers to my questions. Often these came after many days of prayerful honesty and inquiry. Sometimes it took a reassessment of many previously cherished positions and sometimes it took months of thought or searching through books until someone was found who had come to a solution that fit. This is doubtlessly an endless exercise since every new particle of truth opens up new horizons and brings up new questions. It will always involve throwing out ideas or readjusting them to fit new evidence. This must be the case. Many questions exist simply because we still hold to incorrect concepts. These questions can only be answered by eliminating these wrong concepts and replacing them with the right ones. This can be a painful process. It can mean facing the rejection of peers who refuse to be flexible to truth and would rather sit in some comfortable system which they have decided is the truth. Surely such a position is not tenable. How can limited human beings claim to have come to the end of their search for understanding? Did not God intend that our relationship with him would be one of continual growth in knowledge and comprehension? Did not even Jesus say that eternal life is knowing God? Does not Paul tell us in Ephesians 2 that God desires to show us the incomparable riches of his grace in the ages to come? I never get the impression we will ever be through with learning. What an exciting thing, to be ever increasing in our knowledge of God and his truth! What a fulfilling thing this is for us!
No, the way of ignorance or stagnation is not acceptable. The way of accepting contradictions will not suffice. It cannot suffice. We cannot retain an honest position toward God and accept things which contradict. And we must be careful not to do this if we are to have a credible voice with men and women in this world. They need to know God. They need to see that God can be known and comprehended. Many people reject Christianity because of its apparent irrationality. It will not help for us to turn around and make such irrationality a cardinal doctrine of the church. Better to admit simply that we have not yet come to comprehend the logical coherence of our belief system but are still committed to discovering where the answers lie, than to make the “proud” assertion that such contradictions are a part of the mystery of God and his “otherness.” Such a view goes against the whole tenure of scripture which insists that God is not “other” but is knowable. We must not be guilty of misrepresenting God or of presenting God as a contradiction which cannot stand up to rational verification and scrutiny. We may not have all the answers but let’s not blame God for that. Let us commit ourselves to discovering more and more the coherence of our belief. Let us confidently recognize that if Christianity is truth then it contains no contradictions and can withstand any kind of scrutiny that it can be brought under. Let us not cherish anything but truth. Committed to truth we cannot fail. Who wants to continue to believe something that is not true? Why believe something which is not true or cannot be demonstrated to be true? Can we believe something we are not convinced is true?
In the following chapters we will address some of the questions brought up by Christian theology and some of the apparent difficulties which have resulted in some theologians opting for the belief that they are antinomies which require the acceptance of contradictions on the claim that they are not contradictions for God. I am indebted to Kenneth Boa for the most complete collection of these ideas to date and will essentially discuss the same articles of doctrine which he addresses in his book. I should also point out that I have no quarrel with this author as a man or as a brother in Christ and also respect his position, having personally held to it for some time before becoming convinced that it was untenable and actually harmful to our presentation of the claims of Christianity. We will examine each of these ideas and look at the explanations that have been given as well as some of the supposed heresies which have arisen by holding to one or the other side of the issue. We will then attempt to give a coherent explanation which satisfactorily unifies the concepts in question without requiring a violation of the laws of logic and truth. But as Mr. Boa himself points out:
When a person insists on trying to subject the two contradictory elements contained in a biblical antinomy to human comprehension, he will inevitably, though perhaps subtly, move to one extreme or to the other. The only way to rationalize an antinomy is to remove the tension between the two contradictory elements by essentially ignoring one or the other.
This seems to me to be an inevitable result of the laws of logic. Since contradictions cannot be true, there must be some other explanation for one element or other in the alleged antinomy. We simply have not understood one or the other element and consequently have come up with a contradiction in our beliefs. The solution is not to accept a contradiction but to search more thoroughly for an explanation which unifies the two concepts by redefining one or the other in such a way that it demonstrates their coherence and rationality. We must remember that the issue we are discussing and our basic premise is that the idea of an antinomy is not acceptable. Therefore there is no problem with “rationalizing an antinomy” to “remove the tension.” Antinomies do not exist and it is therefore imperative that we seek a unifying explanation. The only necessary proviso for such a unity is that it retain the ideas which are strictly necessary regarding both elements in question as they relate to the overall scriptural picture. It will obviously not do us any good to give an explanation which removes us from being Bible believing and Christian in the Biblical sense. We may have to discard some traditional ways of seeing these things but we must be careful to remain in the mainstream of the Bible’s thoughts and ideas. If the Bible is consistent, as we claim that it is, then all of its ideas must dovetail together. What we seek then is a unity which will preserve the essential Biblical element for both sides of the alleged antinomy in question and still provide a rational explanation for what the two elements mean and how they are understood to be consistent with one another and non-contradictory. In some cases this unity will be concise, in other cases it will be speculative. I do not claim to have decided finally on all of these concepts but I think that for the sake of contemporary communication it is well time that we rethink many of our ideas and seek to find a more rational understanding of what the Bible is teaching. If it is true then it must make sense. If it does not make sense then it cannot be true, at least not in the form which we are presently seeing it. Some people feel that such examination must surely lead to heresy because it elevates man’s mind beyond what God has revealed. Such is an empty charge since as we have seen we do not even know what it is that God has revealed until we know what the statements of scripture mean; and we can only know what they mean if we have a rational understanding of them; and we can only have a rational understanding of them if we know what it would mean to falsify or verify them; and we can only know what this means if we accept a definition of the Bible’s statements which does not allow that opposites be true. Therefore, like it or not, we must approach the issue in this fashion. While we must always remain open to being corrected and to changing whenever we see new truth, we must insist that whatever we come to believe must make sense. We have no other choice. Knowledge has certain rules which we are not free to break. If we break them they will break us. The history of philosophical skepticism is an example of this fact.
Join The Adventure!
But they need not break us. We need not fear that they will and we may very well be pleasantly surprised to find out that the Bible is a coherent manuscript which satisfies our need to know logically the way things are. It takes great bravery to venture in this direction but the rewards are great for such a venture. Many great expeditions and adventures have required the willingness to put all on the line and to explore previously uncharted territories, but all the greatest advancements of history have started with such a story. Could it be that our generation of Christians is about to discover a great treasure which has laid hidden for years under the debris of tired ideas and traditions? Could it be that in this age of reason and rational demand that we are going to discover a treasure to bring rational man to his proper place of worship and submission to God? The challenge lies before us. It is ours to accept or refuse. Many turned back because the journey looked hard and trying. They spared themselves great labour and turmoil but they also missed the satisfaction of the discovery of new worlds. Will you turn back or will you press on? You must decide that now. If you wish to turn back and remain in a comfortable place then fine. That is your right. But if you will continue and press on with me I desire to lead you into new territory, which is only beginning to be penetrated. Do you have the sense of adventure? Then join me.
1. See a pamphlet published by Christian Publications, Inc. by R. Govett entitled “The Twofoldness Of Divine Truth.”
2. J.I. Packer, Evangelism & The Sovereignty Of God, (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1961), pg. 18.
3. Kenneth Boa, God, I don’t understand, (Wheaton, Illinois: Victor Books, 1971), pg. 13.
4. Ibid, pg. 12.
5. Ibid, pg. 14.
6. Kenneth H. Klein, Positivism And Christianity (The Hague, Netherlands: Martinus Nijhoff, 1974), pg. 76.
7. For one very good discussion showing that the verification principle is insufficient as a criterion of meaning see Richard Swinburne, The Coherence Of Theism (Oxford, England, 1977). Essentially Swinburne points out that we would have to possess a catalogue of all possible observation statements, along with a description of what can be derived from them, in order to use the verification principle. This would require that we know what was meaningful in order to know what was observable. The argument is circular. Swinburne concludes that a statement has meaning provided the words are defined the same way they are in statements where their meaning is clear, and they are used according to grammatical rules defined by other clear statements. Whether or not we know what would verify or falsify a statement does not determine whether it can have meaning to us. However, it cannot have meaning if we do not know what is being asserted and this requires that it is affirming one thing and denying the other. And if we are to know the truth of the statement then its verification or falsification must be assertainable. Thus the Positivist criterion is still relevant both in reference to the meaning and the truth of a statement.
8. Insert Taylor quote, “When a man turns on reason, reason turns on him.
9. Ayn Rand, Introduction To Objectivist Epistemology, (New York and Scarborough, Ontario: Mentor, 1979), pg. 73.
10. Ibid, pg. 79.
11. Francis A. Schaeffer, Escape From Reason, (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1968), pg. 11
12. I am aware that presuppositional apologetics accepts this circularity, and concludes one can only escape it through an irresistible act of God’s grace where one is brought to “know” the Bible is God’s revelation. No one except God’s “chosen” have this knowledge. These views are expressed by Cornelius Van Til and Gordon Clarke in their writings. A separate appendix addresses their position in detail.
13. Ibid, pg. 46-47
14. George H. Smith, ATHEISM The Case Against God, (Buffalo, New York: Prometheus Books, 1979), pg. 126
15. Kenneth Boa, pg. 14-15.
Copyright 2019 Kel Good. This publication may be copied freely as long as no alteration is made to the text. For more information write: Kel Good via What I Believe This Week (www.whatibelievethisweek.com)