The following is taken from Robert Reymond’s excellent volume; A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith which is arguably the one systematic theology no thinking Christian can do without. I post the following in the hope to perhaps shake men like Lane Keister from their Vantillian slumber and as a warning to any young man considering entering seminary not to drink the Kool-Aid.
Bible students should be solicitous to interpret the Scriptures in a noncontadictory way; they should strive to harmonize Scripture with Scripture because the Scriptures reflect the thought of a single divine mind.
But many of our finest modern evangelical scholars are insisting that even after the human interpreter has understood the Bible correctly, it will often represent its truth to the human existent – even the believing human existent [see Lane Keister – SG] – in paradoxical terms, that is, in terms “taught unmistakably in the infallible word of God,” which while not actually contradictory, nevertheless “cannot possibly be reconciled before the bar of human reason.” [R.B. Kuiper] It is commonly declared, for example, that the doctrines of the Trinity, the hypostatic union of the divine and human natures in the person of Christ, God’s sovereignty and human responsibility, unconditional election and the sincere offer of the gospel, and particular redemption and the universal offer of the gospel are all biblical paradoxes, each respectively advancing antithetical truths unmistakably taught in the Word of God that cannot possibly reconciled by human reason. James I. Packer likewise affirms the presence of such paradoxes in Scripture in his Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, although h prefers the term “antinomy” to “paradox.” He writes:
An antinomy -in theology at any rate-is not a real contradiction, though it looks like one. 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…. [an antinomy] is insoluble…. What should one do, then, with an antinomy? Accept it for what it is, and learn to live with it. Refuse to regard the apparent contradiction as real.
Cornelius Van Til even declares that, because human knowledge is “only analogical” to God’s knowledge, all Christian truth will finally be paradoxical, that all Christian truth will ultimately appear to be contradictory to the human existent.
[Antinomies] are involved in the fact that human knowledge can never be completely comprehensive knowledge. Every knowledge transaction has in it somewhere a reference point to God. Now since God is not fully comprehensible to us we are bound to come into what seems to be contradictions in all our knowledge. Our knowledge is analogical and therefore must be paradoxical.
While we shun as poison the idea of the really contradictory we embrace with passion the idea of the apparently contradictory.
All teaching of Scripture is apparently contradictory.
All the truths of the Christian religion have of necessity the appearance of being contradictory … We do not fear to accept that which has the appearance of being contradictory…. In the case of common grace, as in the case of every other biblical doctrine, we should seek to take all the factors of Scripture teaching and bind them together into systematic relations with one another as far as we can. But we do not expect to have a logically deducible relationship between one doctrine and another. We expect to have only an analogical system.
What should one say respecting this oft-repeated notion that the Bible will often (always, according to Van Til) set forth its truths in irreconcilable terms? To say the least, one must conclude, if such is the case, that it condemns at the outset as futile even the attempt at the systematic (orderly) theology that Van Til calls for in the last source cited, since it is impossible to reduce to a system irreconcilable paradoxes that steadfastly resist all attempts at harmonious systematization. One must be content simply to live theologically with a series of “discontinuities.”
Now if nothing more could or were to be said, this is already problematic enough because of the implications such a construction carries regarding the nature of biblical truth. But more can and must be said. First, the proffered definition of “paradox” (or antinomy) as two truths which are both unmistakably taught in the Word of God but which also cannot possibly be reconciled before the bar of human reason is itself inherently problematical, for the one who so defines the term is suggesting by implication that either he knows by means of an omniscience that is not normally in human possession that no one is capable of reconciling the truths in question or he has somehow universally polled everyone who has ever lived, is living now, and will live in the future and has discovered that not one has been able, is able, or will be able to reconcile the truths. But it goes without saying that neither of these conditions is or can be true. Therefore, the very assertion that there are paradoxes. so defined, in Scripture is seriously flawed by the terms of the definition itself. There is no way to know if such a phenomenon is present in Scripture. Merely because any number of scholars have failed to reconcile to their satisfaction two given truths of Scripture is no proof that the truths cannot be harmonized. And if just one scholar claims to have reconciled the truths to his or her own satisfaction, this ipso facto renders the definition both gratuitous and suspect. (more…)