Thursday, May 05, 2011

Predestination v.s. Free-will: A fresh approach


'Predestination v.s. Free Will' is a perennial debate. What follows is a perspective that I have developed concerning the issue.

First of all, the theological discussion on this topic is not primarily concern over objective truth per se, but subjective sensibility. Those who insist on the truthfulness of one position is in essence asserting one's subjective inclination for senses (i. e. meaningfulness) over the disagreeing party. To get what this means, one has to understand the rationale in both schools of thought.
Predestination-ism:
Those who are for predestination assumes that our appreciation for meaning of anything can only be derived from God's sovereignty. Therefore (a) the Creator's sovereignty is absolute and necessary, while (b) the creation's/creatures' are contingent or necessarily not necessary. Hence in order for us to make sense of anything (for e.g. our salvation), we have to affirm both (a) and (b).

Unless we affirm both, we (the subjects) cannot construe and possess any meaning in anything (can't fully be assured of our salvation). And by 'anything', that includes our (subjective) appreciation of human's consciousness and decision. Hence, if the Creator's sovereignty is compromised, predestinationists believe that we have lost the ground to affirm our capacity to arrive at meaning; placing us in the position of not able to know or understand anything at all.

Free-will-ism:
Those who are for free-will assumes that our appreciation for meaning of anything can only be derived from human's consciousness and decision. Therefore (a1) human's consciousness and decision are absolute and necessary, while (b1) God's is contingent. Hence in order for us to make sense of anything, we have to affirm both (a1) and (b1).

Unless we affirm both, we (the subjects) cannot construe and possess any meaning in anything. And by 'anything', that includes our (subjective) appreciation of God's sovereignty. Hence, if human's consciousness and decision are compromised, free-willists believe that we have lost the ground to affirm our capacity to arrive at meaning; placing us in the position of not able to know or understand anything at all.
Understanding the rationale underneath both systems of thought reveals that the predestinationists and free-willists affirm what they affirm due to the very same reason: that is to secure the human's capacity to arrive at and appreciate meaning. In other words, to be sensible.

Therefore it is the subjective sensibility that grounds and motivates both groups to affirm what they affirm rather than their possession of objective truth for their conclusion (which they often claim to be the case).

Besides both groups' relentless desire to protect human's capacity to appreciate meaning, both sides also share the following three affirmations:
1) Ontological distinction between God and us. (God/human freedom, God/human sovereignty, God/human knowledge, God/human wisdom, God/human capacity).

2) Temporal distinction between God and us. (God/human relation to time).

3) There are passages in the scriptures that can be contextually and validly argued in favor of both groups. (If anyone is doubtful of this, consult some of the best literature from both camps in the market. For examples, D. A. Carson, Simon Gathercole, G. K. Beale, and John Piper on the predestinationist side, while Joel Green, James D. G. Dunn, and Ben Witherington III on the free-willist side).
For these reasons, neither sides of the debate are warranted to assert certainty of their own theological preference over against the other, be it predestination-ism or free-will-ism.

This, I see as an approach that acknowledges both groups' theological integrity that promotes unity and mutual understanding without violating or dismissing each other's concern and tradition. Through this framework, a predestinationist can whole-heartedly affirms the theological integrity of a free-willist, and likewise the latter can unhesitatingly acknowledges the former's.

21 comments:

Martin Yee said...

Very interesting indeed from the ontological/epistemological perspective. So I guess you can affirm both positions without much difficulty? Wonder any theologian has a similar take as you.

Sze Zeng said...

Yes Martin, there wouldn't be any difficulty to affirm both positions as long as I stick to this approach.

I'm sure there are others that have develop this approach too, but I can't name any particular theologian as I have not come across publication that suggests this take (I haven't read extensively on this topic).

Martin Yee said...

Haha, that is interesting, affirming both positions which are opposites in their propositions. Lutherans also affirm some aspects of both positions but for a different reason from yours. We see Scriptures affirming election as God's responsibility and damnation/reprobation as human responsibilty. We thus "take God at His Word", see it as God's hiddenness/mystery and do not attempt to resolve this seeming contradiction. Your approach too actually does not resolve the contradiction at the proposition level. It seems Kantian to me :)

Sze Zeng said...

I hope that if the framework stand, it is not a contradiction to affirm two polars.

So Lutheran approach is also similar. In fact, I find the Islamic theology also have this problem about predestination v.s. free-will. They, like predestinationists and free-willists, affirm that it is a mystery.

I'm not sure if it is Kantian though. May be I'm subconsciously presupposing his noumena/phenomena distinction, yet there are other ways to go about that :-)

reasonable said...

Unless all other ways have been tried and there is no option left, I suggest one not choose either or these yet:

1. the mystery option yet

2. the both-and option


:p

Sze Zeng said...

reasonable,

I think I'm guilty to have used both! hahahaha :)

yourshoeah said...

Although I am a 'Pre-destination'-ist (this label is inadequate and not 'all-inclusive'), I also take both positions. I have not gone into your epistemological approach, but I see it merely as looking at things from God's perspective (Pre-D), which is not bound to time and space; and looking at things from our perspective (free-W), which is oftentimes linear in terms of our logical reasoning capacity. If we try to see things from God's perspective (only as much as been revealed to us through His Word), we can only understand as much- through a mirror darkly- and although we know the 'final goal' of all human history, we do not know (nor can know) many things. But if we always look at things from our perspective (as is the only reasonable perspective to which we can derive and sense at all), then we will be surely poorer for that.

I would use a computer game analogy for this- a free-will approach is a First Person Shooter, where decisions are made 'real-time' and one's perspective is limited; as opposed to a RTS (real time strategy) game or a RPG (Role-player game), which allows the player to look at things from a broader 'God-mode' perspective. Some games combine both for a very enriching gaming experience.

:)

Sze Zeng said...

Hi Yoshua,

I like your game analogy with First Person Shooter and RTS! Good one!

Martin Yee said...

Great game analogy. Btw I heard of another way of looking at this BOTH thingy from a Calvinistic perspective from a course I attended in SBC on Reformed Theology. It is like the murders committed in the play MacBeth. On the level of the play it is MacBeth who decided to commit those murders. But from another level, it was Shakespeare who decided Macbeth commit those murders when he crafted the plot of the play in his mind. So both is correct - Shakepeare and MacBath both decided to commit the murders. :)

Martin Yee said...

Read Barth's idea of election which is pretty unique. His election concept is anchored on actualistic Christologically with Jesus as the electing God and also man elect, the Logos asarkos, ensarkos. With that he sought to do a massive correction to Calvin's double predestination and election. He thus link election to the Incarnation, and thus to the Trinity. Very interesting ideas.

Sze Zeng said...

Hi Martin,

Thank you for sharing the thoughts here! Appreciate it :)

From the bits of what I know, Barth centered his entire theology on Christology, and hence some theologians charge him as being 'Christolatry'. So, even predestination, the pactum salutis, happened in Christ. Hence all the subsequent Barthians, especially seen in Robert Jenson (a Lutheran theologian that I have very high regard) treatment of systematic theology, Jesus Christ became the conveyor of God, not merely a 'messenger' but the 'message of redemption'.

Martin Yee said...

Wow, thanks. Learn loads from you too. Robert Jenson is well known among Lutherans. Heard that he is also of Dr Roland Chia's doctoral rthesis advisor. Not sure if that is true.

Sze Zeng said...

What I said is really not justified to Jenson's and Barth's works, and the attention they have received among their colleagues. Recent works on Trinity from the analytic perspective (Oliver Crisp, Thomas McCall) are pointing out the lack in the Trinitarian theology as treated by a generation of Barthian theologians. I had the opportunity to skimmed through McCall's work and I have to say that he is correct in some of his observation :)

I'm not sure if 'doctoral thesis advisor' is the same as 'doctoral supervisor'. Roland's 'doctoral supervisor' was the Reformed theologian Colin Gunton, one of the brightest students of Jenson.

Martin Yee said...

Hi Sze Zeng,

I find Karl Barth has a Trinitarian formulation in his theology. I am surprised that people say that he is too much on Christology. That is why Robert Jenson and Colin Gunton also has a Trinitarian emphasis. Just that Barth works from the premise of an actualistic ontology. Veli-Matti Karkkainen has written a book that summmarises Jenson's Trinitarian theology. Besides Colin Gunton's The Promise of Trinitarian Theology 1997, any newer good books on Trinitarian theology that you can recommend? You are now my theological guru of sorts :)

Sze Zeng said...

Hi Martin,

If I'm not wrong, it was Cornelius Van Til (in his 'Introduction to Systematic Theology') who charged Barth as being too Christologically focused.

What theological guru... no la... we all are exposed to different things and the best way to learn is to learn from each other. So no 'guru-student' framework here ;)

Get Thomas McCall's book. It's really good as it is the latest and an articulate (in my view) book engages contemporary Trinitarian theology (Jenson, Zizioulas, etc).

BTW I'm sure you know one of the most questionable things that Evangelicals have with Barth is his idea of Jesus' resurrection. If you are interested, here is the link to Barth's view on the issue.
http://szezeng.blogspot.com/2009/04/karl-barth-on-resurrection.html

Martin Yee said...

Hi Sze Zeng,

Wow, thanks! The McCall book sounds good.

Barth is certainly not easy to understand if people like yourself don't explain what he meant : )

Sze Zeng said...

McCall uses analytic philosophy to examine contemporary trinitarian theology, therefore he managed to highlight (drawn from Oliver Crisp's work) some areas where theologians like Jenson can be more careful in.

I, myself, need to people to explain Barth to me! :D

Martin Yee said...

I am a novice in theology and philosophy, needs much guidance from you.

Sadly, unlike TTC, my "theological" training in SBC is mostly in Bible studies. Anyway that is what SBC stands for anyway, so cannot blame them too :(

Realised that TTC seems to give their students better theological grounding.

reasonable said...

Hi Martin,

You wrote: "Great game analogy. Btw I heard of another way of looking at this BOTH thingy from a Calvinistic perspective from a course I attended in SBC on Reformed Theology. It is like the murders committed in the play MacBeth. On the level of the play it is MacBeth who decided to commit those murders. But from another level, it was Shakespeare who decided Macbeth commit those murders when he crafted the plot of the play in his mind. So both is correct - Shakepeare and MacBath both decided to commit the murders."

If it is a SBC lecturer who used the example of Shakespeare and MacBeth to defend that commonly understood version of Calvinistic Predestination, then see if you can tell that lecturer that the example fails totally because:

If the MacBeth analogy is correct, then God is the one who controlled & ENSURED how and what Hitler thought and did. Then it would be unjust for God to later blame/punish Hitler for the mass murder Hitler committed. God is the one who ENSURED that without fail Hitler would manage to commit the mass murders. Hitler, like MacBeth, is nothing but a puppet - for the real decision lies in the God (or Shakespeare) who decided in fine details on what and how Hitler (or MacBeth) acted. And God (or Shakespeare) had absolute control over the actions and thoughts of Hitler (or MacBeth).

(on a different example: Imagine a father has a teenage son who is highly retarded. The father convinced the highly retarded son that it gives mummy pleasure if the son would plunge the knife into the sleeping mummy's heart. And the highly retarded son did that. The father then started to blame his son for the murder to his mummy.)

reasonable said...

To continue,

Using the Shakespeare-MacBeth example also fails to be appropriate analogy because Shakespeare-MacBeth example is a two non-overlapping world situation. Hence we can talk about moral responsibility of MacBeth within the level/world of MacBeth. In the God-human situation it is an overhapping situation and hence there is no "two levels" to talk about.

Shakespeare and MacBeth are two worlds apart, and it is impossible for Shakespeare to personally enter into the world of the MacBeth and vice versa. Shakespeare cannot enter into the pages to participate personally and authentically into the world created in the pages by Shakespeare. Neither can MacBeth jump out of the pages and enter into Shakespeare's world to talk to Shakespeare.

God however is personally a participant in his created world unlike Shakespeare. In Shakespeare-MacBeth example, there truly exists two NON-OVERLAPPING levels/worlds, such that one can say WITHIN the fictional level/world of MacBeth, MacBeth was FICTIONALLY responsible for the murder. MacBeth can be said to be truly responsible for the murder AS LONG AS we are strictly talking about the closed world of MacBeth's world, closed on the assumption of no other world has any influence or control over MacBeth's decision to commit the murder. Once that world is not closed and once there exist factors that outside of that world that controls and determine MacBeth's thoughts and actions, then MacBeth would no longer be morally responsible for the murder.

If Shakespeare can enter into MacBeth's world and become personally a participant in MacBeth's world, then MacBeth would no longer be responsible for the murder, for there would be no longer "two levels" but one unified level. It would no longer be "at one level, we can say MacBeth is responsible for the murder and at another level Shakespeare was responsible" because there no longer exists two levels.
[Also note that the "responsible" in the level of MacBeth's world is about fictional moral responsibility is different from the sense of "responsible" at the level of Shakespeare as Shakespeare being responsible is not about Shakespeare being morally responsible.]

In the God-human situation, there is no two non-overlapping worlds as God is a personal participant in the world of Hitler. The way God participates in Hitler's world is VERY DIFFERENT from the way Shakespeare participates in MacBeth's world. While MacBeth cannot communicate with Shakespeare, Hitler can communicate with God and defend himself against God's accusation if it is indeed God who, during HItler's earthly life, controlled every little thoughts and actions Hitler did. If after death, Hitler "woke up" to realised taht during his earthly life, all that he thought and did were determined, controlled and ensured into effects by God, then Hitler can rightly see himself as not guilty of mass murders.

If I hypnotize you to make you think you want to kill your friend and then you killed your friend, and upon investigation it was discovered that you killed your friend because I have hypnotized you to do it, then you would not be guilty of the murder. I would be guilty of the murder.

In summary, Shakespeare-MacBeth example is a two non-overlapping world situation. Hence we can talk about moral responsibility of MacBeth within the level/world of MacBeth. In the God-human situation it is an overhapping situation and hence there is no "two levels" to talk about.

Sze Zeng said...

Hi reasonable,

Thank you for sharing your perspective. They stretch my imagination with the analogies that are shared here. :)