Saturday, May 05, 2012

'Election' and 'Inerrancy', briefly

The past two weeks were very stressful as I was completing all the final essays, exam and Field Education assessment. In the midst of the busyness, a friend asked me about my stand on two issues which I have not discussed on this blog for a while. 

"What is your understanding of election and biblical inerrancy?"

Here's what I think.

Regarding 'election', I personally do not emphasize on either Prelapsarian or Postlapsarian view. I prefer to understand election through God's dealing with Israel. That is, God elected Israel to be His agent in the world to bring the world back to Him. In God's election, Christ came and re-defined Israel to include Gentiles. Now, the re-defined Israel has to carry out the job to bring the world back to God.

If pushed to a corner, I would say that I affirm God's sovereignty to the extent that it encompasses the determination of every single event in history. And yet on the other hand, I have (paradoxically) no choice but to affirm also free-will. 

I have tried to approach the tension between predestination and free-will in a fresh way through the categories of 'ontology' and 'epistemology'. It may or may not be helpful. Personally, I find that approach uphold the tension in a fair manner while paving the path for unity between different denominations.

Regarding 'inerrancy', I think it really is about its formulation. As with all doctrinal formulation, inerrancy came out from a particular concern, that is to uphold the trustworthiness of the Scriptures. 

For someone who already is convicted that the Scriptures is highly trustworthy, then the inerrancy formulation (like the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy) is irrelevant to that person. For someone who does not think that Scriptures are trustworthy to begin with, then it is futile to ask the person to affirm inerrancy.

If, again, pushed to the corner, I would say that historical studies is neither static nor uncontrolled, nor can be separated from dogmatic studies. Therefore, I can only approach the Scriptures as 'canon', an essential document of the Church for the Church, through the economy of the Trinity. Hence by definition the canon is authoritative in the Church regardless whether we can definitely and objectively be certain that the historical data in the Scriptures are either correct or false in a Cartesian manner.

Hope this is helpful.


Martin Yee said...

Hi Sze Zeng,

Interesting thoughts as usual. This is probably the first time I came across an election view that starts with God's calling of Israel and then the incorporation (grafting?)of Gentiles through Christ. But then how do you explain Eph 1:4 where Paul said God chose the elect before the foundation of the world? Your view is also perhaps weak in the perichoretic understanding of the immanent trinity although you appealed indirectly to the economic trinity. I now find Athanius' view more comprehensive. He starts with creation itself, man created in God's image by special grace, effect of the Fall on the image, Christ as God's wisdom, Word, and image. How being in Christ restores us to God's image. He strikes a good balance between the understanding and explanation of the immanent and economic trinity. His perichoretic trinitarian ontology is also compelling to me.

On your belief on man's free will are you speaking of it pre Fall or post Fall? Luther and Calvin both believe that postlapsarian man has no real free will. Luther made this very clear in his polemical treatise against Erasmus of Rotterdam called "Bondage of the Will". So are you in the Arminian camp? :)

On the problem of the canon, it is good to check out Michael Kruger's new book "Canon Revisited". It is very comprehensive and well researched. He has a good webby here too


Sze Zeng said...

Hi Martin,

Thank you for the thought-provoking comment. In the way I see it, the election is both in and beyond time because God is both in and beyond time. So Eph 1:4 passage is understood by me along this framework.

Regarding free-will, I paradoxically think that "bondage of the will" as well as "free-will" are true in the postlapsarian existence. So either I'm both Calvinist and Arminian, or I'm neither Calvinist nor Arminian. Depending on how one sees it. ;)

I haven't read Kruger's book. Thank you for pointing that out (I read it on your blog yesterday!--though didn't comment, because I don't have high regards on the publisher's, Crossway, discourse on the canon debate). :)

Sze Zeng said...

May I add that my view of Crossway's discourse on canon is shaped by one of their latest book which contributed by their heavyweights:
"Understanding Scripture: An Overview of the Bible's Origin, Reliability, and Meaning."

I browsed through some of the contentious issues and find that these issues are either brushed aside or neglect of evident.


a_seed said...

Both Calvinism and Arminianism are products of philosophical scholasticism. No we don't have to look through their lens in order to study theology.

Martin Yee said...

Hi Sze Zeng,

Your interesting idea that "the election is both in and beyond time" is a good step forward towards immanent trinitarian conception. Is it based on God's impassibility? What do you think of Robert Jenson's rejection of the idea that God's eternity is “timeless”. Jenson regards this as unbiblical and incompatible with the story of creation and redemption. God's eternity, he claims, is intrinsically temporal. God possesses a past, present, and future, though in His infinity He possesses all of these in perfect fullness. Are you on the same wavelength? :)

Sze Zeng said...

Hi a_seed,

Thank you for your comment. I think it really depends on which subject of theology are we studying.

If we are studying about predestination/election/free-will, then there is something to learn from Calvinism and Arminianism. These two schools of thought are filled with insights over this subject. On one hand we don't adopt entirely all their respective positions, while on the other hand, we don't dismiss them outrightly to start from ground up (seldom theology that starts from ground up is received as orthodoxy, no?). :)

Sze Zeng said...

Hi Martin,

I really don't know how Jenson conceptualize "timelessness" of God's eternity and why he rejects it. So don't know if sharing the same wavelength as him.

Yes, you got me there! I did presuppose some degree of God's impassibility. ;)

Martin Yee said...

I would like to add the Calvinism vs Arminianism debate is very much centred on Scriptures. Just that they see differently the direction the Bible texts involved are heading. The same happened in the Athanasius vs Arianism debates, they are is more hermeneutical than philosophical. Even the Luther vs Erasmus debate was very much an engagement on how to understand various texts. The more philosophical debates are those regarding epistemology and trinitarian ontologies.

Just a 2 cents observation

Martin Yee said...

Btw would like to add that when Luther and Calvin talk about the bondage of the will, they are not saying human have no free will, that is, they are like robots. What they are saying is that the human will is not "free" in the sense that it is not neutral. It is inclined to sin and inwardly curled toward self rather than to God, the Latin word used is "concupiscence". Man is a "sin addict", he is in bondage to sin and thus not "free". Only the work of the Holy Spirit can liberate man from this bondage.

The debate between Erasmus and Luther on the human will highlighted this very well. This is one of the major differences separating Roman Catholic theologians and the Reformers. The other include papacy, certainty of salvation and justification.