The Tulip Driven Life Podcast

Thursday, November 3, 2011

God Gives Permission? The Error of Permissive Will

The final draft. Enjoy.


              Reformation Bible College









God Gives Permission? The Error of Permissive Will









Theological Prolegomena











By

Thomas Booher



Sanford, Florida
December, 2011
Where is God when natural disasters occur, taking so many lives? What about when seemingly innocent people are robbed or raped or murdered? Does God permit or plan that? The permissive will of God is a doctrine to which many Reformed theologians adhere. Reformed theologians believe that God is not under any obligation to give man freedom to act apart from His plan, and thus permits sin for His own good purposes. This permission falls within His sovereignty, since God could choose to stop man from sinning, but instead chooses to not restrain the sinfulness of man, leaving man to his own devices. The permissive will exposited by many Reformed theologians, however, undermines rather than affirms God’s sovereignty.
                It is easier to argue for the permissive will of God after the fall of man. Since man, dead in trespasses and sins, cannot but do the evil he desires, God can remove His restraints, common grace, and conviction from the sinner and leave him to his own hardened heart. One could speak of the permissive will in this sense. It is still not desirable, however, since it does not take into account where and how man got this sinful heart in the first place. Anthony A. Hoekema, alluding to Herman Bavinck, says that the origin of evil is one of the greatest riddles of life.[1] Hoekema opines about the mystery of the fall of man, saying:
Every effort to view man’s sin as part of a rational system must be repudiated. One cannot make sense out of the senseless. Sin is simply inexplicable, and we must leave it at that…God did not cause man’s fall-but he did permit it. This raises the difficult question of how God can permit things to happen that are against his will.[2]
                First Hoekema says that we should not try to explain the riddle of sin, then continues to offer an explanation that by his own admission is problematic- namely, that God somehow permits something contrary to His will. If God decreed the fall of man, then it was His will. If He did not decree the fall of man, then it was not His will. There is no in between, God cannot both desire and not desire man to fall into sin. If the fall was predestined, God planned and desired it from the beginning. If God merely foresaw that Adam would fall, the question becomes where Adam received the desire to sin, given He was created sinless. How could God foresee Adam falling if He made Adam unfallen and altogether good? Hoekema speaks out of both sides of his mouth on this issue.
                R.C. Sproul speaks about the providence of God, saying “He [God] governs everything that comes to pass, from the greatest to the least. Nothing ever happens beyond the scope of His sovereign providential government…all is brought to pass by the invisible hand of Providence.”[3] Regarding the will of man in light of the sovereignty of God, Sproul continues, saying,
God ordained that Jesus be betrayed by the instrument of Judas’s treachery. Yet this makes Judas’s sin no less evil or treacherous. When God “permits” us to break His perceptive will, it is not to be understood as permission in the moral sense of His granting us a moral right. His permission gives us the power, but not the right to sin.[4]
                This begs the question, how can God’s hand of Providence be involved when He is deciding to permit the sins of man by not exercising His hand of Providence? Consider Acts 4:27-28:
For truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.
                The verses here seem to indicate that God not only foreknew, not only passively permitted Herod, Pontius Pilate, and all the people to take Jesus to the cross, but actively directed them towards that which His hand had predestined to occur. If this was not the case, and God merely permitted Herod and Pilate and the people to take Jesus and crucify Him, how could God guarantee that they would do so? While God may remove His restraining graces from them, that would not ensure their specific actions of crucifying Christ. What if instead, in their wickedness, they decided to burn Him at the stake, or stone Him to death? Further, if God merely permitted Judas to betray Jesus and Pilate to turn Jesus over and have Him crucified, how could God foreknow this? If He truly maintained a freedom of the will, then that freedom cannot be foreknown, since by definition freedom requires the ability to do as one pleases, which could change at any moment. The question goes back to before the fall of man, to how man fell in the first place, since Adam’s fall was the fall of all mankind.
                There is no mechanism for the fall of man to occur within the permissive will schema. If God is said to foreknow what Adam would choose when tempted by the devil, and God does nothing more than allow Adam to act on his own inclinations, then it is made manifest that Adam was created defective, and therefore, God’s creative power and omnipotence is thrown into question. If God cannot, or chooses not, to create a perfect being, then holds an imperfectly created being responsible for not being perfect, is not God at fault for the creature’s sin? Thus, the permissive will of God, while not only undermining His sovereignty, also brings into question His character. If God created Adam faultless and then remained passive, all God would foresee is Adam and Eve resisting the devil and remaining obedient. Thus the permissive will has no legs to start with, and therefore is not applicable even after the fall of man.
                It needs to be said that God is not the author of evil. God is not responsible for the sin that Adam and Eve committed when they rebelled against Him. Nor does God, from His preceptive will, approve their rebellion- He demonstrates His wrath and holiness when He punishes sinners. Yet God does approve the fall from His secret or sovereign will. God is glorified when His vessels of mercy see His righteous wrath executed on the vessels of wrath that were prepared, that were molded, for destruction by God Himself (Rom. 9:22-23).
                Francis Turretin proves most helpful in answering the riddle of original sin and how God can actively predestine the fall of man and yet be freed from the charge of owning the guilt of man’s sin. He argues that the origin of sin resides in the will of man, which is subject to the law of God, and that the will of man alone is capable of committing a moral wrong, a sin, and not God, who is free to do as He pleases with His creation and is not under the sovereignty of His own law (Rom. 9:19-21)!
Although the promotion of God is extended to evil actions, it does not on that account make God guilty of the fault or the author of sin. It only pertains to actions inasmuch as they are material and entitative, not however as they are moral, i.e., to the substance of the act, but not to its wickedness. Nor is it a new thing for one and the same action to be considered in different ways, either physically or morally….Nor is it an objection that the wickedness is necessarily and inseparably annexed to such action. Hence it would seem to follow that he who is the cause of the action must also be the cause of the wickedness because the created will is otherwise the moral cause of the wickedness, except inasmuch as it is the material cause of the act, to which the wickedness is necessarily bound. We answer that it is falsely supposed that the created will is not otherwise the cause of the wickedness than inasmuch as it is the cause of the act to which wickedness is annexed. The will, as a physical agent, is the physical cause of the act; but as a moral agent, the will is the moral cause of the wickedness, not simply because it produces the act, but because it produces such an act against the law to which man is subject. Therefore the reason why wickedness may be imputed to the human will is not simply because it produces the act in the genus of being (as a physical agent), but because it is man subject to the law who performs a forbidden act (as a moral agent).[5]    
                It would appear then that God can (and did) actively predestine the fall of man, and consequently all things, by His hand of Providence, yet without sinning. God gave Adam and Eve the desire to sin through the means of their will. Therefore, it is axiomatic that this was accomplished in such a way that Adam and Eve willingly chose to sin.
                If this is not enough, perhaps an analogy will help the reader see why active predestination of the fall does not make God the author of sin. In J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, Lord Voldemort, the antagonist, kills Harry Potter, the protagonist. This is depicted in the films based off the books. When watching the films, nobody claims that Lord Voldemort is innocent of Harry Potter’s murder, and instead the Creator of the story-world, J.K. Rowling, is guilty. Nobody thinks this, because we know that it is Lord Voldemort alone who was acting in the sinful deed that Rowling had predestined. Therefore, it is understandable that, since Lord Voldemort was acting of his own accord, Lord Voldemort alone was responsible for his actions, not his creator. Should we arrest and convict Rowling of murder for the murder of Harry Potter by Lord Voldemort since she scripted things that way? No, because Rowling didn’t enter her story-world and murder Harry Potter! Viewers understand that writing a script does not equate to murdering those in your script! God should get the same respect. 
                Now we see God aright- free to do as He pleases with His creation, including molding vessels of wrath for destruction through the means of human will. God is able to show us all His manifold glory by creating a world that He sovereignly scripted, both the good and the evil. Yet His created beings performed of their own accord, owning their own sin, and Jesus, entering His Father’s story-world, fulfilled all righteousness, then took His elect’s sin on Himself.  This is the beauty of God’s sovereignty, and sovereign plan, in full bloom.


[1]Anthony A. Hoekema, Created in God's Image (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1994), 131
[2] Ibid. 131-132
[3]R. C. Sproul, Essential Truths of the Christian Faith (Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House Pub, 1992), 62
[4] Ibid. 68
[5]Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, ed. James T. Dennison and Jr (Phillipsburg, N.J.: Presbyterian & Reformed Pub Co, 1992), 509-10 

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

How The Television and Internet Helped Make Americans Dumb

The final draft, for your viewing (oops, I mean, reading) pleasure.



Reformation Bible College









The Image Driven Culture and Its Ramifications









Theological Prolegomena













By

Thomas Booher



Sanford, Florida
December, 2011

Americans have an insatiable appetite to be entertained. Even news programs have satire counterparts, or quasi-news, quasi-entertainment programs such as The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Recently, a television genre called “reality” emerged, imitating real life. Yet one will soon discover that “entertainment steroids” were injected into the shows to draw in audiences. The television show Survivor can hardly be said to depict a relatable life experience to any of its targeted demographic. Men and women are taken to an island where they are forced to live off the land and compete against one another in various tasks; one by one they are voted off until a single survivor remains, thus winning the game and the large cash prize. This begs the question- how did America get the idea that they could consider such a television show, and countless others like it, reality? The “real” reality is media and technology have created a culture that gathers its epistemology from pictures, images, and the feelings they evoke as opposed to written words, verbal argumentation, and the rational thought they induce.
     Television and the internet emerged when Americans had much free time due to technological advances. Americans spent much of their spare time watching television broadcasts and internet downloads. The novelty of the television, of being able to see someone speaking through a box, drew many to it. Likewise, the internet enabled man to select what he wanted to watch, as well as provide his own feedback. Free time became a time for “eye candy,” of seeing things that looked impressive, but did not actually communicate anything important. Less time was spent reading books or listening to the radio. As Kenneth Myers put it, “If you and everyone in your family had to work sixteen hours a day, seven days a week, you would not have to ask whether or not you should plan your life around when ‘Entertainment Tonight’ is scheduled. But most of us enjoy a level of leisure that leaves plenty of room for entertainment every night.”[1]
The implications are substantial. Books and the radio communicate through words, but television and the internet communicate largely through imagery. Neil Postman offers some valuable insight, saying “…How we are obliged to conduct such [human] conversations will have the strongest possible influence on what ideas we can conveniently express. And what ideas are convenient to express inevitably become the important content of a culture.”[2] Postman further argues that the television medium cannot ably communicate what a book or oral speech can:
For on television, discourse is conducted largely through visual imagery, which is to say that television gives us a conversation in images, not words. The emergence of the image-manager in the political arena and the concomitant decline of the speech writer attest to the fact that television demands a different kind of content from other media. You cannot do political philosophy on television. Its form works against the content….it is, I believe, a wise and particularly relevant supposition that the media of communication available to a culture are a dominant influence on the formation of the culture’s intellectual and social preoccupations.[3]
In other words, television and the internet have by necessity dumbed down what is most easily communicable in our culture, creating a culture whose epistemology is largely gleaned from visual stimuli rather than logical, coherent rhetoric. Even what is spoken on television must often be reduced to a sound byte or brief segment (such as the televised presidential debates), sifting out long, thoughtful arguments that may not sound good or make for good air time but can actually communicate profound truth. The problem is exacerbated over time, since the more a culture becomes accustomed to visual stimuli and unfamiliar with logical argumentation and reasoning, the greater degree of mental atrophy occurs in the society to think critically, particularly through the medium of the written word! This results in a cultural preference for things like Survivor rather than a discourse on the necessity of an eternal, self-existent being, something Ken Myers calls “a culture of diversion.”[4] Further, many may come to look down upon logic and rational argumentation itself, since few in a visually driven culture can understand or grasp its contents, and even fewer care to try.
But what laid the groundwork for such a shift away from the written word to the visually driven culture that the television ushered in? Postman argues that the telegraph and the photograph are to blame:
The telegraph introduced a kind of public conversation whose form had startling characteristics: Its language was the language of headlines- sensational, fragmented, impersonal. News took the form of slogans, to be noted with excitement, to be forgotten with dispatch. Its language was also entirely discontinuous. One message had no connection to that which preceded or followed it. Each “headline” stood alone as its own context….The line-by-line, sequential, continuous form of the printed page slowly began to lose its resonance as a metaphor of how knowledge was to be acquired and how the world was to be understood…to the telegraph, intelligence meant knowing of lots of things, not knowing about them.[5]
The telegraph allowed access to completely irrelevant information nationwide, creating information glut. Photography further enhanced sensationalism, showing the ravages of a tornado on the other side of the world, or the images of a great battle of war. Of course, this further degenerated into getting the next glimpse at what Lady Gaga would wear to the MTV awards show, or what antics Chad Ochocinco would perform for his endzone celebration. Thus the telegraph and photograph inaugurated the slippery slope towards entertaining ourselves to death.
The problem with a photograph and a still image is that it cannot communicate truth in and of itself. It can show us a building, or a bird, or a basketball, but unless we have a prior understanding of what these images are, they will be meaningless to us. Take for instance a cross. For Christians, this brings to mind Jesus Christ dying to save them from their sins. Yet without the spoken word of the gospel being proclaimed orally or written down and distributed, no one would think twice about the image of a cross. Yet with the preunderstanding of all that the cross entails, the sight of one can produce tears for Christians as they remember their suffering Savior. While words and oral communication pertain to ideas and aim at truth, encouraging reflection, images by themselves pertain to emotions and aim at evoking feelings, encouraging response. The telegraph and photograph enabled man to gasp when he heard of and later saw the World Trade Center buildings crashing down, but it retarded his ability to comprehend why it even mattered, why it was so shocking, why something inside him told him this was wrong. Response replaced reflection.
All of which leads to the real question- why does man seek the cheap thrills of entertainment television, of a “fantasy reality” like that of Survivor or American Idol  or the extravagant lifestyles of those in Hollywood, rather than contemplating the most basic, most elementary questions of life, such as its purpose and meaning? In short, why is man content  entertaining himself to death with utter nonsense and trivial pursuits until something like terrorists blowing up the World Trade Center or a natural disaster shocks him back to life, to the “real” real world? Why is man restless to seek glitz and glamour over the contentment the “simple” and “ordinary” things of life bring?
The answer is partly in the question. Americans don’t know any better, because they have been weaned on television, video games, movies, and the internet, nearly since the day they were born. They have been told that a Hollywood lifestyle is what is desirable. They have been bombarded with extravagance and been told it is the desired norm, that indeed it is abnormal not to be extravagant or outlandish. Nonconformity, expressed through dress, music, language, is the new telos of man. This is the result of epistemology emerging from a visually driven culture rather than a written word- based culture.
When the desire to ascertain truth, significance, and meaning is lost, the natural result is for madness to reign. Sexual promiscuity has risen since the advent of the television, even further with pornography filtering in to many homes via the internet. Women wear less and less clothing because the media portrays women wearing less. Men who have grown up in this visual driven culture have been warped, now only responding to visual stimuli, encouraging women to dress all the more skimpily.  Modesty is a foreign concept due in large part to the cultural over-emphasis on visual/physical appearance. The result, as the Bible says, is Americans have forgotten how to blush, because they don’t know why they should be blushing (Jer. 6:15).
If truth aligned man’s feelings, perhaps a visually driven culture wouldn’t be such a bad thing. After all, if every time we reacted to what we saw rightly, then whatever we saw and however we reacted to it would be the proper response. In that case, reason, learning, and understanding would not be necessary, because we would already have complete understanding. The problem is that humans do not understanding everything, and they often understand things wrongly yet think they grasp it correctly. Hitler strongly felt he was doing the will of God when he slaughtered millions of Jews. We look back on those images with horror and dread, and rightly so. Yet we have lost so much understanding that today it is quite possible that the sight of a Hitler being executed would evoke the cries and protests of many to let him live and let those who wish to give him justice be executed in his stead (these would probably be the same ones that deny the holocaust’s existence)!  
Scripture reminds us that the problem is ultimately the heart of man- “The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it?” (Jer. 17:9, NKJV). Our sinful hearts lead us to desire amusement over truth, feeling good over thinking rightly. Only the gospel coming in the power of the Spirit can reverse this.
        

  



[1]Kenneth A. Myers, All God's Children and Blue Suede Shoes: Christians & Popular Culture (Westchester, Ill.: Crossway Books, 1989), 53
[2]Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business, 20th anniversary ed. (New York, N.Y., U.S.A.: Penguin (Non-Classics), 2006), 6
[3]Ibid. 7,9
[4] Kenneth A. Myers, All God's Children and Blue Suede Shoes: Christians & Popular Culture (Westchester, Ill.: Crossway Books, 1989), 56
[5]Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business, 20th anniversary ed. (New York, N.Y., U.S.A.: Penguin (Non-Classics), 2006), 70





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