Monday, January 19, 2009

Earl's Sanity Check 1: Non Contradiction

How I determine what escatological or end times viewpoint to adopt? I use an approach that I use for all Biblical studies. I approach it with several rules of thumb that interpretations must follow for me to consider it. This is the first part of a series of posts that I will publish from time to time specifying the rules I use to evaluate a viewpoint.

The first rule of thumb is that the view must be logically consistent. Why do I make this rule the very first rule rather than a central point of doctrine, such as the reliability of Scripture? The reason is that if logical consistency is not insisted from the very beginning, all attempts at reason and discussion are futile.

The basic law is:
Nothing can be true and false in the same sense (or same relation) at the same time.
For instance, we cannot say that at March 3, 2007 George Bush was the President of the United States and on March 3, 2007 George Bush was not the President of the United States. Someone who is sharp might say that on January 20, 2009 George Bush was the President of the United States and was not the President of the United States, since on that day the presidency was passed from George Bush to Barack Obama. However, a careful examination of the statement concerning George Bush shows this is true for certain times of the day but not for other times of the day.

Not only do we need to pay very close attention to the time issues, but we need to exercise care in the sense of the logical statements being made. For instance, some claim that the description of God as the Trinity is a logical contradiction. This is because God is one and at the same time God is three. Looking carefully at the creedal formulations of God as the Trinity uses different language to describe God's oneness (essence) from God's threeness (person). Because the one and three are stated in different senses or relations, the law of non-contradiction is not violated and so the creedal statement of the Trinity is logically consistent.

The rule not only applies to direct statements made about an interpretation, but it also applies to logical consequences that necessarily follow from an interpretation. Let me give an example. Suppose it is agreed that in principle Christ could return at any moment. Thus Christ could return this very day that you are reading this blog entry. Let us further suppose that an eschatological system was proposed where either a catastrophic period with a minimum duration spanning years must occur or a period of great visible advancement of the church must occur which will take at least a decade or more for it to happen. As we analyze either of these systems, we will discover as a necessary inference that Christ could not in principle return this day but that it would have to be delayed at least several years to several decades from now. While the advocates of either view would not state the obvious contradiction that Christ is going to return today and He will not return today, there is in the analysis that while they hold in principle Christ could return today, they also hold that Christ could not return today. This is a contradiction, and according to the law of non-contradiction, neither of these views can be true.

Why must this rule be assumed in the first place? Because imagine trying to argue a point without assuming this. It would mean anything goes. Discussion becomes meaningless. God exists and does not exist,. In fact, try to argue against the law of non-contradiction. It can't be done.

This rules out many systems of beliefs. For instance, the view that there is no absolute truth falls on its face because to assert that there is no absolute truth is the assert there is an absolute truth that there is no absolute truth.

In the area of eschatology, Jesus made several statements. The first is that you cannot pinpoint the time of Christ's second coming. There is an eschatological system that says the Christ will "rapture" the church (which is distinct from Christ's second coming) and that will start a precise countdown clock where the second coming will occur seven years later. This contradicts that you cannot pinpoint the time of Christ's second coming and that view must be rejected. The second is that Christ's second coming can occur any day. Any view which must delay Christ's return for the conditions to be met for Christ's return must also be rejected.

I'll Continue the series with another sanity check in a later post.


  1. Earl,

    I think you have just suggested that I am insane for my postmillennial view. If so, then so were many of the greatest theologians in history. And if they were not insane, then what does that suggest about the one who so suggests? :-) May I be direct, without an intention to offend. Dare I say that your sanity check is not as sane as you think. Would you admit that Christ's return has already been delayed? Apparently you would say that God is not quite sane, for He has set conditions. For one, don't Scriptures teach that He will return after He has subdued all His opposition? Isn't that a condition? Is God illogical by your standard? And since Christ's return has already been "delayed" why is it so bad to think that it might be further "delayed" until the time is right whenever that might be. Apparently you have repeately rejected delays, but they keep happening, and you keep rejecting them. I ask you, who needs the "sanity check"? :-)

  2. Bill,

    Oops. I have a way of being offensive. I apologize that I wrote in such a way that you'd think I meant you are insane for being a postmillennialist. That was not my intention and I apologize that I was not clear. You are right that many theologians would not pass this sanity check. Martin Luther, who we both greatly respect and incorporate much of his theology into ours, did not hold to the law of non-contradiction for God. Martin Luther certainly was not insane -- he was one of the most sane theologians around.

    Bill, you raise some good points that I will address in some comments later.

    Again, my apologies for implying you are insane, I do not think you are and that was not my intent.

  3. Earl,

    It probably should be pointed out that Matthew 24:36 is still within the context of Jerusalem's destruction and the dissolution of the Old Covenant.

    As I've been flipping through Russell's book, he is definitely arguing that all of the olivet discourse is referencing the judgment of Jerusalem and Judea. His argument is largely founded on continuity of topic as Jesus does not change subjects (i.e. switching, at some point, from talking about Jerusalem to talking about the human race) at all during the sermon.

    While I agree that any system which attempts to "pinpoint" the day Jesus returns is going to have some difficulties, one of those difficulties is not that He comes like a thief in the night. The thief in the night metaphor is a reference to Jerusalem's imminent judgment, not to the entire planet.

  4. Logical consistency? Hum. I am learning that all postmil don't think alike, all amil don't think alike, all dispensationalists don't think alike, all Baptists don't think alike, and all Presbyterians don't think alike. Otherwise we would stereotype everyone--e.g. you are postmil and therefore you believe what I think postmil people believe. There is a lot to take by faith rather than by logic, all the while searching Scripture to see if these things are so (or logical) in our inadequate measure of logic and understanding of Scripture.

    We all live with inconsistencies in our lives as well as in our beliefs. The cognitive dissonance we get from these inconsistencies cause us to think and grow in obedience to God’s Word.

  5. Jared,

    Thanks for the comment. Actually I was not thinking of Matthew 24 during my comments about the imminent return of Christ. What I was more concerned about in this post was the issue of logical consistency itself as being a requirement for truth.

  6. Bill,

    You ask: " Is God illogical by your standard?"

    No. Foundational to understanding God is that he is does not say one thing and then the opposite. Thus if God puts conditions on Christ's return, then where I think God does not put conditions on Christ's return is wrong. God is logically consistent. Whenever I come across anything that I am analyzing where I have one thing being both true and later see that same thing being false, then I have the sure knowledge that I understand something wrongly. That is the point of what I am saying. If what I think has things that are both true and false, then what I think is wrong. The contradiction is the sure sign I do not understand.

    As I pointed out, there are some theologians who think that God is not subject to the law of non-contradiction. Martin Luther is an example. I believe Luther is right to a certain extent. God is not subject to some external law. Rather, logical consistency (and non-contradiction) flow from God's character that He is the Truth and faithful. Just as God cannot lie, God cannot produce logical contradictions because that is the nature of God.

    There are problems in theology when theologians think that non-contradiction does not apply to God. With Martin Luther, you see it in Lutheran theology regarding the ubiquitous human nature of Christ -- Christ physically being omnipresent. Reformed theologians don't make this mistake, in great part because Reformed theologians accepted the principle of non-contradiction even with regard to God.

    Most Reformed theologians accept the principle of non-contradiction. This was one of the things that attracted me to Reformed theology in the first place. I heard a lecture by R.C. Sproul Sr. on non-contradiction which covered very similar points I am making now. As I first read the Westminster Confession and Catechisms, I kept that point in mind and found there is no contradictions in the Confession and Catechisms.

    I believe that both Dr. Bahnsen and Dr. Gentry subscribe to non-contradiction, I would be shocked if they didn't.

  7. New Kid,

    You say, "There is a lot to take by faith rather than by logic..."

    When I write about the law of non-contradiction, I am not saying we must reason out everything about God. Far from it.

    What I am saying is that there is a way to discover some ways when you are thinking incorrectly. That way is when you believe one certain thing as true and you come to also find that the same thing is false -- in the identical form and at the same time. That is a far cry from saying we are trying to reason God out logically rather than by faith.

    Let's take an example. A Mormon, named Susan, comes knocking on the door and starts telling you about what she understands about Jesus. For instance, she says that to be saved you must place you faith in Jesus and do works.

    How do you know what Susan is telling you is wrong? It is because what she said contradicts the principle that we are saved through faith alone. Susan might say, well, yes we are saved by faith alone but we also need works to be saved. Susan has just stated that "we are saved by faith alone" is true, but also has stated that "we are saved by faith alone" is false -- because she adds works to the equation. By following the law of non-contradiction, we can be absolutely certain that Susan does not understand something correctly.

    Faith is composed of three parts, knowledge (understanding the truth), agreeing that the knowledge is true, and then a trust or commitment to that knowledge. Knowledge has built into the idea that if this is true, the opposite is not true and cannot be true.

    You say, "We all live with inconsistencies in our lives as well as in our beliefs. The cognitive dissonance we get from these inconsistencies cause us to think and grow in obedience to God’s Word."

    I think that is an accurate statement. The cognitive dissonance should propel us to search the Scriptures more deeply so that we do not have the logical contradictions. That moves us closer to understanding God. This activity does not exclude faith. Rather, faith is intimately involved in the activity.

    Do you think there is an orthodox theological idea that contains a contradiction? I am curious what that would be. I would bet that such an idea was either ill conceived, not thought out well, or just plain wrong.

    What is an accepted theological idea that contains a contradiction? Does anyone have an example?

  8. Earl,

    My apologies. You said,

    In the area of eschatology, Jesus made several statements. The first is that you cannot pinpoint the time of Christ's second coming.

    I assumed you were referring to Matthew 24, so that was my mistake.

  9. Earl asked me above: "Do you think there is an orthodox theological idea that contains a contradiction? I am curious what that would be. I would bet that such an idea was either ill conceived, not thought out well, or just plain wrong. What is an accepted theological idea that contains a contradiction? Does anyone have an example?"

    I cannot answer from orthodox theology off hand. This question is “above my pay grade” to quote Obama in the famous Saddleback interview.

    Let’s just look at Scripture that pertains to eschatology. In Mark 8:12 Christ says there will be "no sign for this generation" and in Luke 11:29-30 He says there will be "no sign for this generation except the sign of Jonah". That seems a contradiction to me without checking the commentaries.

    In regard to this Scripture, why are we looking for signs of the end times? Are we a different biblical generation that can look for signs?

    Logic is out of my reach, but I do love dialogue in this blog where we can bat ideas around.

    New Kid

  10. Jared,

    No apologies needed. It is natural to think I am using Matthew 24 for my statements. For the current purposes of this discussion, I am willing to grant others the Russell interpretation of Matthew 24. The point I want people to see is the importance of the law of non-contradiction in their thinking and in theology. We can't do anything without it. Further, we are not forcing an alien concept onto God with the law of non-contradiction, this is something that actually flows from God Himself.

  11. Friends, Romans, and Countrymen/women,

    There seems to be an idea by some that postmillennialism is illogical. That is not true. I am all for being logical. Again, some of the greatest theologians in history have been postmil. Do you think they were all illogical? I think amil and postmil are both possible interpretations of Scriptures. I understand the logic behind the amil position. But it seems to me that postmil fits the Scriptures better as a package. By the way, postmillennialism does not try to "pinpoint" the date of Christ's return any more than does amillennialism. But some of those posting may not be taking into account the overall teaching of Scripture on the subject of Christ's return or are unable to understand the postmillennial interpretative system. I ask again, will Christ return according to God's plan? According to God's plan, Christ will return after He has subdued all His enemies. When will that be? I don't know. Some of you apparently think He has already completed that part of His plan, because you say He can return at any moment. In fact, it was possible He could have returned yesterday, or a month ago, or 2,000 years ago. He might return today, or tomorrow. So, is it your understanding that all of the Scriptures pointing to a "golden age" have been fulfilled? If so, in what sense have they been fulfilled? We can go through them one by one if you want. There are many. I know the amillennial answers in general, but I would like to hear your views.

  12. New Kid,

    That is an excellent question. With the Mark 8:12 and Luke 11:29-30 passages there are various approaches that can be taken:

    (1) Either Mark, or Luke, or both got Jesus' quote wrong. Not a satisfactory approach in my mind.

    (2) Mark and Luke record two similar but different incidents in which Jesus was making a different point.

    (3) Mark and Luke record the same incident. The conversation that Jesus had was a multifaceted conversation. Mark and Luke capture, for the purposes of their accounts, important aspects of the conversation which do not contradict what Jesus was saying. The very detailed focus of Mark is different from the detailed focus of Luke, and what is said does not actually yield a contradiction.

    Position (3) is what I prefer. You must look at the statement of the law of non-contradiction very carefully. What is Mark expressing? Does Mark's account flatly contradict Luke's account? Probably Mark is capturing the Pharisee's insistence of Jesus providing a sign other than himself. Mark quotes the important part of Jesus' statement that says the Pharisees will get no other sign. Luke, who tends to be more detailed and provides more of the conversation.

    You see, in this way we can see how the law of non-contradiction works. Using it allows us to dig deeper. To say that Jesus appears to contradict himself in Mark and Luke just keeps you at one level of analysis and understanding. To probe deeper and look at how to resolve the possible contradiction actually requires us to read and think about the passages in deeper ways.

  13. Bill,

    It looks like you accept the validity of the law of non-contradiction. That is good and that was the main purpose of this post.

    It could very well be that I hold a logically inconsistent view. If you show me that then you have done a huge service to me, and if I wrestle with that and find that my view is logically consistent, then that is also a great benefit. I will take up your point shortly. Thanks!


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