Tuesday, 11 March 2008

The Federal Vision And The Language Of Appearance (7)

Part one, part two, part three, part four, part five, part six

I find the Arminian exegesis of such verses to be more consistent than the Federal Vision one. The Arminians don't just point out, as Matthew does, that those written to are spoken of as if true believers, but also go on to observe that Paul says that Christ died for them, and Peter says they are elect.

It's not just Arminians, though, who make the hermeneutical mistake of failing to deal with the language of appearance. The open theists are more consistent that the Arminians, because they point out that the Bible says that God remembers, asks questions about things he should already know about if he were omniscient, etcetera.

The open theists, though, are themselves also failing to face up to the full implications of their hermeneutic, because as the wonderfully-named Anthropomorphites point out, the Bible tells us plainly, "without hedging", that God has arms, hands, fingers, and so on (Exodus 31:18, 6:6, 32:21) - why shouldn't we just take the plain-sense meaning of "made in his image" and face up to the consequences? Ultimately, though, we have to point out that the Anthropomorphites are also wimps, because does not the Bible also describe God's wings (Psalm 17:8), thus making some kind of bird-man?

There are plenty of examples of this error. Calvin wrote against one type of it, when he sought to refute those who quibbled over Genesis 1 describing the moon as being the second most significant light after the sun. Commenting on Genesis 1:16, the greater and lesser lights, he tackled the objection that other objects (such as Saturn) might be brighter in absolute terms than the moon (thanks to David Tyler for drawing my attention to the quote):

"Moses wrote in a popular style things which, without instruction, all ordinary persons, endued with common sense, are able to understand; but astronomers investigate with great labour whatever the sagacity of the human mind can comprehend.  Nevertheless, this study is not to be reprobated, nor this science to be condemned, because some frantic persons are wont boldly to reject whatever is unknown to them.  For astronomy is not only pleasant, but also very useful to be known: it cannot be denied that this art unfolds the admirable wisdom of God. . .

Nor did Moses truly wish to withdraw us from this pursuit in omitting such things as are peculiar to the art; but because he was ordained a teacher as well of the unlearned and rude as of the learned, he could not otherwise fulfil his office than by descending to this grosser method of instruction.  Had he spoken of things generally unknown, the uneducated might have pleaded in excuse that such subjects were beyond their capacity.  Lastly, since the Spirit of God here opens a common school for all, it is not surprising that he should chiefly choose those subjects which would be intelligible to all. . .  Moses, therefore, rather adapts his discourse to common usage. . .  There is therefore no reason why janglers should deride the unskilfulness of Moses in making the moon the second luminary; for he does not call us up into heaven, he only proposes things which lie before our eyes" (Calvin, 1554).

In other words, Moses was using language in the ordinary way - not in the form of language required in literature of a different genre, such as a paper in New Scientist. When I say that the sun rose this morning, that doesn't imply that I'm a geo-centrist - it's the language of appearance, or phenomenological language.

Similarly, when Paul writes to the Galatians and addresses them as if authentic members of the New Covenant, he's not intending to give us a technical statement on New Covenant membership. He's simply using human language in the ordinary human way. The correct way to understand Paul's theology of the relationship between New Covenant membership and apostacy, and the relationship between the covenants, is not to derive it by way of incidental implication from something on quite another subject. It's to actually exegete the passages in Scripture where it is the very subject under direct discussion.

To be concluded...

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