Among my odder pursuits, I would have to include my reading through an Anglo/Saxon dictionary (mostly for entertainment). You learn things that way which I cannot imagine learning in any other way. Anyhow, one of the words I recently came across was the Old English word for logic — which is flitcraft. I much prefer it.
Apparently a controversy has broken out at a recent Student Worldview Conference, and from there has spread to the Internet. The clash was between Cal Beisner and Steve Schlissel, both speakers at the conference. At the conference, Steve cited some passages to show that God lies to His enemies, which passages Cal claimed were exegetically mishandled. Cal went on to claim that Steve’s position is one of explicit blasphemy, which has helped to heat up the exchange.
My purpose here is not to join in the melee (although it is probably obvious that my sympathies would be with Steve). Rather I want to make just a few comments that may be helpful in getting things back to some sort of fellowship equilibrium. Looking at their exchange, it seemed to me that a lot of the disagreement really was a question of semantics. And while I really don’t want to open myself up to a charge of being anti-semantic — for I have enemies out here who will take my use of the word semantic as clear evidence that I must be a Holocaust denier — I still think we have to consider the possibility of verbal confusion.
What is the root question? If Steve is willing to say (and I cannot imagine him not being willing to say this) that the triune God is entirely and infinitely self-consistent, and is One who never contradicts or conflicts with Himself, then the disagreement that Cal has with him is semantic. If Steve is not willing to say that God is eternally self-consistent, then it would be entirely reasonable to raise questions about it — although I would suggest to Cal that there was some wisdom in the ancient rhetorical balance of logos, pathos, and ethos.
What can we mean when we say that God cannot conflict with logic? If we simply mean that God cannot contradict the way He Himself is, then there can be no disagreement — as least no disagreement that does not unhinge all rational discourse. But if we merely mean that God is sovereign over all things, including our formulations of logic, then legitimate Christian debate can occur over these things without moving the foundation stones of reasoning that enable us even to differ.
Two examples, and I think Cal will go along with the first one. If what is called the “law of non-contradiction” is not an accurate description of the way things eternally are within the Godhead, then we (with impunity) could start saying things like “the Father is not the Father in the same way and in the same sense that He is the Father. Ditto the Son. And the Spirit.” And I cannot imagine a quicker and more effective way to grease the skids into heresy and eventually atheism. I also cannot imagine Steve maintaining anything like this. Steve is saying that God Himself defines all things.
But with this said, Cal needs to recognize that to absolutize our formulations and understandings of logical reasoning can be very problematic. Steve has said that God can lie, which, without the surrounding context and qualifications, can certainly sound inflammatory. But Cal has said, without qualification, that God is bound in His very nature to “logic.” As noted above, in one sense, okay. But in another important sense, no. What are the boundaries of the approved “logic?” Which texts? Which logicians?
For example, in formal logic (truth functions), the statements if P then Q and not P or Q are considered equivalent. Is it blasphemy to question this? Perhaps it is blasphemy not to, because this assumption enables us to argue:
1. Pigs are not fat animals (not P)
2. Therefore, pigs are not fat animals or God is a liar (not P or Q).
3. Therefore, if pigs were fat animals, God would be a liar (if P then Q).
But along comes a farmer with information that pigs are fat animals. What follows? According to Cal’s logical commitments, blasphemy follows. But the obvious logical conclusion to draw from this is that there is something screwy about equivalence in truth functions — and not that God is untrue to Himself. But I can assert something about the screwiness of truth functions (in addition to questioning the truth of the above disjunct) without the sky turning black and the moon blood red.
The Bible contains verbal contradictions, but does not contain any substantive contradictions. James and Paul were under no obligation to use the same theological vocabulary of faith and works with identical stipulated definitions. They did not. We are under an obligation to study them carefully, respecting their own use of their own terms, and figure out why they gave each other the right hand of fellowship. The same thing with God lying. The passages that Cal cites are plain enough. God does not lie. But Steve has an exegetical point also — the Bible plainly states that deception in a state of war is perfectly consistent with holiness. It is not a violation of the ninth commandment to disguise your tank as a bush, when in actual fact, it is not a bush. This may be deceiving enemy aircraft, but it is not “lying” to them — if lying is understood as inherently sinful. It is not an act of dishonesty for a basketball player to fake left and drive right. When the Hebrew midwives lied to Pharaoh about the babies they were refusing to kill, were they being like God? Like Christ? Lying to Nazis about the Jews you hid in your basement is a Christlike activity. And of course, the lake of fire is reserved for liars. All this represents is mere verbal contradiction. Not all killing is murder. Not all deception is a breach of the ninth commandment. And not all use of terminology that differs from Cal’s is blasphemy.