Defending Aquinas’ Theistic Proofs from Kant’s Antinomies, Part 1

When German philosopher Immanuel Kant attempted to retrieve reason from the clutches of Hume’s skepticism, he limited knowledge and gutted metaphysics. Kant did this in part through a series of antinomies of paradoxical conclusions to show that understanding beyond the sensible world leads to an antinomy. Kant believed that by sacrificing metaphysical knowledge he saved knowledge of the sensible world from skepticism. If Kant’s antinomies are logically sound, repercussions for metaphysical claims, like St. Thomas Aquinas’ theistic proofs, are devastating. However, it is my intention to show weaknesses in Kant’s critique of reason and that Aquinas’ theistic proofs, placed in the metaphysical realm of natural law, is sound.

Natural and Eternal Law

According to Aquinas, philosophy can prove and clarify by means of human reason certain a priori truths. He believes that as intelligent beings, we are capable of understanding the world by our cognitive powers. He recognizes the limitations of human reasoning and separates laws into different categories. Eternal law is unchanging and known to humans through its reflection on our minds and is revealed in part through human and natural law. The category of law that is in primary view for this post is natural law, which is general and deals with what is necessary and logical. While Aquinas primarily speaks of the categories of laws in terms of ethics, the natural law applies also to the way in which we apprehend truths of the world.

There are universal truths, things that are said to be a priori, yet our knowledge of them starts with the senses, which we use to learn universal truths by reasoning backwards. By examining triangles, I can learn it is a universal truth that triangles are three-sided closed shapes. Universal truths are not relegated to geometry alone, but it is an example of how humans are able to examine the world to reach a fuller understanding of it. This is also seen in St. Thomas’ five theistic proofs.

Five Theistic Proofs

  1. Argument from motion starts with the senses. Humans know through experience that things move and that nothing can move itself. Since everything is moved by something else, reason shows that there would be a primary mover. If not, nothing would move.
  2. In his argument from efficient cause, Aquinas relied on the Aristotelian understanding of a primary source that pushes something into existence. Efficient cause is the primary source of change, like the knowledge a carpenter has when creating a table. Just like a table is unable to be its own cause, the world came into existence through a primary efficient cause.
  3. In the argument from possibility and necessity, we recognize through sensory experience that there are things in nature that are possible to not exist. In other words, it is not necessary for certain things to exist, and in fact some species have ceased to exist. Since there was a time when each contingent thing did not exist, there could be a time when nothing existed. If nothing existed, then nothing could have been brought into existence. Since this is not possible, there must be a being of necessity that does not rely on any other for its existence but instead is the cause of all other beings.
  4. The argument from gradation of being states that some things are better or worse than others and whatever is the maximum of a genus is the cause of what all others are compared to. Therefore, there must be a perfection of goodness that is the cause of all other good things.
  5. The argument from design examines the world and shows that natural bodies work toward some goal, even the natural things that lack knowledge. For example, planets revolve around the sun. The late Stephen Hawking wrote, “The latest advances in cosmology explain why the laws of the universe seem tailor-made for humans.” While Hawking denies a creator, Aquinas would use logic to respond that because natural things are directed toward a goal, and that goal being for the existence of humans, there must be an intelligent being directing all things to their end.

Kant attacks these proofs in The Critique of Pure Reason in several ways, but I will focus on his antinomies in Wednesday’s blog post.

Faith and Reason with Aquinas and Sproul

There are ongoing debates within Christendom regarding apologetics methods. For now, I’m going to forgo the comparison of the various methods and explain one aspect of Classical Apologetics. Within the umbrella of Classical Apologetics, there are some variations, so I will keep the focus in this short blog post on St. Thomas Aquinas.

Intro to Natural Theology

In Summa Contra Gentiles Thomas Aquinas laid out the argument that some truths about God exceed human reason, yet some are apprehended through natural reason, like the existence of God. When we understand the substance of something, we understand the characteristics belonging to that thing. When understanding the substance of a table, for example, humans can know the characteristics concerning its shape, color, design, and so forth. This is not so with understanding God since He is not a material thing that we can examine through our senses. We are not able to comprehend the divine substance through natural reasoning. What can be done through natural reasoning is use our senses to know that there is a divine being who exists. As a Biblical scholar, Aquinas would have been familiar with the words of the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Romans when he wrote, “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen.”

Mediate or Immediate?

That verse alone has been hotly debated by faithful Christians with the focal question being is knowledge of God mediate or immediate. In general, Presuppositionalists say that such knowledge is immediate. I have heard Evangelicals, though not serious Presups, talk about humans having a God-shaped hole. This is a silly and an inadequate explanation of immediate knowledge, but I’m using it because it paints a vivid picture that many readily recognize and understand. Immediate knowledge is knowledge that is inherent in all humans impressed by God on our consciousness. It states that we are born with a sense that God exists. Mediate natural theology refers to knowledge via a medium, which would be through nature. R.C. Sproul wrote, “By viewing nature, the mind is able to know God by means of nature.” (Classical Apologetics, p. 44)

I could write an entire post explaining mediate knowledge and might do so in the future. For our purposes today, I will point out that Romans 1 plainly states that we can see God’s works in His creation and that is why man is without excuse. “The revelation of God is mediate, but it is so manifest and so clear that it does not necessitate a complex theoretical reasoning process that could be achieved only by a group of geniuses. If God’s general revelation is in fact ‘general,’ in that it is plain enough for all to see clearly without complicated cosmological argumentation, then it may even be said to be self-evident.” (46) Even though Sproul recognized that “mediate natural theology is ‘immediately’ recognizable,” (47) he also knew that people suppress this knowledge in their unrighteousness, as Paul taught. That is why we turn to Aquinas’s reasoning. It is “part of the unmasking process of those who refuse to acknowledge their natural knowledge of God.” (47)

Transcending Human Reason

According to Aquinas, there is a twofold truth concerning human understanding of the divine: that which can be apprehended through natural reason and that which cannot. This does not mean that reason and faith are at odds, but that there are limitations to what we know through our senses and our ability to contemplate what is learned through those senses. Aquinas posited that faith in God transcends human reason without abandoning reason and that God revealed Himself through the scriptures and through grace so that we are able to transcend beyond the fallible knowledge of our senses.

Even pagan philosophers understood that there are things of a higher nature beyond the senses and sought virtues to help them attain the higher good. Aristotle said that even though we know little about higher substances, that little is loved and desired more than all the knowledge we have of less noble substances. What God has revealed and the transcendence that men seek show that what Christians hold by faith is not at odds with natural reason, and Aquinas went so far as to make the bold claim that what is known by faith cannot be false since falsity opposes truth, and what God reveals can only be true.

Next week I will pit Aquinas against Kant to show the fallibility in Kant’s reasoning when he attacked Aquinas’s five theistic proofs.

Unity of the Lord’s Supper

Two years ago my husband and I visited a Missouri Synod Lutheran church. We enjoyed the service and its Christ-centered liturgy. Going in, I knew that as a non-Lutheran, we would not be partaking of the Lord’s Supper, but what did surprise me was how they structured that part of the service. Everyone who partook had to give the ministers (or deacons?) a slip of paper assuring that they are a member of the Missouri Synod. Not even a conservative Lutheran from another synod was allowed to participate, plus it seems to me that handing someone a slip of paper before taking communion diminishes the ceremonial and worshipful aspect of it. This was done to ensure that their communion remained closed.

Believing Without Understanding

It’s a shame to see division over the very sacrament that is to unite the Church in Christ. Every major sect has its own view of the Lord’s Supper, and many use it to break fellowship with other believers. Last week I read a book called The Crucified Rabbi: Judaism & the Origins of Catholic Christianity by Taylor R. Marshall. It was good, even though it was heavy handed with respect to Roman Catholicism. Marshall notes that in John 6 that “Peter believed the difficult teaching [of eating Christ’s flesh and of drinking His blood] even though he did not understand.” (Loc 1461) If one doesn’t have to understand the Eucharist to believe it, why is it that churches put a burden on Christians to understand before they partake? This is especially troubling when the Bible itself leaves it as a mystery for us to believe without complete understanding.

When I say that the Bible doesn’t give us complete understanding, I don’t mean to say that there isn’t any teaching on the meaning. There is.  In John 6, Jesus spoke of eating His flesh and drinking His blood. When the disciples grumbled at this, Jesus said, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life.” This gives us a strong indication that when we eat His flesh and drink His blood, we do so by uniting with Him in spirit.

Paul, when talking about the Israelites receiving manna in the desert, wrote, “and all ate the same spiritual food; and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ.” (I Cor. 10:3-4)

Fuel of Endless Strifes

Okay, so I’ve tipped my hand to show what I believe concerning the Supper, but does that mean I would break fellowship with someone with a different view? On the basis of that alone, of course not! James Ussher said in a sermon at St. Margaret’s Church in 1621, “It is a lamentable thing to behold, how this holy sacrament, which was ordained by Christ to be a bond whereby we should be knit together in unity, is, by Satan’s malice and the corruption of man’s disposition, so strangely perverted the contrary way; that it is made the principal occasion of that woeful distraction which we see amongst Christians at this day, and the very fuel of endless strifes.”

There is a unity with the body of the church and Lord’s supper. The communion of saints– the body–is part of the union we have with Christ, who is the head, and “in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you are also being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:21-22) 


This union we have and how it relates to the Lord’s supper is seen in I Corinthians. “Since there is one bread, we who are many are one body; for we all partake of the one bread.”

In John, Christ pronounced that the bread is His flesh, which He gave for the life of the world. To show that by partaking of the bread, we share in this union. “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in Me, and I in him.”

“Thus in the Lord’s Supper, the outward thing, which we see with our eyes, is bread and wine; the inward thing, which we apprehend by faith, is the body and blood of Christ. In the outward part of this mystical action, which reacheth to that which is sacramentum only, we receive this body and blood but sacramentally; in the inward, which containeth rem, the thing itself in it, we receive them really: and consequently the presence of these in the one is relative and symbolical, in the other, real and substantial.”- Archbishop Ussher

To say that His spirit is in union with us or with the bread does not in any way diminish the fact that Jesus Christ is present and that we are in union with Him, His body and blood, His sacrifice, and His church. It’s too beautiful of a thing to fight over, and I believe it’s a sin to fight over the precise meanings because it leads to disunion with the body–the church. Whether Christ is physically present or spiritually present, He is nonetheless present and uniting us in Him in the sacrament. One does not have to have perfect intellectual assent in order for Christ to be present among His people and for us to unite to Him through the consumption of His body and blood.

Ussher acknowledged, and I agree, that because Christ is in the Supper, we as the church share in Christ’s unity corporately when we partake of the sacrament. Sharing a common cup means that we share in the same fate. (I am strongly against individual cups for this reason.) Because we all share in the sacrifice of His body, whether one understands what that means or whether we agree on what that means, the important thing is that we believe it, just as Peter did. To deny the cup to a sincere believer who is not under church discipline goes against the heart of God.

Why Paradigms are not Relativistic

I started this blog with a series on paradigms. While I have moved on to discuss topics such as ontology, Aristotelianism, and Euthryphro’s Dilemma, I want to circle back to explain why paradigms are not relativistic.

Chalmers’ Criticism

A strong opposition to Kuhn is that some view his paradigms as relativistic, which, according to philosopher of science A. F. Chalmers, “depends on the values of the individual, group or culture that makes the judgement.” At the beginning of his book What is this Thing Called Science? Chalmers recognizes that the primary way in which scientists observe data and a range of facts is through sight; however, two individuals observing the same physical object will often have two different understandings of the same object. Chalmers illustrates this with a drawing of a staircase. Many will see the picture as though they are viewing it from the top of the staircase, while others will see it as though they are seeing the same image from below. Chalmers also points out that when the picture is shown to members of African tribes, they do not see a staircase at all. This shows that cultural experiences and preconceived understandings shape how we observe objects and thus interpret them.

Yet later in his book, after he laid out the foundation for explaining philosophy of science, Chalmers agrees that while the way the staircase is viewed in an earlier example is a sort of gestalt switch, it is actually an opposition to epistemological knowledge. When applying principles of logic and reason, a thing cannot invite its opposite. If someone is at the bottom of the stairs, they cannot at the same time be at the top of the stairs, nor can either viewpoint from the same relation at the same time be equally valid. I agree that it is important to not violate the law of non-contradiction. I agree that if something is true, the opposite cannot also be true at the same time and in the same relation. However, the goal of both scientists and theologians is not to make up their own truths or perceptions of truth. The goal of scientists is to discover what is actual and what is true of the natural world. The goal of theologians is to discover what is actual and what is true of God and humanity’s relation to Him. By recognizing that paradigms exist and shape our understanding, those who apply it are not seeking to reinvent truth or make what is under study relativistic. Instead, it is a recognition of how humans naturally receive and apply knowledge. As to the drawing of a staircase, we know that it is a drawing and that it is an optical illusion, which in this case, is used as an analogy to understand a concept, not an attempt to represent all  perceived truths as equally valid. (The staircase in the book is drawn while the picture at the top of the blog is not, but it still illustrates the point.)

Reformed Criticism

Chalmers is not the only one to criticize Kuhn’s method as being relativistic. In a position paper on justification, the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) makes a passing reference to Kuhn’s philosophy as “perspectivalism,” and Christian philosopher Carl F.H. Henry writes, “Thomas Kuhn reflects the growing academic skepticism that contemporary science is progressively refining ‘the truth’ about the real world.” Henry goes on to criticize Kuhn for ripping away the empirical basis for truth about reality in contrast with the authoritative certainty of “the divine disclosure of a sure Word of God.” Given this, Henry and possibly the writers of the OPC position paper, would object to the use of the paradigmatic structure to explain various periods of Christian history as I did earlier in my series.

Response to Criticisms

Do paradigms lead to skepticism? On the contrary. Paradigms give grounding for people to recognize truth. The Protestant paradigm can be viewed like a building. Its foundation is the Bible; the walls that give it shape are the creeds established by the Roman Catholic Church, the Augsburg and Reformed confessions, and orthodox teachings going back two thousand years; the roof is the five Solae. This structure protects those inside from the outside elements like heresy and skepticism. Contrast this structure with Evangelical Biblicism, which does not have a paradigm and has only the Bible as its foundation. It is a solid foundation, yet when the rains of heresies and skepticism come, I hope the Biblicists have an umbrella. Michael Horton, who is a notable Protestant theologian in the Reformed tradition, also understands the importance of paradigms. “Our beliefs not only form broader paradigms but, at least in part, are formed by them. Paradigms are resilient to challenges, which is good—otherwise we would always be reinventing disciplines from scratch.”

Note: I realize I often use quotes without stating titles and page numbers and only give the author’s name. I do this to not interrupt the flow of the post and am happy to supply detailed information when asked.

Why I’m an Aristotelian

About the time I was starting my degree in philosophy, I had heard that Roman Catholics are Aristotelian and Reformed are Platonists. My husband never stated it that way, but he’s a Platonist because things exist outside our material world and a priori knowledge is true. Since I believe both of these things and certainly not a Roman Catholic, I must be a Platonist too. That was my thinking pattern when entering school, and like all beginning students I was woefully naïve.

Brief Explanation of Platonic Forms

Plato’s epistemology is centered around his understanding of Forms. According to Plato, Forms are abstract properties that exist permanently and independently of the objects to which the properties are assigned. In dealing with the conundrum of how the world appears to be in constant flux and the understanding that we could have no knowledge of truth and permanence unless the world we perceive through our minds is unchanging, Plato determined that existence is made up of two realms—the material world we view through our senses and the transcendent world of universals, which he called Forms.

Forms are single properties that exist apart from the object itself and would continue to exist even if all objects in the material world containing that property ceases to exist. For example, if all green things ceased to exist, the property, or Form, of the color green would continue to exist apart from the objects it once inhabited. Since Forms are transcendent and exists independently of its objects, then unrelated objects can take on the same single property, like the Form of beauty in mountains and women.

This seemed to make sense. and if the alternative is nothing can be known except through experiential senses, then it appeared to be a no-brainer to adopt rationalistic epistemology, But I had quibbles with his belief that the material world is a mere copy of the world of Forms, plus how could pure ideas be known to exist if there were no material copies of the Form?

Introduction to Aristotelian Logic

When I took a class on Aristotle, I discovered that he was not a pure empiricist, at least not in the sense that all that we experience is all that can ever be known. According to Aristotle, senses are innate, which is how we know things before experiencing them. He also taught that deductive (syllogistic) and inductive arguments illustrate pre-existent knowledge. The syllogistic assumes the audience accepts the premises, which is based on axioms, and the inductive exhibits the universal as implicit in a known particular. Syllogisms are based on indemonstrable proofs, meaning they are universally known and are self-evident. Example:

  • All men are mortal
  • Socrates is a man
  • Therefore, Socrates is mortal

With inductive reasoning, we infer general principles using specific propositions. It’s only ever probabilistic, but what it shows for my purpose in explanation is that it can shed light on the existence of universals. For example:

  • Here is a tree
  • Here is another tree
  • Therefore, we can infer from these two particular trees that there is a universal category of trees

When I learned this, I found it somewhat enlightening, at least in terms that Aristotle is not a pure empiricist. But I still had far to go before I would ditch Platonic rationalism. Besides, I needed something a little sexier to be convinced, and syllogisms and inductive inferences are not sexy, maybe to a logician but not to me.

Potentiality and Actuality

What first grabbed my attention was something I wrestled with just to understand, but when I did, I developed a zeal for philosophy that I didn’t have before.

In Metaphysics, Aristotle discussed his philosophy of cause from which he applies the idea of substance to form and matter. He also made the distinction between matter and form, in which matter is the stuff a substance is composed of while form is the way the substance is put together. Aristotle also established the relationship between form as actuality and matter as potentiality. In doing so, he argued that actuality precedes potentiality.

Aristotle defined substance as “that which is neither predicable of a subject nor present in a subject.” Simply put, a substance is its own being, like an individual man or an individual tree. Substance can undergo transmutation, such as the case of an acorn becoming an oak tree, and retain its fundamental distinctiveness. According to Aristotle, “it is because they change, that they are able to receive contraries.” This ability to receive contraries while remaining continuous is what determines a substance. Substance is able to remain constant despite subjection to forces of potential and change. Substance, in the Aristotelian framework, can be understood as the bridge between actuality and potentiality.

According to Aristotle, “the whole is something apart from the parts,” but concludes that there is a cause of unity. To describe this cause, Aristotle examines matter and form. In describing matter as a subject, he equates matter with potentiality and finds that matter is that which is “potentially but not actually this.” A block of wood could potentially be carved into a bowl but is not actually a bowl. This definition of potentiality seems clear, but what remains less clear is the nature of actuality. Aristotle saw form as the source of actuality, as that which is predicated of matter. He posited that “each different sort of matter has a different actuality.” Going back to the block of wood, while it has the potential of recognizing its actuality as a bowl, it also has the potentiality of becoming a table. In each case, the potentiality contains a different actuality.

Book VII of Metaphysics argues that actuality is prior to potentiality. This appears to be counter-intuitive because a block of wood precedes the bowl it is made from. In the Aristotelian account of substance, actuality is given priority over potentiality. Aristotle made two arguments to support this. In one argument, he wrote that “the actuality is the end, and it is for the sake of this potentiality is acquired.” Because the final cause of a block of wood is to be a bowl, this makes actuality the final cause of a substance. Secondly, because anything that has potentiality is material and that which is material is not eternal, and what is eternal can never be potential. This train of thought leads to the Aristotelian view of that which is eternal precedes material substances; therefore, actuality precedes potentiality.

When studying Aristotle’s epistemology through his understanding of both logic and metaphysics, I found it to be both more sophisticated and more in line with reality than Plato’s rationalism. As to Reformed Christians, I quickly learned that while I’m in the minority, I am not alone.

Responding to Euthyphro’s Dilemma

Often non-believers attempt to trap Christians with dilemmas or paradoxes. One well-known example is called Euthyphro’s Dilemma. I will explain what it is and how Plato answered his own dilemma.

What is Euthyphro about?

In Plato’s dialogue Euthyphro, Socrates examines what is meant by piety. While at court, Socrates speaks to Euthyphro, a priest who is there to prosecute his father for murder. Socrates asks Euthyphro why he would do such a thing since the man is his own father. Euthyphro responds that it doesn’t matter whether the victim is a relative or a stranger, nor does it matter regarding one who takes the life of another person because what matters is piety.

This is what sparks the discussion on piety. When Socrates first asks what is piety, Euthyphro talks of bringing a murderer to justice as an example of piety and speaks of the justice Zeus meted to his father Cronus as an illustration of the supreme Greek god punishing his father, but does not give a definition of piety. When pressed again for an answer, Euthyphro says that piety is what is pleasing to the gods. Socrates points out that the Greek gods feud frequently because of disagreements and wonders how it is that piety is what is pleasing to the gods when the gods disagree on what pleases them. After a lengthy discussion of which Euthyphro is unable to give a definition of piety that satisfies Socrates, the latter points out the circular argument that the former has been making: what is pious is dear to the gods because what is dear to the gods is pious.

Analyzing Euthyphro

In Euthyphro, Socrates says, “We shall know better, my good friend, in a little while. The point which I should first wish to understand is whether the pious or holy is beloved by the gods because it is holy, or holy because it is beloved of the gods.” Another way of saying this is to question if the gods determine things are moral and just because they are so by nature, or if they become moral and just because the gods declare them to be.

The dilemma is if the acts are morally good because they are good by nature, they are independent of the gods, making certain acts good in themselves apart from the gods. This, of course, raises the question on how moral absolutes can exist as independent entities apart from the divine. On the other hand, if something is good because the gods decree them to be so, they could determine anything to be good, including murder. In fact, the gods could be capricious or even evil if they chose to be.

Answer to the Dilemma

Even though Socrates sets up this dilemma in Euthyphro, he answers his own questions in Phaedo when he speaks of the divine character, which he describes as “pure, ever existing, immortal and unchanging.” Since, according to Plato’s account of Socrates, the divine is pure and unchanging, it cannot invite its opposites. Since the Forms of justice and piety are a part of the divine nature, the divine appeals to nothing other than its own character for the standard of what is good, just, and pious. Because Plato wrote of mythical gods who were often capricious and prone to the same depravities that afflict humanity, what he wrote concerning their unchanging purity is at odds with the stories about them. Yet, on some level he understood the character of the Divine. There is one God who “is a spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth.” (WSC Q. 4) As such, He cannot invite His opposites.

The Answer’s Effect on Ethics

Without an understanding of what is moral and just and where such ideas originate, it’s easy to fall into a state of moral relativism, making every person the arbitrator of what is right in his own eyes. It might seem extreme to say a person could believe it is right and just for him to murder, yet in many societies, infanticide is either a right held by the families or, as with the case in China, ordered by the government. Another example is slavery. Most people in Western countries today consider slavery to be a moral evil, yet unless there is a divine or a natural standard for what is moral and just, what is evil versus what is moral cannot be determined. For this reason, it’s important for philosophers, theologians, and societies to wrestle with the dilemma in Plato’s Euthyphro.

Byrd Has Not Yet Flown the Coop

I just wrote a series of blogs on paradigms, and it’s important to keep that in view when reading or reviewing Aimee Byrd’s book Recovering from Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. As a scholar and philosopher, I read the book in a different way than the average laywoman, and we both read the book differently than trained ministers. We all want the same thing—God’s truth, but our way of analyzing texts and arguments are from different perspectives. It’s important to note that Byrd’s book is not about leadership. I have seen comments that show that some people approach her book with the presupposition of it being about leadership and submission. However, her stated thesis is about discipleship. The background understanding of her thesis shapes the way we read the book. If one reads her book with the lens of leadership and submission or look at parts rather than the whole, they will have a different understanding of her book than those who read it through the lens of her thesis.

Covenantal Activity

The description is a good place to start before reading and when evaluating the book. “Do we need men’s Bibles and women’s Bibles, or can the one, Holy Bible guide us all? Is the Bible, God’s Word, so male-centered and authored that women need to create their own resources to relate to it? No!” God redeems His people and in Him there is no male or female. While men and women have different roles, discipleship in God’s Word should look similar. We do well to remember that studying God’s Word is a covenantal activity, that includes men, women, and children together.


Byrd recognizes the cultural issues that the teaching on biblical manhood and womanhood addresses. She agrees with the diagnosis but differs on the cure because of its theological baggage. It is beyond the scope of this review to address the problems with ESS, but here’s a good resource for those who wish to learn more. In addition to that troubling view of the Trinity, Byrd points to examples Piper has written to show that men must be affirmed in their masculinity and leadership at all times by women who are submissive, even when a man is lost in a neighborhood and the only person around to provide assistance is a woman. This is an extra-biblical reaction to a cultural problem. There are some men who finds this offensive. My husband has stated that he finds Piper’s words offensive and does not want me to submit to and affirm the masculinity of all men I meet. The Bible tells me to submit to my husband, and by submitting to him I cannot submit to all men.

A criticism Byrd offers, which gets back to my initial point in the intro is, “As we’ve been taught to focus on aiming for biblical manhood and womanhood, we have missed the bigger picture for Christlikeness to which we are called. And we have lost aim of what the church is for: preparing us for eternal communion with the triune God.” This is perhaps her most salient point, and it’s the reason for her book. Are the people in your churches being discipled as a covenant community, or has individualism creeped in? Byrd is concerned that when we focus too much on gender roles, we lose sight of who the Bible is about.

The Female Voice

Don’t think that Byrd’s criticisms are just against Piper or stereotypes. She chides women for their “life-as-performance mind-set” when they post pictures of devotional quiet time that rivals magazine covers. Women bear a strong responsibility for removing themselves from covenant discipleship to something based on aesthetics and proving their righteousness before other women as a show and for rejecting serious study in favor of emotional fluff. Unfortunately, she goes from there to talk about the androcentric perspective of theology books. She writes, “There is, of course, nothing at all wrong with reading the androcentric perspective, but there were barely any female voices to reciprocate male authorship when it came to religious books.” She says that maybe this is the reason for the popularity of female leaders in American church history. I part with Byrd on this. Yes, there was a backlash to women being treated as though we are deficient, which is not only an insult to women but to the One who made us to be complements and help-mates to our husbands, but instead of being biblical and confessional, many women writers of theology rebelled.

I want to pause to note that while I agree with Byrd’s assessment of treating the Imago Dei in women as though it is somehow deficient, her wording does not do the job of uniting the sexes as she intends. By using words like “androcentric,” “gynocentric,” and “woman’s voice,” some of the terms she uses in her assessment works against her and appears contradictory. I want to emphasize that her overall message of discipleship as a covenant people is correct as is the fact that women served vital contributions throughout the Bible, but her terminology has the potential to divide. Her phrasing is at odds with her continual insistence on covenantal discipleship because the terms make divisions, yet gathering as a covenantal people is uniting. However, the biggest issue with her use of the term “gynocentric interruptions” is the implication that God’s Word needs to be interrupted, that it’s not a cohesive story of God’s redemption for all His people and that woman is somehow on the outs in this story and needs to insert her voice. Of course, Byrd would reject that implication, but words are powerful tools with great meaning. They should be chosen wisely as to not imply something the author never intended.

In her discussion of the book of Ruth, Byrd writes, “God put man and woman on this earth, and he intends to use both sexes in his mission. In Ruth men and women see that sometimes we need a different set of eyes to see the fuller picture. And what a beautiful picture it is.” This is a more poignant and well thought out idea of women in Scripture. It is a beautiful thought that has unfortunately been overshadowed by both Byrd’s choice of words and the controversies surrounding the book.

True Biblical Manhood and Womanhood

Another thing that is pointed out in her commentary on Ruth was Boaz’s response to Ruth when she gleaned his fields. He showed her considerable kindness and humility and instructed his workers on how she should be treated. He even invited her to eat with him. Byrd compares Boaz with Jesus Christ who ate with sinners and served the people around him. This is biblical manhood. It’s wrong to say that “she criticizes and dismisses traditional roles of men and women without offering a real alternative” as one blogger wrote, when the truth is she’s pointing back to biblical understandings of these roles. What we see in Ruth—her courage, strength, submission, and faithfulness—are examples of biblical womanhood. What we see in Boaz and our savior Jesus Christ are examples of biblical manhood. These are the ideals that Byrd upholds.

Problem with the Danvers Statement

Circling back to ESS, Byrd’s criticism against The Danvers Statement put forth by the leaders of CBMW is a strong one because they believe “the gospel has a complementarian structure.” (Owen Strachen, presented at CBMW preconference) They teach that the complementary perspective of the Trinity and the gospel is a first-order doctrine. “CBMW introduces the statement this way: ‘The Danvers Statement summarizes the need for the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood and serves as an overview of our core beliefs.’” They warp the nature of God in order to promote these divisions and call it their core belief. I don’t think I need to point out how dangerous and unbiblical and antithetical to the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ that is. It is also deeply troubling that ministers are criticizing Byrd in such a harsh manner while largely neglecting those who have deserted “the grace of Christ for a different Gospel.” (Gal. 1:6)

Joint Virtues and Telos

Earlier I spoke of identifying the right diagnosis while prescribing the wrong cure. I believe Byrd gives the right diagnosis. Her solution needs work, which I will get to later. She rightly lays out the virtues that we are to pursue by pointing to the Sermon on the Mount, which is for all and not gender specific, and she points out that the words in Matthew 5:3-12 is a description of Christ Himself. We are to be like Christ because we are united in Him. She points out that being called Christ’s bride and being called the sons of God is a joint telos. As bearers of the Imago Dei, we manifest God’s presence. As Christians, this manifesting is even stronger as we have the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit. Byrd says that we are to strive for Christlikeness and that “the tone of our sexuality will express itself.” She goes on to affirm that “God made man and woman as true complements in this mission.”

Main Criticism

There’s a lot more that can be said about the book. I have over 4,000 words of notes, but because this is already lengthy, I want to skip to the last chapter, which has caused the greatest amount of alarm. It’s also where my assessment of her book is the most critical.

When Byrd gets to the part about Phoebe, she glosses over the word deacon being used in some translations vs. the word servant. Instead she focuses on the original Greek word diakonia, and that with the usage of the word, Paul identifies Phoebe as a servant and as an agent of his in her role as a go-between among churches. She also makes the distinction between the way the word was used back then, as servant, and the modern Reformed use of the word today as an ordained office that is in line with Acts 6. I’m satisfied with this explanation, though I wish she reiterated that since it is an ordained office that it’s to be occupied by men only. However, she steps outside of what Scripture indicates in imagining that since Paul told the church in Rome to receive her as his helper in delivering his letter to the church, when the people of the church had questions about Paul’s words they asked Phoebe to explain. While women can give explanations and teach in a non-ordained role, this imagining of Byrd’s is outside any biblical or historical evidence. Also, if a letter is presented to the church, wouldn’t it have been read in a formal gathering with explanations given by the minister? Phoebe could not have fulfilled that function, and saying that she did opens doors Byrd claims that she is not.

I was glad to see that Byrd stresses the importance of women as allies in helping men in the work they’ve been appointed to do. Because women are necessary allies in the work of the church, proper education and discipleship is also important. Women should be equipped to help men for the service of God’s mission. One example Byrd gives is Lydia. When talking about Lydia, Byrd pointed out that she planted the church in Philippi, but that Paul did not have her lead the church. Lydia planted the church by opening up her home, but men were placed as overseers and deacons.  Paul recognized the importance of teaching women and the work they did in his ministry, and Byrd recognizes that men led the churches.

When looking at I Corinthians 14:34-35, the passage admonishing women to keep silent in the church, Byrd pulls back to look at the structure and order of worship, starting in chapter 11—how men and women who are prophesying ought to dress, the sacraments, gifts and nature of the body, the hymn to love, spiritual gifts, the building of the body, and order in worship. I Corinthians 11: 5 mentions how a woman must conduct herself when praying or prophesying, yet chapter 14 says they are to keep silent. First, I will give Byrd’s understanding of what appears to be a discrepancy (and I do emphasize the word appears because the inerrant Word does not contradict itself), then I will give Simon Kistemaker’s interpretation.

Byrd points out that everything must be done in decency and in order. If one person is prophesying, all others must be silent. So, why did Paul signal out women in that passage? She points out that Paul spoke in the context of learning and asking questions and encouraging these women to ask their husbands questions at home instead of disrupting the one who is interpreting or discussing prophesies.

Simon Kistemaker, a conservative Reformed Dutch theologian, wrote, “The Corinthian women at worship are not told to be silent in respect to praying, prophesying, and singing psalms and hymns. They are, however, forbidden to speak when the prophesies of their husbands are discussed. They are asked to observe the creation order recorded in the Law and to honor their husbands. Telling the women three times to be silent, Paul instructs them to respect their husbands at public worship and to reserve their questions for the privacy of the home.”

Looking at Byrd and Kistemaker’s interpretations, we see both similarities and differences. They both affirm that women could prophesy in the church. They both said the admonition to keep silent is regarding women asking questions. Where they differ is Kistemaker emphasizes the creation order, and that it is disrespectful and shameful for a woman to usurp that order by interrupting the service or her husband. Byrd mentions it, but just barely.

Now we come to the part about Junia that the Christian blogosphere has erupted over. Byrd points out that many patristic writers considered Junia to be a woman and that the name Junias wasn’t attached to her until the 16th century. Byrd spends little time on this, so there isn’t much scholarship supporting her view. But let’s assume that Junia was a woman since earlier tradition shows that. Byrd makes the argument that Junia was an actual apostle and quotes Chrysostom to confirm this. I don’t know if Chrysostom was the only patristic to view Junia as both a woman and as an apostle and that Byrd cherry picked a single early church father to support her view. This is sloppy scholarship, and it’s irresponsible to pick out the one early theologian to agree with one’s viewpoint without considering dissenting opinions. I have much respect for Chrysostom and can’t condemn either him or Byrd as being outside the faith, but it is nonetheless a troubling viewpoint. Also, taking an obscure phrase that tells us very little in order to make a significant theological point is an abuse of Scripture.

Byrd made some positive points in the last chapter, but those were already made in other parts of the book. The only new thing of value she brought to the last chapter dealt with strength of siblingship as we are called brothers and sisters in Christ. She writes, “Siblingship is the very framework that will help us to uphold distinction without reduction. We have unique responsibilities and contributions to our sexes because women will never be brothers and men will never be sisters. The plethora of sibling language in the New Testament teaches us about the realities of being summed up into Christ’s household and how that shapes our communion with one another.” This is extremely important because we in the church often use the terms like “brother” and “sister” as sentimental asides, rather than truly treating each other like brothers and sisters and seeking that unity we have in Christ. I plan on writing about Christian unity next week, but as one bride rather than put a gender focus on it.

I am editing to add some insight from my priest. He said that Byrd’s arguments follow the same pattern that opened the doors for female ordination and liberalism in the past. I have not studied these patterns personally, but I trust his scholarship and judgement.

Ontology of Men and Women

Lately I’ve seen a few people on social media spout that men and women have different ontologies. They say this as a way to attempt to show that women by our very ontology are inferior to men. I am not going to touch on their reasoning or try to change anyone’s mind regarding inferiority and subordination of one sex to another. Instead I’m going to get right to the philosophical heart to obliterate the faulty presupposition.

What is Ontology?

Ontology is a branch of metaphysics that is concerned with being and identifies the kinds of things that actually exist. It also has to do with the category of being. In other words, ontology deals with categorizing things that exist. Starting with the definition, it seems odd to separate men and women into two different categories of being. After all, categories of living creatures are usually divided up by species, and no one would say that men and women are separate species.

According to evolutionary anthropology, ontology of humanity is based on the individuation of humans. This is how they separate the ontology of persons from those who are not. While in the modern evolutionist’s mind, this is simply the difference between homo sapiens and human ancestors and animals, at one time evolutionists made ontological distinctions among humans. Anyone who has examined the implications of social Darwinism understands how dangerous it is to separate the ontologies of personhood among different classes of homo sapiens. Someone could point out that just because truth is dangerous when applied wrongly does not make it untrue. I agree, so the question to be posed is is it true that women are separate in their category of being from men? Do women possess a different ontology of personhood from men? The burden of proof lays on anyone who would say yes, as he would have an insurmountable and illogical hill to climb. However, even though the burden of proof is on those who claim different ontologies within a single species, I will show from both philosophy and the Bible that men and women are ontologically the same.

Ontology in Philosophy

In classic metaphysics, being is often associated with substance. According to Aristotle, a substance is implied in its predicate. Leibniz, a Lutheran philosopher, wrote, “The predicate is in the subject.” What this means is that what we do is inseparable from who we are. “The nature of an individual substance or of a complete being is to have a notion so complete that it is sufficient to contain and to allow us to deduce from it all the predicates of the subject to which this notion is attributed.” Leibniz states this while explaining his notion of substances and to argue for compatibility of free will. For our purposes, I will focus on his understanding of substances. The predicate of human is contained in the substance and definition of human. Other than the scientific definition of homo sapien, what is human? And what does it mean to be human?

Aquinas wrote, “Wherefore, since the rational soul is the proper form of man, there is in every man a natural inclination to act according to reason: and this is to act according to virtue.” In contrasting humans and animals, Augustine of Hippo wrote that reason “does not grasp itself by anything other than itself… How would you know that you had reason unless you perceived it by reason?” By using reason, we perceive that we have reason. If we did not have reason, we would not be able to contemplate whether we had it or not. It is through this use of reason that we can learn of things outside of ourselves that we cannot directly perceive. Further, of all the material creatures it is only humans, men and women, who possess reason.

From these two great philosophers and men of God, we see that rationality is the form of the substance of a human being. The form of a substance is its ontological existence. Animals cannot perceive their existence through reason, but both men and women as humans and as the bearers of the imago Dei can.

Ontology in the Bible

Lastly, R. Scott Clark made an argument from Scripture that men and women share the same ontology. Clark wrote, “According to Scripture, both sexes are made in the image of God (Gen 1:26). Both sexes fell in Adam (Gen 2:17; Rom 5:12–21). Both sexes are redeemed by grace alone (sola gratia), through faith alone (sola fide), in Christ alone. Apart from the grace of God and a personal faith in Christ, both sexes shall stand condemned before God on the last day.” As beings created in the image of God that share the same telos, we also share the same existence and category of being.

While there are biological differences between men and women that helps to give us differing but complementary spheres, activities, and unique points of views within this world that should be fully utilized and celebrated, the fact remains that God created men and women to be His image bearers as rational creatures. Even with our differences, we are the same ontologically.

Establishing the Protestant Paradigm

Today I’m wrapping up my series on Christian paradigms by finishing out the beginning of the Protestant paradigm. Remember I’m using the framework laid out by Thomas Kuhn. I have already explained the pre-paradigmatic phase, normal Christianity, crisis, and revolution. Today I’m make the transition between the revolution created by Martin Luther and normal Christianity in the Protestant paradigm.

Development of a New Paradigm

In many ways the deconstructing of the Roman Catholic paradigm by Luther and other Protestant revolutionaries that came immediately after him is like the pre-paradigmatic stage of the patristic period, as doctrines were newly proposed and argued over. And this is evidence that Kuhn’s lens is helpful—it illuminates patterns in the development of Christian thought – even as it points to differences between the paradigm shifts in the two disciplines. New religious doctrines formed to address and refute new ideas, both heretical and orthodox. This is a significant difference between scientific and religious paradigms. The transition from one paradigm to another within the scientific communities is relatively, though not completely, smooth, as both the discoveries and the normal science within paradigms are rooted in experimental evidence rather than in argumentation over an ancient yet established text. When a paradigm is established, whether it be through experiments in science or philosophical and theological reasoning in religion, the paradigm shapes how the evidence is viewed. Kuhn regards this as a good thing because scientists need to trust the paradigm to further their work. It is a good thing within religious paradigms as well because the goal is not to invent new doctrines but to approach moral and religious truths more closely.

According to Kuhn, quantum mechanics arose “from a variety of difficulties surrounding black-body radiation, specific heats, and the photoelectric effect,” that could not be explained by Newtonian physics. Similarly, with the Protestant paradigm Luther could not have started a revolution and have been successful if not for Rome being fraught with errors. A new paradigm cannot replace an old one without a consensus that the new one is better able to solve problems and answer questions that the old one could not. However, there is another parallel between the scientific paradigms of Newton and Einstein and the religious paradigms of Catholicism and Protestantism. The dynamics of Newtonian physics are still in use by engineers today. Just like Newton laid the foundations with his work in physics and math for future generations, the councils and scholastics like Aquinas did the same for the Protestant Reformers

In the case of the two Christian paradigms under discussion, Protestantism could not have existed without Rome. Protestants accept the three Ecumenical Creeds and their teaching on the Trinity, for example. Protestants also recognize the wealth of background knowledge that shaped their doctrines from thinkers such as Augustine and Anselm and all the way back to the patristics and the writers of the Bible.

Development in Normal Christianity

Furthering the idea of using Kuhn’s “normal science,” which is the work of solving puzzles within a structured paradigm, as a framework for understanding “normal Christianity,” we must travel beyond Germany to France and Switzerland. Confessions and articles written within the growing stages of this new paradigm developed a more mature quality as they were not only based on doctrines that were carefully discussed and debated over in light of Scripture but, like the pre-paradigmatic stage, they were written in part to address aberrant views, most notably from Anabaptists but also from Zwingli’s failure to distinguish between law and grace. For example, even though covenants are discussed all through the Bible, there was never a reason to develop a full robust understanding of what came to be known as covenant theology as a hermeneutical principle until the Reformers realized the need to connect the covenants to show that pedobaptism is grounded in the Abrahamic covenant as a replacement for circumcision in the new covenant of Christ.

Theology professor Michael Horton touches on the progression from Luther’s law-gospel distinction to the fuller fleshed out teachings of the Reformers. “On the basis of the law-gospel distinction, the Reformed tradition developed a more redemptive-historical narrative with distinct covenants providing the coordinates and contexts for the interplay of law and gospel.” Covenant theology according to its adherents is important not only with regards to infant baptism but gives a fuller understanding to God’s grace and how He communes with His people.

Establishing the Paradigm

Because the new paradigm did not stop with Luther and his doctrines, it is important to show the continued work of Protestantism as an established paradigm, just as there is continued work in the field of physics after Einstein created a revolution.

Another example of doctrinal growth that stayed within the Protestant paradigm without straying outside of it concerns second-generation reformer John Calvin. Calvin recognized that he stood on the shoulders of Luther, for he could not have produced such thought if not for the work Luther had begun. According to historian Williston Walker, Calvin “appropriated Luther’s conception of justification by faith and of the sacraments as seals of God’s promises.” As Calvin said when echoing Luther, “We are justified not without works, yet not by works.” Calvin understood the role of works in justification as one who is justified will do good works, yet he denounced the Catholic tradition that works are what justifies a person before God.

Calvin emphasized the law of God as a guide for Christian living, for those already saved and able to do the will of God by the Holy Spirit working in them. This is an important distinction between the Catholic and Protestant paradigms. While Scholastics like Aquinas taught a distinction between the Old Law and New Law, they nevertheless viewed the gospel as a new law for Christians to do. In contrast, Calvin recognized that “the Law holds all men under its curse” and that in the Gospel, God says, “Believe that my only Son is your Redeemer; embrace his death and passion as the remedy for your ills; plunge yourself beneath his blood and it will be your cleansing.” Luther spoke of the distinction between Law and Gospel, his close confidante Melanchthon pushed forward a novel idea of upholding the Law as a Christian guide in shaping the character of one who is already in Christ, and Calvin introduced this use of the Law to the Reformed side of the coin that was minted in the Protestant paradigm.

Luther’s Revolution

For those just joining, I’m doing a blog series on Christian paradigms using the paradigm framework established by Thomas Kuhn. In an earlier post, I explained the phases in paradigms—pre-paradigmatic phase, normal, crisis, and revolution. The first blog post gives an overview of Kuhn’s paradigms as it applies to science and how I connected his framework to Christianity. The second looks at the pre-paradigmatic phase of Christianity, and the third examines the crisis that led to the Protestant Reformation. Today I am continuing the series with the revolution phase of paradigms as it applies to the Protestant paradigm.

The Revolution Begins

In Kuhn’s framework when anomalies within a paradigm arise, they are usually resolved in time through further research and testing. When anomalies continue to grow beyond what scientists are able to solve within their shared framework of background knowledge, a crisis erupts, leading to the edge of a new world of ideas, thus creating a revolution and the beginning of a new paradigm. Excluding the scientific methods of testing hypotheses and replicable experiments, this general structure is in view when examining other disciplines, including the religion of Christianity. A hundred years after the crisis noted by the pre-Reformers Wycliffe and Hus, the revolution begins.

During this turmoil of ecclesiastical abuse, Martin Luther, a young German monk nailed ninety-five discussion points to a church door on the eve of All Saints’ Day in 1517 and sent copies to the archbishop and bishop over Wittenburg’s jurisdiction. In caring for the church and those under his care, he sought to open a dialogue for an academic debate regarding the selling of indulgences for the laity to lessen their time in purgatory. He viewed these indulgences as being theological, pastoral, and economic abuses. Luther did not intend to start a political or religious revolution. It would be more appropriate to think of him as pointing out issues with “normal religion,” with the hope to restore the church to its original teachings.

Luther’s Gestalt Shift

Before that infamous day in 1517, Luther went through his own crisis of trying to please God through penance and good works. Through his reading of works by Augustine and by  nominalists who taught that the will of God was the sole basis of salvation, Luther became convinced that salvation was grounded solely in God’s mercy and absolute faith in His promises and not of anyone’s works. Luther’s gestalt shift was in seeing salvation as completely an act of God, which became the new lens for how he studied the Bible. Luther began to teach that in faith, Christians act out of love towards God and their fellow man, not to obtain salvation but because salvation has already been procured, and faith working righteousness into the Christian is what enables them to do righteous works. Roman Catholic theology taught that love is the most important of all virtues and that it binds man to God and that the other virtues follow from it. Luther taught that faith is what unites man to God and that love flows from faith. Through faith, Luther taught that Christians have “Christ’s own righteousness imputed to us and, in faith, enter into a lively union with Him.” The teaching in the Roman Catholic paradigm that God infuses grace into a person as an aid to surpass what is in their natural power became absurd to Luther because any mention of merit with justification denied the sufficiency of Christ’s redeeming work in man. As such, man is justified by faith alone apart from his own works because he is completely dependent on God for forgiveness and for working righteousness in him.

The Core of the Paradigm

Sola Fide became a central theme in the Protestant paradigm as part of the Five Solae—Salvation is by grace alone (Sola Gratia), through faith alone (Sola Fide), in Christ alone(Solus Christus), according to Scripture alone (Sola Scriptura), for the glory of God alone (Soli Deo Gloria). These five statements provide the framework and sum up the heart of the Protestant paradigm. The most fundamental difference between the Catholic and Protestant paradigms lies in the sufficiency of Christ. His Word is sufficient. His grace is sufficient. The faith that He grants is sufficient. Christ alone is sufficient for salvation and as the high priest of His church.

Regarding scientific paradigms, Kuhn wrote, “Though they may begin to lose faith and then to consider alternatives, they do not renounce the paradigm that has led them into crisis.” I have come across Lutherans who deny being Protestants and correctly point out that Luther did not set out to create a denomination separate from the Roman Catholic Church. While Luther’s initial intent was to create a dialogue to discuss the abuses in the Church and to see the Church of Rome reformed, Luther, like scientists in his same position, eventually renounced the paradigm because of the crisis, even though he at first hesitated to do so. For the emerging Protestant movement, Luther’s lens was better than the more conventional understanding because he recognized the sufficiency of Christ and His Word in all matters relating to the church and Christian life. Those creating the new paradigm do not have designs on thwarting the old system but simply to add to it, shed new light, or even overhaul it. It is only later through the lens of history that we can see the shift from one paradigm to another.

I am tempted to go more in depth into both the history of Protestantism spreading and the debates that it engendered and the philosophical connections between scientific and religious paradigms, but I must remember that this is a blog and not a journal. Because of that, I will pause here and wrap up this series Friday with a discussion of Luther’s influence on Calvin.