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Drange-Wilson Debate: Wilson’s Closing Statement


In submitting this, my last installment, I wanted to make sure that I thanked Dr. Drange adequately for a very stimulating debate. Throughout he has conducted himself both as a scholar and gentleman, and this, despite the fact that both callings are currently against federal law.

Before writing this section, I sat down and read through our debate in one sitting. Although I do not know what Dr. Drange will say in his last installment, I would summarize our current standing this way.

He has presented two arguments, the ANB and the AC. I have shown the ANB is an inadequate argument against the truth of Christianity because only one sect within Christianity embraces the premises which make the argument work. In order to apply the argument to Christianity in general it would have to be shown that the Bible requires the narrow understanding of it held by modern evangelicals. This would be hard to do under any circumstance (and I would argue it is impossible to do evangelicalism), but even if it could be done, it has in fact not been done by Dr. Drange in any of his installments. And so the ANB has to be considered out of the running.

The AC fails because it contains a hidden premise, which maintains that if God exists He must behave according to the pattern set down for Him by Dr. Drange. This in turn is built on another hidden premise, which denies the sinfulness and depravity of man. Dr. Drange has said that this argument is about “the failure of God to clearly reveal himself.” In other words, God’s revelation of Himself is assumed to be a duty which God has, and, if it is a duty, then it is a corresponding duty for Him to be clear. If someone has a duty to speak to someone, he has a corresponding duty not to mumble.

But the Christian position is that God owes us nothing. His self-revelation to us is a matter of grace, which is favor from God completely undeserved by us. Because of our sinfulness we have no prior claim on His grace. If we may not demand His gracious Word at all, then we may not demand it a certain way. If we do not have the money to order eggs, then we do not have the money to order them scrambled. Dr. Drange’s argument that we have a right to clear revelation only works if we have a right to revelation. But this is something which Christianity denies. Revelation is all of grace, and not payment of any kind of debt.

If God were revealing His will and purpose to a group of sinless and objective scholars, all of whom loved the truth, the situation would be quite different than it is. But He is doing nothing of the kind. He is revealing Himself to a disobedient and ungrateful race, and so He reveals Himself in parables. Why? “That seeing they may see, and not perceive; and hearing they may hear, and not understand; lest at any time they should be converted, and their sins should be forgiven them” (Mark 4:12).

Dr. Drange, in presenting the AC, was attempting to argue from within certain stated assumptions of Christianity. But some of his assumptions are not held by Christians, and he ignored other assumptions which are held by Christians. In order for this kind of argument to be effective, he must include the sinfulness of man and the gracious nature of revelation. Detached from the context of Christianity, his argument may appear to have plausibility with some. But placed within the context of the faith, with Christian assumptions about the nature and direction of grace, this argument collapses.

The nature of grace means that God owes us nothing, and so the claim that we have somehow been shortchanged fails. If we are owed no change, we cannot be shortchanged. I mentioned the direction of grace in an earlier installment. The direction of grace means that in eternity, all the doctrinal confusions (which I grant, are many) will disappear. As the hymn writer put, when we’ve been there ten thousand years, trying to remember the debates I had with Baptists will be like trying now to recall a hiccup I had once in 1958. In all His holy mountain, they will not hurt or destroy.

One of the things God is saving us from is our confusion. He has determined (in His wisdom) not to do this instantaneously, but rather slowly. “Why not instantaneously,” we demand. But I would rather not demand anything of this nature, being numbered, as I am, among the confused. God is the one who is not confused, and He is the one who is doing it this way. We are among the confused, and we don’t like it. Well, what do you expect from confused people? And this is why the AC fails also.

This all means that a good deal of attention has turned to the transcendental argument which I have presented in various ways. Dr. Drange has alleged various defects with the transcendental argument, but the most curious is his latest contention that my argument isn’t an argument at all. This is actually a misunderstanding, based (as I believe) on his mechanical mode of argumentation. From the beginning, I have asserted that the transcendental argument, rightly understood, is a different kind of argument, and not just a different argument. The cosmological argument and the teleological arguments are different arguments, but they are not different kinds of arguments. In my first installment I made it clear that I was arguing in favor of the existence of God, and yet was “arguing” in a manner distinct from other arguments.

So of course I am arguing, and I am presenting my arguments to an atheist. Thus, in one sense, you could say that I am arguing for the existence of God, and I would not deny it. And so a portion of my argument could be legitimately framed as Dr. Drange framed it in his latest installment, with the existence of God as one of the premises, and consequently found again in the conclusion. As long as the thing is done honestly and above board, I have no objection.

But because I do not want anyone to suppose that this argument works the way the other more traditional arguments work, I also said that I was not arguing for God as the conclusion. This expression means I am seeking to show that God is the inescapable premise, and hence, if He is in the conclusion of an argument, He is a necessary conclusion. He is not the kind of conclusion which might or might not be the case. He is not a true conclusion, given the premises, which themselves might be or not be the case. He is the one in whom we live and move and have our being. His presence is inescapable. In this sense, I am not presenting a traditional “argument.” But I am certainly arguing. I have said earlier that human language is not algebra. Because Dr. Drange does not know what I mean by this, he is not able to follow the argument that isn’t.

Dr. Drange has dismissed this argumentation as nothing more than a series of assertions. But in dismissing them for this reason, he has missed the whole point. Of course they are assertions, a series of declarations. Jesus did not say to go out into the world, find a neutral starting place, and begin drawing truth trees. He said that Christians were to preach, which involves making assertions.

So how is this assertive behavior within the scope of an agreement to debate? I grant that I have been making assertions, but I have done so in a way which seeks to demonstrate that they are necessary assertions, inescapable assertions. Here is an example of a juicy one. If reason is not ultimate, then reason is not authoritative. Dr. Drange does not like this kind of assertion, and wants me to prove it. But before I begin to assemble my proof, is reason authoritative or not? What gives me the right to assume that my reasoning could prove anything about this subject at all. Just a mere presupposition — an assertion — that reason is part of ultimate reality because it is an attribute of the living God. Dr. Drange doesn’t want this, and so I ask him a question (which he cannot answer) about the authority of reason. He asserts (presupposes) just as much as I do, only he does not know that he does so. Reason just is. There’s an assertion for you. He must either assert, or he must prove. If he just asserts, he has become naughty like me. But if he tries to prove, then he is assuming the validity of reason (in order to prove), which is the question before the house. Is there such a thing as proof?

Of course atheists who are not materialists do exist, but I continue to maintain that they need to give an account of themselves. Notice the impasse that Dr. Drange has come to. When pressed on the question of why he trusts in the authority of (nonmaterial) reason, he says this: “But the fellow may use reason just as he breathes: it is automatic, not a matter of choice. He can no more justify his use of reason than he can justify his breathing.” But everyone I know breathes. Not everyone I know stays away from Affirming the Consequent. Breathing is involuntary, but learning the rules of sound inference takes a great deal of discipline. A man can reason badly or well. Which course should he take? Dr. Drange has asserted the existence of immaterial reason, and now he needs to assert the authority of this immaterial reason. Not only does his immaterial deity exist now, but is also a lawgiver.

If I am not permitted to assert that the immaterial God exists while assuming His existence, then Dr. Drange is not permitted to assert that immaterial propositions exist while using propositions to make his assertions. Fair’s fair, isn’t it? If I must argue for the existence of the biblical God without resorting to the authority of His Word, then shouldn’t Dr. Drange have to argue for the reliability of propositions without using any? !@#$%^&*(? And he should soon find that he cannot argue at all without assuming the existence of the triune God. Q.E.D.

In conclusion, the apostle Paul writes that a denial of God is grounded in two attitudes — the first being an unwillingness to acknowledge the Godness of God, and the second an unwillingness to express gratitude to Him. “Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened” (Rom. 1:21). We have spent a good portion of our debate discussing the first aspect of this, the sovereignty of God. But I can think of no better way to conclude than to acknowledge the pressing duties we have placed before us in the second.

The gift of a cool breeze after a day of hard, physical labor. Fine French Merlot. A good book and a rainy day. Medieval tapestries. Quiet rain on new mown grass. The superb engineering that went into ankles. The smell of a neighbor’s backyard barbeque. High Gothic stonework. Lovemaking. Weariness seeping out when I lie down to sleep. A fireplace on a cold day. A woman’s neck. The kennings of Beowulf. The smell of a good pipe tobacco. Thanksgiving dinners which overwhelm, especially the glazed rolls. Homebrewed beer. Early mornings. Bees fooling about in the garden. Bacon. The Brandenburg Concertos. Hot water heaters. My grandson’s fat, little head. The inadequacy of lists. Forgiveness for my sins.

I know, if I know anything, that I have a profound ethical responsibility to say thank you for the existence of all this. But to whom? The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and amen.

Deep Red

The wine on the lees is well-refined;

This mountain is the Lord’s.

A feast it is of wine on the lees;

The table is the Lord’s,

A table set with all fat things,

Full of marrow, full of fat,

And wine on the lees, well-refined.

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