Limiting Concepts and Biblical Logic – Part 2

[Continued from Part 1, here.] As an example of the significance of limiting concepts, let us first consider the Trinity. God has given us in Scripture adequate attestation that our reasoning is trustworthy and the law of non-contradiction is presupposed in Scripture and human reason. Foundational to the Bible is the claim of Monotheism: Yahweh alone is God; He is numerically one (Deut 6:4-5). It is an appropriate deduction from this claim to reject every claim that there is a multiplicity of gods: if there are three “gods” (“god” describing each being in the same way) then there cannot be only one god. Yet, in the New Testament, Jesus differentiates himself from the Father and the Holy Spirit (the Helper) but claims for Himself the status of the unique Deity: He is Yahweh (John 8:58). We are left with what appears to be a contradiction: God is one; yet Jesus is God, the Father is God, and the Holy Spirit is God. Because the first statement, “God is numerically one” is given to us by God, it is certainly true; the same can be said for “Jesus, the Father, and Holy Spirit are differentiated; they are all God, yet there is only one God.” Therefore, given that this last statement is true—it is attested by Scripture—the following argument is false:

  1. There are three beings called “God”
  2. If three beings are called “God,” there cannot be one God alone
  3. therefore, there is not one God alone.

All sorts of philosophical explanations are given for how God can be one and not-one at the same time, yet they all resolve in mystery. As Christians, our logical consistency is not grounded in an explanation of how God’s oneness and His threeness are not contradictory but in the fact that God has revealed to us that these are not contradictory states. He has provided a limiting concept that prevents us from deducing contradiction from the apparent contradiction of the Trinity.

Limiting concepts, ultimately, remind us that we are creatures and servants—not gods! We do not know everything, therefore we need God to tell us where the boundaries of our logic are. When biblical truths function as boundaries for our logic, they are functioning as limiting concepts. Let us consider two other examples: first, Arminians often argue that the love of God requires Him to make available salvation to all equally through prevenient grace. Yet, as I have argued elsewhere (my book, Prevenient Grace), the Bible does not teach that God has made salvation equally available to all (He has made it available to all, but has not regenerated all to receive it) and does not teach prevenient grace. The doctrines of irresistible grace and unconditional election serve as limiting concepts, causing us to revisit God’s love and not deduce false theology from it.

Second, consider one of the arguments that could be made for the age of the universe. If light takes several billion years to travel from the edge of the universe to earth, then the universe would have to be at least that old for us to see that light, which we do. The logic is this: we know the speed of light, we can calculate the distance from earth to the farthest point away, and we are receiving light from that most distant point, therefore the universe is at least old enough for light to travel from that point to earth—several billion years worth of distance. The logic follows; but if the Bible teaches that the earth and universe are relatively young (10,000-20,000 years old), then this provides a limiting concept—like the case of the aliens considered above—that prevents us from drawing this conclusion. Such a limiting concept would demand a reevaluation of the various philosophical assumptions, pieces of data, and interpretations of that data that led to a false conclusion.

What, then, is the point of all this? God has given us minds that work, so we must use them; yet in doing so, we need to be aware of our limitations. Our minds are not the problem, our ignorance is (at least if we are regenerate; otherwise the noetic effects of sin must be considered). We do not know the whole system of truth—we do not have exhaustive knowledge of each piece—so how can we know its parts? Praise be to God that He has given us an authoritative word that frees us from hopeless skepticism. By building our reasoning upon the foundation of the Word of God and allowing the Word to function as a limiting concept on our thinking, we can appropriately use our minds to better understood the glorious complexity of God’s creation, His Word, and He Himself.

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