D.A. Carson fallacy in Exegetical Fallacies

I should be writing my paper, but I will write a quick post on this for fun.

D.A. Carson, a renowned New Testament scholar, has a very famous book called Exegetical Fallacies, where he enumerates several exegetical and logical fallacies often used by both scholars and pastors.  Carson is a brilliant academic and his book is a very good resource, if not a discouraging one that might scare pastors away from trying to use Greek in their sermons (sure makes me think twice about using Greek or Hebrew).  Carson is generally fair throughout the work, and as he criticizes others he criticizes his own mistakes as well.

However, in one section where he is explaining logical fallacies, he writes about “inadequate analogies.”  As a Reformed theologian, Carson takes aim at a typical non-Calvinist/Arminian analogy that shows that grace is none the lesser just because it must be accepted:  Let’s say that there is a criminal who is offered a full pardon by the judge.  If he accepts it, he goes free, but if he does not, he goes to jail.  Now it would be quite bizarre to say that just because he accepts it, what he accepted is no longer free and unmerited and therefore he has a right to boast about it.  It would be positively absurd for anyone to brag about an undeserved pardon just because he had to say, “Yes.”

Carson rejects this analogy as inadequate because he believes the situation is more like this:  There are ten criminals in front of a judge and they all receive the same offer of a full pardon.  However, some accept this pardon and go free, while others reject it and go to jail.  Clearly, in Carson’s view, this is indeed grounds for boasting because they did what was “right” while those others did wrong in rejecting the offer.  Thus, the court analogy does not do as much justice to grace as the Reformed view does.

However, Carson is confused here.  In an evaluation of any analogy, one must discern what the central point is that the analogy is trying to make.  All analogies break down somewhere (obviously, since by definition, it is a comparison between two unlike things), but stating that obvious fact is neither a good defense nor a good criticism.  Thus, to establish whether or not an analogy is a good one, you have to figure out what it’s trying to say and if it communicates that without serious discontinuity with what it is being compared to.  If you’re trying to explain the love of God, it may be unhelpful to compare God to a rock because rocks don’t love.  If you’re simply trying to explain that God is reliable and unchanging in character, a rock then may be an apt analogy.

What then is the court analogy trying to show?  Obviously, that just because a free offer or gift must be accepted to be appropriated, it does not mean that the offer is no longer free or unmerited.  One cannot legitimately boast about merit in mere acceptance of a gift.  Carson seems to concede this point when it comes to an individual basis, but for some odd reason, he thinks multiplying the amount of candidates to ten shows that this is false.  How?  If there are no grounds for boasting for acceptance in one offer, this does not change just because there are more offers that some do not accept.  It would still strike us as intuitively silly for Criminal A to boast that he merited a free pardon simply due to the fact that Criminal B rejected the pardon.  We can readily see that the rejection of a free pardon is blameworthy, but it is hardly obvious that the acceptance of a free pardon when one is clearly guilty, compared to those who do not accept, makes it no longer free.  Carson owes an explanation how the nature of the offer itself changes if there are more people involved, but he does not do that.

If anything, Calvinists would have their own difficulty with this issue:  Let’s say there are ten criminals in front of the judge, and all are guilty.  The judge unilaterally pardons five and sends the other five to jail.  However, not only that, due to the judge’s extraordinary powers, he actually caused each man to be guilty of their crimes.  Thus, we have a judge who caused the crimes, put the perpetrators that he caused to do it on trial, and then unilaterally and mysterious chose a few to be saved and the others to go to jail.  What we have here is not grace; we have inscrutable capriciousness and serious questions about the goodness of the judge.  Indeed, those that walked free may even feel the need to boast, because surely something about them (maybe their greater doctrinal understanding 😉 ) led the judge to set them free.

Exegetical Fallacies is a good book, but Carson swung and missed there.

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