Sherlock Holmes

The Danger of Deductive Theological Reasoning

Sherlock HolmesBefore I loved the Lord I loved math…and one of the most difficult high school math courses I had dealt with logic and proofs. As such, it is also fair to say before I loved the Lord I loved logic.

Which is good. Sound biblical interpretation and the formation of reliable doctrines require it. One popular logician's tool is deductive reasoning. Here is a good definition from the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosphy:

A deductive argument is an argument that is intended by the arguer to be (deductively) valid, that is, to provide a guarantee of the truth of the conclusion provided that the argument's premises (assumptions) are true.

And here is an example of valid deductive reasoning:

Augie is always happy when he eats cheese pizza.
Augie is eating cheese pizza.
Thus, Augie is happy.

What is important to realize is that a given deductive argument can be valid, yet still be untrue. As noted in the definition above, it only guarantees the conclusion is true if "the argument's premises (assumptions) are true."

For instance, if Augie gets in trouble just before he eats pizza (or while he is eating it), it doesn't matter how yummy the slices are—he isn't happy (quite sad, actually). One of the premises is faulty, and thus the conclusion is false (well, only usually true…not always true).

Okay, enough of my love of logic. 🙂

What are the theological implications? Take a look at this argument:

God is love.
A loving God would not send anyone to hell.
Thus, all people are saved.

Any traditional Christian would balk at the conclusion of this theological argument. Why may the deductive reasoning be valid but the conclusions untrue? Let's take a look at the premises individually.

God is love. No Bible-believing person would disagree since 1 John 4:8 and 4:16 specifically state that.

A loving God would not send anyone to hell. On the surface it sounds legit, but the vast majority of orthodox Christians would strongly challenge it. If they are right, the conclusion is false because the second premise is false. (As an annihilationist, I would suggest a second problem. There is an additional implicit assumption that hell is an eternal place of conscious torture. I believe the wicked ultimately cease to exist. It is not near as difficult to believe a God of love would do that.)

Ultimately there must be an issue with at least one of the premises since Scripture is replete with verses that clearly say or indicate not everyone will be saved. If the problem can't be with the first premise, then…

Now, just because I've shown a shortcoming of deductive reasoning, that doesn't mean it isn't valuable and/or it should't be used. Instead, it shows the truth of FOTAP (an acronym I believe I picked up from Graham Maxwell, a great guy who is with the Lord):

The Fallacy Of The Assumed Premise.

Punch line? Often it's not the deductive reasoning that is the issue…instead it is one of the explicit or implicit premises. Question the assumptions.

P.S. It's worth reading the entire article linked above. One of the more interesting aspects speaks to the word "intended" in the definition I quoted above…not to mention you'll also get a good understanding of what inductive reasoning is.

Oh…if you too are a math lover, check out Khan Academy's "Difference between inductive and deductive reasoning."

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Alan is an ordinary guy, living in a small, high plains Colorado town...and humbled to be a minister of God...

4 thoughts on “The Danger of Deductive Theological Reasoning”

  1. Let’s leave demons aside indefinitely.
    The definition says all “will be saved in the end” not ” all are saved now.”
    That’s a huge difference!

    Patristic Universalism is a better label for what I’m talking about.
    By historic I sought to emphasize that Christian Universalism has been around for at least 1800 years
    and should be distinguished from the modern versions such as unitarian universalism, which denies unnegotiable doctrines such as the Trinity, and so forth.

    Clement of alexandria, Origen, Gregory Nanzienzen, and St. Isaac of Asyria all believed that God would eventually save all human beings. They did not deny either the existence nor the need of hell in God’s plan for mankind.

    I hope things are clearer now:)

    1. Makes more sense, thanks Juan.

      However, I never said "saved now." 🙂

      I'm debating changing it to "Thus, all people are saved in the end."


      Thanks again…

  2. “Sound biblical interpretation and the formation of reliable doctrines require it.”
    >Indeed. Good theology must be rational, but not rationalistic. It must be based on the revelation of God in Christ. It must be scriptural. Reason serves us best when we first submit to scripture.

    “God is love.
    A loving God would not send anyone to hell.
    Thus, all people are saved.”
    >I’m sure people reason like this, but I’m sure very few people take them seriously. I think it is essential to specify what type of universalism we are speaking/writing against. Most people confuse pluralism with universalism. Historic Christian Universalism never denied hell nor did it claim everyone is saved. It would deny promise number two in the argument above, and thus the conclusion would be denied as well.

    “As an annihilationist…”
    >Finally I know your position:) I believed the traditional view of hell for the first 7 years of my Christian life, in annihilationism for the next 6, and I have been a universalist (on and off) for 2 years now.

    1. Thanks for the comment Juan!

      But, now you have me confused. 🙂 “Historic Christian Universalism never…did…claim everyone is saved.” Isn’t that the basic definition of universalism?:

      The notion that all intelligent, moral creatures (angels, humans, devils) will be saved in the end is called universalism. But commonly universalism refers specifically to the salvation of all human beings.1

      1Hawthorne, G. F., Martin, R. P., & Reid, D. G. (Eds.). (1993).Dictionary of Paul and his letters. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

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