Pawn to King 4

This last spring at ACU we hosted a scholar who made a series of presentations about same sex attraction, with a particular focus on how a Christian university like ours should address the issue in the lives of our students.

After one of the presentations one of my colleagues asked me what I thought of the talks. I responded, "Pawn to King 4."

You might not know anything about chess, but "Pawn to King 4" is the most common opening move for White who starts off the game.

The point of my metaphor was that once the game opens with Pawn to King 4 the game is set upon a certain trajectory. A different trajectory than if White had made a different opening, say, Pawn to Queen 4 (1. d4 rather than 1. e4). King pawn openings are different from Queen pawn openings, and there are numerous other choices as well (for example, I like the English opening, 1. c4).

The point I was making about the presenter was that, once he deployed his opening assumptions about the bible and sexuality the rest of the talk, while very good, was fairly predictable. Once I saw his King Pawn opening I knew where we were going.

I think a lot of theology is like this. Pawn to King 4. You start with a certain set of premises and then work from there. But a different theologian might open with a different set of assumptions. Consequently, her game goes in a different direction.

In a related way, sometimes I think theology is kind of like geometry. For example, if you assume Euclid's fifth postulate, the parallel postulate where two parallel lines are assumed to never touch, you get Euclidean geometry, the math of flat space. But if you reject the parallel postulate and assume that parallel lines can touch, you get Non-Euclidean geometry, the geometry of curved space (the math, incidentally, that Einstein used to solve the equations of the warped spacetime of General Relativity).

The point is, sometimes I think of theology like Euclidean and Non-Euclidean geometry. Some theologians assume the parallel postulate, like some play Pawn to King 4. Other theologians reject the parallel postulate and play Pawn to Queen 4. Two different geometries. Two different chess games. Two different theological positions.

Do these observations have any practical relevance to non-theologians? I think so.

If you haven't noticed, people disagree a lot about religion. And sometimes those disagreements get nasty. Recently, however, in my discussions with Dr. Kirk about universalism, many have commended us on the civil and curious tone of the conversation. Why has this been the case?

I think it has to do with the fact that we're aware that we are playing different opening moves. Dr. Kirk is playing 1. e4 and I'm playing 1. Nf3. Neither is right or wrong per se. One is more traditional and orthodox. The other is less common and heterodox. Each has strengths. Each has weaknesses. But after the moves have been played we can sit back and enjoy the artistry of how the game unfolds from those starting points. For each chess opening has its own interior logic. And lots of hidden surprises.

In short, it's fun to watch how people play the game. And you learn a lot from watching.

I'm not suggesting that Dr. Kirk and I are theological grandmasters. (Well, he is, he's a professor of New Testament. I'm a theological hobbyist.) What I'm trying to say that theological dialogue becomes possible if we can sit back and enjoy watching the game unfold. To appreciate the internal logic of a system that is different from our own. True, you'd never open your chess game in this manner. But you can study and appreciate the way this alternative opening moves the game into configurations you've never seen, wrestled with, or considered before. More, it allows you to get out of a "right vs. wrong" frame where you can start having interesting conversations like "Now why did you make this move? Oh, I see. That's interesting, I never would have thought about that. Still, what about his line of attack, shouldn't you be looking at that as well?" And so on.

For example, I don't agree with Reformed theology. I don't like its opening moves. It's too Euclidean for my Non-Euclidean tastes. But I get the internal logic of Reformed theology. I understand its assumptions and how those assumptions work together to explain Scripture and the Christian experience. Reformed theology has a beautiful structure with great appeal to many. It's a Pawn to King 4 theological system that I can appreciate. I just don't open the game in the same way.

I guess the natural response of some will be to suggest that there is a "right" way to open a chess game. Obviously, given my metaphor, I'd disagree. The game has too much history, too many players, too many epic contests, and too much left to be discovered to believe that there is one and only one correct opening. Theologically speaking, if we always had to play Pawn to King 4 how could Fisher have surprized Spassky in Game Six with 1. c4?

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30 thoughts on “Pawn to King 4”

  1. Computers probably will "solve" the game of chess within the next few decades. Then it really would be a case of whether 1. e4 (or 1. d4 or 1. Nf3 or 1. c4 or, gasp, 1. f4) is the best move. While the artistry of the game is a blessing, the ultimate purpose of the game is to win (i.e. achieve checkmate). And every GM knows that.

  2. I think your reflections are generally true. However, there are exceptions. For example, my assumptions about women's roles start on the "complementarian" side of the discussion and my conclusions settle on the "egalitarian" side. It frustrates many on both sides.

    Also, "Reformed theology" is an awfully broad stroke. There are big differences between say Piper and Torrance.

  3. Hi

    Maybe this is stretching the analogy too far... but I get the impression that its usual to teach children to play chess starting with the "Pawn to King 4" move, then when they have mastered that (and attacking/ defending from that position), go in to other openings ... otherwise its too complicated .... how should we teach our kids about God/ Theology?  (All the resources out there seem to me to be the "Pawn to King 4" variety). 

  4. > the ultimate purpose of the game is to win (i.e. achieve checkmate)

    I thought the ultimate purpose of any game was to enjoy playing it. =)

  5. > how should we teach our kids about God

    Man, if you end up with a definitive answer to this question, let me know. I am totally befuddled about this.

  6. Even if the game of chess is eventually solved, I highly doubt we would be able to say that one first move is "better" than another, since the objective assessment of the position after any first move is probably "draw."

    Richard, all this time reading your blog I had no idea you were a chess player! This analogy made me smile.

  7. I also see a parallel between chess and theology, most participants are just playing a game. The debate becomes less an exercise in understanding the creator of the game and more a battle to the death, to conquer my opponent, to show MY greatness.

  8. As I recall (haven't played chess in a while), one can learn a lot about chess from failure ("OK, I'm not going to make that mistake again").  This, of course, needs to be supplemented with teaching about the things to do not just to avoid failure but to succeed (castling, crowning, etc.).

    I think this is true for children as well, we can teach them all we want but they are going to learn a lot (much to our chagrin) from failure (or doubt).

    There was a post on Jesus Creed yesterday about the internet and how kids are exposed to so many alternative beliefs that they need to sort through.  The amount of information available on the internet is both a blessing a curse and kids need to be prepared to sift through it and evaluate it.  It's no longer sufficient to pour information into kids and have it survive unchallenged forever.  Kids need to have the tools to take in new information, evaluate it, incorporate the good and reject the bad.  (There's probably a chess analogy here, too; something about not just learning a series of pre-programmed moves, but being able to react to the ever-changing landscape that your opponent presents.)

  9. The object of chess is to checkmate the opponent, and that objective gets played often in theological discussions as well. We've all known someone that you can't talk to because they've got an agenda to prove to you how right they are, and how wrong you are. These people are just not enjoyable to talk to, because you can't have a reasonable conversation with them. They don't respect you enough to ever back off, and do not recognize when they've crossed the line into inappropriate dialogue. But between Beck and Kirk, there's a gracious maturity, and even where they disagree, the object isn't to back the other into an immobile corner, but rather to explore each other's perspectives, and let the rest of us in on that conversation. Even to find common ground. Difference in perspective need not end in bloodshed. 

  10. I like where you're heading Richard, I think you'll like what you find if you keep playing out the logical consequences of that thought process.

  11. I think it's really interesting that you zero in on Reformed vs Arminian theology (as opposed to zeroing in on contrasts/comparisons with others --- Roman Catholic, Orthodox, whatever).  This juxtaposition seems to be your opening move. My understanding is that Arminius himself was in the Reformed tradition. I consider myself Arminian as well (although in a "soft" rather than "radical" way). It is fortunate for me that this "soft" Arminian tradition is the way I was raised, because it dovetails well with my psychological studies (which you mention as influences on yourself as well). Or, to paraphrase George Kelly (who has sorta become my psychology-hero) "We are free in relation to some things and determined in relation to others." Kelly organizes his Psychology of Personal Constructs around the idea that the way we divide up the constant stream of input from the world determines the way we experience our world and the way we respond within it. Sounds like your chess move analogy ... except it is not only determined by the first move, but by subsequent moves as well. And, "determines" is a strong word, because change is possible although it is mostly really difficult. 

    Quite frankly, I WANT you to convince me that there is an epilogue to the Judgment of God. I understand that the chess move analogy is just that --- analogy --- but whether God will ultimately reconcile everyone to Himself is not a game. Of course, it is also not something that we can influence ... it either Is or Isn't.  But I would like to believe that there is evidence of an Epilogue. 

  12. Beautiful analogy. 

    Too many Christians don't know that each "opposing" theological viewpoint (Arminianism, Calvinism, Universalism, etc.) CAN be fully supported by scripture because their particular church only shows them the ones that support its viewpoint. Sadly, this ignorance results in too much "Your views are not Biblical!" name-calling.While Dr. Kirk has certainly extended a gracious and humble voice in this debate, there are too many self-proclaimed religious experts who consider themselves "Theological Grandmasters" and view those who disagree with them as stupid heretics, unworthy of consideration. In order to have any confidence in our faith we all need to reach our own conclusions, and it is people like these who refuse to acknowledge this, demanding instead that we conform to their theology or "go to hell."

  13. Hello Patricia,

    It seems the gracious mature dialogue between Dr. Beck and Dr. Kirk is very rare/unusual.  I appreciate how you described it.

    At my sister-in-law's funeral last weekend, a former pastor (Pastor X) presided over the service.  Pastor X has a PH.d in Theology from Fuller Theological Seminary and wrote a 400 page dissertation devoted to refuting universal reconciliation (while validating the eternal finality of a literal, conscious, tormenting judgment in hell).  We have great respect for one another and he has done much for my family.  Before being "called" to become a Bible teacher, Pastor X was accepted by Pepperdine University's Law school.  Therefore I am greatly over my head when discussing doctine, but not the least bit intimidated. That's a tribute to him - he's a really good guy.

    We spoke after the service and Pastor X broached the status of my faith.   I told him straight out that every Christian I currently know personally (including my wife) would consider me a heretic at the very least and most likely would label me an apostate.  It wasn't the best time to continue the conversation.  He offered the "right hand of fellowship" and invited me to get together with him, & have lunch just to talk.  I know he genuinely extends himself.    But I also know Pastor X will posture himself at the outset of our "dialogue", feeling the need to lovingly correct/reproof me - pulling a backslider out of the fire so-to-speak. 

    To use the chess analogy (I rarely play it so I'm  not qualified to speak in detail of it),  a few of my "brothers" including Pastor X, have offered to "fellowship" with me, but have postured themselves (unconsciously) in such a manner as to assume I am doctrinally/spiritually endangered.   In these cases, our chess game has already begun in their mind, and they have their initial moves already mapped out.  The way I handle it (kind of harsh) is to sweep all the pieces off the board, then kick the chessboard off the table, forcing us to begin a new game from scratch.  I make it a point to begin with the first move other than the expected "pawn to king 4". It presents an unexpected shock factor to them.  Franky, I am testing to see IF my
    brother(s) actually give a damn enough to invest the time and patience to play the game out and see how the game goes.
    If they invest that time/care in good faith, even if in the end they disagree, I will know they are a genuine friend and I can trust we will be able to maintain fellowship (friendship). This is my accepted social lifestyle that comes with being an apostate - lol.

    Thanks again Patricia
    Gary Y.


  14. >The way I handle it (kind of harsh) is to sweep all the pieces off the
    board, then kick the chessboard off the table, forcing us to begin a
    new game from scratch.

    Curiosity piqued. How exactly do you go about doing that?

  15. Hello my friend,
    I wonder how Pastor X would react if you said, "You know, we can talk about anything but theological theory. Because we're not going to agree, and I think that if you can't be my friend without my agreeing with you, and every conversation is going to be pointed to that end, then it's just not worth having the conversation at all. I get your point of view, because I used to share it. I know you think you get mine. But you haven't lived the process that got me to where I am. I've got just as Biblical grounds as you do, and God knows you haven't cornered the market on knowing 'context.'"
    Just thinking out loud there ...

  16. Perfectly described Patricia.
    I could cut/paste exactly what you said above and create a tiny carry on crib sheet in my wallet for all of these situations - it's says exactly what I wish I could get across.  In fact, I doubt I will take Pastor X up on his invitation (a very sincere invitation) because of what you described.   I'm probably guilty of pre-judging or assuming he will behave in this manner. But at this time, the emotional/mental angst and energy involved in taking such a chance isn't worth it.

    Gary Y.

  17. I perfectly understand not wanting to put yourself in the position to be scrutinized, patronized, and judged. You've been through a lot already. I, too, have had to distance myself from family members who are the spiritual twin of your Pastor X, for the same reasons.

  18. .. so tired of square theology (my own amateur) .. checking-my-mate .. chess is for – squares – what happens when sexuality is fluid? .. when moves aren’t squared? .. but flowing? .. how to get beyond – square "unclean" – inside of me? – pawns all, pawns to hard-wired ... "Boys will be boys .. we cheat and we lie .. boys will be boys .. and J. K. Gayle asks, ‘will you [join Cady Stanton]’ .. ? .. and I say, ‘Goddamn Marlene Dietrich’" ... Dietrich less Euclidean, more geometric in Hilbert space .. ~ Jim

  19. Hello Matthew,
    Very fair question.  The analogy clearly describes one taking on the offensive.  I only apply this approach to:  
    1) MEN only - around my age,
    2) who've been Christians for roughtly the same number
          of years 
    3) pastors, music ministry leaders, or men who teach Bible
    4) men I've "run with in past ministry life", thus friends to some

    Everyone else, I leave alone.

    My objective is not to "win" an argument/debate, nor convince
    the other party to buy into my conviction.  But when I sense I'm being Pharisaically patronized or cornered, I'll go on a very intense offensive, aggressively pushing back.
    I'll play along with their doctinal flavor (I was where they still are, so I know their convictions pretty well) while presenting them difficult rhetorical (and unanswerable) questions.


    Past music ministry mates who really want
    me to join them in a serious (non-ministry) band situation -
    (when they patronize or play spiritual one-upsmanship):
    I'll call out their hypocrisy of dismissing my backsliden-ness, thus compromising their convicitons just to play with me.  I'll challenge them to apply Scriptures which call for discipline and excommunication of myself - an unrepentant brother.

    If one implies I am an apostate or a deceived unbeliever:
    I'll Scripturally re-iterate the centrality of Christ, His diety, Who He is, and His COMPLETE work - while pointing out how much they actually trust their own righteousness.  I'll expose their spiritual arrogance and presumption, asking them if they really care about those who they allege will burn for eternity.

    I've rambled on too much already, but I hope this illustrates my over-the-top chess analogy on steroids.  Sorry if this falls short.

    Thanks Matthew 
    Gary Y.

  20. >I hope this illustrates my over-the-top chess analogy on steroids.

    It does, thank you. =)

  21. Competition can be friendly. Persons with competing views can value the pursuit of the best answer more than protecting themselves from the possibility of having a mistaken answer. A person who loves playing chess wants to be competitively challenged by her opponent.

    At a switchback in a canoe race last Saturday I faced the team behind my boat and called out, "You'd enjoy yourselves more if you slowed down!" Someone replied, "No, we'd enjoy ourselves more if we caught you!" I cackled a laugh of delight between breaths and thought, "My kind of people!"

    I guess I'd like to make the distinction that the rancid turn that theological (and many other) debates can take is more the result of there being heated turf battles playing out beneath the surface than that simple exchanges of opinions with the hope of sorting through to the best ideas is necessarily fraught with ill will.

  22. Just a quick insertion here ... your "solution" is exactly what my grandmother (a Baptist) and her best friend (a Church of Christ) did. And they had not only no theological education, neither of them had a high school education either. They just agreed to disagree, to love each other through thick and thin, and not to talk about it. I always found that a little bit sad (if God is a big part of your life, that's leaving a lot out if you agree not to discuss the subject), but I think they prayed for each other and respected one another's faithfulness to God, so it was functionally a very happy arrangement.

  23. Hi Kim, That's interesting that it really worked for them. The key aspect between your grandmother and her best friend is that they were indeed friends, with whom love and respect were factors. Whether they discussed or not, I'm betting they lived out their faith in faithfulness, and that probably looked like love. Those whose objective is only to conquor your opinion through argument aren't really friends, and power, not love, is exponent of that equation.

  24. Might take some time...I won't know whether I've found the answer for sure until my kids are in their eighties  .... but theres a book that I found today on the internet that looks interesting "Getting Your Kids Through Church Without Them Ending Up Hating God" .... maybe thats what I should be aiming for ....

  25. Ok, I held out as long as I could, but I am a mathematician:

    "if you assume Euclid's fifth postulate, the parallel postulate where two parallel lines are assumed to never touch"

    Not true.  Parallel lines never touch, in any of the geometries.  Euclid's fifth postulate says, in essence, that if you have a line and a point not on that line, there is ONLY ONE line through the given point that will be parallel to the first line. 

    Others, in the 1700's, questioned this with "many" i.e. infinitely many (the geometry of the universe, if you will) or none through the point. if you want some more details and pictures.

    Your point works regardless. 

  26. Richard, that hard push on economics that I gave you on Two Friars came courtesy of Ken Rogoff (former IMF’r) – a master chess player – analogizing computerized chess cheat-catching schemes to our economic wanna-be-recovery. Rogoff has a great computerized chess analogy, waxed here ... ~ Jim

  27. Have you ever played "Chess 360," invented by Bobby Fischer?  Seems like something Jesus would have liked, but some of the Pharisees not so much.  Obliged, daniel.

    ps i play at several online sites let me know if you do and we cousd hook up.

  28. Gary, My curiosity has gotten the better of me. Why do you only apply this "technique" when interacting with men? I suspect that it has something to do with the prescribed role of women in the tradition that you are coming out of --- but I don't want to put words in your mouth. 

    A few weeks ago, after a particularly rousing discussion on the death penalty in our Sunday School class, the teacher turned to my husband and (very jokingly) said that next week we would be discussing female submission in the church. ... in a tradition where such a comment can be automatically understood to be a joke, the idea that confrontation should be limited to men is foreign to me.

  29. Euclid's fifth postulate is a bit silly. Light particales travel at different speeds.

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