As important as the proper use of logic is for an understanding of God and His Word, there are a number of modern day theologians and philosophers who deprecate logic. They teach that there is no point of contact between divine logic and human logic. Here we have what Ronald Nash calls “the religious revolt against logic.” And the revolt is not only from the Neo-orthodox camp. One would expect men such as Karl Barth, and Emil Brunner to take such an irrational position. After all, Neo-orthodoxy is known as the “the theology of paradox,” in which faith must “curb” logic. But this pervasive spirit of misology has infected even those who make no claim to Neo-orthodoxy.
Herman Dooyeweerd, for example, avers that there is a “boundary” which exists between God and the cosmos. The laws of logic, of valid inference, which are applicable under the boundary, do not have any application with regard to God. Then there is Donald Bloesch. In his Holy Scripture: Revelation, Inspiration & Interpretation,Bloesch openly denies that there is any point of contact between God’s logic and human logic (121, 293). The truth of Biblical revelation, says the author, can never “be caught through the analytical methods of formal logic” (55). Bloesch frankly acknowledges that “I depart from some of my evangelical colleagues in that I understand the divine content of Scripture not as rationally comprehensible teaching but as the mystery of salvation declared in Jesus Christ” (114). Incredulously, he even goes so far as to say that “revelation cannot be assimilated into a comprehensive, rational system of truth” (289).
Sadly, the “religious revolt against logic” extends into the camp of genuine orthodoxy as well. Edwin H. Palmer, for one, teaches that the doctrine of God’s absolute sovereignty and man’s responsibility is a logical paradox. It cannot be resolved before the bar of human reason. The Calvinist says Palmer, “in the face of all logic,” believes both sides of the paradox to be true, even though he “realizes that what he advocates is ridiculous.”
Then there is Cornelius Van Til. Dr. Van Til is well known for his assertion that the Bible is full of logical paradoxes. John Robbins, in his Cornelius Van Til: The Man and the Myth, cites numerous examples of Van Til’s deprecation of logic. For example, in spite of the fact that the Bible teaches that God is not the author of confusion (1 Corinthians 14:33), Dr. Van Til maintained that “all teaching of Scripture is apparently contradictory” (25). He frequently spoke of logic (not the misuse of logic, but logic itself) in a disparaging manner. He spoke of “logicism” and “the static categories of logic.” And with references to the Confession’s (1:6) statement quoted above, Van Til commented: “This statement should not be used as a justification for deductive exegesis” (24-25). Yet, deductive exegesis is precisely what the Confessionis endorsing.
Ronald Nash also saw the problem with Van Til and his deprecation of human logic. Nash wrote, “I once asked Van Til if, when some human being knows that 1 plus 1 equals 2, that human being’s knowledge is identical with God’s knowledge. The question, I thought was innocent enough. Van Til’s only answer was to smile, shrug his shoulders, and declare that the question was improper in the sense that it had no answer. It had no answer because any proposed answer would presume what it is impossible for Van Til, namely, that laws like those found in mathematics and logic apply beyond the [Dooyeweerdian] boundary.” In other words, unlike Warfield, Buswell, Augustine, Clark, and the Westminster divines, Van Til, like Herman Dooyeweerd, assumed that the laws of logic are created rather than eternally existing in the mind of God. [You can find Dr. Crampton's entire article here.]
A Reformed Baptist who gets it. The section on John Frame’s triperspectivalism alone is worth the read.
A few highlights…
“To lay my cards on the table from the outset let me say this: it is my firm opinion that John Frame is one of the most dangerous characters in the broadly Reformed world today. His ideas are so disruptive of any system of doctrine and ultimately of any reasonable approach to holiness that I find myself distrusting of those who cite him.”
“What did not surprise me at all was the number of my fellow students who emerged from Westminster as distinct anti-VanTilians. Having learned Van Til at the feet of Frame, they found the entire system dangerous in the extreme. Needless to say, I was tremendously relieved when Frame left Escondido for Orlando, where he became a Professor of Systematic Theology and Philosophy.”
“Frame’s epistemology is relativistic, and if all relativists are necessarily dishonest, the dishonesty is even more necessary for someone trying to pretend not to be a relativist in the context of a biblical institution.”
Originally posted on chantrynotes:
As a graduate of Westminster Seminary in California during the mid-1990s, one of the most frequent questions I am asked is some variant of, “What did you think of John Frame?” The question is unsurprising. By 1992, when I entered seminary, Frame was among the better-known professors in Escondido. Just a few years after I graduated he had also left Escondido after a prolonged and not very secret dispute with the Westminster administration – largely over the matter of worship. Then in 2011 he published The Escondido Theology, a wide-ranging attack on his former employers which suggested that Westminster Seminary in California has departed from Reformed tradition.
That such a colorful figure invites curiosity is not surprising. Furthermore, Frame is a thinker whose unique philosophical system and its accompanying linguistic usage is not immediately accessible to the reader. It is to be expected that I hear periodic questions about him. I have interacted some with these questions online, and following the publication of The Escondido Theology my letter of support for WSC was published on their website. More recently, though, I have begun to see some Reformed Baptists referencing Frame in a positive light! This is to my mind a most distressing development.
Categories: Gordon Clark, Theology
The problem of evil is one that every Christian has to face. For the vast majority of professing Christians the idea or belief in free will, at least on the surface, seems to solve the problem of evil. These Christians are historically known as Arminians, or less charitably, Pelagians, and their argument generally goes something like this; God made man with a free and undetermined will, therefore all men have the natural ability to chose to do either good or evil. God is said to “permit” men to do evil and it is on this basis of their natural ability toward good or evil that God is said to hold men responsible for their choices. If God could be said to determine man’s choices from Adam’s fall to the crucifixion and murder of the Father’s only Son, then man would not be responsible for their sinful actions. Apart from free will, men would be mere sinners and pawns in God’s hands and God himself would be responsible for their sin. But, what sort of loving “God” would permit men to sin when He has the power to prevent it? Wouldn’t a loving an omnipotent God prevent the Holocaust? And, even if He can’t control the choices of men and prevent them from doing evil, couldn’t He control the weather and at least see fit to prevent tsunami’s and tornados from wiping out entire villages and towns killing countless innocent men, women and children? So, while the “free will” argument at first appears to solve the solution of human responsibility, it would also appear to make God a culpable and admittedly impotent third party who has the power and ability to prevent evil but chooses not to. Hardly what many would consider the Lord God Almighty, much less a God worth worshiping.
Unlike the Arminian, those Christians who have continued in the tradition of the Reformation have historically denied that man’s will is free in the sense of being undetermined or that God somehow passively “permits” evil. Martin Luther argued that man’s will is born in bondage to sin and death. Calvin called sin a “contagion” which all men are infected with from the moment of conception and on account of Adam’s first sin imputed to them by ordinary generation. Men aren’t sinners because they sin, they sin because they’re sinners and are born that way. Further, Reformed men have always confessed that God not only determined Adam’s fall as part of His overall plan or eternal decree, but He also “freely and unchangeably ordained whatsoever comes to pass” (see Westminster Confession chapter 3, Of God’s Eternal Decree). So far from being some impotent and anemic cosmic bystander, these Christians maintain that God has determined all things to include the Holocaust and killer tsunami’s and tornados. Yet, these Christians also confess that “neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures, nor the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established” (WCF III:1).
This raises the question; If God has determined all things including the sinful actions of men, wouldn’t that make God the responsible agent and author of sin, WCF III:1 notwithstanding? Or, to put it another way, How can men be held responsible for their thoughts, words and deeds if God has sovereignly determined them in accordance with his eternal decree? For generations Reformed Christians have seen this dilemma as a profound mystery. For theologians like John Frame this is where “faith” comes in as he explains:
[W]e are in a strange state of affairs: we have two propositions (“God is good” and “God foreordains evil”) which we can show to be logically interdependent in one sense; yet we cannot show them to be logically compatible except by an appeal to faith…This balance of interdependence and paradox is in the interest of thinking in submission to Scripture. Scripture must be followed both in its assertions of interdependence and in its refusal to reconcile all doctrines to our satisfaction.
Thus, a paradox remains for us, though by faith we are confident that there is no paradox for God. Faith is basic to the salvation of our knowledge as well as the salvation of our souls.
Tragically, Frame’s answer to this dilemma, or more precisely his non-answer, is all too common and in many Reformed circles this non-answer has even become a mark of Reformed orthodoxy. The reason for this sad state of affairs falls squarely on the late Cornelius Van Til who publicly excoriated Gordon Clark for even claiming to have solved this problem which “has baffled the greatest theologians in history.” According to Van Til,
Not even Holy Scripture offers a solution. But Dr. Clark asserts unblushingly that for his thinking the problem has ceased to be a problem. Here is something phenomenal. What accounts for it? The most charitable, and no doubt the correct, explanation is that Dr. Clark has come under the spell of rationalism. It is difficult indeed to escape the conclusion that by his refusal to permit the Scriptural teaching of divine sovereignty and the Scriptural teaching of human responsibility to stand alongside each other, and by his claim that he has fully reconciled them with each other before the bar of human reason, Dr. Clark has fallen into the error of rationalism [The Clark-Van Til Controversy, 23].
Now, if you examine Clark’s solution to this problem that “has baffled the greatest theologians in history,” you’ll see that it hinges on how we define responsibility. According to Clark:
Let us call a man responsible, then, when he may be justly rewarded or punished for his deeds. That is, the man must be answerable to someone, to God, for responsibility implies a superior authority who punishes or rewards.
The first thing to notice is that absent from this definition is any notion of man’s presumed natural ability toward either good or bad. Not only is a free and undetermined will absent from his definition, but any will at all, God’s or man’s, is eliminated too. Clark simply avoids the question of man’s will entirely in his definition of responsibility. Similarly, while God can be said to the ultimate cause of whatsoever comes to pass, even the sins of men, God cannot be said to be responsible for those sins simply because there is no higher authority to whom He must give an answer.
Interestingly, and something that eluded Van Til and his many followers over the years, is that Clark’s answer to this theological dilemma is the same form of argument Paul uses in Romans 9 starting in verse 29:
You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?
Notice, Paul’s hypothetical interlocutor argues in effect: How can I be held responsible for that which God has eternally determined should come to pass according to His sovereign will? I mean, if I can’t resist his will then I can’t be held responsible for my thoughts and actions, right? It is presumed that for a man to be held responsible requires the freedom, at least to some extent, to have done otherwise. Yet, implied in Paul’s response is that the only thing required for man to be responsible is a superior authority and that authority is God who alone can justly demand a response from his subordinate and sinful creatures. Conversely, and as we can see from Paul’s “O man who art thou,” man has no authority to demand any response from God for what He has decreed. God is the potter and man is His clay to do with what He wills. He hardens the one and has mercy on the other all according to His good pleasure. Or, as the prophet Daniel explains; ”All the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing; He does according to His will in the army of heaven And among the inhabitants of the earth. No one can restrain His hand Or say to Him, “What have You done?’”
Interestingly, Clark’s answer to the problem of human responsibility and God’s sovereignty rests squarely on the Creator/creature distinction, a distinction that Van Til claimed was central to all theology. Interesting too, and despite Van Til’s protests to the contrary above, Holy Scripture does indeed offer a solution to this problem that “has baffled the greatest theologians in history” and it is a necessary inference drawn from Romans 9.
While I would certainly encourage readers of this blog to study Clark’s answer as he first proposed it in 1932 in his piece, “Determinism and Responsibility,” or as he develops it in chapter five of his book, Religion, Reason, and Revelation (also found in God and Evil: Problem Solved), I would also like to recommend Robert Reymond’s fleshing out of Clark’s solution found in his systematic theology and presented here below.
Why God Is Not the Author or Chargeable Cause of Sin
If God has decreed all that comes to pass, and if God, by his most holy, wise, and powerful providence, governs all his creatures and all their actions in order to accomplish his own holy ends, how is one to understand all this so that God is not made the author of sin and man is left responsible?That anything-good or evil-occurs in God’s universe finds its account… in His positive ordering and active concurrence; while the moral quality of the deed, considered in itself, is rooted in the moral character of the subordinate agent, acting in the circumstances and under the motives operative in each instance . . . Thus all things find their unity in His eternal plan; and not their unity merely; but their justification as well; even the evil, though retaining its quality as evil and hateful to the holy God, and certain to be dealt with as hateful, yet does not occur apart from His provision or against His will, but appears in the world which He has made only as the instrument by which He works the higher good. Read the rest of this post »
Nobody likes a bully, and, I confess, I was going to leave my comments (below) on Dr. R. Scott Clark’s blog and be done with it. However, I am sick and tired of self-styled defenders of the Reformed confessionalism who are so ignorant of traditional historic Calvinism that they can’t even bear to defend their position according to the confessions they claim to revere or the Scriptures that inspire those confessions. Instead, Clark routinely resorts to name calling when dealing with those he disagrees, even attacking them as “rationalists” and “hyper-Calvinists,” and, when pressed, claims his opponents have not taken the time to read and consider his arguments when nothing could be further from the truth.
Recently, Clark responded to a comment I made to one of his blog posts, “Hyper-Calvinism, Rationalism, and Anti-Predestinarians,” where he argues that opposition to the so-called “well meant” or “free offer” of the Gospel where God is said to desire and not desire the salvation of all men, is contrary to Reformed confessionalism and history. Clark complains:
You’re entitled to criticize Murray’s exegesis but you’re not entitled to your own history, facts, and logic.
The historical evidence for the doctrine of the “free offer” is overwhelming. I’m surprised that you would make such a claim. Have you actually read what I’ve written? I guess not. You’ve certainly removed any incentive I might have to take you seriously.
Besides being horribly condescending and dismissive, Clark’s reply is incredible in light of a legitimate challenge that instead of just his usual name calling, Clark actually defend the so-called “free offer” exegetically and in light of the historic Reformed exegetical tradition that stands against him. I thought this would be a relatively small task for a Professor of Church History and Historical Theology at Westminster Seminary California. I guess not.
Beyond that, his reply is simply dishonest. Not only have I read and carefully considered his historical evidence so-called, but I have responded to his arguments at length in “Janus Alive and Well: Dr. R. Scott Clark and the Well-Meant Offer of the Gospel” published by the Trinity Foundation.
I have to wonder why Scott Clark is so afraid of the Reformed tradition that stands in opposition to the irrationality of the WMO (which is just warmed over Arminianism) that he can’t bear getting his hands dirty doing some real exegesis?
And, finally, I must say his remarks above cut both ways and I’m starting to wonder why I bother to take him seriously. But, while I still do, here is my letter and challenge to Dr. Clark that I posted on his blog with only slight modification:
Hi Scott. Just so you can avoid future crass generalizations and so you might stop acting like some Don Quixote defending some mythical “Reformed tradition” that never existed, predestinarians like me do not deny the “free offer” due to “some form of rationalism,” but rather because there are no passages in Scripture that support your claim that God desires the salvation of all men. This is why Bob Suden remarked on another of your blog posts:
The Well Meant Offer? Murray’s take on his proof texts doesn’t seem to quite follow the historical reformed trajectory. 2 Pet. 3:9 has a universal referent instead of pointing to the elect? Are we sure about that?
I mean, really, Murray’s handling of this passage is atrocious and flies in the face the well established historic Reformed exegetical position. The point is for many of us who you call “rationalists,” we reject the so-called “well-meant-offer” not primarily because it is contradictory (it is) and imputes irrationality to God (it does), but because of consistent historic Reformed exegesis of critical passages like 2 Peter 3:9.
For example, concerning this passage, and after an extended and detailed argument, John Owen in his The Death of Death in the Death of Christ concludes: “The text is clear, that it is all and only the elect whom he would not have to perish.”
Go back and read his argument and you’ll see how badly Murray and Stonehouse mishandled this verse.
Gordon Clark argues similarly when he writes in his commentary on First and Second Peter in New Heavens, New Earth:
Since God has made and appointed the wicked for the day of evil, as in 2:3,4 have already said, as 2:9 virtually implies, and as is distinctly stated in Romans 9:17-22, 2 Thessalonians 2:11-12, or as Proverbs 16:4 says, ” The Lord has made everything for its own end, yea even the wicked for the day of evil,” it follows that God does not will the salvation of every member of the human race. It is not his will that every man without exception should repent. Repentance is a gift of God, and if God willed to, he would give everyone repentance. But obviously he does not. So much for the Scripture in general.
The verse 3:9 would make no sense otherwise. Peter is telling us that Christ’s return awaits the repentance of certain people. Now, if Christ’s return awaited the repentance of every individual without exception, Christ would never return. Already many have died unrepentant, and their number grows larger every day. The only time when every individual had come to repentance was when Adam and Eve repented and were clothed with skins. The Arminians, unwittingly to be sure, imply that Christ should have returned them — his second advent antedating his first.
This is no new interpretation. The Similitudes viii,xi, 1 in the Shepherd of Hermas ( c. A.D. 130-150 ), which because of the date serves as evidence for the epistle’s authenticity, says” “But the Lord, being long-suffering, wishes [ thelei] those who were called [ ten klesin ten genomenen ] through his Son to be saved.” This quotation shows how the verse was understood in the second century. It is the called or elect whom God wills to save.
Peter therefore is saying simply that Christ will not return until everyone of the elect has come to repentance. Or, as the hymn writer said:
Ten thousand times ten thousand
In sparkling raiment bright,
The armies of the ransomed saints
Throng up the steeps of light.
Bring near thy great salvation,
Thou Lamb for sinners slain;
Fill up the roll of thine elect.
Then take thy power and reign.
Besides not being very Christian in the way you deal with brothers who disagree with you on this point, even attacking them as “hyper-Calvinists,” there is nothing in any of the Reformed confessions that support your view of the offer.
For example, you cite Cannons of Dort 2.5, but there is nothing there that I, nor any predestinarian like me, could not confess wholeheartedly and without the slightest reservation. The Gospel should be preached to all men promiscuously and without distinction. God does command all who hear the Gospel to repent and believe. The problem is your conclusion (God desires the salvation of all men) does not follow from your major premise (God commands all who hear the Gospel to repent and believe) and the reason is simple; you cannot infer anything in the indicative from something written in the imperative.
Luther, whom I suppose you think is a rationalist too, excoriated Erasmus for making this same juvenile error in The Bondage of the Will, writing:
Even grammarians and schoolboy at street corners know that nothing more is signified by verbs in the imperative mood that what ought to be done, and that what is done or can be done should be expressed by verbs in the indicative. How is it that you theologians are twice as stupid as schoolboys, in that as soon as you get hold of a single imperative verb you infer an indicative meaning?
I understand your unhappiness with Baptist historian William Estep, but what about the hundreds and perhaps thousands of students you have misled about the true nature of Calvinism.
So, Scott, why don’t you man up and stop with all the name calling and vitriol and defend your “free offer” exegetically? Why don’t you go toe to toe with the great Reformed exegetes in the past who have rejected the lazy (mis)handling of verses like 2 Peter 3:9 and stop acting like a theocratic bully.
Categories: Van Til
Recently, R. Scott Clark has been reviewing John Frame’s new Systematic Theology, which is ironic since Frame’s epistemic method, even prior to his embrace of triperspectivalism, was absolutely hostile to any systematic approach to Scripture. It’s also ironic, because like Frame, Clark maintains that the Scriptures present to the mind of man a morass of insoluble paradoxes and “mysteries” to which man’s mind must submit in the ultimate act of piety. Think of it as the intellectual equivalent of harikari. Instead of Christianity being a rational faith where God’s self-revelation is given so that we might believe and understand, for Clark, “Our faith is full of mystery of paradoxes to wit, the holy Trinity, the two natures and one person of Christ, divine sovereignty and human responsibility…., the free offer, the true presence of Christ in the Supper, and means of grace (the Spirit operates through the foolishness of Gospel preaching) and that’s the short list.”
Admittedly, I can’t think of any Reformed confession, much less the Westminster Confession, which makes a similar confession anywhere. Nowhere are we called to confess that the Christian faith is “full of mystery of paradox.” Instead we confess a method by which the Scriptures might be correctly interpreted and understood. For example, WCF 1:9 states concerning “The Interpretation of Scripture”:
The infallible rule of interpretation of scripture is the scripture itself; and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any scripture, (which is not manifold, but one,) it must be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly.
Notice, nothing about the infallible rule of interpretation ending in the “mystery of paradox” to which we must submit as we embrace nonsense like the so-called “free offer of the Gospel” where confused minds think it a mark of Reformed orthodoxy to confess that God simultaneously desires and does not desire the salvation of all men. Some, like Van Til, even maintain that the doctrine of the Trinity is similarly contradictory (what these men call “mystery”) and confess that God is both one Person and three Persons at the same time and in the same sense. Thankfully, this was one insoluble Vantillian paradox that Scott Clark refused to swallow. Small blessings aide, Clark’s belief in Christianity as an irrational faith stems from his belief that God, even in light of His self-revelation of Himself in Scripture, remains completely unknowable. This is Van Til’s doctrine of incomprehensibility in a nutshell as Clark explains:
As a matter of truth, God’s essence is a dark, unrevealed entity. God, as he is in himself (in se) is hidden from us…We know that God’s hidden essence is but we don’t know what God’s essence is. We’re not capable of knowing or understanding that essence. We know what God has revealed of himself to us. God has given us pictures, illustrations, analogies, but he has not revealed himself as he is in himself…The Reformed want to affirm both the mystery of God’s hiddenness and the utterly reliability of his self-revelation.
Now, in response to this Steve Hays at Triablogue offers this little argument:
If God’s essence is unknowable, then Scripture is not a divine self-revelation. God hasn’t revealed himself to us in Scripture. Rather, God has revealed something other than himself.
Absolutely devastating. Hays’ argument cuts to heart of Clark’s entire theology and excises the basis for a lot of that “mystery of paradox” nonsense along the way. Not surprising, it is also an argument that nicely mirrors Gordon Clark’s oft repeated argument against Van Til’s incomprehensible doctrine of incomprehensibility and his insistence that all truth, including all truth about God even as He reveals Himself to us in Scripture, is pure analogy. Consider this:
If God has the truth and if man has only an analogy, it follows that he does not have the truth. An analogy of the truth is not the truth; even if man’s knowledge is not called an analogy of the truth but an analogical truth, the situation is no better. An analogical truth, except it contain a univocal point of coincident meaning, simply is not the truth at all. In particular (and the most crushing reply of all) if the human mind were limited to analogical truths, it could never know the univocal truth that it was limited to analogies … Such skepticism must be completely repudiated if we wish to safeguard a doctrine of verbal revelation.
Lane Keister, one of the witnesses in the trial against Federal Vision heretic Peter “Reformational Catholic” Leithart, has provided an important debriefing concerning his experience at trial and his encounter with Leithart’s defense counsel, Robert Rayburn. Some I’m sure will wonder why Lane has published this even at this late date, but I think it’s important for people to realize what they’re dealing with when they encounter Federal Visionists and the corrupt Presbyteries and presbyters that enable and defend them.
I fell for the trick because I naively thought that a Presbytery would treat a member of another Presbytery (who was in good standing) with a modicum of respect. I was obviously wrong in that assumption. The quotation was delivered by Rayburn anonymously and out of context. In other words, it was a lie.