Van Til’s Guard Dog

Over at The Puritan Boards, Scripturalist Anthony Coletti provided the following quote from Gordon Clark:

Of course, the Scripture says that God’s thoughts are not our thoughts and his ways are not our ways. But is it good exegesis to say that this means his logic, his arithmetic, his truth are not ours? If this were so, what would the consequences be? It would mean not only that our additions and subtractions are all wrong, but also that all our thoughts, in history as well as in arithmetic, are all wrong. If, for example, we think that David was King of Israel, and God’s thoughts are not ours, then it follows that God does not think David was King of Israel. David in God’s mind was perchance Prime Minister of Babylon.

–Gordon Clark: An Introduction to Christian Philosophy, “The Axiom of Revelation” (Trinity Foundation, 2004)

Well, in spite of being such a seemingly innocuous, insightful and even helpful quote, it didn’t take long for the Vantilian sycophants to crawl from the floorboards attacking anything Clark. Paul Manata, who for some reason posts under the alias “Tom Bombadil” (either that or Paul Manata is the alias or both), shot back;

[W]ho are “these people” and where have they said “his math, logic, and truth” are not ours and if they have said something resembling this, did they mean what Clark says they meant, and if so, can you cite your exegesis of them?

See, it seems to me that this is yet another area where Clark beats down a straw man and then has people heaping laudatory comments on his work.

After a couple of paragraphs, Manata/Bombadil concludes:

All in all, I don’t bother with Clark. Mostly bad philosophy, straw man or irrelevant man attacks, and his stuff is simply out of touch and not useful for contemporary philosophical and theological issues (and even past issues! But, he does say a few helpful things. I don’t want to take everything away from him. But at this point, what he says that his helpful has been said better before and after) . Sure, guys get enamored with him when they first start getting into apologetics and philosophy, but as they progress, they quickly see how sophomoric his works really are.

It is ironic that for a man who doesn’t “bother with Clark” he spends a considerable amount of time and effort attacking the man. In a recent blog piece Manata even compared Gordon Clark, one of the most respected and prolific Reformed theologians and philosophers in the twentieth-century, to a methamphetamine dealer who cuts his “Scripturalist drug” with “intellectual battery acid.” Of course, this is from a man who, by his own admission, is “a former drug user and dealer (meth, El Cajon, CA),” so perhaps his time as a user/dealer has had a lasting and deleterious effect on his mind that would explain him calling Dr. Clark a drug pusher and his work “sophomoric”

Besides evidencing the lasting effects of drug use, anyone can do a quick Google search to see how ridiculous and hollow Manata’s carping really is. The rejection of “mere human logic” is pretty routine stuff even among those calling themselves Christians. However, to show that this form of argument attacking logic has a long and ugly history, this is from The British Critic, Quarterly Theological Review and Ecclesiastical Record (1834) and a piece examining the life of Rev. Richard Watson former secretary of the Wesleyan Missionary Society, who argued:

From the ground of philosophy and metaphysics, however, nothing will ever prevail upon the argumentative Calvinist to retire. For he must know very well that the only ground which does not sink under his feet. He knows, too, that this is the ground from which mere human logic will never be able to drive him. As Waterland himself confesses, there is no discernible flaw in the predestinarian reasoning. The only way of answering it is, to appeal to human nature; or rather to appeal to the whole tenor of the scriptures of God.

St. Louis recommended all good and unlearned Catholics not to argue with heretics, but to draw their sword, and to drive it into the bowels of the misbelievers, as far as it would go. Even so say we. Never argue metaphysically with a Fatalist of any class or description. But draw forth the sword of the Spirit, even the word of God: and thrust, not a part of the weapon, but the whole of it, up to the very hilt, into the heart of your antagonist’s logic.

The ranting of Arminian mysologists aside, the saber point sticking in Manata’s bombastic craw is his suspicion that Anthony “is referring to the claims made by Van Til [and] that ‘God’s knowledge is not like our knowledge.’” Yet, in spite of Anthony reassuring this overgrown playground bully that he did not have Vantilians in mind at all, Manata simply dismissed him saying; “That’s interesting given many of your past comments.”

Of course, while Anthony may not have Vantilians like Manata in mind, I would be happy to oblige since Van Til and his follower have said; “we dare not maintain that his [God’s] knowledge and our knowledge coincide at any single point” (A Complaint, p. 5, col. 3). It is no secret that this rejection of coincidence between God’s knowledge and man’s is a centerpiece of Van Til’s epistemological framework. Beyond that, Van Til’s doctrine of the incomprehensibility of God, his analogical view of truth, and his contradictory view of Scripture means that, at least for Van Til and his followers, God’s logic is not our logic and the truths of Scripture do not — and even must not — cohere.

In any number of theological fronts and controversies Vantilians have routinely lead the way in rejecting the use of logic as an interpretive tool in understanding and harmonizing Scripture. As an example, and concerning Clark, Van Til wrote:

In accord with this idea that man has within himself certain a priori principles by which he can reduce revelational content into a system penetrable by human logic. Dr. Clark thinks that Christians can solve certain “paradoxes” of faith. He thinks there is no mystery in the question of the relation of divine sovereignty and human responsibility. The mystery is rather that the church has so long thought of it as a mystery

It appears, then, that Dr. Clark would appeal to certain broad a priori principles of reasoning apart from revelation in order by them to choose between “revelations.” And this entails the idea that by means of these principles certain predication can be made about the nature of “God” apart from revelation. Dr. Clark appeals to Presbyterian tradition when he defends his a priorism. He says that “to repudiate all appeal to the a priori truths of reason is intolerable.” An Introduction To Systematic Theology.

The rejection of the idea that the Scriptures present to the mind a logical or rational system of doctrines could hardly be any clearer and it is well known that Van Til and his followers attacked Clark viciously as a “rationalist” for claiming to have harmonized divine sovereignty and human responsibility among other so-called insoluble biblical paradoxes. One could also look at the controversies surrounding the so-called “well meant” or “sincere offer” of the gospel, where God is supposed to desire and long for the salvation of those he has eternally decreed not to save as another example of the Vantilian rejection of “mere human logic” used in defense of unbiblical theological nonsense.

It should be obvious, even to those mired in personalities, that Van Til’s rejection of the idea that “revelational content” is reducible to “a system penetrable by human logic” is a direct attack on the Confessional doctrine of Scripture. Not only is this an attack on the idea that Christianity is a rational religion, but it ultimately reduces all systematic theology to a fools errand (which explains why so many modern Vantilians have rejected systematic theology in favor of the more pliable and manipulative fields of biblical theology and other “perspectivalistic” interpretative nonsense).

However, if Scripture is not penetrable by human logic, is there some other, say, divine logic that can penetrate the system of revelational content? If so, then for Van Til it follows there is a gap between mere human logic and God’s logic. It seems Manata has simply forgotten the typical Vantilian evasion that the Scriptures contain “apparent contradictions” that are impenetrable to the human mind and that defy harmonization at the bar of human reason, yet, we are to have faith that for God there are no contradictions.

Gordon Clark was right to refute those who affirm the idea that God’s logic is not our logic and it should be obvious even to those on methamphetamine that he was not “beating down a straw man” — unless of course that straw man goes by the name of Paul Manata or even Tom Bombadil.

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2 Comments on “Van Til’s Guard Dog”

  1. civbert Says:

    Glad to see you’ve got my back! 🙂 It’s like having you back on the Puritan Board.

    Anthony Coletti

  2. magma2 Says:

    Well, you’ve had my back on more than one occasion and you really stuck your neck out for me over there. It was really appreciated.

    FWIW I will never go back to posting on PB as long as Leino is “moderating,” if you can call it that. I’m quite sure I would have gotten the left foot of fellowship from him just for labeling my post “Van Til’s Barking Dogs.” Even the softened version I have now would have probably caused Leino to put on his pope’s hat. 😉

    In fairness though, I really think his real problem was he just didn’t understand some of the debates and was in over his head. He admitted as much on a couple of occasions. He pretended to want to understand Clark’s Scripturalism, but he never seemed willing to think things through. Which, of course, was tough given Manata’s constant bloviating and his endless equivocations on words like “knowledge” as if every use of the word implied the same meaning.

    FWIW Manata is just a vicious unthinking bully. He was a vicious bully before he became a Christian and he still is one today. While some of his methods have changed (although he’d probably want to “jump” me if he ever met me), it seems his M.O. has not. Thankfully we Christians are saved by grace. Perhaps someday the Lord will even change a mind like Manata’s — although outside of an occasional prayer for the man, I’m not holding my breath.


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