Weasel Words Revisted

In response to my last blog Denson observed that for those who want to avoid weasel words, and at least be perceived as being above the fray, will often take a slightly different approach and insist, “We must hold these two opposing views in proper tension without denying one or the other. We must be faithful to the Biblical data.”

There is a considerable amount of arrogance in this well crafted backhanded slur draped in the pretense of being “faithful to the biblical data.” Implied is that those who seek to remove these points of tension are not being faithful to the biblical data. After all, John Murray along with Louis Berkhof both asserted the opposing ideas of God’s universal desire for the salvation of all while atoning for only some as being in tension without even the slightest doubt that their exegetical underpinnings might be wrong. I mean, would anyone have the gall to suggest that the revered and respected John Murray and Louis Berkhof might be the ones not being “faithful to the biblical data”? Besides, Van Til, who confessed that the extent of his exegesis of Scripture began and ended with Murray, finds considerable support for his analogous view of truth and contradictory doctrine of Scripture from these men. Not surprisingly, all these men were aligned in opposition to Gordon Clark.

This unquestioned deference to academics and professional theologians is a fatal blow to theology and is one reason, I believe, the Reformed faith has become so increasingly anemic. It is precisely when we hit these points of tension, these so-called “apparent contradictions” of Scripture, that theologians need to go back to the drawing board and recheck their premises. If they won’t, then it’s the duty of every Christian to see that they do. The Bereans were deemed more honorable because they refused to accept the words of even the Apostle and instead “searched the scriptures daily, to see whether these things were so.” Jesus said the Scriptures “cannot be broken” which means no contradiction is of the truth. Sadly, instead of challenging these academics when they chalk up their dialectical and contradictory theological pronouncements and formulations to the Creator-creature distinction or some “archetypal/ectypal” slight of hand, many just accept these assertions at face value.

What needs to be questioned, and almost never is, is the presumption that any of these men are actually being faithful to the biblical data in the first place. It seems just because a particular view has been advanced from the pens of certain men that their admirers consider it a sign of arrogance and pride to even question them. This explains some of the vitriol leveled against those who reject the idea of the so-called “well meant offer.”  It’s much easier to slur an opponent when you think you’re speaking for the majority. It’s not that these “defenders of the mainstream” necessarily deny the irrationality of their position, although they are a bit pained to admit it and appeal to the proverbial and unbiblical “mystery” instead, but rather they are just unable to bring themselves to question the so-called P&R mainstream which is mostly dominated by theologians who advance nonsense as a matter of course.

A good example is Dr. R. Scott Clark. I came across the following selections at The Reformed Reader blog and they are taken from Dr. R. Scott Clark’s contribution to, The Pattern Of Sound Doctrine: Systematic Theology At The Westminster Seminaries. While the following comes as a warning for those who might think sound doctrine is something they’re going to find in this book, at least as far as R. S. Clark’s contribution is concerned, it must be admitted that Clark really hits the nail on the head. To his credit, Clark at least sees that there is more at stake in the debate over the so-called “well meant offer” and it really is a battle over theological methods and opposing theories of knowledge, God, and Scripture:

In analyzing the criticisms of the well-meant offer by [Herman] Hoeksema and [Gordon] Clark, however, it is apparent that it was neither biblical exegesis nor historical theology which animated the discussion, but rather matters of theological method, specifically hermeneutics and assumptions about the nature of divine-human relations. This essay contends that the reason the well-meant offer has not been more persuasive is that its critics have not understood or sympathized with the fundamental assumption on which the doctrine of the well-meant offer was premised: the distinction between theology as God knows it (thelogia archetypa) and theology as it is revealed to and done by us (theologia ectypa).

Notice the stark separation between theology as God knows it and as we do it, even when we do it correctly. The truths discovered by theology do not result in the same theology as God knows it. This is an incredible admission. Of course, Vantilians like R. S. Clark don’t see any problem with their own theological method, but rather assert the problem lies with those unsympathetic analytical thinkers (read logical) like Gordon Clark and Herman Hoeksema who reject their “analogical” view of truth and the so-called “apparent contradictions” of Scripture. Some might recall that for Van Til God’s thought are not our thoughts and never the twain shall meet — even when revealed to us in Scripture. In spite of Van Til’s insistence that we are to think God’s thoughts after Him, God’s thoughts never actually become our own simply because we have no way of knowing what those thoughts are. That’s because, as R. S. Clark makes clear, there is a sharp division between God’s thoughts as He knows them (archetypal) and His thoughts as revealed to us (ectypal). The underlying neo-orthodoxy in this type of approach should be obvious since the copy or “ectypal” stands in contradistinction to the original. Can men like R. S. Clark when coming to the Scriptures even say with Paul “we have the mind of Christ”? Or, are they left with only affirming we having a mind like Christ in the Scriptures?

Undeterred, Clark continues:

. . . In the 1920s controversy over the “Three Points,” [of Common Grace by the Christian Reformed Synod of 1924] there was a clear demarcation between those who accepted the traditional distinction and those who did not. While those who accepted the archetypal/ectypal distinction tended to favor the well-meant offer, those who rejected the analogical model of theology also rejected the well-meant offer. For example, Louis Berkhof’s Systematic Theology . . . restated the traditional position distinguishing between archetypal and ectypal theology. Even more clearly, another proponent of the well-meant offer and a Westminster theologian, Cornelius VanTil (1895-1987), upheld the archetypal/ectypal distinction, even if he did not use the traditional terminology consistently.

In Herman Hoeksema’s Reformed Dogmatics (1966), however, there was no explicit discussion of the archetypal/ectypal distinction. At times he seemed to acknowledge a distinction between God as he is in himself and as he reveals himself to us, saying that we know God “in part,” but not a “part of God.” We have only a reflection in finite form of the “infinite Essence.” Most of the time, however, he argued against the substance of the archetypal/ectypal distinction. He said, “If we want to make separation between revelation and Himself, there is no knowledge of God.” This approach influenced how he structured his theology. For Hoeksema, God himself is the principium cognoscendi, whereas, in contrast, for Berkhof, Scripture performs that role. This is a significant difference. Berkhof’s doctrine of he knowledge of God began with revelation. Hoeksema, however, began not with revelation, but with God himself as the beginning of knowledge. This move suggests a sort of intellectualism, that is, an intersection between our mind and God’s, in Hoeksema’s theology. There was tension in his Dogmatics. At one point he nodded politely to the Creator-creature distinction, but elsewhere he argued against the substance of the archetypal/ectypal distinction, and the historical record is that his rhetoric against the well-meant offer tended to militate against the distinction.

While Clark is big on the supposed ontological distinction between God’s knowledge of Himself and His self-revelation in Scripture, he seems oblivious to the argument Hoeksema advances which is, “If we want to make separation between revelation and Himself, there is no knowledge of God.” To know God is to know what He thinks. Gordon Clark expressed the same idea when he said unless we know something God knows we cannot know anything at all. Nowhere does R. S. Clark, at least in the selections provided, even address this fundamental concern directly, instead he tries to impose his own foreign archetypal/ectypal categories on Hoeksema and appeals to the Creator-creature distinction as if its mere mention settles the matter.

R. S. Clark also asserts that for Berkhof the “doctrine of the knowledge of God began with revelation. Hoeksema, however, began not with revelation, but with God himself as the beginning of knowledge.” What he fails to recognize is that for Hoeksema, and certainly for Gordon Clark, a person is what he thinks and the propositions of Scripture are God’s thoughts. There is no separation.

As mentioned, revelation for men like R. S. Clark, Murray, Berkhof, and Van Til is really a copy, the ectype, of God’s thoughts. That’s how these men can assert that for us tension and contradictions remain, but for God, the archetype, there is no tension and there are no contradictions.  Of course, this doesn’t follow, but the “archetypal/ectypal” distinction permits — and even expects — contradictions in the “ectype,” while asserting there are no contradictions in the “archetype.”

The amount of mischief possible from this approach to Scripture is almost endless and makes it extremely difficult to fight contradictory ideas expressed in, most recently, the heresies of the Federal Vision. Interestingly, there are many defenders and critics of the FV that all hold to the same view of knowledge and of Scripture.  So, why is one set of contradictory and incoherent formulations justified by an appeal the supposed “archetypal/ectypal” or Creator-creature distinction, while others are not? While Vantilians like R. S. Clark, Lane Keister, and others opposed to the heretical and contradictory ideas of the Federal Vision come down on the right side, they really have no epistemological reason for doing so. Why would the appeal to the “archetypal/ectypal” distinction be valid in allowing one set of “apparent contradictions” to stand and not another?

I think many have been fooled into thinking that when men like Berkhof, Murray and R. S. Clark talk about revelation they mean the same thing as ordinary Christians when they say the Bible is the Word of God. When these men say they begin with revelation it must be remembered that revelation is not God’s thoughts per se, i.e., “theology as God knows it (thelogia archetypa),” but rather is only an analogy, ectype, or copy of God thoughts. As Gordon Clark pointed out years ago, an analogy of the truth is not the truth and all the pious pleas to the Creator-creature distinction changes nothing.  Consequently, since truth is what God thinks, if we cannot know what God thinks except by analogy (which these men call revelation), then there is no knowledge of God possible at all . . . or knowledge about anything else for that matter.

The extreme skepticism advanced by men like R. S. Clark is total and crippling to Christian theology and apologetics. This explains how pathetically weak and inept P&R denominations have been in dealing with the rise of the neolegalism of the Federal Vision. While there still may be some hope for the PCA in the short term, most still fail to grasp that the theological method that has allowed the FV to flourish is the exact same analogical view of the truth  advanced by R. S. Clark and Van Til before him.

Explore posts in the same categories: Theology, Van Til

3 Comments on “Weasel Words Revisted”

  1. qeqesha Says:

    Hi Sean,
    Clark is on record, explaining even straining to do so, that in spite of the pious sound to “we can only know analogously”, “we are mere creatures”, “we could never know as he knows”, “He is totally other and we are nothing”, it really vitiates the concept of truth and makes propositional divine revelation impossible. It renders the concept of knowledge impossible. It leads to total skepticism and ignorance. God is then the dark night of mysticism, where all cows are black , as Clark put it( and you can not see any of them … my addition!!!).

    Some attempt has been made by some (Karel), to defend van Til by proffering that what he really meant, though badly expressed was that we know only from God and never autonomously. We derive our knowledge from God. Then Karel says van Til and Clark thus believed the same thing! van Til was simply an innocent dyxslectic!! If this all van Til,meant, then why did he try to hound Clark out of the ministry for saying that so clearly? Hullo? This is a paradox to me. van Til obviously must have meant more than just that. Listen to this gem from van Til; “Man’s interpretation must always be reinterpretation. Men cannot get at reality at all except via the interpretation of God. . . .The fact that it is reinterpretation of God’s original makes our interpretation valid.” HUh?? or perhaps “all teaching of Scripture is apparently contradictory”

    AND another:
    “It is precisely because they [the colleagues and followers of Van Til] are concerned to defend the Christian doctrine of revelation as basic to all intelligible human predication that they refuse to make any attempt at “stating clearly” any Christian doctrine, or the relation of any one Christian doctrine to any other Christian doctrine. They will not attempt to “solve” the “paradoxes” involved in the relationship of the self-contained God to his dependent creatures.” Huh???
    etc etc.

    All this according to Stalinist Karel points to an agreement between Clark and van Til, and Rhett is lapping it up like a little dog!!

    In contrast, the Bible says God is light. He is truth. He is propositional! He is rational! He is clear! He enlightens, he does not confuse! He is not the dark mystery of the mystics. As Francis Schaeffer said, the Bible is not a quary for religious( ineffable) experiences! It is propositional revelation! The Bible is not nonsense!


  2. magma2 Says:

    Thankfully, I haven’t come across Karel in some time. I’d like to keep it that way. He came off as a defender of Scripturalism when I first met him on an apologetics list years ago, then it became clear he had a completely different agenda. Do you still run into him? Does he still have that anti-Clark list on yahoo group? I don’t recall Rhett? Where is he from?

    It’s interesting you bring up Schaeffer though. I always thought Clark was a very natural progression from F.S. Before coming to the Reformed faith F.S. was the one oasis during my time in the Evangelical wasteland. I read everything the man had written and had boxes of his tapped lectures. Maybe it was because both these men had a very high view of Scripture and rejected the sort of archetypal/ectypal neo-orthodoxy that has become so prevalent among those calling themselves Reformed.

  3. qeqesha Says:

    Karel still maintains his yahoo discussion forum, the GH_List. Rhett is on the Scrituralist group. If you search for his name it will crop up, probably around April 2007 or earlier! You even once warned him about Karel and JR told him to read for himself and not expect other people to tell him what some author says.

    Schaeffer was the first christian to convince me that the Bible actually makes sense of life and culture and everything that goes on around! I had a brief stint with Greg Bahnsen and van Til before I(thankfully) discovered Gordon Clark with the advent of the internet at the Trinity Foundation. Of course Schaeffer was not a professional philosopher like Gordon Clark, just an ordinary believer who read a lot, learned something and then shared it with other believers! Schaeffer cut his teeth in the controversies with the old liberals in the 30’s. Though he mellowed somewhat with age and did some dubious things, especially his “co-belligerence”, yet he was combative to the end towards what he believed erornous, warning strongly against a weak view of scripture, especially, and naming names. Remember “Escape from Reason”, “He is there and He is not Silent”? Those were heady days for some of us!! I remember feeling really cool as a christian after reading Schaeffer. This stuff really makes sense, I thought to myself! I still have “The complete works of Francis Schaeffer” in my library. May be it’s time to give the set away.

    I discovered the Reformed Faith at a bookstore when I picked up the Westminster Confession of faith. I was shocked that a document like this even existed and I had never heard anyone mention it even from the pulpit. What I knew about being reformed was some negative sentiments about “those mean formal and cold religious people”. We were told we were warm and kind and fun to be around!! We had the religion of the heart and not the head! .. Oh well, you live and you learn and move on!!

    Just thinking, how ironic that van Til managed to pout a high view of scripture and yet totally distroy those who unwittingly followed him! This is absolutely Satanic! The raw evil genius of the serpent!


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