Archive for January 2009

Ink Marks on a Page

January 24, 2009


The general Christian public…will be warned not to strain out a Plato and swallow an Aristotle – Gordon H. Clark

I recently had the opportunity to discuss just a few of the distinctives of the greatest Christian philosopher and theologian of the last century,  Gordon Clark. What struck me again is how alien Clark’s Augustinianism is to most Christians, even those calling themselves Calvinists. While most think of Augustine in terms of his defense of the doctrines of grace and God’s  sovereignty in salvation against the brute works-righteousness of Pelagius, not to mention his profound influence on the Reformation, particularly through men such as Luther and Calvin, many are either ignorant or simply have chosen not to follow Augustine’s lead when it comes to the central problem of philosophy —  the problem of epistemology.  Augustine aside,  epistemology, which is the study of the nature of knowledge and its justification, or simply the question of  how we can know anything at all, doesn’t seem very practical.  And, if  anything, Christians today want to be practical.   But,  as my Intro to Philosophy prof would  say, epistemology is basic simply because if you can’t say how you know, how can you say you know anything at all?

One would think as Christians we should have an answer to this most basic question, shouldn’t we?  Doesn’t Peter commands us to be ready “to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence . . . .”  However, in order to give a practical response, not to mention being faithful to the above Biblical imperative,  requires we at least have some theory.  Sadly, when it comes to epistemology the only thing most Christians can defend with “gentleness and reverences” is their  ignorance.  Clark sought to correct this problem even if only a handful of Christians have yet to notice.

Which brings me to what may be the biggest hurdle most people have in coming to grips with Clark’s biblical epistemology and that is his complete  rejection of the belief that sensation plays a role in knowledge.  Needless to say, the rejection of sensation in the acquisition of knowledge seems counter-intuitive and not at all in accord with so-called “common-sense.”  Didn’t God give us sensations and sense organs so that we might come to know Him?  Well, not necessarily.  After all,  and as Clark would say,  God gave us stomachs too, but that doesn’t mean that stomachs have an epistemic function…although he was quick to add that it’s hard to study if you don’t eat.  But don’t we have to read the Bible with the eyes in our heads?  Clark’s critics routinely argue that even if we accept Clark’s position that knowledge is  limited to those things set down in Scripture and their necessary inferences, don’t we first have to read the Bible with our eyes?  Or, to put it another way,  isn’t knowledge necessarily mediated through the senses?  Again, not so fast.  Clark would reply, and in good lawyerly fashion, by answering this question with the question: How do you know you even have a Bible in your hands?  This was often enough to end the debate.

In his refutation of George Mavrodes, Clark replied to a similar objection.  Mavrodes put his objection to Clark’s theory this way:

Whatever general difficulties or weaknesses infect beliefs derived from sense experience must also equally infect beliefs derived from the Bible. For sense experience is required for the derivation of such beliefs. Therefore, if Clark is correct, in thinking that he cannot get any knowledge from sense perception, then he cannot get any knowledge from the Bible either.

To which Clark replied: (more…)

Clark Quick Quote

January 11, 2009

clark01There are Christians of good intentions who emphasize a distinction between theoretical knowledge and practical Christian living.  Or they may contrast head knowledge and heart knowledge, or use some other phrases.  Such language is confused.  It is quite true that non-Christians can understand Christian doctrine very well.  The persecutor Saul understood Christian doctrine better than those whom he persecuted.  The better he understood it, the more intensely he persecuted.  The difference was that Saul consider the doctrines false and blasphemous, while the Christians believed them to be true.  Hence, while we insist that understanding is indispensable, we also insist that belief or faith is so too.

Some confused Christians are not satisfied even with faith, on the ground that James says the devils believe and tremble. They fail to note that James said no more than that the devils believe in monotheism.  If they believe some other things also, James does not tell us what they are.  Saving faith involves belief, a voluntary acceptance as true, of some other propositions as well. [Lord God of Truth 44-45]

Well Meant Hypocrisy – More Observations on the Free Offer

January 1, 2009

The so-called Well Meant Offer of the Gospel (WMO) has been a major point of contention in Reformed circles for decades. For those who might be unfamiliar, the divide this issue has caused among those calling themselves “Calvinists,” at least of the Presbyterian variety, is in large part the residual of the Clark/Van Til controversy that was settled, oddly enough in Clark’s favor, more than 50 years ago.  What is odd is that even though the complainants aligned against Clark were reprimanded for their unwarranted attack, those behind the attack, Cornelius Van Til, John Murray, Ned Stonehouse, and the rest of the faculty of Westminister Seminary continued their fight against Clark, only this time turning their guns on Clark’s defenders. Even today their many followers remain unrepentant and continue to attack those who side with Clark on this issue as “hyper-Calvinists,” “rationalists,” or worse.

So what’s at stake?  In my view it comes down to the coherence of Scripture.  Do the Scriptures present to the mind a logical system, or what the writers of the Westminister Confession call a  “consent of the parts”?  Or, do the Scriptures consist of disjointed, conflicting, competing, and even contradictory “truths”?  Like a lot of  new Calvinists, when I first started to struggle with the problem of predestination and God’s sovereign control over all things, particularly the means of salvation, it was important for me to understand how the pieces fit. As a typical card carrying Arminian, the idea of man’s inherent free will in salvation had been a self-evident truth if there ever was one.  Like most who have been indoctrinated into the Arminian system, when I was confronted by the faith of the Reformers I could see that what they believed, and the so-called  “Protestantism” I had been taught, were two mutually exclusive religions. Critical in my conversion and repentance was coming to grips with the so-called “Arminian” verses of Scripture; verses like 1 Timothy 2:4,  2 Peter 3:9,  Matthew 23:37, Ezekiel 33:11. What I found, and not surprisingly, was that my original understanding of these verses were paper thin, out of context, and could easily be interpreted to conform completely and in perfect harmony with the doctrines of grace and God’s sovereignty in salvation. More importantly, this discovery occurred simultaneously with my discovery of the Westminister Confession of Faith.

For the first time since accepting Christ and being called out of complete darkness at the age of  18 or 19 (I don’t remember the exact date) and then wandering around the wasteland of modern Evangelicalism for more than a decade, here in the Confession was a Biblically sound method for interpreting the Scripture. I learned that not only does Scripture interpret Scripture, but those things logically deduced from Scripture are Scripture too.  Further, all things taught in Scripture and those things necessarily deduced from them present to the mind a “consent of the parts.” Or to put it another way, Christianity is a rational system and the truth of the Christian system is evidenced by the logical harmony of propositions.  This was my introduction to the old Puritan idea of “the analogy of faith” (not to be confused with Van Til’s errant idea of analogy).  Interpreting Scripture was no longer the biblical equivalent of throwing Rune Stones where we are to glean whatever meaning we might choose in order to fit our own preconceived notions and presuppositions. Rather, the meaning of Scripture “is one and not manifold” and any interpretation must be understood in relation to all of Scripture. That means there can only be one correct interpretation and it must be in harmony with the rest of Scripture.

In my naivety, I thought that all those holding to the Confession and the Reformed faith must agree. Was I wrong.  It wasn’t long before I realized that most of those calling themselves “Reformed” gave the Confessional view of Scripture nothing more than lip service and instead embraced the idea that the Scriptures contain insoluble paradoxes which are nothing more than contradictions at least for the human existent. Rather than harmony in all that God has revealed in Scripture, these men actively advanced the theory that Scripture confronts the mind with antinomies, apparent contradictions, and paradoxes, believing that embracing these exegetical  “points of tension” is a sign of Christian maturity, even piety.

Now, the first thing to stress is that the fight over the Well Meant, Free, or Sincere Offer of the Gospel is that it has nothing to do with the universal and indiscriminate proclamation of the Gospel to all without distinction. What it does have to do with is question of whether or not God desires the salvation of the reprobate; i.e., those sinners God has willfully chose to pass over and who are foreordained to perdition.  In his book, The Clark-Van Til Controversy, Herman Hoeksema put the problem his way:

We may limit the controversy to this question: What must the preacher of the Gospel say of God’s intention with respect to the reprobate…? The answer to this question defines the differences between Dr. Clark and the complainants sharply and precisely.

The complainants answers: The preacher must say that God sincerely seeks the salvation of the reprobate through the preaching of the Gospel.

Dr. Clark answers: That is not true; the preacher may never say that in the name of God. And, in light of Scripture, he should say: God seeks his own glory and justification in preparing the reprobate for their just damnation even through the preaching of the Gospel.

Those Reformed men who side with Van Til, Murray and the other complainants and who say “yes” to the question, does God desire the salvation of the reprobate through the preaching of the Gospel, are in the sticky position of advancing a contradiction where God is said to desire “the fulfillment of something which he had…not decreed to come to come to pass” (John Murray, “The Free Offer of the Gospel”).  (more…)

%d bloggers like this: